Friday, July 20, 2007

When did young people suddenly get to be so middle-aged?

Ironically, this one's another Golden Oldie ...

And so it came to pass that, to herald the arrival of their latest set of tour dates, Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins rode around the stage playing a glass-shattering guitar solo on a floating stuffed tiger. Oh no he didn’t! Oh yes, indeed he did. Like Freddie Mercury, Alice Cooper and dear old Ozzy before him, Hawkins knows the meaning of rock … pantomime. And it’s so good to have the grand old dame back. Never mind who put the ram in the rama-lama-ding-dong: who ripped the balls off rock?

When I was 14, I went to see the New York Dolls play live in a small, sweaty club. There were no brand-name sponsorship deals banner-strung across the stage, the band hadn’t been profiled on Late Review and the politicians wouldn’t have dreamt of inviting Arthur Kane to a reception at Downing Street. My parents had no idea where I was and the media didn’t have a clue about what was happening on Planet Pubescent - and that was exactly how it should have been. But now that The X-Factor, Pop Idols, Fame Academy et al - effectively promo videos for processing and packaging factories – have become compulsory viewing for all ages, rock music has died a sorry death and youth has become middle-aged. And yet, this summer, flickers of hope started flirting around the baggy crotches of our dreary, tedious teenagers. Despite the death of their legendary bass player, the New York Dolls played a set of UK gigs – their first for 27 years – including a set at the Reading Festival. Okay, so most of the kids in the audience had no idea of the great heights that this elegantly debauched gang of sleaze-rockers once scaled. Androgynous glamour, anarchic noise, full-blown theatricality? Such was the stuff that rock and roll (wet) dreams used to be made off made of. But thanks to bands like The Darkness, ‘the kids’ are beginning to understand the heritage that built the foundations of the watered-down, insipid charts today.

Girls: so what if Destiny’s Child wear Versace? Freddie Mercury was the high priest of uber-glamour when Beyonce was just a bouncing baby – the original designer-vintage queen. Ermine and pearls, spandex and tiaras – Freddie out-slutted Christina Aguilera, out-sulked Gwen Stefani and out-pouted bloody Avril Lavigne. And oh, what a voice! Swap Keane for Queen and understand the true meaning of out and proud glamour. Boys: get some real emotion stirring in your trousers - turn off Coldplay and tune into Kiss, ditch Amy Winehouse for some genuine AC/DC action and take that Travis Greatest Hits CD and shove it where it belongs – as a coaster underneath your mum’s tea cup. The Streets don’t have it, The Stooges did. Eminen?
Get thee to the Meatloaf Academy and come back when you’re a grown up. So the White Stripes are hip, cool and fascinatingly sinister? They can’t hold a candle to Sparks. “I’m a raunchy man with a lot of love to give”, simpered Daniel Bedingfield recently. “Get Your Hands Off My Woman (Motherfucker)”, roars Justin Hawkins, in response. Forget political correctness for a moment and ask yourself: which of those two men would you trust to set your knickers on fire for a night? Rock and roll might only be made for one-night stands, but Bedingfield wouldn’t last five minutes.

I might have been sorely misguided in my craving to lie in the gutter that the New York Dolls represented, but at least I wasted my teenage years wisely. For as long as we continue to encourage slick-suited marketing men to churn out generic, TV tie-in pop stars, feeding them song words that are as anodyne as Ovaltine, the current generation of teenagers will have nothing to aspire to or get all existential about. Every generation’s soundtrack should reek of hormones, filthy glamour, confused gender-bending, excitement and danger, not Simon Cowell’s opinion and adverts for endowment mortgage deals.

Pomposity, showmanship, exhibitionism. Endless guitar solos, drum risers the height of aircraft hangars and choruses to match the lead singer’s massive ego: that’s real rock and roll in all its life-affirming, magnificent, high-camp, low-moralled glory. This pantomime season, I believe in a thing called rock.

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