When it comes to precedents of an old man inspiring hysterical fanaticism amongst the young, the omens aren’t great. The Ayatollah Khomeini’s return to Iran from exile in 1979 was especially well-received by students, some of whom stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took 52 American citizens hostage, keeping them there for 444 days in the name of the Revolution. Just over a decade earlier, Mao Tse-tung decided the best way to neutralise his rivals within the Communist Party of China was to instigate a ruthless purge made possible by the personality cult of Mao himself, something that particularly appealed to teenagers in the absence of pop stars.

The Red Guards were fanatical student groups given Mao’s blessing to essentially run amok on a campaign of chaos throughout the country, denouncing anyone they regarded as traitors to the true Communist cause and destroying ancient shrines, temples and books; anyone either old or in a position of authority (such as university lecturers) was fair game and labelled ‘counter-revolutionaries’. Possessing vitriolic and violent contempt for anything that contradicted their twisted take on Communism, the Red Guards’ disregard for their nation’s heritage was as illogical and destructive as that seen in recent years via the likes of the Taliban and ISIS. But it was the human cost of this grim period in China’s history that marks it out as a remarkably gruesome and shameful stain on the country; public humiliation, persecution and imprisonment were for the lucky ones. Estimates vary, but some claim as many as 3 million died as a consequence of the Cultural Revolution.

Obviously, this is the most extreme example of how youth’s natural energy, anger and appetite for destruction can be harnessed by outside forces and used to promote a political career; but none of it could have happened had not Mao projected himself as the adolescent messiah for a generation denied the outlet of football hooliganism or Beatlemania. When one looks at Mao, however, one doesn’t see George Best or John Lennon, so the ability to inspire a devoted following clearly doesn’t depend on physical charisma. But it is a crucial element to the grip Mao had over his teenage storm-troopers that Chinese youth under the system that then operated in their country were deprived of the pop culture experience so prevalent in the west at that time. It seems youth requires such an experience in order to get youth out of its system.

Right here, right now, there is no pop cultural divide that youth can claim as their own like they did from the 50s through to the 90s, let alone the figureheads that these divides revolve around. Who the hell have they got – Harry Styles? Ed Sheeran? Sure, there’s an abundance of leisure industry distractions previous generations didn’t have, but very little the young today can attach the same intense importance and meaning to as they did their tribe of choice in the past. This is a generation worse off in cultural terms than any of its predecessors over the last half-century; it is also one armed with degrees not worth the paper they’re written on, knowing it will be saddled with debt for life, probably unlikely to buy a house until youth is a dim and distant memory, and presented with little that offers hope or salvation from the long slog ahead of it. And then…along comes Jezza.

A couple of weeks ago, Jeremy Corbyn was on the cover of what passes for the NME today; those of us old enough will remember the same magazine featured Neil Kinnock as a cover star thirty years ago, something I greeted with similar cynicism then as I do the Jezza cover now, though I suspect there are fewer today who would react in such a way. The cult of Corbyn is a remarkable phenomenon that even the not-too dissimilar cult of Obama can’t compete with. It has a messianic quality to it way out of proportion to what the man himself actually represents, and Neil Kinnock was never invited to appear onstage at Glastonbury; the Welsh wonder preferred to hold his own festival in the environs of the Sheffield Arena. Aaaawright!

In a way, though, Jezza appearing at Glastonbury says a lot about him, about his audience, and about the festival itself. Glastonbury is a corporate shindig masquerading as a cutting-edge music event, albeit something it once was a very long time ago; even if I was seventeen in 2017, I’d instinctively detest it. I temporarily buried the hatchet to watch Radiohead on Friday night and was blown away by their performance; but I was able to buy their first hit on seven-inch single in my local Virgin Megastore at the time it charted; I didn’t download it. When they sang ‘Creep’, the camera kept focusing on faces who won’t have even been embryos when it reached No.7 in 1993; I was wondering why they were there to see a band whose members are the same age as me, and then I realised they don’t have a Radiohead of their own. They have Jezza.

Of course, Corbyn is old enough to be Thom Yorke’s dad, but this isn’t an impediment to his elevation to Che Guevara status in terms of the thinking teen’s pin-up. A generation too young to even have fallen for Blair’s con-trick in ’97 has only known the Cameron (public) school of politician, something Jezza is such an extreme contrast with that his enthusiastic embrace of traditional socialist rhetoric not only chimes with the standard lefty leanings of youth, but he’s an actual veteran of the ideological wars of the 80s; he was there, man. Respect!

Yes, the Corbyn cult may have utilised youth in a far more positive way than Mao or the Ayatollah did, but it still wasn’t enough to win the General Election. Unless Theresa May’s Queen’s Speech is voted down and Jezza is offered the crown, we’re going to have to wait a while until the Coronation; but this doesn’t matter to the Corbynistas under-21. As far as they’re concerned, he’s the People’s Prime Minister, conveniently free from the compromises that come with the actual job and sever the link between electorate and leader in the process. He can do no wrong in their eyes, but their adoration is also something some of their elders share, those I’d probably regard as old enough to know better. I can see his appeal as an alternative to the production-line politicians, but as a youth icon I would’ve hoped youth could do better.

© The Editor


PurplePopular music’s closest cultural allies have traditionally been other artistic mediums, whether cinema, literature or the visual arts; think of the incestuous relationships between Warhol, Bailey and Scorsese and the pop icons that graced their greatest works. Today I would say popular music’s closest cultural ally is the National Trust, because what brings in the money and keeps the industry staggering on is Heritage. From remastered upgradings of the same classic albums every four or five years to the glut of tribute acts playing karaoke versions of songs for those too young to have been around at the time to the eternal roadshow that is The Rolling Stones, Heritage Rock is where it’s at.

Mind you, it shouldn’t really surprise anyone that Rock has reached this stage; it happened to every musical revolution before it, after all. The fact that we refer to any post-Baroque and pre-First World War orchestral music as ‘classical’ is a retrospective repackaging that has elevated a once-radical art form to the level of inoffensive highbrow easy-listening, a fate that has befallen Rock even quicker than any genre that preceded it; the thought would probably have amused and horrified some of the counter-cultural renegades who lived fast and died young, but it is the durability of their recorded output that has provided the foundation for the elevation, and it is the gradual arrival of their original audience at a pensionable age that has facilitated Heritage Rock.

The recurring pattern of musical innovation is that it tends to reach a peak of experimentation that can often perch perilously on the cusp of unlistenable self-indulgence, eventually wearing out the patience of the audience; everyone admires a musician prepared to go where no musician has gone before, but a constant quest to break away from the rigid structures of a musical form has the potential to be a creative cul-de-sac as the innovator ends up screaming in an empty room. It happened with both Jazz and Classical in the 60s and with Rock in the 70s. A craving for the nursery rhymes of childhood resurfaces and there is a demand for a back to basics simplicity. However, once the backwards step has been taken, the innovation effectively ceases. Punk may have been a necessary evil, but was the destiny of The Sex Pistols to evolve into ELO after five years? There was nowhere left to go. As Duran Duran’s John Taylor once pondered to an interviewer quizzing him if his band could be ‘the new Beatles’, were Birmingham’s fab five supposed to progress by growing moustaches?

Since then, rock bands – or the rare ones averse to endlessly milking a hit formula – have struggled with where to go next. The first decade of Radiohead’s career is a case in point. From mastering the art of post-Nirvana, guitar-driven angst, Thom Yorke withdrew his regiment from the format that had brought them considerable rewards and did his best to incorporate avant-garde electronica into the mix; in this, he largely succeeded, with ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’ being amongst the few genuinely original sounding albums of the twenty-first century’s first decade, even if they alienated many who had lost their virginity to ‘The Bends’.

It’s not easy to break new ground in a genre that now has a history stretching back half-a-century, but acts that are desperate to do so also have to contend with operating in the shadows of predecessors who had the luxury of no history to hold them back. To paraphrase Noel Gallagher’s grasp of grammar, they really are standing on the shoulders of giants.

The success of magazines like ‘Mojo’ and ‘Uncut’ in primarily focusing on the pre-Heritage years when Rock was the refuge for Kamikaze outsiders is an ironic juxtaposition considering Heritage is their currency; but they have succeeded where periodicals dedicated to the here and now have failed because there is a larger public appetite for these years. Partly, it is generated by those who were there, a generation that now runs the media and has steadfastly refused to grow up, and partly by the fact that the landmark albums produced in the 60s and 70s remain the benchmark and inspiration for their children and grandchildren to aim for.

Overexposure doesn’t diminish the excellence of these recordings and coming to them with fresh ears can make them sound as good now as they did then. ‘Revolver’ can excite and astonish as much as Beethoven’s Ninth, and will probably continue to do so even when it has reached the same refined age as ‘Ode to Joy’. But the influence has to be absorbed as a spirit rather than swallowed whole, coming out the other end bearing little audible relation to its source; if not, it’s just another tribute band.

The speed of life as lived today has the power to make and break musical innovations with undue haste. It took around a decade for Hip Hop to advance from the crudity of ‘Rapper’s Delight’ to the complex tapestries of Dr Dre’s productions, whereas Dance music went from the clumsy, cut ‘n’ paste samples evident on Bomb the Bass’s ‘Beat Dis’ to the seamless mosaic of soundscapes that constituted the first Portishead album in the space of barely six years. In the case of Rock, the multiplying of subdivisions within pop has also served to create a musical apartheid, whereby categories and pigeonholes akin to those evident in old record stores sabotage the melting pot of influences that propelled The Beatles into unknown territory fifty years ago.

The 60s generation may have begun on the same showbiz bandwagon as their light-entertainment predecessors, but gradually created their own alternative framework that is now established as today’s equivalent of ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’; yes, I’m talking Glastonbury, the Brits, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, ‘Rolling Stone’ et al. Any break with established musical forms must reject the whole industry that has grown up around them outright and concentrate on blending various bits of the music to forge them all into something new, both musically and culturally. In a week when a town crier in drag labouring under the misapprehension that she’s breathing the same rarefied air as Aretha Franklin is showered in statuettes, it’s time to rip it up and start again.

© The Editor