Magazine article The Spectator

Blue-Collar Blues

Magazine article The Spectator

Blue-Collar Blues

Article excerpt

Gold Coast slave ship bound for cotton fields, Sold in the market down in New Orleans, Scarred old slaver knows he's doin' alright, Hear him whip the women just about midnight.

And so begins the Rolling Stones' rousing contribution to the slavery debate and the advancement of understanding between people of all colours, 'Brown Sugar'. How come you taste so good? Just like a black girl should.

Thank you, Mick, for that unique and valuable insight. But don't bother attending this year's Mobo awards, huh?

'Brown Sugar' is one of the most repellent pop songs ever written, steadfastly amoral, sleazy and explicitly racist. I've always liked it enormously, right from the first time I heard it, aged nine or so, when it vied with the Kinks' magnificent 'Lola' -- about a man dressed as a lady -- as the pop song which most discomfited my parents. 'Brown Sugar' was culled from the Rolling Stones' most steadfastly amoral album, Sticky Fingers, which (unfashionably) I would contest is their finest, with Let It Bleed a close second. They were at their best when enmired in debauchery, drugs and filth: 'I'll be in my basement room/ With a needle and a spoon/ And another girl to take the pain away.' When, aged 15 or so, I experienced what Karl Marx called an 'explosion of consciousness', which meant in effect disagreeing with everything my father said about anything, I would play Sticky Fingers very loudly -- but close my ears to the stuff which worried me but which I had not yet learnt to call 'politically incorrect'. The Stones being a rock band that outraged establishment sensibilities, I reassured myself, meant that they were most definitely on my side, the Left -- a view to which I still adhered even after a woman from the local Labour party came round to collect my subs one day and departed very quickly because 'Bitch' was blaring out of my loudspeakers. But they were not leftwing at all. One of the big misapprehensions about that radical chic counter-culture of the late 1960s and (particularly) early 1970s was that those wonderful, incoherent expressions of wild youth automatically equated with left-wing politics. And we held to this no matter how many times Mick Jagger swanned around in Mustique with the Queen's sister, watched cricket matches or sang about the joys of whipping black slave girls. It was all a con, of course.

Jagger later explained that he'd never been left-wing and had never actually said that he was -- and, around about the same time, Neil Young came out for Ronald Reagan, Stokely Carmichael declared himself a Republican and Dylan became a born-again Christian.

So it was no surprise to see the Rolling Stones providing the musical interlude for that ultimate festival of blue-collar, conservative American values, the Superbowl.

Mick may have written a slightly sneering song about US neocons recently, but the Stones are nonetheless a quintessentially blue-collar, conservative American band (whatever their north Kent origins). And arguably a better blue-collar American band than anything the Americans have produced, with the possible exception of those madmen from Detroit, the MC5. Nor was it a great surprise that the Yanks censored the Stones, insisting on a five-second broadcasting delay to ensure that nothing too risky and provocative reached the sensitive ears of the nation. Last year, if you remember, the US public was paralytic with outrage when the plainly doolally Janet Jackson flashed a nipple during the very same gig. …

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