The Marquee de Sade don’t wear no boots like these
Capital’s cultural hegemony is within all of us, by definition. We acquiesce to capital’s hegemony because we’ve bought into capital’s value system voluntarily, enforcing it with our own consent. All of us being temporarily embarrassed millionaires, as the saying goes, we hang onto the dream like grim death, capital fighting the collapse of its hegemony over our minds every step of the way. It is a long journey, marked by cognitive dissonance, denial, hope against hope. It has to be beaten out of us, by ourselves and our own experiences, each individual traveling the road at a pace impossible to accelerate from the outside. We must convince ourselves it was a mistake to believe, that we were fools from the outset, and therefore must refuse any continued consent. That is the toughest of nuts to crack, because no one likes being made a fool, least of all by their own hand.
It did not feel like a fool’s errand to work for two years in five former soviet republics from 1997-1999 for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI). No, it was a dream come true, within the dream of hegemony. NDI were the good guys; we trained “the opposition parties”. We laid the seeds for the “color revolutions”. I was even, dare I say it, a hero. America had just won the Cold War, the Soviet Union was long gone, so everywhere I went I was treated like Patton’s army liberating France. To a GenXer like me, history really had ended, and I was one of the winners.
In 1997, delivering “market democracy” shock doctrine seminar in Armenia through NDI interpreter Gegham Sarkissian (the best in the business)
From today’s two decades of hindsight spent at the sharp end of capital’s knife, it’s obvious I was nothing but a tool of capitalist empire back in my glory days, a tiny line item in the neoliberal shock doctrine budget, some dude sent to former soviet republics to “train” political parties and election observers in what we called “market democracy”, whatever the hell that was. It never occurred to me that a wet behind the ears 29 year old Yankee from Cleveland, Ohio “training” a seminar room filled with apparatchiks twice my age in Armenia (or Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan) was something of a Three Stooges episode, like an Onion article traveled through time springing to reality. If a 1950’s B-movie sci-fi flick were made of it now, the title might be “Attack of The Clintonian Blairite Zombie!”
The first crack in the hegemony came when I witnessed and documented the comically buffoonish fraud of the spring 1998 presidential “election” in Armenia, held in two rounds to rubber stamp a military coup that January. Many of my long time readers know the story, which I first published online in a long gone blog from 2005. Thinking myself the hero I imagined, I tried to sound the alarm, and was squelched; by the French embassy, my own embassy, even my own employer NDI. The boat we were not to rock was...the status quo. All understood that meant oil, something to do with convoluted pipeline diplomacy across the Caucasus. I will never forget the car ride with my boss, the late Nelson Ledsky visiting from DC afterward, bouncing from one high level meeting to the next, screaming at him from the back seat at the top of my lungs, “Why are we even here??” Nelson’s silence in that car that day stunned me. Something should have clicked, but didn’t. I was so distraught I left Armenia after one year, to spend the next year roaming soviet republics like a vagabond vaudevillian song and dance man, in seminar rooms performing the shock doctrine in a kind of weird hallucination.
In Kyrgyzstan, 1998, neoliberal song and dance man, with translator
To beat my acquiescence to capital’s hegemony out of me took two decades of beating it out of myself, with countless Saul Off His Horse moments along the way. Cancelled to exile before cancel culture was a thing, two runs for public office to overcome it, a decade of online journalism, Occupy Wall Street, two Bernie Sanders runs for president, a masters degree, all amidst daily life teetering on the edge of capital’s precipice of precarity. Patience is the biggest lesson, not just for my own road traveled, but all who travel it. One advantage us GenXers have is great music to haunt us, maybe even help us, like The Stone Roses, who long ago seemed to know it was all fool’s gold.
When the Berlin Wall fell in November, 1989, prior to my launch into transatlantic neoliberal political careerism, I was a new college grad on a gap year before law school, living and working in London on a student work permit at what would eventually end up being Donald Trump’s favorite law firm, Cleveland’s Jones Day. Young GenXers on a neoliberal quest couldn’t pick a better start than to be a copy boy in the London office of one of the world’s largest law firms, which happened to be HQ’d in my hometown. So, I watched the Berlin Wall come down on the BBC. That same month The Stone Roses released their defining single, Fool’s Gold.
The Stone Roses’ debut eponymous 1989 album only grows more important to rock history each passing decade, understood today as the seed of countless indie bands, genres, and sounds. Formed in Manchester in 1985, the Stone Roses perfected druggy raves in tiny backroom, upstairs, and abandoned warehouse parties in the middle England underground. Pioneering a heady infectious combo of 60’s melodic psychedelia with funky post punk 80’s guitar jams, Stone Roses gigs had become legendary by the summer of 1989 as the Warsaw Pact cracked to pieces. At the time, the “Madchester baggy” scene merely meant ecstasy fueled all night dance parties. Now, we know on that one album lie roots connecting James Brown to the Velvet Underground to Oasis to punk, to just about everything in rock before or after. It’s all there, especially in Fool’s Gold, which wasn’t even on the album’s initial release.
Single sleeve for the long version of Fool’s Gold
Promoting their debut album at a record store in Manchester that August, 1989, whispery-voiced lead singer Ian Brown and funky guitarist John Squire heard a compilation of break beat loops which included what is now understood as one of the most sampled drum beats in music history – James Brown’s Funky Drummer. Hooked, Brown and Squire wrote Fools Gold that August over the Funky Drummer loop. First, they borrowed an ear worm bass line from Isaac Hayes’ Oscar winning soundtrack to the 1971 film Shaft. Upon this already worshipful collage, Brown wrote lyrics that today make Fools Gold mythically prophetic.
Brown took inspiration from the 1948 Humphrey Bogart film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a cautionary tale of prospectors turning on each other in a hunt for gold, Bogart eating himself alive with greed. Bogart told a reviewer in 1948, “Wait till you see me in my next picture…I play the worst shit you ever saw!” Director John Huston slowly oozes the evil out of Bogart from the opening scene until he lies dead in a ditch at the end, over gold. Huston’s father, Walter Huston, who won an Oscar for his performance, plays the old timer who sees Bogart coming from a mile away, having lived a life prospecting, knowing that look in his eye, the look greed puts in all our eyes.
From the night The Stone Roses debuted Fool’s Gold on the BBC’s Top of The Pops, Thursday, November 23, 1989, two weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was instantly and remains the definitive Stone Roses track. Newscasts that Thursday were still filled with people hacking away at the Berlin Wall for souvenirs. Capturing the euphoria of the moment, Top of The Pops featured the happiest sounding bands on the charts that week - the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, who both had burst the “Madchester baggy” scene onto a world ready for joy. Happy Mondays performed a song called Hallelujah that night, as if we all had won...something...and history was over. The Stone Roses performed Fools Gold.
Today, Ian Brown singing in Fools Gold sounds like a warning from the old timer who saw that look in our eyes, time traveling past the 1989 souvenir chunks of the Berlin Wall to get on with the grim reaping of 21st century covid capitalism.
I’m standing alone
Naturally, Fools Gold’s lyrics were immediately lost in the blazing haze of Madchester masterpiece. Just dance, we all thought. History was over after all. Words seemed not to matter. In the US, the cliche has always been the Stone Roses never got here; only those deepest into college radio alternative shoe gaze ever found them. MTV gave Stone Roses all they could, featuring Fools Gold on the 12-2am late night alternative show 120 Minutes for months, but the Stone Roses never matched their moon shot debut. History’s brief ending seemed to eat Stone Roses alive, just as greed eats Bogart alive in the lyrics’ inspiration.
For GenXers converting to leftism from a lifetime in capital’s cultural hegemony, we must remember - The Marquis de Sade don’t wear no boots like these.
Tim Russo is author of Ghosts of Plum Run, an ongoing historical fiction series about the charge of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg. Tim's career as an attorney and international relations professional took him to two years living in the former soviet republics, work in Eastern Europe, the West Bank & Gaza, and with the British Labour Party. Tim has had a role in nearly every election cycle in Ohio since 1988, including Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020. Tim ran for local office in Cleveland twice, earned his 1993 JD from Case Western Reserve University, and a 2017 masters in international relations from Cleveland State University where he earned his undergraduate degree in political science in 1989. Currently interested in the intersection between Gramscian cultural hegemony and Gandhian nonviolence, Tim is a lifelong Clevelander.