Empty Culture: Reflections on "Pirate Radio"

After watching the glorified sixties-at-sea - and let's assume that the depiction wasn't at all romanticized - Pirate Radio  has me pining for a time that sunk into the North Sea.

The movie shows the Spirit of rock, or better said, the Spirit that once lingered in rock. That movie with its glimpse of the mid-60s renegade rock broadcasters showed an idyllic Shangri-La fuelled by absolute cultural hysteria

What was that hysteria?

Rock touched thing hidden in the world. A generation who I now know as my parents were young and the war irreparably blew apart the way things were. Maybe it was electric media - the radio, the TV - infiltrating the home. Maybe it was marijuana, maybe it was birth control, maybe science, maybe the Moon.

Something inside that was always denied, for so many years was lifting its head and stretching out its awkward wings. 


People tuned in and went totally mad to just hear a bit of rock. It was a holy messenger. Water for desert wanderers dying of thirst. In Pirate Radio at least, to have this ship pumping amphetamines over the airwaves - it was the Bellagio fountain in the sun-stricken Sahara.

This is what has me tied in a knot: the thirst for rock must have been that it was on the fringes, that it was rebellious, that it was dangerous. And this formula has been tried again and again like some ill-fitting hat. Everyone who has tried to put it on - not because it felt right, but because it looked good on someone else - isn't much more than a goofy Mad Hatter.

Maybe the danger is only a clue that this is where it's at. Something where that Spirit that once lingered with rock is currently camping out. I think there's something to that, but what, today, is on the fringes? For that matter, what's the centre? Everything seems acceptable. What's rebellious that isn't a cheap publicity stunt? (See: Miley Cyrus. Actually, don't see her. That's what the vacuum inside her craves.)

The mistake that so many make is believing that being rebellious for its own sake is enough to make something legitimate. The rebellion is only half the battle.

The other part of it, like I've said before, has to do with offering a path to its audience. An untamed energy looks for a way out and exhausts itself in circles through the wilderness, tracing random and erratic routes. But sometimes - and I'm sad to say I don't know if I've ever known one - sometimes it comes to a road and can get moving. 

That road was rock, but that road began being paved by contractors with outside motives - contractors who could siphon off more and more of that wild energy as it passed.


The Spirit doesn't linger for long. On it moves. But the road stays and the road keeps being paved and polished until it becomes a 16 lane superhighway without a single heave or crack and laden with advertisements. Deep beneath lies the original path that The Who and whoever else aboard the Pirate Radio ship paved, but it has been so thoroughly buried under the slick black tarmac that it'd be better considered dead.  

What I wonder is: where is it now?

Not rock. I know where that is. It's on the radio, it's in video games, it's in movies about floating libertarian radio stations. What I wonder is, where's the fuel that powered that old turbine? 

These are the only hints I have: 

  1. It will look dirty and nasty to the more established parts of society, and that includes nearly anyone above the age of (let's pick, for the sake of its significance in marking the mortality of a mysterious many) 27. 
  2. It'll offer a path for something that needs to get out. An wild animal that needs to run and will run, so help it god. It'll offer connection to fellow travelers in the manner of a religion. A real religion never seems like one while it's alive.
  3. The path can't be paved in order to exploit. I might be wrong on this point, because of course there were advertisers even for Pirate Radio, and record labels behind the iconic bands. The more accurate way to say this might be: those who are in the car don't let the exploitation grab the wheel.

So I ask again: where is it now?