Watching the news this week and reading reports of the rioting in Britain, my first reaction was, “What is going on?” I have lived in the US for 32 years now; about twice the years of many of these kids doing the rioting.
Being away from my country of birth for that long, and going back infrequently, the UK has changed so much that it is now the foreign country to me.
But the more things change the more they stay the same; as the old cliché goes. A recurring phrase I keep hearing and reading is that these young people in Britain feel “Alienated.”
Well guess what? Teens and twenty year olds have always been alienated in the UK; at least they were 60 years ago when I was that age.
Take what happened with music in Britain in the late 1950s and early 1960s. First of all in America around 1956 young white kids started listening to what the young black kids were listening to; Rock n’ Roll, in much the same way young white adults today listen to Rap and Hip-Hop.
Elvis Presley became such a huge phenomenon because he was a white kid singing like a black man. That is not a joke; listen to Presley’s early recordings with Sun Records. Bill Hayley too; actually a band of older musicians, but white and paying Rock ‘n Roll. This same music and these same records were a huge hit in Britain at the time.
However, in 1950s America the good Christian white folks did not take kindly to their children listening to black music, they would surely all be going straight to Hell in the proverbial hand basket.
The music establishment, the record industry, took Elvis and cut his hair. They toned down his music; and put him in a string of awful movies. In other words, they cleaned him up and he would never be the same again.
Clean cut Christian white singers were brought in, like Pat Boone, but compared to the original Elvis, Fats Domino and Little Richard, as boring as Hell. Other Cookie Cutter artists appeared; they all looked the same and sounded the same, singing songs of teen love and angst.
In Britain teens were alienated from the adult world; their parents, the church, or the government for that matter, could care less what they did or listened to.
Teens and young adults stopped listening to what was coming from America and went back to the roots of American Black Music. Traditional Jazz, Dixieland and New Orleans style that had been popular in the US during the 1920s and 1930s; and also the Blues that had later become Rock ‘n Roll.
Recordings of this older music were hard to come by, so older established musicians in Britain were smart enough to form bands and record this music as well as play live gigs. Teens and young adults soon found this music was not that difficult to play; if you could play three chords on a guitar, a bass could be made out of a wooden box, a broom handle, and a piece of string.
Add a washboard to the rhythm section and you had yourself a Skiffle Band. I know because I was in one around 1958. This all led to the explosion of home grown music in the early 1960s, with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and many others.
The rest is history as they say, and history repeated itself in the late 1970s when the recording industry became so powerful it no longer produced what young people wanted. The result was the “Punk” movement and the music it produced.
So what does all this have to do with what is going on in Britain today?
What I have just described is something positive that came out of teens being suppressed and alienated. British kids did not accept what adults, even adults in another country were trying to dictate they should listen to.
The music these kids created changed the face of music for the whole world; it has even been said that this same music is what brought down Communism and the Soviet Union.
These riots in Britain are a negative result of this same alienation. These young people are not accepting what older adults and the establishment is saying they should do. They feel desperate and more suppression will only lead to more despair.
The British police are a big part of the problem. They have powers that people living in the US would not believe, and with power comes corruption. When the Murdoch scandal broke a few weeks ago it revealed that certain police officials were taking bribes. Again my first thought was nothing changes.
On London streets the slang name for the police was “The Filth” which implies “Not Clean.” As a teen I was often stopped and searched late at night for no reason other than I was walking home at a late hour. A person could be arrested for “Sus” as it was known on the streets, so I made sure I had absolutely nothing in my pockets..
Say a person had a screwdriver and a flashlight in his pocket; he could be arrested; not for actually committing a crime, but for being “Suspected of about to commit a crime.” (Hence “Sus.”) To make such a charge stick the police would then use what was known as the “Verbal.”
The Verbal was when the arresting officer gave evidence in court he would say something like this, “After I read the prisoner his rights I asked him if he had anything to say, and he replied, ‘I don’t break into people’s homes, just shops.’” Of course the prisoner never said any such thing, but this statement from a trusted member of law enforcement sealed his fate.
In the mid 1960s there was a huge scandal in Britain when police all the way up to high ranking Scotland Yard officials, went to jail for taking bribes from London criminals. Things got cleaned up after that, but many years have since passed and I wonder if over these intermediate years the situation has become as bad again as it was in the 1950s. If it has it would account for the feeling of despair among young people
I don’t condone rioting, vandalism, and other criminal activity, but the British Government needs to be looking deeper into the root cause of the anger and despair. Because trying to control it will not work.
There is now talk of bringing the army in if the police can’t control the situation. Yea’ right; that worked real well in Northern Ireland. Doesn’t history teach anybody anything?