A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs: Wynonie Harris and “Good Rockin’ Tonight”

The new episode of A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs is now up. It’s a look at “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, called by some the first rock and roll record. Find out how a shortage of insect secretions and too many lifevests combined to delay rock and roll, what to do if you have two Cadillacs, and how to sell autographs door to door.

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New Episode of A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs

If you find your sweetheart in the arms of a friend… why not console yourself with a podcast about the Ink Spots? Learn about coffee-pot bands, the Mills Brothers, how a boat to Australia can derail a career, and why bands should be corporations, not partnerships. Plus how to do top and bottom.

Visit this link to hear more.

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New 500 Songs Episode Now Up!

How are the Fallowfield cycle loop, the first stadium rock gig, Pentacostal theology, and a tall skinny papa who wants a big fat mama all connected? By Sister Rosetta Tharpe, of course, as you’ll hear if you listen to the latest episode!

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Review: Duane Eddy at the Bridgewater Hall

One of the things that we fetishise, possibly too much, when we talk about music is artistic growth. Musicians are supposed to be restless, always looking for the next big thing, never trying to settle for the same thing they’ve been doing all along. They’re meant to always be on the bleeding edge, stretching themselves, trying to break new frontiers in sound.

And yet… when was the last time someone did that and it was actually, you know, good?

I mean, it happens occasionally. I wouldn’t want Scott Walker to have kept singing “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More”, and to have not moved on to Jacques Brel covers and songs about Bergman films, and from then to the indescribable stuff he’s done over the last couple of decades, which has no parallel in recorded sound that I know of.

But for every one Scott Walker there are a thousand Stings, musicians who start trying to incorporate world music and record albums of lute music and go so far up their own arse you forget that they ever actually had the ability to write a catchy pop song, while still never actually doing anything remotely artistically valid.

Duane Eddy is the anti-Sting. He hit upon one thing that he could do really well, sixty years ago, and hasn’t changed it since.

But the thing is, there’s an immense power to one thing done very well, as Duane Eddy showed on Tuesday night at what was billed as his final *ever* UK show (athough towards the end he hinted that he might come back, saying “I’m not ready to hang up my rock and roll shoes just yet”).

Eddy was playing the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, as his last stop on a three-date UK tour, and while I obviously had to go and see him (I’ve seen far too few of the great fifties rockers, and he’s basically the only one still alive and touring) I was a bit dubious about the venue. The Bridgewater Hall is the best venue in Manchester — for classical or acoustic music. It’s a specialist concert hall designed specifically for that, and the acoustics are so good that you can hear every note played by an unamplified instrument from the back of the balcony with pinprick accuracy — and with a handful of exceptions, every time I’ve heard an electric band there it’s been a horrible mess of booming bass, inaudible vocals (though that’s not such a problem for Eddy, one of the few great rock stars to have built his career on instrumentals) and muddy reverb. 

Luckily, as soon as support act Robert Vincent started up, I knew I was in for a good night. The sound mix was, for once, excellent — and Vincent himself was far better than he had any right to be. 

I can’t actually judge him very fairly, because his songs were, for the most part, the kind of songs which take several listens before you decide whether you like them or not. That’s not a criticism of them — but they’re the kind of subtly melodic song that you get on, say, mid-period Squeeze albums like Frank (and indeed Chris Difford is one of the people quoted on Vincent’s posters), and that kind of song just doesn’t work particularly well when heard for the first time in a live setting. 

But he was precisely the right support act for this crowd. Even if the songs don’t grab you, they’re what most of the audience would undoubtedly think of as “proper music” — and more to the point, the *performances* were definitely good enough to grab you. Vincent himself has a voice that was naggingly familiar for the first few songs before I figured out who he reminded me of — he sounded spookily like Gerry Marsden, of Gerry and the Pacemakers.

And he and his band were musicians. This is actually a rarer quality than you might imagine from people who make their living playing music, but there was an attention to detail in the arrangements that one rarely sees. In particular, there was lovely interplay between the two solo instrumentalists — this was a five-piece band, with Vincent on acoustic rhythm guitar, plus electric guitar, stand-up bass, drums and pedal steel. The lead guitarist was playing a nice reverby hollow-body guitar, which is appropriate for a Duane Eddy show, and had a simple country-infused melodic style which is very rare these days, with elements of Chet Atkins, James Burton, maybe a bit of George Harrison in there, nothing fancy or flashy, just playing right for the song. The pedal steel player was similarly good (there were a few very Red Rhodes sounding moments, which is a high compliment) — but what was really interesting was that the two players were playing in the same sort of range, and with similar levels of reverb, and they’d occasionally do a solo where it would start as the guitarist playing, but somewhere in the middle it would transition into the pedal steel player, and I’d miss exactly where the transition took place.

They were good enough that I’d happily watch them again, and good enough that there was a reasonable-sized queue afterwards to buy their CDs, and neither of those things is normal for a support act, especially a support act for a legacy act whose fans want the hits. Like the sound engineering, and like the choice of music in the interval (a collection of good classic blues and soul records by people like Howlin’ Wolf and Jackie Wilson among others) it was the kind of thing that complements the main act without overwhelming it. Just that little bit better than they needed to be — surprisingly good without making you want them to stay on instead of the headliner, which is about as good a compliment as you can pay to a support act. (No, really, it is).

But it was the main act everyone had come to see, and the audience seemed to thrill with anticipation as the stage darkened, and then the band walked out. And after they got ready, out came a white-haired figure, who picked up a guitar, and the crowd went wild.

I didn’t. I just got confused. I wasn’t sure what Duane Eddy looks like now (almost all the photos of him I’ve seen are of him in the 50s), but I was betting that he didn’t look exactly like the great country guitarist Albert Lee, and also that he wasn’t going to be playing a Telecaster, which is the guitar that Albert Lee plays.

Indeed, a few seconds later, another white-haired figure walked out, this time wearing a cowboy hat and not having Albert Lee’s face, and picked up a far more Gretsch-like (and thus far more Duane Eddy-esque) guitar.

This was, of course, your actual Duane Eddy, and frankly he looked far more like Duane Eddy should look than those fifties photos do. Eddy’s music is rugged, and thick, and precise, like it’s carved out of granite. It shouldn’t be played by a young man who’s not yet turned twenty, with a quiff and a smile. It should be played by an eighty-year-old man with a white beard and a cowboy hat.

The band opened up with “Movin’ and Groovin'”, and instantly it was apparent that this was a band that could do this music justice. And it was also apparent that Eddy has lost none of his skill. Duane Eddy is an odd type of guitar hero, really. He doesn’t engage in the fast twiddly histrionics of most successful guitarists — instead he plays sparse statements of the melody, on the lowest strings of the guitar. There’s nothing technically difficult about it, it’s all about the feel and the groove, rather than about showing dexterity.

And that means that he’s one of the few instrumentalists who can continue to get better as he ages. By the time you’re eighty, it’s difficult to play a thousand notes a second or whatever ludicrous number the Joe Satrianis of this world can now play. But you can still play “Movin’ and Groovin'”, if you can feel it. And Duane Eddy clearly can feel it.

For those of you who don’t know Eddy’s style, it’s a simple formula that’s summed up in the titles of early albums of his like Have Twangy Guitar, Will Travel and The Twang’s The Thang. Each song is a simple set of chord changes, usually a blues, over which Eddy would play a melody on the bass strings of his guitar (or sometimes on a six-string bass), which would be reverbed to hell. Add a skronking sax to play a solo, and you’ve got almost everything Duane Eddy ever did. 

But as I said at the beginning, doing one thing really well is something that’s definitely worthwhile, and Eddy definitely does that. “Movin’ and Groovin'” was excellent, and the band (put together by Richard Hawley) proved themselves to be perfectly in tune with Eddy’s particular style of playing.

After the song, Eddy introduced a couple of band members, including confirming my suspicion that the Albert Lee-looking bloke with Albert Lee’s face was, indeed, Albert Lee, saying he’d “just happened to be in the area”. That may have just been a joke, but I didn’t see any mention of Lee being at the other shows on the tour, and he *did* play a solo gig in Stockport not that long ago, so who knows? Maybe he really did just turn up and join in.

Hit after hit followed, often accompanied by little anecdotes. After “Detour” and “The Lonely One”, Eddy tried to explain Captain Marvel to his audience, and how much he, as a ten year old, had envied nerdy little Billy Batson changing into a superhero. The surprise from the audience when he said the word “SHAZAM!” to introduce the song of that name suggests that there weren’t many comic fans in the audience.

Rather more recognition greeted another name, as he told a story about playing a gig and not getting there in time to see the support act. The support act, a black man, then came and said how much he loved “3:30 Blues” and gave him a hug and kiss. After Eddy asked who the man in question was, he got the reply “B.B. King”, and Eddy said “it should be *me* hugging *you*” and did just that.

A few songs in, the latest incarnation of the “Rebelettes” were introduced, to provide vocals on Eddy’s handful of non-instrumental hits, all of which had been recorded with girl-group vocals. “Play Me Like You Play Your Guitar”, “Dance With The Guitar Man”, and “Boss Guitar” are all, if you haven’t heard them, songs with very similar lyrical themes, mostly about how great it is when “the guitar man” “plays the boss guitar” and how everybody should “listen to the guitar man”. This is as close to a variation on the theme as Eddy has ever come, and some might see it as slightly watering down his sound, but it’s still twangy guitar, dance beat, and honking sax. 

Eddy slightly messed up the timing on his solo on “Boss Guitar”, with the singers being about to come in but then noticing he was stll going, but I doubt any of the audience would have noticed had he not made a joke of it afterwards — the band were tight enough to catch it and go with it, without any interruption to the musical flow.

After the three songs with “the Rebelettes”, Richard Hawley joined the band on stage — and around the same time Eddy switched from his Gretsch guitar to a custom-made Gretsch six-string bass, which he said had had to be made for him to replace the Danelectro basses he used to use. Eddy played this in much the same way he played the guitar, as a lead instrument, and it had an absolutely stunning tone. I want one now.

Richard Hawley produced Eddy’s most recent album, in 2011, and has acted as de facto musical director for his UK tours since then, and he took the lead vocals on a mini-set of cover versions of songs by Eddy’s contemporaries. They ran through spirited versions of “Memphis Tennessee” and “Keep A Knockin'”, and while Hawley is no Little Richard, his vocals were perfectly fine. 

(A sidenote on this — I heard a few people talking afterwards complaining about Hawley’s vocals and suggesting that they should have brought Robert Vincent back on instead to sing the vocals on these songs. No. Hawley was, quite deliberately, understating his vocals because on a Duane Eddy performance the vocals aren’t the things that matter. The vocals here were roughly equivalent to the rhythm guitar — something necessary for the performance, but not something that should dominate).

Like many older musicians do, Eddy seems to regard himself as something of a caretaker of his dead or incapacitated contemporaries’ legacies, and to regard performing their songs as something of a sacred obligation. It’s something I’ve seen from a lot of elderly musicians — a way of keeping the music they loved alive. Before this mini-set Eddy named a few of his contemporaries — mostly the expected names, though he also threw Bobby Darin in there, who I wouldn’t have expected to be mentioned in the same category as the others — and joked about how the audience was probably too young to remember any of them.

Richard Hawley’s later joke, though, that there were so many mobility aids in the audience that he’d had to double-check whether he was in A&E rather than at a gig, was probably closer to the mark. If I wasn’t the youngest person in the audience (and I may well have been), I was certainly in the ten or so youngest, and I’m forty — this was an audience that was at least seventy percent male, at least ninety percent over sixty, and one hundred percent white. The queue for the urinals at the interval stretched out of the gents’ toilet door, down the corridor, and round a corner, while the ladies’ was queue-free. This was an audience of old white men, come to see an old white man, and while in some ways that’s a very good thing — old people deserve to have nice things for themselves, too, and the cult of youth is one of the more pernicious in modern culture — it also seems rather a shame that this preservation aspect of the performance doesn’t really do much as there are no younger people around to watch and remember.

But still, the performances of those two songs were worthwhile for those of us, of whatever age, who love this music — and for whatever reason I found myself far more moved by the utter sadness of the lyric to “Memphis, Tennessee” than I ever have been before. It’s always been a sad lyric, obviously, despite the cheerful, upbeat, melody, but for some reason it just got to me in a way it never had before. I think it’s the line “with hurry-home drops on her cheeks that trickled from her eye”. On odd occasions over the last few days I’ve found that line coming back to me, and found myself starting to cry. Very odd to be so moved by something that’s so familiar to me.

And then there was something that was a surprising highlight of the show — something that I hadn’t expected, and which on paper sounds like it would be less than wonderful. Hawley mentioned that they were going to do something that they had done together in Nashville at a Bob Dylan tribute, and they brought out a harmonica player. They then proceeded to do “House of the Rising Sun”, with an absolutely bizarre combination of instruments for that song — Hawley on lead vocals, wailing blues harmonica, Duane Eddy playing the melody on a reverbed-to-hell six-string bass, and a keyboard (which for most of the show was providing either piano, organ, or string pad parts as you’d expect) playing a very realistic harpsichord sound.

I’ve found footage of the Nashville performance — this has the great Charlie McCoy playing the harmonica, and it’s the same arrangement that I heard on Tuesday. 

That’s something really quite special, and something I’d never in a million years have expected from this show. It’s the furthest the show got from the Duane Eddy formula, but it’s also, very clearly, a Duane Eddy performance, isn’t it?

That was undoubtedly, for me at least, the highlight of the show.

There followed two instrumental covers of Fats Domino songs — “Blueberry Hill” and “My Blue Heaven” — before we headed into the home stretch with another run of hits, ending with “Peter Gunn” (a song that somehow typifies Duane Eddy even though the only thing he does on it is play an eight-note riff while the saxophone does all the real work) and “Rebel Rouser”, plus an encore of sorts (one that didn’t involve actually leaving the stage, because Duane Eddy’s too old for that crap) of “Some Kinda Earthquake” — a song which he pointed out was the shortest ever song to reach the top forty in the US, but which they were going to play for longer than its normal one minute seventeen, to give Albert Lee a chance to solo a bit too — and “Hard Times”.

This was the last stop on Eddy’s farewell tour of the UK, and Hawley and the band were clearly emotional, with Hawley giving a little speech about how much working with Duane Eddy has meant to him over the years, and how much he and the band had learned from him as a person as well as as musicians.

I can well believe it. If this *was* his last ever UK show, he’s certainly going out on a high. The Bridgewater wasn’t quite full (it’s a big venue, and as I said most of Eddy’s audience is old now) but it seemed pretty close to it, and there was a long, well-earned, standing ovation. It was a far more emotional night than I had expected, and a far better gig than I had any right to expect. If he does come around again, make sure you take the chance to see him when you can.

This blog post was funded by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? And if you like my writing on music, check out my podcast A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs. There’ll be a new episode up there tonight, on another guitar hero — Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

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Podcast Plans: Questions For People

Oh look, it’s yet another post about my podcast!

I know, I’ve written very little other than stuff about the podcast recently — but remember that the podcast itself came to about twenty thousand words of writing last month, which *was* also posted as blog posts as well as podcasts.
Anyway, I’m currently trying to build up a decent backlog of podcast scripts, and once I’ve got a buffer I’ll be back to posting here more regularly about other things. And I should have a review of a Duane Eddy gig up tomorrow.
But for now, I want to ask people’s opinion about the best way to go about the book versions of the podcast.

You see, when I started writing this, it was intended as a series of books. I was going to write about a thousand words about each song. Five books, hundred songs per book, take five years to do at a reasonable rate. Hopefully they’d sell as well as my California Dreaming book, which would bring in a nice extra bit of income.

That changed a bit when I realised that a podcast was the best medium for this story. You see, each episode is about four thousand words. Covering five hundred songs will require two million words, which is almost four times the length of War & Peace.

But it turns out that that’s what the thing will require. In fact, now I’m starting to worry if five hundred songs wasn’t too few, and I shouldn’t have gone for a thousand songs.

Because this is important to me. More important, I think, than I’ve made clear. This is something that’s been percolating for about seventeen years, although it only took full form a few months ago.

I think it started when I was at university. In my second attempt at getting a degree, I was studying a course on popular music history, and early on in the course the lecturers talked about Carl Perkins, and played some of his music, then laughingly said “don’t worry, we don’t expect you to listen to this for fun, you just have to know about it.”

I *loved* Carl Perkins, then and now. I was listening to him for fun. And I wondered how someone could teach a course that would lead people to have any understanding at all of popular music, if they dismissed out of hand the very possibility that their students could actually enjoy the music they were talking about.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m watching the Everly Brothers on their last UK tour. The show was fantastic, and they came out and did an encore. They did two songs in the encore — “Blue Yodel #9 (T For Texas)”, the old hillbilly song by Jimmie Rodgers, and “You Send Me” by Sam Cooke. And they both sounded like Everly Brothers songs, and fantastic. And I had a sort of gut-level realisation that they came from a time when Jimmie Rodgers and Sam Cooke were both just… music, that they liked. They didn’t have to be in one style or another. They were just good music, and they were both connected to what the Everlys were doing.

Fast forward another year or two, and I’m at a mediocre festival. But like all mediocre festivals, there had been a couple of great acts, and one of them was the Del McCoury Band. I’d not really known anything about McCoury, who’s one of the all-time greats of bluegrass, before seeing him, but I was absolutely blown away by his band, who were professionals of the old school, dressed smartly in matching suits, playing with breathtaking precision. I instantly became a fan.
The next day, there was a band I *had* been looking forward to until that day, Hayseed Dixie, a novelty act who did bluegrass covers of hard rock songs. They came on, and they were… frankly nasty in their stereotyped, “Dukes of Hazzard” style faux-yokelisms, mocking Southern country people with every word they said, with a sense that they were more sophisticated than anyone who could unironically like bluegrass without turning it into a joke. 

I looked at them, with their overalls, and I remembered Del McCoury stood on stage in his immaculate suit, singing immaculate harmonies with his sons while they played the most blisteringly fast banjo and mandolin you’ve ever heard, and I knew who I thought was more sophisticated. I never listened to Hayseed Dixie again.

But anyway, those are just three examples of miniature epiphanies which have happened to me several more times over the years. And these have all had the same effect, more or less… which is that there is a *wealth* of music out there, important, wonderful music that has enriched my life, but it’s inaccessible to many people my age or younger. Without the cultural context, it sounds like a joke.

And that’s something that’s going to carry on happening. When I finish this project, assuming I get to, it’ll be 2028. When I cover, say, a song from Automatic for the People by R.E.M., it’ll be thirty-six years, give or take, since the album came out. “Blue Suede Shoes” was thirty-six years before that. Without context, will R.E.M. sound any less ridiculous to the teenagers of the late twenties and early thirties than Carl Perkins apparently did to the teenagers and lecturers at my university? I doubt it.

But I think I can provide that context, culturally and musically. I think my particular talents, in so far as I have any, are more suited to this than to anything else I could be doing with myself. I think I’m good at telling stories, I’m good at research, I’m good at picking out the telling details from a mass of information. I’m also good at making connections between seemingly disparate things, and pointing out why they’re related. I know twentieth century popular music as well as… well not as well as anyone I can think of, but I’m probably in the top ten people I can think of as far as that kind of knowledge goes. I also am a competent enough musician that I can analyse the music, but not competent enough that I’ll try to put my own music into the podcast.

I honestly think that this is the best contribution I could make to human culture, and it’s something that I’ll take very seriously indeed.
But it’s going to be a lot of work. It sounds grandiose to the point of delusion, but I’m thinking of this as my equivalent to the multi-volume big books of 18th and 19th-century gentleman scholars — my Origin of Species or Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire or Golden Bough. One of those things that goes into all the detail that’s needed to create a complete picture.

Again, two million words.

Now, once I’ve got my buffer of scripts filled up, I *will* still have time to do other things — to blog about politics and comics and Doctor Who as well as music, and about whatever else enters my head. I’ve got ideas for a lot more short stories I want to write, I’m going to finish the Nilsson book, and I know people want the third Sarah Turner book, and that *will* be coming out next year. I plan to write more novels, too.

But the thing is, to do this, I basically have to treat it as a full-time job, and that means making it earn full-time job money, which affects how I do the books.

Now, before I go any further, I’m going to reiterate — this blog will always stay free, and advert-free. The podcast will always stay free.

I also *want* to keep the podcast free of adverts, but I’m willing to put adverts in if it doesn’t start paying for itself in a few months’ time.
So what I want to do is figure out ways to maximise my income from books, and also to maximise new Patreon signups from the podcast.

I *think* I have found a way to do both, while also keeping complete creative integrity, but I’d be interested in what people think.

I think the book versions of the podcasts, as books, need to be no more than five books in total. No-one is going to sign up for a ten-book series. So that means each of those books has to be big — roughly War and Peace big — and will come out once every two years.

Now, that’s not going to earn enough for me to live on — and if it does, it won’t be until two years from now, and I’d quite like to eat in the intervening time. So absent Steven Spielberg buying the film rights for The Basilisk Murders or something, I need to find another way to make a sustainable income from the podcast.

I don’t want to do ads unless I have to, but what I *can* do is make signing up for my Patreon more attractive.

So what I’m thinking for the books is this:

Every time I complete a “story arc” of five to ten episodes, I create an ebook version of that “story arc”. This will be based on the podcast scripts, but edited and rewritten to be suitable for a prose format rather than the audio form. That will be posted free to all Patreon backers at every level. These will be twenty to forty thousand words long, so roughly one or two hundred pages, give or take.

Every six months, I put out a revised paperback, for higher-tier Patreon backers only. This paperback does not go on general sale, but is only available for backers who want it, and covers six months’ worth of the story. That’s about a hundred and twenty thousand words, ish, or at the high side of normal for a paperback novel.

Then, every two years, I put out a volume of the finished books (which Patreon backers would also get, at the relevant levels, either as ebook, paperback, or hardback). These would be Big Fat Books, a thousand pages or more each, and they’d be available on general sale.

Is this plan something that would appeal to people? Current Patreon backers, is this something you would like (this will be on top of the blog posts and any other books I write, which you’ll get as before)? Potential Patreon backers, would this make you more likely to subscribe? Potential book-buyers, am I right in thinking you’d rather have five giant doorstops, released once every two years, than a series of ten (or twenty!) shorter books released more frequently?

(People who have no interest in my podcast, and can’t see themselves ever giving me money for any of my work, there’s no need for you to answer. I am aware that the vast majority of the world’s population won’t ever pay me for this, and that’s fine. Not everything is for everyone. But there’s no need to tell me that if it’s true of you.)

And also, does anyone have anything else they would like to see me do with this podcast? Ideally in ways that will make it more financially viable, but even if they don’t bring in money, anything that people like will pay off either financially or artistically in the long run, so I’m willing to consider all sorts of stuff.

This is a ridiculously ambitious project for me, but I think I can do it — and once I’ve got the buffer filled up, normal service here will resume and I’ll have thoughts on Batman or Doctor Who or the latest attempts by the Lib Dem leadership to consign us to electoral oblivion or something.

Please let me know what you think. I’m after all the feedback on this I can get. And thank you for listening, those who have been.

If this appeals to you, please consider signing up for my Patreon. And if you’ve not heard the podcast yet, 500songs.com is the place to go.

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A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs Episode 4 Now Up!

The new episode of A History Of Rock Music in 500 Songs is now up, on Louis Jordan and “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie”, with detours into the Marx Brothers, Billie Holiday, Chick Webb, and an eighty-year-old jazz controversy.

It should also be up on Spotify and iTunesshortly.

Also, as always, there’s a Mixcloud mix of all the music I excerpt in the show.

Like all my writing, this podcast wouldn’t exist without the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?

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On the Trans “Debate”

There are a few blog posts I’ve got mostly or wholly written, which I’d much rather be posting here — the next in my series of posts on Harry Nilsson, reviews of the new Christmas albums by the Monkees and Mike Love, a look at the Netflix Haunting of Hill House — but instead I’m writing a post I really wish I wasn’t writing.

Before I go any further — this is a post which trans people don’t need to read. You all know what I’m saying, and this is only going to remind you of various horrible things going on at the moment. This is for my fellow cis people only. (Though if any of you *know* that reading this won’t make you feel any worse, I’d appreciate feedback if I get anything wrong, but you are under no obligation to give it).

OK, now fellow cis people, listen up. Trans people are under attack in a way that’s worse than anything in decades. Every single media source in the UK without exception, from the Daily Star to Private Eye, from the New Statesman to the Times, has been printing outright lies, misinformation, and propaganda about trans people — this has nominally been because of the government’s consultation on changing gender recognition certificates, but in fact it’s had nothing at all to do with any of the issues raised by that tiny minor piece of bureaucracy and everything to do with planting in the mind of the public the idea that trans people — trans women, specifically, who’ve been bearing the brunt of this particular attack, though trans men and non-binary people have certainly all been hurt by this, and get attacks from other sources — are paedophiles and rapists who want to corrupt and rape your children. 

And this has been part of a wider campaign — one that has made no secret of its existence — brought to you by the same people who brought you Brexit and Trump. And Trump has now got in on the act — announcing that the US government is going to remove legal rights from trans people. The fascist leader of Hungary, Viktor Orbán — a man who caucuses with the UK Conservative Party in Europe, incidentally — has banned gender studies in Hungarian universities, on the grounds that “We do not consider it acceptable for us to talk about socially constructed gender rather than biological sexes”.

This is, in short, a hate campaign *which is rapidly turning into a genocide campaign*. When multiple governments are trying to ensure that even the *concept* of trans people is one that is totally erased, we’re far past the time for worrying. This is an actively genocidal movement, now — and that’s the way it’s been trending for many years, with people like Julies Burchill and Bindel engaging in rhetoric which dehumanises a tiny minority.

Now, in the normal article of this type, here’s where I would appeal to your self-interest. I would point out the fact that the anti-trans people are, very explicitly, doing this as a wedge to attack other parts of the LGBT+ group, and that they will then go on to attack other minorities. I’d quote “first they came for” and all of that. I’d talk about how cis women are getting gender-policed for going into women’s toilets because they’re not performing femininity to the required standards.

Fuck that.

We don’t stand up for trans people because they might come for us next (though I’m autistic and it’s likely they’d come for me before they come for most of my readers). We stand up for trans people because they’re people, and because they’re being attacked.

Every trans person I know, right now, is hurting. Many are having to avoid social media altogether because of the torrent of hate being spewed at them from all sides. Many are having all their energy drained by this — energy that would be going into their jobs, or their hobbies, or their families, or their volunteer work, is instead being spent just on basic defence of their right to exist in public. People who would otherwise be writing code, or climbing mountains, or making music, or just hanging out with their friends, or doing a million other things to add joy and variety to the world and to themselves, are instead having to fight for their very survival.

Even if we had a 100% cast-iron certainty that not one single cis person would be hurt because of these people, that there would be no collateral damage, that this time the story would be “first they came for the trans people, and then they stopped”, it would still be absolutely, utterly, unequivocally wrong to stand at the sides and do nothing.

It is incumbent on all of us to do something, so here are a few things we can all be doing, right now:

If you have spare money, donate it to Mermaids, who do excellent work for trans children and teenagers.

Whether you have spare money or not,if and when you use Amazon, visit smile.amazon.co.uk instead of the normal Amazon site, and set your charity of choice to Stonewall. Stonewall will only get a few pence per transaction from this, so it’s not a substitute for normal charitable giving, but it’s still a few pence, and it doesn’t cost you anything.

If you’re in a political party, join the LGBT+ organisation within it, and push for it to be more trans-affirming if it already isn’t.

If you pay money for a news source, and you see a transphobic article in it, write a letter to the editor.

If you have trans friends, and they ask for help, help *in whatever way they ask*, even if it contradicts the things I said above. Give the help that’s needed, whatever that help is.

But most of all, this is the thing you can do more than anything else — *push back on the ‘legitimate concerns’ narrative*. As with racism, almost all transphobia is, right now, phrased in terms of “just asking questions” or “opening the debate” or “saying the unsayable”, or “respecting concerns”. For every one person who openly says “I hate trans people and want them dead” there are a dozen who say “of course I’m not transphobic, but is it really transphobic to be worried that [incredibly transphobic statement]? Can’t we have balance, and respect the rights of trans people *and* [euphemism for transphobic bigots]? And why do those trans people have to be so *rude*, using words like TERF? There are bad people on both sides…”

Now, in a different political climate, it might make some sense to treat those people as being sincere and well intentioned, to try to argue with them rationally. It would certainly be easier, and cause less stress. You might even be someone who worries about those things a bit yourself.

In this political climate, though, the people saying those things are not people who can be humoured any more. We all — *all* of us — need to make it clear that when a minority group are under attack, the only thing to do is side with them unequivocally. If you have questions about trans rights, or about balance, or your understanding of gender and sex doesn’t yet allow you to really understand how someone with a penis can be a woman or someone without one can be a man, or what non-binary even means… well, so did I, for quite a long time. It doesn’t make you a bad person to have doubts about these things. What does make you a bad person is to put those doubts ahead of the real lives of real people who are under attack.

If you have questions, use google to find as many resources written by trans people as you can. Don’t use “asking questions” as a way to attack trans people, and don’t let other people do the same. If you see other people doing that, shut them down. 

In particular, if you see people talking about the issue as one of “women’s rights” versus trans rights, remember that the vast majority of cis women don’t see a conflict. Trans rights *are* women’s rights, when the trans person in question is a woman. 

We have a cultural predisposition to be supportive of “debate”, but right now trans people are constantly being told to debate their right to exist with people who don’t see them as human, and being called enemies of free speech for not smiling at their attackers.

Those who are disingenuously “just asking questions” are, at best, useful idiots and at worst are actively on the side of evil. It needs to become socially unacceptable to do that. It needs to be something that no-one would say in polite company. Transphobia needs to become utterly socially toxic. 
Because right now, every time you smile and nod at those questions, you’re smiling and nodding at the idea of genocide. It’s far past time to take a stand, and if you have any moral courage at all, you take a stand with victims, not perpetrators.

Trans rights are human rights. It really is that simple.

This blog post was brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon (and I hope those who back me because of my music podcasts don’t stop backing me for this, but if they do, well, then they do…). Why not join them?

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