Friday, June 19, 2020

"All soaring optimism and poignant nostalgia"

Prompted by the death of Vera Lynn, the singer who made the song famous, Luke Turner's Guardian article on 'We'll Meet Again' is a fine piece of musical archaeology. His excavation strips away the grime accreted since it was first recorded in 1939, uncovering the "perfect three-minute pop song" underneath.

The grime in question is the jingoism and "toxic nostalgia" that the song has been bent to serve, the "romantic view" of the Second World War that "has become weaponised in the construction of the myth of a plucky Britain, fighting alone against Nazi foes" - in other words, the exact same things that have fuelled the sense of superiority and exceptionalism that brought about Brexit. Needless to say, the piece and its author have been lightning rods for gammony ire since it was published.

"Like all perfect pop songs", Turner notes, "'We'll Meet Again' became something more than itself". In that sense, the song's meaning was always going to mushroom, and in some ways that would do it a disservice. The grime can only be stripped off temporarily, not permanently; its wider cultural significance cannot be completely ignored. That's not to say, though, that tracing how a song has been appropriated, writing its post-release biography, is a pointless exercise - far from it, as Turner's article proves.

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