WEMBLEY STADIUM - ARCHITECTURE / REGENERATION / GENTRIFICATION
I was inside the old Wembley Stadium three times, always to see the Rolling Stones. It was a rather charming if slightly crumbling piece of Beano-era architecture, a leftover from England's halcyon empire days, big and impressive and domineering. Its decline mirrored the decline of English soccer, the game it was supposed to celebrate and highlight, as it became the preserve of doe-eyed morons like David Beckham, now exporting himself to LA in search of a Hollywood acting job and in the hope of reviving his wife's disco career. Soccer players started having mental breakdowns, coming out of the closet, not coming out of the closet, and indulging in various postmodern activities which would've made the likes of Bobby or Jack Charlton want to go off someplace quiet, calm down, and have a good shit.
Adjacent to the old stadium stood Wembley Arena, a barn of an indoor venue, a bit like a public toilet which took 15,000 people, doubtless built for boxing, where I also went a few times to see elderly rock stars (Dylan three times, Steely Dan once and never again) and where the likes of Dire Straits used to do virtual residencies back in the day when they were getting money for nothing and the chicks for free.
Amid much media comment the old stadium was knocked down a few years back and work began on a glittering new Blair-era field of dreams which would encapsulate the "spirit of the new" which was supposed to be at the core of the New Labour dream. Cup Finals were temporarily moved to the bogs of Wales (where another glittering regenerating Blair arena had been built) and the Stones had to do their Bigger Splash bash in a rugby stadium out in Twickenham, wherever that is.
The new Wembley building got bogged down in mildly amusing multiple crises. Like the rest of the Blair future, it seemed to be turning very sour. Now nearing long-delayed completion, it looks nice on the TV news, which is the whole idea. I've taken a vow never to go see the Stones in a football stadium again so I doubt very much that I'll ever be inside it. Wembley suburb is widely regarded as being one of London's (many) shitholes, so it's not the sort of place I'm partial to visiting. There used to be a goth-ish Greek photographer pal of Lydia Lunch's that I knew onetime who had her studio there and I visited her once to do a photo session but that was about the size of it.
Two weeks ago I was told at the last minute that Willie Nelson hadn't exactly sold out Wembley Arena and that there were loads of free tickets going. Did I want one? So off I went.
The first thing I noticed was the new subway station. The old one was as bleak as the district but now they have this rather beautiful confection filled with elegant stairwells, multiple escalators, and chic lighting. As I made my way towards the Arena the new stadium loomed up out of the urban drabness and desolation. The whole district was illuminated with bright white light reminiscent of the scorching white stage lighting used by the Ramones or U2. The whole thing is most impressive, as big architectural statements are supposed to be, be they capitalist or communist or nationalist or sacred. Architecture is the most political of beasts, and the regeneration being attempted in Wembley fits, hand in glove, into Blair's pernicious Neo Con agenda. It is supposed to prove that unbridled capitalism works, that it is good for you.
Even the Arena has been gussied up and given a makeover remodel. Loads of money has been spent improving the acoustics, which used to be notoriously echo-prone. Willie sounded crisp and clear like a club act ad the back of the pathetic 5000 crowd he managed to draw of a freezing January evening.
I couldn't help but wonder why the still unfinished stadium, standing alone in the middle of nowhere, unoccupied and unused, only the local residents seeing it, in this supposedly energy-conscious era, is all lit up late at night like the Eiffel Tower in the middle of Paris or the Empire State Building in the centre of Manhattan. I guess it's supposed to make the local unfortunates think about how great their rulers are and how beautiful life is.
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