If you got up earlier than normal this morning just to witness the fanfare of Will and Kate’s royal wedding, all I can say is, I hope it was worth the lost sleep or early bedtime last night. I side with the vast majority of Americans who couldn’t care less.
Didn’t our forebears fight a war so we wouldn’t have to be subjected to such pomp?
Anyway, don’t take me for a hater of all things English. I love several things that the British empire has bestowed upon the world. Here are:
Five great things to come out of England (that have nothing to do with the royal family)
1. James Bond. The epitome of suave. The character of Ian Fleming’s novels came to us Americans on our glorious big screens, primarily in the form of Sean Connery. He brought class to the American landscape, and connected with many adolescent boyhood ambitions. He loved fast cars (his trademark Aston Martin is also a British creation), hot women, a good martini and all manner of gadgetry. In many ways, Bond was about as American as any male icon of the 1960s.
2. The British Invasion. Arriving on American airwaves in the early 1960s, British rock bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, the Dave Clark Five, the Kinks and the Who (pictured) altered the landscape of rock and roll. They put a big dent in the popularity of all-American acts like the Beach Boys, Fats Domino and even the King, Elvis Presley. Their Merseybeat sound — jangly guitars, vocal harmonies and catchy songs — came to dominate the airwaves, and to this day I still have a good share of British Invasion tunes on my playlist. (I write this to the tune of a Kinks song: “Catch Me Now I’m Falling.”) But what’s interesting to me about the most popular Brit bands — the Beatles and the Stones — is how they were so heavily influenced by that quintessential American musical genre known as the blues, and how their early successes were built on tunes by American rockers like Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Muddy Waters. The British Invasion was heavily influenced by an earlier U.S. music invasion on British airwaves.
3. The Clash. The UK punk scene of ’77 introduced a lot of glorious noise into a rock-music world that had become stale. The Sex Pistols grabbed headlines with their antics, but they were primarily an invention of Malcolm McLaren, who modeled them off a U.S. proto-punk band, The New York Dolls. (American influence again? Hmmm.) The Clash, though. The Clash were another matter. Once marketed as “the only band that mattered,” the Clash were the flip side of the Sex Pistols. While the Pistols sang songs celebrating anarchy and “no future,” the Clash were taking punk in a different, more sustainable direction. The band and their music was “unpretentiously moral,” as well as “both self-affirming and life-affirming,” wrote legendary rock critic Lester Bangs in a 1977 article for New Musical Express. Yes, the Clash’s music “seethes with rage and pain,” Bangs wrote, but “it also champs at the bit of the present system of things, lunging after some glimpse of a new and better world.” The Clash also was influenced by early American rock and roll, mixed musical styles (from reggae to rap to rockabilly), and contributed to the birth of a new musical genre, hip hop, in the early 1980s. Take a listen to their performance of “The Magnificent Seven” from Tom Snyder’s “Tomorrow” show in 1981 and tell me you don’t hear a rap song emerging.
4. Gin. The British do love this spirit, and they have perfected it. Just look at all the brands of very good gin that come from England: Bombay, Beefeater, Boodles and my favorite, Broker’s. (Why do they all start with the letter “B”? Oh, there’s also Tanqueray, which is very good.) Here, the British certainly can claim this spirit as rightfully theirs, with no Yankee influence. The American influence has diminished the image of gin (think “bathtub gin” from the Prohibition era, or Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice”). But the concoction known as gin and tonic, a favorite worldwide, originally harkened not in the UK. The drink is said to have originated in “the British tropical colonies where gin was used to mask the flavour of quinine, which was dissolved in tonic water.”
5. Monty Python. We have the British to thank for giving us one of the greatest comedy troupes ever. With their groundbreaking movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, they skewered the most revered of British fables. They went on to catapult other sacred cows over the walls of culture with movies like Life of Brian and every skit of their TV show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. They introduced absurdity into pop culture and a revolutionary cartooning style to the animation world. Funny, the guy that created those animation is Terry Gilliam, who hails from Minnesota. How absurd.
Bonus: The Mother Tongue. Without the English language, I would be blogging in another language, or not at all.
So, I have much about England to be thankful for. Just spare this commoner the royal foofaraw, please.