Magazine article The Spectator

Marcus Berkmann's Farewell to Pop

Magazine article The Spectator

Marcus Berkmann's Farewell to Pop

Article excerpt

Pop's place in culture has changed drastically. Marcus Berkmann explains why, after 27 years, it is time to step down as The Spectator's pop critic

This is my 345th and last monthly column about pop music for The Spectator . I believe I might be the third-longest continuously serving columnist here, after Taki and Peter Phillips. Others have been writing for the magazine for longer, but have occasionally been given time off for good behaviour. You may be astounded to learn that I have not been fired. I, certainly, am astounded. I have been waiting for the tap on the shoulder, or maybe the firm but regretful email, since my first column in May 1987. Eventually I came to realise that the less the editor of the time was interested in my subject, the safer I was. As sheer delight in survival morphed into freakish longevity, I decided it was best to maintain a low profile, to the extent that when the 25th anniversary of the column loomed a couple of years ago, I asked Liz Anderson, legendary arts editor and tireless moral support to any number of anxious columnists, to say nothing to anyone. It's not that I didn't want people to make a fuss about it. I'm not that modest. It's that I didn't want people to make a fuss about it and then fire me straight afterwards.

This year, though, I have started to feel that I have said almost everything that I have to say on the subject, possibly several times. Once it becomes hard work to write a column, it won't be long before it becomes hard work to read it. I have also spent a decent chunk of the year in The Spectator 's offices leafing through dusty old binders for a book I am compiling for Christmas 2016, entitled The Spectator Book of Wit, Humour and Mischief . Reading so many wonderful columnists in intense bursts, you see that even the best of them eventually runs out of steam. In my case, I suppose, I could also say it was an age thing, except that it wouldn't be true. I was 27 when I started writing this, and I am 55 now, but I was an unusually crabbed, creaky and ill-tempered 27-year-old, who already felt left behind by the way pop music was developing, and preferred the music of his own teenage years, as almost everyone does. This hasn't changed much. I still think hip-hop is a waste of ears. Grunge was spectacularly uninteresting. Of Britpop I now listen to only Blur and Supergrass. And so on.

The truth, and the problem for any such columnist, is that there's far too much music out there for anyone to keep a handle on, and pop follows what I learned this week is called Sturgeon's Law, after the science-fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon. This states that in every arena of artistic endeavour, 90 per cent of everything produced is crap. All you can do is find the 2 per cent you like and listen to that, which I do with pleasure, every day. But I have always been aware that my 2 per cent is probably not your 2 per cent, and it may not actually be anybody else's2 per cent. All men are islands, and our taste in music makes us particularly small, isolated islands separated by vast unnavigable stretches of stormy sea. This is why people still love going to gigs: because for one night only, they are surrounded by strangers who love this music as much as they do. Then it's back home, where everyone tells them to turn that bloody racket down.

Pop's place in culture has changed drastically during my tenure. …

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