Magazine article The Spectator

Sex and Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll Is a Thoroughly Conservative Philosophy

Magazine article The Spectator

Sex and Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll Is a Thoroughly Conservative Philosophy

Article excerpt

The guitarist Keith Richards is perhaps most famous for having constructed a short and very simple rhythmic musical phrase, over the top of which his colleague Mick Jagger expressed an increasing irritation at being unable to acquire, in both general and specific terms, any kind of 'satisfaction' - despite, as he proceeded to explain, repeatedly attempting to do so. Or, at least, that's what he should be most famous for.

That almost insultingly simple 'riff', plus a slightly more complex one a few years later, over the top of which Mr Jagger, in a more ebullient frame of mind, expounded upon the pleasures of whipping black women at midnight. Both of these songs were perceived as being 'counter-cultural' and therefore, de facto, of the left. I suppose you might argue that 'Satisfaction' was in essence a plea for more stringent regulation of the advertising industry, perhaps via a quango rather than direct legislation - which is a slightly leftish position. But it is hard to stretch the lyrics of 'Brown Sugar' to resemble something which approaches those of the 'Internationale'.

Of course, the Rolling Stones also took copious quantities of drugs and had sexual intercourse with beautiful young women; they may even - the jury is still out on this - have involved an iconic item of confectionary in their lovemaking, that is to say a Mars bar. Mars bars have changed over the years; that once dense and gritty greyish nougatine base is now an airy and wholly inadequate counterpoint to the intensity of the caramel - an attempt to appease the sensibilities of women consumers who wish to think they're eating something which will not make them as fat as a pig. They do king-size Mars bars now, Marianne. Think of that.

But I suppose that this is beside the point.

My real point is that this hedonistic behaviour was also assumed to be, in some indefinable sense, left-wing, perhaps as a consequence of the left forever assuming that youthful rebellion is in itself subversive and thus undermining of the status quo and that fairly soon the means of production would be in the hands of the proletariat.

Keef's autobiography is being serialised now and it has come as a shock to many commentators that he is not quite as left-wing as he was once assumed to be. A writer in the Guardian castigated him for his 'foul' attitude towards women and it was revealed that Richards had written a letter to Tony Blair urging him to bomb the hell out of Iraq. 'Stick to your guns, Tony, ' the addled, aged guitarist proffered, presumably dressed in his usual attire, which is that of an eightyear-old attending a pirate party.

It is a historic, if ultimately unimportant, fallacy - the notion that rock music was essentially left-wing. Rock is a deeply conservative musical form, a simple and comfortable and brief excursion usually resolving itself, relievedly, to the major chord, the status quo (both upper and lower case). It is none the worse for this, of course. It is also a blue-collar medium, or was until recently; full of classbased inchoate chippiness and anger at times ('Satisfaction'), but also extremely reactionary and politically incorrect ('Brown Sugar'). …

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