Magazine article The Spectator

Band of Brothers

Magazine article The Spectator

Band of Brothers

Article excerpt

Do rock stars buy life insurance? If so, there must have been payouts aplenty this summer, as several more breathed their last.

Levon Helm of The Band croaked in April, followed in May by Adam 'MCA' Yauch of the Beastie Boys, the famed session bassist Donald 'Duck' Dunn, and Donna Summer, no longer feeling love, or indeed anything very much. Then, a couple of weeks ago, it was the turn of Jon Lord of Deep Purple, whose terrifying white ponytail I once spotted at a River Cafe quiz. Although his team didn't do very well, you could see that he was the sort of person you would want to have on your side. Not only was he large and physically intimidating, but any question you got about British heavy metal, the Hammond organ or orchestral rock of the late 1960s would be a gimme.

The death that spoke to me personally, though, was that of Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, on 20 May, aged 62. Of the four brothers, only the eldest, Barry, is still alive, as is their mother, well into her nineties. So we will hear little more music from that source, although it's fair to say that we have heard quite a lot already. In their 45 years together, the Bee Gees sold 220 million records, an astounding figure. Only Elvis, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney solo and, bizarrely, the American country-and-western hack Garth Brooks have outsold them.

Yet they clearly felt underappreciated. Much parodied and mocked in this land of parody and mockery, they were always telling interviewers that they had sold 220 million records and expecting them to be impressed.

But we in the UK like our pop stars to wear their commercial success lightly. We like them to make records because they have to, for their souls and for their art. Whereas the Bee Gees just loved having hits. To the ends of their lives they never stopped trying to write them, and if this meant bending to the prevailing musical winds, they were happy to flip over backwards and stick their legs behind their ears. In truth, almost all pop stars will do anything for a hit, but they know to pretend otherwise. The Bee Gees predated this rockist pose. At heart they were children of showbiz, more Cliff Richard than Keith Richards. The only thing that set them apart from their contemporaries was their immense talent. …

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