BBC4 seem to be doing a series on Friday nights of retrospectives or rather perspectives on vintage or legacy acts. I know it must be hard to squeeze the whole story of a band into a one hour show. To be fair to them they stay focused on the music; the chronological order of the albums, as the bands released them, and it is laudable to let the music speak for itself. But for some reason I find the repackaging a little bit unsettling. Drag it out, dust it down and show it off in a new light, and in twenty years’ time this becomes the truth, the only, sanitised, perspective.
Like, everyone knows that Elvis was lovely, James Brown was gas and Johnny Cash was like everyone’s favourite granddad. Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin were really good bands, David Bowie so deep and meaningful, The Boomtown Rats were socially responsible, and look at Ozzy Osbourne, so daft and harmless you just want to mind him. But in the context of the time it wasn’t like that at all, anything but. All of these guys were pariahs to the establishment. They were vilified, harassed by the authorities and their lives were made as difficult as they could be within the laws, but laws that they were held accountable to at every twist and turn. And these guys had teeth with which to bite back, and not just for their own survival, but because this was what drove them, spurred them on, what they were about.
I remember a former, fairly straight-laced Taoiseach claiming The Rolling Stones as his favourite band and thinking that must be their stock in this country cut in half in one swoop; Bertie seemingly was a big fan of the The The, and somehow I can picture Enda shaking his head and singing along to ‘Born in the USA’.
Where did it all go ‘right’? Currently an artist is considered outrageous if they haven’t had cosmetic surgery, and seriously, who cares what they eat? The unfortunate answer to that question is a reflection on us not them. Yes, there are fewer bubbles to burst today, in no small part due to those who have gone before, and the Utopic politics of the idealists can be simply boring in its facileness, but did it all die with Kurt? Was he the last one to really freak our parents out? I think it is important to remember and recall the unsavoury bits that the Beeb leave out — they are an essential part of the story.
I remember older cousins being told that if they went to see Bob Geldof in the City Hall that they would not be welcome home. Kate Bush was the antithesis of a role model. David Bowie was considered with fear, a destabilising influence on ‘good’ people. Led Zeppelin were believed to have gone to Brazil to make a pact with the Devil! Who was pretty much one and the same as Ozzy Osbourne, really. The Beatles got bashed up, banged up and bundled out of a few countries, and told not to come back. As for Elvis, The Pelvis, with his swivelling hips, where would it all end?…