I suppose it’s symptomatic of The Great Recession that one of the newest shops in the ‘main drag’ on the western edges of Brive is Cash Converter: a glorified pawn shop, where you can bring your wares – however acquired – and convert them into some paltry euros. If the shop had a legend or a strap line (an honest rather than a specious one, that is) it would probably be ‘Yo’ trash ain’t nothin’ but cash’.
Most of the stuff looks tawdry or dodgy, to put it mildly. But if you hunt long and hard enough, you can find some gen-u-ine bargains, which probably explains why it seems to be doing such a roaring trade, now as we approach Christmas at a time when people’s money generally is ‘too tight to mention’. I went in out of idle curiosity really, because the last thing I need – being an insatiable hoarder – is more stuff.
However… there on the shelves, looking a little scratched and slightly dented, was a top-of-the-line JVC CD player, saying ‘take me, take me’. At €11,90 and with a smoothly functioning mechanism, I had to do just that. My reserve CD player, after all, is a DVD player from Lidl, which can move upstairs to the office to supplement the spare cassette player. So I duly tucked that under my armpit.
I had just enough time before hurrying off to pick up The Daughter from school to rifle through the CD bins. Sadly, it’s one of my favourite occupations in life. My pulse quickens and my temple throbs in anticipation of finding some overlooked gold in among the fool’s variety. My best friend has unearthed most of his impressive collection of Blue Note jazz LPs by never knowingly passing by a New York thrift store and by taking the time to sort through all the rubbish in the everlasting hope… His example has inspired me over the decades and only he would truly recognise my addiction.
Inevitably – in among all the Claude Francois and Jonny Halliday discs – there were temptations to a man. Things like a Slim Gaillard compilation and a Celia Cruz collection for 50c apiece and a live double Caetano Veloso in-concert recording for a fraction under €3 went straight into the basket. But I approached a French collection of American hip-hop with much more trepidation. At its most intelligent and creative, hip-hop can be wonderful; at its most base and bombastic, it can be crude, dispiriting and plain offensive. Since it cost a mere 90 cents for a double album’s worth, I decided to ‘risk it for a biscuit’ (as we used to say at school). Thanks to computer technology, I can conserve anything I really like for a future compilation and then pass on the original to a deserving cause. Why, you might ask, don’t I just download the good stuff for such a purpose? Well, firstly I never know what might constitute ‘good stuff’ until I’ve heard it, and secondly I hate downloading. It’s too easy; it takes the fun out of the chase.
I took my stuff home and waited till I was on my own before I aired the hip-hop, because there would surely be things to which I wouldn’t want to submit my ‘ladeez’. There were indeed some gems: predictably the De La Soul and Gang Starr tracks and unexpectedly tracks by the likes of Missy Elliot and Tupac (or 2pac, as it says on the tin). Inevitably, though, there were plenty of tracks that were misogynistic and quite horrible. Nasty posturing bully-boys ‘talkin’ tray-ash’. I had to press the ‘skip’ button of my new JVC CD player.
The following evening, I caught an episode of Top of the Pops from 1976, hosted by Noel Edmonds, the man with the trim little beard and the smooth-as-peanut-butter patter. Among the acts were The Manhattans, a black vocal group that dated back to the golden age of Doo-Wop. I think they were performing ‘Kiss And Say Goodbye’; but I didn’t take note. It would have been easy to mock the sappy lyrics and the Temptations-style choreography, but it was utterly charming and I couldn’t help comparing it with the macho trash that I’d skipped through earlier in the day and wondering how, in 35 short years, we had evolved (or regressed) from this to that.
Where did it all go wrong? How come – and I generalise of course – that we have substituted sex and ‘bitches’ for ‘lerve’ and ‘ladeez’? It seems to me that if you listened to an exclusive diet of hip-hop and rap, you’d get the idea that male/female relationships are all about gratifying the top dog. Maybe it was ever thus; maybe it was simply better disguised for public consumption. But I doubt it. There’s a lot less room these days for sensitivity and compassion. With the impact of The Great Recession still truly to bite, there’s going to be even less room, I fear, in the time to come.