Magazine article The Spectator

Pap Idols

Magazine article The Spectator

Pap Idols

Article excerpt

I FEAR for our grandchildren. How on earth are they going to develop into mature, rounded, balanced and thoroughly decent people like us when the youth culture that envelops them is so bland, so harmless, so hopelessly, hopelessly nice?

When I say `youth culture', I mean, of course, pop music. Youth has no other culture, unless you count text-messaging. And today's pop music, so tasteful that it tastes of nothing, reached its apotheosis last weekend with the election of the Pop Idol. The contest was won either by someone called Will or Bill or Phil, or by someone called Gareth. It doesn't matter which, because they both look and sound like each other, and like almost every other all-- grinning, all-dancing, all-harmonising, squeaky-clean pop star of our time.

I grew up - and so did you, if the age-- breakdown of The Spectator readership can be relied upon - in a time when pop idols were tough guys: dangerous men; hard livers with, well, hard livers. They drank, they brawled, they partied. When they wore a leather jacket they turned the collar up a trick I still find myself doing today.

We loved them; our parents hated them. And that's the way God planned it. Today, how can anyone seriously hate Robbie Williams, despite his lyrics? How can anyone summon up any emotion at all about anyone in Westlife?

Let me remind you what kids today and kids of yesterday - are missing. Chuck Berry toured Britain in 1964. I was there to see him, at the Colston Hall, Bristol. His visit had been unavoidably delayed by the forces of law and order in Mississippi, who flung him into jail for a couple of years. His offence was a complicated one - it had to do with being young and popular and black in Mississippi. And there was a girl involved. Of course there was.

On the same tour was the aptly named British group, the Animals. Their leader, Eric Burdon, is said, by popular legend, to have fired a pistol through Chuck's dressingroom window. Whether he fired it inwards at Chuck, or outwards at the police, is not clear, but anyway, being British and not quite as hard and dangerous as his American counterparts, he missed.

Four years previously, in 1960, the American idol Eddie Cochran died in a car crash near Chippenham in Wiltshire. I once talked to a policeman who attended the post-mortem. He told me that at one stage of the gruesome procedure the pathologist called everyone over to take a butcher's. `Look at his arteries!' he exclaimed. `They're all furred up, nearly closed, like the arteries of a very old man. He must have lived quite a life.' He did.

Injured in the same crash was the small but menacing figure of Gene Vincent. Vincent was a soft-spoken, small-town boy when he was first brought to Britain by Jack Good, producer of the groundbreaking TV show Oh Boy. Good set out to turn Gene into a dangerous pop idol. He dressed him in jeans, taught him how to wear a leather jacket (see above) and was delighted to find that the boy had a slight limp, the legacy of a childhood illness. Accordingly, Good designed a set and a routine for Vincent which entailed him climbing laboriously up and down a series of stairs and steps. However, Gene was adept at disguising the limp, and Good admitted that he was finally reduced to crouching on set, just out of camera range, and hissing, `Limp, you bugger! Limp!' They knew how to live, those guys. And they knew how to die. …

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