Amateur Night in the Big Top is a 2003 album by Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays fame. In my mind it is brilliant. Varied, complex music with a variety of styles including jazz, dance and eastern; cross references, reprises and Ryder rambling and swearing all over it. If you look at the reviews he got in the music press when it came out, with a few exceptions, he and his creation were completely slated: incoherent muttering, pitiful, tuneless, horrible, need I go on?
Roll-on 12 years and the same music press are apparently saying that it was an influence for a band called Sleaford Mods whose output over four albums is much less varied than any two given tracks on Amateur Night. And they are getting all kinds of positive reviews. The hacks are saying this is genius, go listen to these working class sweary lads, laying it out on the state of Britain. And they were influenced by an obscure, clever Ryder album that you’ve never heard of.
What is going on here? Could it be the self-preservation, self-policing mindset at play? Were journos frightened to give a stamp of approval to such a genial, experimental, original album from a washed up former hero? He’s Shaun Ryder. He used to do Happy Mondays and Black Grape. He had problems with drugs. What the hell is he doing now? This doesn’t make sense. Better ridicule it. The Guardian gave Amateur Night, a mighty 1-star out of 5, which beggars belief. Even if the music was not to taste, you had to give is a minimum of 3 for what it aimed for.
The fourth track is called Beaten to Death by Clowns. It’s a brilliant metaphor that can be applied to much of life. “The idea is, the guy on the cover [above] – he’s a fucking clown,” explains Ryder. “Bush is a clown that staged 9/11, Saddam is a clown, everyone I’ve met in the music business is a clown. My mate Wags once said that his nightmare was being beaten to death by clowns. I’d agree with that.”
I just watched The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz. A prominent hacktivist and civil liberties figure, hounded to suicide by US prosecutors for a crime that was not actually a crime. Why did they pursue him so vehemently? It was clearly a chance to make a statement to his brethren saying: Don’t mess with big government and big business. Do as we say: Fucking stand-up, sit down, be quiet, shout loud … keep your head down, in the crowd to quote some of Ryder’s lyrics.
It’s not as if there is a weekly meeting or newsletter where all the politicians, businessmen, bankers, journalists, prosecutors and police get together and openly say let’s make an example of some poor bastard. It’s all kind of implied. A fear of the masses, a need to control. Despite what the media portray, the vast majority of people are not programming apps, driving a hit YouTube channel, writing popular blogs, wheeling-dealing, getting TV and radio spots, guest editing magazines, or being invited to Davos. Most of us just get on with things. We tolerate each other, generally don’t want to harm.
But then there are those people who have become Clowns. Clowns is the right word. Not because they are stupid or funny, but because of the mask they wear. They are whoever they need to be to get some self-beneficial task done today. They’ll flip tomorrow if that works out better for them. They’d deliver their own mother to a Saudi sheikh if it netted them a minor oil deal. They’d sacrifice their own young countrymen in futile wars and bomb a distant country into the stone age if it will win an election or secure business for their fat cat mates. They’ll turn a blind eye to pedophiles in their midst if it means they can control them for their own purposes; secure their loyalty with a dirty, damaging secret. They’ll destroy a life to make a statement.
The clowns don’t believe in anything other than what serves them right now. The middle class are taught to fear the hoodie on the street, the burglar, the “did you spill my pint” football hooligan, the dodgy foreigner, and are taught to trust the clowns. The banker, the journalist, the politician, the lawyer, the TV-star, the businessman won’t break into your house and beat you senseless. No, they won’t do that, but they wouldn’t hesitate to ruin your reputation, destroy you financially, drive you to the brink and remove your freedom.
[Here is the story of American comedian and drunk Doug Stanhope going head to head with a clown journalist, Britain’s own Allison Pearson. Doug is a foul mouthed, hard drinking, drug consuming Yank living somewhere in the desert on the edges of society. He’s also hilarious and as with most great comics is an astute observer of life’s details and injustices. That’s why most good comics are liberal in leaning because you need to be touching on the truth for something to be funny. The neoconservatives and ruling class clowns can rarely ever be funny because their whole premise is build on deception; a deception required to keep the whole incredulous, fragile and unjust house of cards that we call society from collapsing.]