IN PRAISE OF ANDY MORLING’S ‘PROPER’ – Rafael Diez De Rivera Boluda
First, this book is a delight, as you might have gathered from the review’s title; get yours before it sells out. Second, this book isn’t for everyone.
A youth subculture–or culture, but I’ll leave that old debate for another time- that has managed to survive and thrive for more than 60 years (oddly or not ending as a preserve of mostly middle-aged folks) has of necessity generated its own chroniclers, sociologists, narrators and even bards. No shortage of those categories in Modernism in its British inception.
But what was missing (I missed it at least !) was a ‘thinker’, someone who reflects on the traits of the given subculture and turns them inside out, contributing in the process an individual and ideally suggestive point of view that can be conducive to reflection and debate on the readers’ part. To our ‘thinker’ to be sussed is a given, but he also needs a keen, piercing eye, and the skills to articulate his reflections into meaningful statements and draw valid conclussions that can be starting points to enrichen one’s life (and not strictly as a mod). He has to be able to look between the lines and challenge perceived wisdoms and set-in-stone rules (more on them later).
Enter Mr Andrew Morling and his ‘Mod Ghosts Project’. The first book of the project, ‘Mod Ghosts’, was basically an outstanding idea superbly realized, a win-win situation. Andy was clever enough to let others –and of course the disarming photographs- do the talking there, his reflections on modernism and nostalgia being the proverbial icing on the cake that wrapped things up neatly.
‘Proper’ is a different kettle of fish. Using a bull-fighting metaphor, this time Andy has rolled up his sleeves (figuratively, Andy !) and jumped into the bull ring to handle himself the ‘faena’. And to me he has succeeded again.
While Andy is crystal clear in his statement of intentions and purpose, ‘Proper’ still runs a certain risk of misinterpretation, as some members of the mod fraternity find solace in living by restricting rules and herd conformity, which in itself is OK but at odds with the spirit of this book. I can even see the elitism accusation being thrown at Andy, but if you’re one of those who think this game has to do with highly-flammable suits, bowling shoes and parkas, this book, as I warned, just isn’t for you, folks.
On the contrary, the fierce individualism lying behind the mod ethos is what fuels mainly the attainment of a developed taste which is at the core of Andy’s thesis. In fact, I’d say this book is ‘proper’ reading for anyone who has even a remote interest in style and a well-lived life, not just mods. It just happens that Andy applies to his subject matter the gaze of a Modernist.
I mean, the lists of food, music, clobber… that Andy proposes are mere excuses to show us the way the human process of acquiring impeccable good taste works. You can hate, say, chorizo or house music, and still agree with Andy in the abstract. In fact, the lists might be the main source of controversy here (and believe me, contentious they are), as it’s difficult to argue with Andy’s main thesis : that there is an intrinsic, objective beauty in many natiral and man-made products alike, and that our appreciation of them can be heightened by educating our innate taste, in this case filtering it through a mod sensitivity.
It’s not an agreement -or the self-complacency that comes from belonging to a select club- issue either; what’s admirable in this book about Modernism (in the widest sense) is that Andy practices what he preaches : from the sober, classy layout to the mature way in which he poses his arguments (no ‘we are the mods’ chanting here), the philosophical, historical and ethnographical apparatus backing him, the delightful digressions, the well curated metaphores, the sense of humour deployed ; the overwhelming sensation of care and style, yes, STYLE, the book radiates.
Far from my aim (how unstylish that would be) to try to sum up or disembowel the well crafted –and very personal- mechanism that is Proper. Enough to say that while enjoying the ride, it came to my mind more than once one of those blissful days during a travel through France or Italy in which the stars aligned to make everything perfect, from the weather to the lazy, humble meal, from the view from a hill’s church to the silent walk on the beach promenade after a late dinner beneath the stars ; proper indeed, Andy, thanks for the journey.