So, here we find ourselves in 2012. It’s a bit boring really, isn’t it? We put petrol in our cars, we shop at Tesco every week and we go to work, all without the constant looming threat of fiery nuclear annihilation. Oh sure, North Korea is launching a few rockets for shits and giggles, but to be honest they’re just a schoolboy pariah nation. It seems we sadly can’t rustle up monolithic empires of terror these days like the good old USSR. Now there was a conglomerate of socialist republics that really knew how to scare the shit out of you! Thousands of missiles, submarines and bombers on hair trigger alert, ready to obliterate every single living piece of matter in the western world. It must have added a certain frisson to life. Pondering whether to order dessert or not? Fuck it, could get nuked tomorrow! Want to buy a Porsche instead of sending the kids to private school? Well what good will knowing Latin do them in a Post-nuclear waste land where they have to learn how to eke a bleak, hollow existence growing crops from irradiated soil whilst defending themselves from gangs of roving cannibals bent on feasting from their emaciated flesh?
But I digress. Let us look back to October 1980. This was a time when “Enola Gay” by Orchestral Manoeuvres
in the Dark, a song about the
nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, could reach number 8 in the charts. Imagine
trying to sell that in the age of Simon Cowell! “Well, what we want to do,
right, is record this subversively dark and multi-faceted homage to the B-29
bomber that dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. Uh, that’s right; it's going
to be about the plane. Only it's kind of not, because the plane was named after
the pilot’s mother, so there’s a whole undertone regarding the male
appropriation and thus inadvertent perversion of matriarchal imagery. And it’s
going to have an upbeat melody with a slightly sinister synth backing”.
Now, as I write this, the UK number 8 is “Starships” by Nicki Minaj, which I have nothing against and indeed have found myself humming along to on several occasions. However, I can’t help but draw a detrimental comparison between these two songs when Ms Minaj enthuses the listener to
“Fuck who you want and fuck who you like”.
Indeed Nicki; an apt if stark indictment of the cultural concerns of our time. Of course, I’m not claiming that the 80’s were a strenuously righteous and intellectual decade, festooned as they were with coke addled hair metal bands and manufactured pop. It does seem though that the eminent possibility of the skies raining death at any given moment sharpened creative vision a little. One of the most immediately obvious (and geeky) examples would have to be James Cameron’s conception of the Terminator as the primeval foe, a skeletal hand rising from the flaming rubble of nuclear conflict (definite future posts ahoy!)
As Andy McCluskey’s lyrics point out, the “kiss” that Enola Gay gives “is never, ever going to fade away”. He’s reminding us that even if nuclear weapons are never used, even if they never do any physical damage, the possibility of their use is enough to draw a scar across our creative imaginations. That we now know the darkest depths we can plumb as a race. We know that we could, if we felt like it, undo every living man woman and child on the face of the earth and all that humanity has achieved. That those warheads are locked away in bunkers and submarines and bomb bays, gently oozing the warmth of radioactive decay, biding their time.