It’s no secret that my career isn’t quite what it was (lucky I’m rich!) so imagine my feeling of glee when I opened up my email account last Wednesday to find messages galore from all over the mainstream media. TV news programmes, radio shows, newspapers – even the Guardian! – were keen to have my views on…the end of the print edition of the New Musical Express.
What a cheek! I started work there in 1976 when I was 17; I left when I was 19 as, hilariously, I thought that people in their twenties who still wrote about music were ‘sad old men’. Since then I’ve had number one best-selling novels, won an Emmy and been condemned in the House of Commons for tranny-baiting. I’m now 58, in glorious decline but still a cracking little scribbler – and apparently all I’m good for is writing about something I stopped doing nearly forty years ago.
I don’t think I could put my hands on my ‘dander’ without a diagram, but there’s no doubt that it was way up on that day. Even more so when I was told by my pen-friend from the Guardian that I was being looped in with one Ben Beaumont-Thomas who is apparently their music ed. Rich or not, my proletarian blood royale fair boiled at the sight of that hyphen. ‘I reckon about 600 words?’ my chum added, so I decided to end the charade there and then with a dirty baker’s dozen: ‘I’m glad it’s gone at last, properly – because it’s been dead for decades.’
Given the fact that the last time I saw a copy of my old alma mater it was shivering forlornly in a PLEASE TAKE ONE bin in a Shaftesbury Avenue shop doorway, I thought this seemed a pretty unremarkable thing to say. But – not for the first time – my observation that the Emperor was dead and the parrot had no clothes was about as welcome as an NME hack on a record company foreign jolly. From the level of weeping and wailing and gnashing of dentures from my ex-colleagues, you’d have thought that Elvis had died, Gandhi had been assassinated and the Titanic had sank all at once on the same rainy Wednesday.
Once more I – quite cheerfully – considered the fact that I might be a heartless wretch. Indeed, so savagely amused was I by the hysteria which swept Facebook on the death of Leonard Cohen that I was inspired to finally create my first meme; a laconic-looking Len, above him the words YOU OK HUN? and beneath NOW YOU’VE GOT SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT. When famous people die, unless in the first flush of youth like Amy Winehouse, I tend to say ‘Well, they had a good innings!’ But I’d say that my refusal to be nostalgic about famous dead people – from David Bowie to Ken Dodd – comes about from the genuine appreciation that the love they inspired in strangers means they will live forever, or at least for a few decades after their demise. That’s a lot more than most of us can ever dream of.
My refusal to be nostalgic for things – like the NME – comes from another place, but that’s not necessarily bad either. Is a person really a heartless wretch to be pleased to see the back of a busted flush before it can do anymore harm to its reputation? (I can just imagine the ‘Pot, kettle, black…’ comment below; lucky I’m insensitive!) Even more, I’d say it indicates the joy I take in the present and the hope I have for the future; despite all the evidence to the contrary, I don’t believe that my best days are behind me. This may well make me a Pollyanna, but I far prefer that to being nostalgic – and not actually about the thing one appears to be nostalgic about, I’ll wager, but actually more about one’s own mourning for a life that hasn’t matched up to one’s dreams.
I’m not entertained by nostalgia – never seen one episode of Call The Midwife or Downton Abbey. I’m not titillated by it – I have always looked with fascinated revulsion upon those strange individuals who go back, often repeatedly, to ex-romantic partners as one regards a dog returning to its own vomit in order to have yet another taste of the appalling mess. I loathe everything about it and pity those who feel it. So to have the vile Vince Cable blame my beloved Brexit on it – ‘Too many were driven by nostalgia for a world where passports were blue, faces were white and the map was imperial pink’ – was the final straw.
One of the main reasons I voted for Brexit is because I’m sick of the nostalgia for the clapped-out European Dream. What was quite rightly called Project Fear appealed to us to stick in our rut and learn to love it, led by losers with even more to lose, like Cable; curtain-twitching, doom-mongering, stick-in-the-muds. If there’s any past version of this country I’d like to see back again, it would be the bold Futuristic Britain of the 1960s – and I think being nostalgic for Futurism is probably an oxymoron – when we were a robust, confident country and not the Nervous Nellies steeped in nostalgia which we have been since around the time we joined the EC.
Once we’ve cast away the source of much of our emotional and financial discomfort, perhaps we will let go of our comfort blanket, too. Like the NME – of whose post-Brexit pro-EC edition Brendan O’Neill wrote in this very magazine ‘their sad, stuffy, small-c conservative freakout over this big change in British politics’ – the European Commission is an outmoded fashion accessory largely existing to make sad old men feel cool. They’ve both been dead for decades – let them go!