I was walking to the train this morning (though as it transpired a bus came and I got that instead) and I was thinking for no reason I can glean about The Fall and specifically the song ‘TheClassical’ which is on Hex Enduction Hour and which contains the line, ‘bring on the obligatory niggers’. I seem to remember (though this may have been a bit of puff) that at the time that record came out, story went that Motown were about to branch out into new wave or something and they were this close to signing The Fall and they heard the line about obligatory niggers and said no. And that there was a bit of a thing about how out of touch they must have been at Motown because they didn’t ‘get it’. (This is in the Wikipedia article on the album).
But it also occurred to me, 35-something years later, that I don’t ‘get it’ either. As much as I am resistant to gut reaction shutting down of artistic expression, I have to admit the obligatory niggers thing does bother me, I guess because even if you suspend all evidence to the contrary even if it’s possible that the ‘niggers’ in question aren’t black people (btw there is nothing to say that they’re not, and when did some version of ‘nigger’ show up that wasn’t a black person? Elvis Costello’s ‘whiteniggers’ in ‘Oliver’s Army’?) then it’s still some kind of rejection of a recognizable racial-ethnic-cultural group, a group that we (or at least the narrator) has to endure despite their difference.
I guess if I thought about it I imagined that the ‘niggers’ in the evoked scenario had been incorporated, to the narrator’s disgust, out of political correctness (not that this was a known phrase in 1981) and that their inclusion demeaned us all. But that was a copout; I just didn’t know.
There are things you can wonder about how much the artist needs to explain his or herself and, as I said above, the freedom of the individual to say what they want in art, but really, fuck that shit. I looked up Hex Enduction Hour on Wikipedia to see whether there was any discussion of controversy re ‘obligatory niggers’ but no, although the phrase is mentioned alongside another ‘call to arms’ type song, ‘Crap Rap 2/ Like to Blow’ in which Mark Smith describes himself (?) as the white crap that talks back. I mean, cool. Against what? ‘Niggers’?
* I discovered on Wikipedia as well that Stewart Lee thinks Hex Enduction Hour is the best record ever made. He’s smarter than me, so I am probably wrong. Or he has just never listened to the ‘obligatory niggers’ bit.