Two Books

Paul Morley – Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City (Bloomsbury 2003)

Joe Jacobs – Out of the Ghetto: My Youth in the East End Communism and Facism, 1913-1939 (J Simon 1977 – later republished by Phoenix Press 1991)

Danny always reckoned you should have at least two books on the go – one highbrow, one lowbrow. I assumed the Morley book, about Pop Music, with Kylie in it, would be lowbrow, but I was wrong.

It’s been blogged to death elsewhere, but I really didn’t get on with it – too many lists, too much micro-repetition. A lot of reminded me of a particularly bad bout of ‘flu a few years back when I ended up in bed for two weeks. For (what seemed like) hours, I ended up having the same dream, again and again and again.

“Words and Music” is a bit like that, but fortunately I was able to skip great chunks of it and not feel bad about it, cos it was out of the library. Having said that, I really liked the bits about John Cage and Fad Gadget.

I assumed “Out of the Ghetto” would be high-brow, but I was wrong about that as well. Joe Jacobs, a working class Jewish bloke, grew up in the East End of London. This book captures his experiences really well. His story weaves together a number of themes – London history, the rise of the British Union of Fascists, Joe’s involvement and gradual disillusionment with the Communist Party of Great Britain and just the experience of a particular person reflecting on a particular time in their lives.

It’s completely unpretentious and down to earth, with Joe refusing to overdo his contribution to the number of events he clearly played a major part in (for example the resistance to Moseley, Cable Street, etc). I found the material on the debates in the CPGB on workplace/union vs community/ant-fascist activity to be very relevant today. Joe’s style is very conversational – he doesn’t over-theorise and the every day stuff sits naturally alongside the political activity.

My only regret is that the book doesn’t go into his involvement in later life with groups like Solidarity and Echanges. Joe died in 1977.