Monday, May 08, 2006

Million Pound Donut

They had been rumours circulating in publishing circles that the book publisher
Bloomsbury’s had forked out a cool million pounds for a pop stars autobiographical
musings. Even in this age of huge lottery wins and million pound game show prizes in
struck me as a huge amount to pay. I amidatley started to think who’s story would be
worth that kind of outlay. It would have to be someone world famous. The story would have to be laced with scandal and controversy. I could only think of Michael Jackson.
Surely the inside story of his life might command that kind of outlay. He could do with the money as well if rumours are too believed. I thought that was sorted then but no it’s not him. I then started to think of a list of people who might bring some sort of return on that kind of investment. If not Michael Jackson then maybe, Madonna, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, no none of them. Morrissey has been talking about writing his in recent interviews but that would be stupid money to pay for his. Elvis Costello could undoubtly pen a decent one again though he is hardly worth that kind of money. Chris Martin’s (heaven forbid) might demand that kind of cash as it mixes music and ‘A’ list Hollywood. God, it would be as dull as spending a bank holiday in Homebase choosing paint with a group of Nuns. Yet it is none of these. It is and I shit you not, Gary Barlow. Who? Gary Barlow, the rotund, boring song smith from Take That. A million pounds for his autobiography? Bloomsbury’s must be suffering from the kind of lost critical judgement that effected Creation post Oasis. Flushed with the Harry Potter millions they seem to have lost any sense of perspective. Alan McGee’s taste disappeared in a cocaine haze fulled by the cash pouring into Creations accounts. Creation had signed the Jesus and Mary Chain, House of Love, My Bloody Valentine and Primal Scream when all where at the top of their game. Post Oasis is was Heavy Stereo for Christ sake. How on earth do Bloomsbury’s think they are going to recoup their million pound payment?

Rock biographies, like those of famous sports personalities tend to be fairly liner and blander than a low fat ready meal. Few artists really want to wash their dirty linen in public. They white wash, twist the truth and grandstand. Shallow exercises in vain glorious self promotion and that’s the interesting ones. With the stupid exception of the puke stained and outrageous Dirt by motley Crue few are worth reading. They tend to be a greater waste of paper than even bloody sudoki. It’s the unofficial biographies that really dig the dirt. The Albert Goldman exposes of Elvis being the both the greatest and most unsavory of the lot.

Autobiographies of bands or artist are interesting enough to begin with. The details of the formation of a band, the first time they knew they could write songs, the heady rush of fame. Unfortunately they then play out with the regularity of an English penalty shoot out. You don’t need to read as you know what happens next. Album, tour, album, tour,
breakdown, divorce, album, tour, album repeat till end of book.

I can’t see that Gary Barlow’s will be even that interesting. The band where never a
bunch of school mates battling against the odds to succeed, you are not going to be
routing for them to escape from their dead end lives. I am certainly not holding my
breath regarding his song writing secrets. Those lighting flashes of inspiration that fired the likes John Lennon or Marvin Gaye will be entirely absent. Close your eyes and try and sing a Take That song from memory. See what I mean.

Barlow from what I can remember is a child of showbiz and even won some awful Saturday morning kids TV compertion to pen a Christmas song. That’s how unrock and roll he is. Can you imagine Noel Gallagher or for that matter Shayne Ward bothering with that aged eleven. They would have been out shop lifting or getting drunk on cheap cider.

When Barlow’s career began to stall, which was after his second solo single, he resorted to a kind of Take That kiss and tell. He admitted to taking ecstasy coke and sleeping with groupies. Shit, shock, horror really Gary. You where in the biggest boy band of your generation and that’s all you indulged in. The band on the bottom of the bill at The Bull and Gate behave worse than that. Odd that those revelations appeared in the sun just in time for the release of your second LP wasn’t it. To make it an even mildly diverting read its going to have to contain levels of debauchery that would make Caligula blush.

I guess he will surprise us by saying that Robbie Williams has a few issues! That Robbie just needs to be loved and that Gary holds no grudges. For someone who seems so driven by the idea of music as business as opposed to art I can’t buy that. The bloke used to buy the top forty to listen to the songs in an attempt to mathically dissect what made them work, why they had become hits, what was the magic formula. He doesn’t have the music in his soul but in his wallet and in his brain. I am sure he sits at home sticking pins in one of those freaky Robbie Take That dolls. I don’t know anything about the book trade but surely Bloomsbury’s money would have been better spent giving 100 new authors a £10,000 development cheques.

Good luck then Bloomsbury you are going to need it. Next time you want to snap up an
autobiography of a pop star then trying thinking of someone who has had a hit record this century. I am sure there are interesting stories out there. Why they didn’t think of Pete Docherty is beyond me.

Tony Heywood (c) 2006

Love Music Hate Racism

Love Music Hate Racism is the snappily titled campaign that is aiming to use music as a tool to combat racism and the rise of the BNP and far right in the UK. In these increasingly fraught and heavy days I am continually astonished by the lack of any kind of political discourse in the world of music. The NME in the late 70’s and early 80’s was aflame with political passion. Every band and artist featured in its pages seemed to stand in opposition to the right wing agenda of the time. Manifestos seemed more common than bass players. Compare that to the present day where being famous and rich enough to develop a serious drug habit seems to be the limit of most bands ambition.

The talk of the current crop of big name ‘indie’ bands picking up the baton from the post punk artists always seems to neglect one fact. The artists in the first wave of post punk were mixing complex cultural criticism, Marxism and melody. The love song was deconstructed, the economic system questioned, the fabric of consumerism torn to shreds. Now we get songs about pulling at a party, taking drugs, how much we hate our old band mates…. all fairly shallow and self-centred. Where are all the protest songs? Where are those standing up for the disenfranchised?

Red Wedge seemed to give this sort of thing a bad name. Mixing pop and politics seemed to be regarded as the realm of the arcane and old. Bless Billy Bragg for still composing impassioned songs about the issues of the age. I worried that the Bard of Barking was a throw back to a bygone era. Just a single man and his cheap guitar battering back the forces of fascism. Thank heavens he kept the faith.

See Billy Bragg has always been a huge fan of soul music and has learnt from it’s power. Music can unite, heal, and win hearts and minds. It is a powerful tool for progress and I am glad that people seem to have remembered that at last. Love Music Hate Racism is staging a number of gigs in the coming week to spread the anti-racism message before the local elections.

Stars of the Grime scene, Lethal Bizzle, Roll Deep and DJ Statik along with the likes of Mylo, David Gray, Pete Doherty and Carl Barat are lending their support to the cause. In a week that has seen yet another racially motivated murder, this one in Sheerness in Kent, then the gigs can’t come soon enough. I can only hope that this flowering of political consciousness will result in a volatile mix of music and politics coming back into vogue. From the moment Richie Edwards disappeared any kind of wider debate about culture or politics begin to disappear from music. Even leftfield music. The Manics began an all too understandable retreat into self doubt. Post-Riche the politics were still there but they became less biting and more reflective.

You can fully understand why the Manics pulled back, but the retreat of Primal Scream seems less understandable. Bobby Gillespie has always talked a good fight and they have been very supportive of left wing issues. Yet somehow Gillespie’s politics have always felt more like a gesture than a real commitment. I can’t see it any other way after they renamed the track previously titled Bomb the Pentagon. If the sentiments of the track were true before 9/11 then surely they were true after it. If they hated American Imperialism before 9/11 and they still hate it now then why suddenly keep quiet? Or was it just teenage rebellion dressed up as politics? When the reality hit home the band had a change of heart? Maybe or maybe they just shat their clich├ęd leather kecks thinking it could end their career. Then they would have to stop taking drugs, hanging out with supermodels or going to Elton John’s wedding. Nothing more than the musical equivalent of wearing a Che Guevara t-shirts down the student union bar.

But not everyone bottles it. The hostile reactions that have followed acts as diverse as the Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle and Bruce Springsteen in The States are testament to that. Some artists seem to be willing to risk their livelihoods in the name of an ideal. To stand up and be counted whatever the cost. Who would have dreamed that the Dixie Chicks are more rock n roll than Primal Scream?

So if you live near one the gigs in the coming weeks then get down there and show your support. On there is a wealth of information about helping out, staging your own gig, etc…Agitate, educate, organise…….