26 August 2016

Attila the Stockbroker: Arguments Yard: My Autobiography (2015)

Some time ago I started to think that the Morning Star is England's (Britain's?) finest daily newspaper, especially now that the Guardian is New Labour (continued) and the Independent is, er, well I'm not too sure what it is. But after learning, in the Morning Star, of the existence of Marcus O'Dair's Different Every Time: The Authorised Biography of Robert Wyatt, I now discover that Attila The Stockbroker has written his autobiography: Arguments Yard: My Autobiography: 35 Years of Ranting Verse and Thrash Mandola. And in so many ways it's brilliant. In fact so brilliant that I'll break with convention first and say what I don't like about it, or make tiny grouses about the few typos I noticed. I didn't know that Attila the Stockbroker coined his name because he used to be a clerk for about eighteen months for a firm of stockbrokers, and of course it was stultifyingly boring for him, but then what do you expect? His real name is John Baine, and I shall defy my conventional approach of referring to him by his first name rather than his surname not because he seems to be a lovely (if obviously full of faults) guy, certainly not because he has very similar political views to mine, not because I learned more about his knob than I really wanted to, but, well, just because he's that kind of guy. Anyway, the grouses:

– Right near the beginning of the book John mentions 'Playing golf or being otherwise dull' from the first line of his 'The Zen Stalinist Manifesto', but if I substituted 'golf' for 'football' I can see no difference at all: they both rot the brain (sorry, John, no personal familial allusion intended), and I'm a life-long enemy of any competition that can be avoided, and sport in virtually all forms is best avoided like capitalism, the stock market, imperialism, racism, homophobia, any form of hatred. In fact, sport breeds hatred: a few kids playing on a park, kicking a ball around and using their rucksacks as goalposts, fine, but much bigger that... No. (I admit Roy Harper's 'When an old cricketer leaves the crease' is one of my favourite songs, but then it's more about the real ale John loves, maybe the hallucinations caused by it...). 'New Labour just fuck off and die' is a beautiful line, but I feel the same about football if you substitute the word for 'New Labour'.

– Speaking of the word 'fuck', there are a number of inconsistencies in the book which I know can't be due to Cherry Red Books as they've published Zodiac Mindwarp's Fucked by Rock. 'Fucked' fully spelled, not the censored word 'f**k' that appears in this book perhaps the same number of times as the fully-spelled 'fuck'. Why self-censor, when everyone knows that 'f**k' means 'fuck' anyway? Who is John trying to protect, in an internet age, when 'fuck' is all over the place, just like in Crass lyrics? There's even one 'c**t' in Arguments Yard, although I don't think there's a single 'cunt' anywhere else in the book. And yes, sensibilities have changed enormously due to political correctness, etc, but anyone who knows about Attila the Stockbroker knows about his wonderful work with Rock Against Racism, and here we learn that he objected to (bizarrely anti-racist) 'White Power' tee-shirts in NZ, so why change the word 'nigger' printed in the first poetry book poem 'They must be...Russians' to 'ni**er'? Would John Baine have all the references to 'nigger' in Huck Finn changed to 'ni**er'? This is as insane as the hypocritical asterisks used in The Sun, a newspaper he so rightly condemns. 'They must be...Russians' uses the word 'nigger' as a third person insult, and obviously not an insult by John Blane to blacks. Leave history alone, it'll sort itself out.

– Ted Heath (one of my all-time favourite PMs) is described as a 'pompous git'. But Heath was cowed by the miners, was even a kind of Conservative communist, was much more left-wing than any Labour or Conservative leader (apart from Michael Foot) who has followed him into the woeful present; and certainly the most cultured. What has John against culture, and what, for instance, has he against the TLS (Times Literary Supplement), which still struggles on valiantly. Or, dare I say it, pompously?

– My German is more or less non-existent, but aren't there some diacritics missing? On the French side, certainly I doubt that Francois (as Attila writes) lacked a cedilla, although certainly Les Halles des Blés (mentioned twice) should have the acute accent I've given it, and the (double) absence suggests laziness, although John is without doubt far from lazy. But 'tour-come-holiday' instead of 'tour-cum-holiday' is unforgivable and clearly notes the lack of a decent proofreader (sorry Robina, much as you sound really, er, nice).

– 'Relatively sterile surroundings of a bookshop'. What? As a working-class kid (father a tobacco worker, mother a slave machinist in a textile factory run in Sherwood by Tory Martin Brandon-Bravo) with no books worth reading at home, my intellectual education came from the public library and independent bookshops. I can't say the grammar school education I received from High Pavement in Nottingham was at all inspiring, though. Does it make me pompous for being proud of earning a PhD in Literature?

– John Baine eats meat. Meat is murder. Come the socialist revolution, no one will eat meat.

There are, of course, far too many negatives above, but maybe paradoxically they indicate the huge scope of this book, which is a kind of history of the left-wing from eighties Britain to the present day: the Anti-Fascist League, the miners' strike, Red Wedge, the Poll Tax revolts, the Gulf War protests, even Corbyn's triumph gets a (late added, I'm sure) mention, etc. Through all of these, Attila the Stockbroker held a prominent position.

But prominent as that position may have been, Attila the Stockbroker still maintains an anti-celebrity stance. What does he care, as he's maintained a decent standard of living by playing throughout the world. Australia and New Zealand, the States (a bit), but most of all (and the most interesting part of the book) the transition from West and East Germany to one nation. His feelings are mixed on this: before unification, East Germany was unwholesomely polluted, but prices of basics were very cheap, there was no poverty and everyone had a job. After the fall of the Wall it was biscuit city for the capitalists and poverty and unemployment were rife. Go figure.

But Attila the Stockbroker is about words, and there are some choice ones here. He doesn't mention his triumphal song 'Maggots 1 Maggie 0',* although he does say 'You brought discord, error, doubt and despair, Thatcher, and those were the good bits. Rot in hell.' I agree: but what of Blair and Brown (the latter hypocritical bastard a real enemy of mine)? Of Blair, Attila says he'd like to see him cleaning the toilets at Glastonbury for ever: with his tongue.

This book is not one of hate, it's one of a love of music and the people who perform it, but also it's personal and contains much about John Baines's father and his step-father, but more about his mother (including a very long and very moving piece about her dying of Alzheimer's). Let's hope the bladder cancer thing was just a blip, and that Attila the Stockbroker goes on to live as long as wishes: this is a wonderful book, John Baine/Attila the Stockbroker is a national treasure, a modest and a generous man, although (with no criticism whatsoever intended) I have an idea that he knows it.

*This is a little odd though: in one of his Morning Star columns Attila the Stockbroker says it's not a good idea to suggest familiarity with Boris Johnson by calling him by his first name but he should be called 'Johnson' as it's American for 'knob'. 'Maggie', to me, has always suggested an uncomfortable cosiness, whereas 'Thatcher' rhymingly recalls 'milk snatcher', 'union basher', etc: much more fitting for a 'woman' (I have my doubts) who destroyed the country enough to allow her spiritual sons (Blair, Brown, etc) to virtually destroy all the work that the Attlee government had done to make Britain, er, great.

My other post on ranters:

John Cooper Clarke and John Prescott

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