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A Metropolitan Century
100 emails later
This is the 100th weekly email The Metropolitan has sent out. No, we can’t believe it either. What began as a lockdown pastime has become a weekly ritual. For one hundred weeks since the first email on January 9th 2022 (when we thought it necessary to start with a manifesto) we have managed to send out an email every Saturday morning come rain or shine. Mostly rain.
To celebrate this milestone, and given that we have gained quite a few readers in the last few months, we thought we’d pay a tithe to you: one tenth of The Metropolitan. (Also, to be completely honest, we’re on our first joint, no-kids holiday in four years, and the writing schedule has been a little disrupted as a result.)
So here it is: ten hand picked pieces from the early days, which you might not have seen before. We’ll be back to normal next week, which you are welcome to interpret as either a threat or a promise.
Rowan Davies on the terrible pressure to like cool music.
When I returned to mixed-sex education for my A Levels and my degree, it was a jolt to discover the boys there cared very much about which bands you liked, and all the bands I liked were wrong. The first Stone Roses album was cool for a few weeks before it was discovered to contain tunes. I thought I might be on a winner with ‘Here Comes Your Man’ by the Pixies, but it was the sell-out track from their poppiest album. Colin the Goth sought my company less after hearing my anecdote about seeing U2 at Live Aid. My only victory from those years - the only song that I loved and was unimpeachably cool - was ‘Eye Know’ by De La Soul.
Chris Waywell on an unlikely conjunction of American artist Philip Guston and the ‘50s Tony Hancock comedy ‘The Rebel’. (Check out Chris’s amazing image for it: Tony Hancock’s self portrait from The Rebel in the style of Philip Guston. You can’t say we don’t put the hours in.) The exhibition Chris writes about here is finally on at the Tate Modern.
The joke in The Rebel is that Tony is a terrible, terrible artist. We are meant to see his paintings and sculptures as risible – a disembodied foot, fat red birds in a flat blue sky, a monstrous sculpture, ‘Aphrodite at the Waterhole’, hewn from lumps of concrete from a demolished town hall. (‘I did that from memory. That is women as I see them.’ ‘Ooh, you poor man.’) A posh London gallery owner, sleekly played by George Sanders, can see that these works are talentless ‘rubbish’, but Tony and the hipsters of bohemian Paris cannot or will not. Which confirms everything we are meant to suspect about artworld poseurs.
Among other things The Metropolitan promises a uniquely Gen X view on culture. Here, Rowan writes about growing up in the shadow of the charismatic megafauna of Boomer feminism.
I began to feel towards an idea: are big twats… bad? Why? Is it like big bums? I already knew that big bums were bad; early ’80s imagery was lousy with thonged lycra leotards and teeny exposed bums. I felt deeply embarrassed about my own. Actually, more than embarrassed, I felt apologetic. I was miserable about the distress that my arse must be causing to passers-by, as though it were a pile of vomit or a pneumatic drill.
Speaking of a uniquely Gen X experience: Chris stays up late and watches snooker.
It was on TV for bloody weeks at a time. Something like the World Championship – which would sometimes attract audiences of nearly 20 million – legitimately entitled a pasty ten-year-old to be glued to the telly all day long, curtains closed, however gorgeous the weather was outside. It was a mystical environment measured not by clocks or light but by break-building and endless, formless safety play. A single frame could last an hour (cheers, Cliff Thorburn). For a child, a major snooker tournament was Election Night, every night. We were little vampires, mesmerised by a clot of red corpuscles, waiting for them to be picked off.
5. Up in smoke
A viewing of Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy inspires a meditation on Gen X, drugs and the failure of promise.
This is, of course, a story about class. Some of us had working-class parents who had scrabbled to give us the unfair advantages they had lacked. Others came from families with a well-worn glide path from mortar board to boardroom. All of us had been carefully invested with potential; nobody had questioned whether we would fulfil it. We’d been raised on stories about turning up in London and being offered a job at the BBC by a funny little man you met on a bus, which in turn enabled you to buy a four-bedroom house in Belsize Park for £7,000.
The first in our X Libris strand, looking at the books that influenced our generation, occasioned some thoughts on the glory of the public library system of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Like Earthsea, libraries present you with a map at the start, showing strange inviting lands like History or Biography, full of mysterious customs and new people. And, as with Earthsea’s maps, the fiddly bureaucracy of the library juxtaposes the extraordinary and the mundane, as transporting stories collide with library cards and book insets and wheeled date stamps; all the dedicated forms and equipment, the power they suggest over the worlds they control, the entrancing ritual and busyness of it all.
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Billy Wilder makes his first appearance in The Metropolitan, as Annette watches Irma la Douce and thinks about the effect it had on her own fashion sense.
In the film, a romantic comedy set in an idealised City of Light, gendarme Nestor Patou (Jack Lemmon) falls in love with Irma and tries to ‘rescue’ her from her life of prostitution by disguising himself as an English aristocrat and buying up all her available time. Based on a French stage musical from 1956, there’s a curiously manic momentum to the proceedings, combined with a hyper-artificiality that permeates both the set and the script. It takes a while to realise that as a viewer you are constantly waiting for these actors to burst into song. Which doesn’t happen. This absence of singing – which is still accompanied by the conventions of musicals: the weird pauses and sing-song convos that lead up to a show-stopper or expository ballad – is particularly disconcerting.
The third in our series about Doctor Who and what it can tell us about the Britain of the past. Tobias enjoyed himself far too much watching a lot of late ‘60s nonsense and taking it all too seriously. Also, the best title we’ve ever come up with.
Pelham’s doppelganger is ruthless and unstoppable, considerably more suave and scheming (he is also Roger Moore, after all) and - worse - sexually active. Pelham eventually visits a psychiatrist, played by Freddie Jones. That’s played in the sporting sense, rather than the thespian; Jones chases the part round the ground for 90 minutes until it gives up, exhausted, and he wins on points. Anyway, he claims that the doppelganger has been caused by Pelham’s own impotence. Starved of sex, his libido has spawned a Roger Moore of its very own.
No, not the TV show (though we shall have to get to that), but, rather, Rowan writing about dancing with Neil Kinnock, and how that relates to Another Country.
One evening at a fundraiser disco, wearing an outsized bow in my hair (to this day I curse that bow and whatever cerebral event caused my mother to buy it), I spent a painful half hour watching Neil Kinnock’s daughter Rachel circulating effortlessly with Steven’s team mates. I realise now she’d been watching her parents gladhand since the day she was born, but at the time her social poise and ease of manner in a crowd of young men simply looked like a wretchedly unfair form of witchcraft. Just when I thought things couldn’t get much worse, Neil visibly took pity on me and dad-danced me around the floor to the Ghostbusters theme song. He was punching the air during the chorus.
In which Jon Millington admits to being scared of The Boys of Summer and nervous about what, exactly, they wanted.
1984 was scored by an extraordinarily rich pop soundtrack: electronica, R&B, indie jangle, poodle-perm rock, hip hop, post-punk and slinky disco fought it out in the charts. Just that summer alone I wouldn’t let the sun go down on me, but jumped for my love and just called to say I love you while not doing white lines as, time after time, doves cried and the smalltown boy pushed pineapple and shook the tree. But what’s love got to do with it?
And we end back where we started, with the post that started it all: our introduction to The Metropolitan.