The P2P revolution is like Gutenberg plus Protestantism plus Punk all rolled into one highly compressed file, by Mark Simpson
(Independent on Sunday, August 2001)
Perhaps the best thing about digital music is that it doesn’t only make listening to music more convenient and less irksome: it actually does part of the tiresome job of listening for you.
ISO-MPEG Audio-Layer-3 — mercifully shortened to MP3 — is the digital file format for music exchanged on the Internet and very possibly the acronym of doom for the record industry. It is a form of extreme algorithmic compression of sound files that uses “psychoacoustic” models that account for what listeners actually notice when they hear music or other sounds. “Unnecessary” data is stripped away to make the file as small as possible to facilitate easier storage or uploading and downloading. In other words, MP3 anticipates and interprets music for the listener before she or he actually hears it.
Of course, this job used to be performed by record companies, with their A&R men and marketing departments. But, like so many before them, they appear to have been automated out of a job—dispensed with by algorithms, the Internet, and a bunch of geeky kids in their bedrooms. A whole class of intermediaries and authorities have been liquidated.
The Internet has often been compared to Gutenberg in its importance. However, after reading John Alderman’s detailed account of the online music revolution, Sonic Boom: Napster, P2p and the Battle for The Future Of Music, John Alderman, I have a hunch it’s more like Gutenberg plus Protestantism plus Punk—all at once, in a highly ‘compressed’ form.
Thanks to the personal computer and the Internet, every man is now at home with his god—downloading The Sex Pistols’ EMI. The corrupt, uncool suits and cassocks who used to intercede have been swept aside and the Word can be enjoyed directly and free from distortion, compressed by pure, clean mathematics, not dogma. The free exchange of information—which is all that digital music amounts to in cyberspace—is the credo of what one might call the Nettist Movement: the true believers in the web and everything it represents.
To many Nettists, anyone who attempts to stand in the way of this Reformation Superhighway is the Papist Antichrist, or the fascist regime. And of course this means anyone who doesn’t share their holy zeal—anyone who is non-Nettist. Record companies are about as non-Nettist as you can get. After all, they have most to lose from the free exchange of digital music. All their frightfully expensive CD printing presses, distribution deals and back catalogues melt at the press of a button in someone’s bedroom. If indulgences no longer have to be bought but can be plucked from the air instead, then where is the temporal wealth and power of the record business to come from?
For the record companies, the leaders of the MP3 revolution are seen as heretics who have to be made examples of; burnt at the legal stake so that others may not be tempted to stray. Against the cries for info freedom, their lawyers invoke the Mystery of copyright. Digitising music, just as printing the Bible in German did, puts it within the grasp—and control—of the laity. And like the leaders of the Counter-Reformation, they see themselves as acting in the interests of the people they burn.
You think I exaggerate? You think I take this Reformation, Counter-Reformation metaphor too far? Well, just listen to Edgar Bronfman Jr., heir to the mighty if not exactly holy Roman Seagram Empire, quoted here by Alderman: “I am warring against the culture of the Internet, threatening to depopulate Silicon Valley as I move a Roman legion or two of Wall Street lawyers to litigate. I have done so… not to attack the Internet and its culture but for its benefit and to protect it”.
Is Shawn Fanning, the boy who at nineteen founded Napster, the famous MP3 file-sharing “peer-2-peer” online service, a Luther for our times? And is Napster his Wittenberg Theses, nailed to the door of the music industry? For a while, in our accelerated culture, it looked that way. Twelve months after the launch of Napster in June 1999, there were over 200,000 souls praying in his church nightly. By the end of 2000 there were over 50 million registered users and Fanning was a very famous young man indeed; his criminally young, beatific face shining out from the cover of magazines.
But Fanning was no ideologue or evangelical; merely an American boy who saw a need which he believed his software could fill. From his time spent chatting on the Net, he knew that people were eager to trade music files, but finding good music was the problem. He joined with two online pals, only slightly older than himself, to solve this with smart code. Together they wrote the Napster program, which allowed users to share files by plugging their computers, in effect, into a giant, global network.
Because Napster hosted no music itself (the files were stored on user’s computers and traded), it was hoped by Fanning et al that they would be free from any taint of blasphemy and heresy in the form of copyright violations. They were very wrong. In the opening blast of what was to prove a merciless barrage, the fearsome Recording Industry Association of America filed a copyright lawsuit against Napster in December 1999, just six months after it had launched.
And who could blame them? For the record industry Napster was a disaster of, well, biblical proportions. Practically a whole generation of college kids who didn’t even have to pay for the college computers or the Internet connections they downloaded the MP3 files with, stopped buying CDs. Not only was Napster free, Napster was easier than going to a record store and it was even easier than ordering CDs online. Emusic.com, an e-tailer of digital music, was reduced to giving away MP3 players (worth $150) to anyone who bought just $25 worth of music.
A year and a half on, under the epic weight of various lawsuits and injunctions brought by the record industry and Lars Ulrich of Metallica, who famously discovered that three unfinished versions of a song he had been working on had been traded on Napster (along with his entire back catalogue), the Church of Shawn Fanning is not what it was. Napster got into bed with record giant Bertlesmann— one of the few record companies to respond to the MP3 revolution with anything other than public burnings—in an attempt to turn Napster into a legal, mainstream, subscription-only service which, crucially, paid royalties to performers.
The issue of intellectual copyright and rewarding artists is a thorny one and not so easy to dismiss as “record company greed.” Ulrich is certainly not the only professional rock and roll rebel to take indignant offence at the “criminality” of online file trading. Ultimately though, the feelings of artists or even record companies may not count for very much. In a sense, file trading is what the Internet was designed for—and it was also designed to survive something even more destructive than a music company lawyer: nuclear war.
There is perhaps a tad too much jargon in Sonic Boom for the IT agnostic, and the narration doesn’t always quite match the raciness of the title or the import of the revolution it documents, but it’s a valuable, insightful book for anyone interested in where our culture is headed.
The Nettist Movement itself continues its onward march undaunted. Napster and Fanning may have recanted, but most of his 50 million disciples that Bertlesmann hoped to convert into more orthodox customers have left and are now praying at lesser known online P2P sites. And there are always new, more convincing Luthers. Programmer Ian Clarke, for instance. He believes vehemently that information should be free. But he isn’t going to try too hard to convince you with words; he’s won the argument already with code by designing a system called Freenet which allows users to post and retrieve files with complete anonymity. Unlike Napster, there is no central server—this is a church which really has no walls and whose congregation is invisible.
Clarke likes to tell reporters that he couldn’t take Freenet down if someone put a gun to his head. Which is all very well, but Alderman doesn’t tell us what Clarke would do if Edgar Bronfman Jr. sent a Roman legion of Wall Street lawyers after him.
Copyright Mark Simpson 2001
Next month, on December 5th, Richard Wayne Penniman, better known as Little Richard, The King of Rockin’ ‘n’ Rollin’ Rhythm & Blues Soulin’, turns 80.
Whether or not Mr Penniman invented rock ‘n’ roll as he has often loudly and boldly claimed – and, to be sure, he’s got a better, prettier claim than most – it’s as obvious as the eyeliner around his lips that this son of a bootlegger from Macon, Georgia invented glam rock. Way back in the ‘uptight’ 1950s.
The King-Queen of Rockin’ ‘n Rollin’ may possibly have been inspired in his style by the early 1950s tonsured ‘bad-boy’ TV wrestler Gorgeous George (who also influenced James Brown and Muhammad Ali), but wherever he got it from he definitely stole, to quote Oscar Wilde — he didn’t waste his time borrowing. With his imperious pompadour, his sequinned capes, his outrageous gestures, his shrieks, his full make-up and false eyelashes, he channelled a fun, furious, flaming effeminacy that bore down on the charts like a screaming, squealing steam train.
Wisely, the charts surrendered, unconditionally. From 1955–57 he had fourteen hit singles and three number ones.
“Lu-CILLE! You won’t do your sister’s will!” came blaring through the house like a pack of rabid dogs. It was as if a Martian had landed. My grandmother stopped in her tracks, face ashen, beyond comprehension. The antiques rattled. My parents looked stunned. In one magical moment, every fear of my white family had been laid bare: an uninvited, screaming, flamboyant black man was in the living room. Even Dr Spock hadn’t warned them about this.’
– John Waters
Unlike Gorgeous George, however, the queerness of Little Richard wasn’t just a pose. According to Robert ‘Bumps’ Blackwell the producer behind his first hit ‘Tutti Frutti’, the ‘minstrel modes and homosexual humour’ of Richard’s original lyrics had to be bowdlerised for the mainstream. “Tutti Frutti, good booty”, for instance, was replaced with the slightly less sodomitical “Tutti Frutti, aw-rooty”. (There’s also speculation that the hits ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ may have been about transvestites.)
Little Richard didn’t though bowdlerise his private life, at least not during his 1950s heyday. According to his authorised biographer Charles White in The Life and Times of Little Richard on tour he would host swinging parties that were so swinging they were orgies. He would invite men back to his hotel and enjoy watching them have sex with his girlfriend.
So when racist groups such as the North Alabama White Citizens Council alarmed by his enormous, unprecedented popularity with white teens put out statements on TV, warning that “Rock ‘n’ Roll is part of a test to undermine the morals of the youth of our nation. It is sexualistic, unmoralistic and … brings people of both races together’, they weren’t entirely wrong.
Little Richard, like many people, had a complicated sexuality. Complicated by both his self-described ‘ominsexual’ tastes – he has had affairs with both men and women – and also by his devout evangelical Christianity, inculcated by his adored mother, which has led him to, ahem, turn his back on his homosexual side for much of his post 1950s life. Unsurprisingly, many gay people regard him with resentment as a result.
He gave an uproarious interview in 1987 to uberfan film director John Waters – whose famous pencil moustache was inspired by Richard’s own iconic lip-fur – in which he announced, not without foundation, that he was not only the architect of rock and roll but ‘the founder of gay’:
‘“I love gay people. I believe I was the founder of gay. I’m the one who started to be so bold tellin’ the world! You got to remember my dad put me out of the house because of that. I used to take my mother’s curtains and put them on my shoulders. And I used to call myself at the time the Magnificent One. I was wearing make-up and eyelashes when no men were wearing that. I was very beautiful; I had hair hanging everywhere. If you let anybody know you was gay, you was in trouble; so when I came out I didn’t care what nobody thought. A lot of people were scared to be with me.”’
In the same interview he confesses the source of his inspiration for his unorthodox use of his mother’s curtains. Not Gorgeous George, but rather His Holiness:
“I idolised the Pope when I was a little boy,” he says reverently. “I liked the pumps he wore. I think the Pope really dresses!” But there were other, more low-down ecclesiastical fashion casualties who seemed a bigger influence. “There was Prophet Jones of Detroit – he used to walk on this carpet. They would spread this carpet out of the limo and he would walk on it. When I got famous, I had the guys just spreading carpet for me to walk on, and they would kiss my hand… and I used to like to live like that.”
Happy birthday, your Most Royal Magnificent Rockin’ Holy Highness!!
At Muhammad Ali’s 50th birthday celebration in 1992. Ali: ‘The king!’ Richard: ‘I love you. Happy birthday, baby’:
Check out the full length packet shot at beginning:
BBC Radio 2 today aired a documentary about Little Richard with lots of (archive, I think) interview footage with the great man himself. It also revealed that his friend the late 1940s jump blues singer Billy Wright, who helped arrange his first recording sessions, liked to curl his hair, wear make-up and sometimes threw his panties in the audience. So Gorgeous George is right out of the window.…
It also reported that a fourteen-year-old David Robert Jones — later known as David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust — attended one of Little Richard’s UK gigs in the early 1960s, at which the showman pretended to die on-stage, before resurrecting himself with: “A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-wop-bam-boom!”
Definition of PUNK (Mirriam Webster Online)
archaic : prostitute
2[probably partly from 3punk] : nonsense, foolishness
b : a usually petty gangster, hoodlum, or ruffian
c : slang : a young man used as a homosexual partner especially in a prison
‘Pretty Vacant’ (or ‘Vay-CUNT!’ as Mr Lydon sang it in his best Richard III) is my favourite Sex Pistols track. Because it advertises how punk represented above all an aesthetic rebellion, even and especially when it told us, with a face carefully distorted by a stage sneer, it was anti-fashion, anti-beauty. It was really glam rock again, but after having been to art school – and with the lining turned inside out.
Because the Sex Pistols were very pretty. In a Dilly meat rack kind of way.
Punk theatrics aside, it’s also just a very good pop song. Glen Matlock wrote ‘Pretty Vacant’ after hearing Abba’s ‘SOS’ (which happens to be my favourite Abba song too). Matlock’s contribution to the Sex Pistols has often been underestimated – certainly his pop sensibilities and work ethic seemed to embarrass the rest of the band.
So he was given the boot and replaced by John Lydon’s best mate Sid Vicious for the ‘Pretty Vacant’ promo. Sid’s job seems to have been mostly to stand around flashing his cheekbones and looking… pretty vacant. Which he did very well. (Though I personally would have saved my fattest, most appreciative projectile gob for the fine-featured blond drummer Paul Cook hammering away reliably at the back.)
This classic promo clip of ‘Pretty Vacant’ was included in a line-up of punk era tapes from Auntie’s vaults in ‘Punk Britannia at the BBC’, part of BBC4’s ‘Punk Britannia’ documentary series – providing somewhere for old punks to hide from the Diamond Jubilee.
To be honest, I’m getting almost as tired of documentaries about punk rock as I am of Royal Jubilees. Punk is beginning to be like ‘The War’ that Johnny Rotten et al complained hearing about all the time when they were growing up. But I still watched it.
And I was struck again by how male (and how white) punk was. Only three or four of the twenty or so acts collected here have women in them at all, let alone female leads. Part of the reason why the great late Poly Styrene performing ‘The Day the World Turned Day-Glo’ and Siouxsie Sioux’s ‘Hong Kong Garden’ seem like such stand out songs here. Perhaps because they weren’t trying too hard to be punk and weren’t afraid to be poppy they were actually better punks.
For all the revolution, anarchic energy and DIY creativity of punk — which did ultimately help open up the ‘industry’ to women — there was also a lot of conformity. Very phallic conformity that looks even more dated now than the prog rock it was rebelling against. On stage, young sweaty skinny men jumping up and down shouting and urgently strumming their guitars. In front of the stage, sweaty skinny young men pressed against one another, jumping up and down and ejaculating phlegm at the sweaty skinny young men on stage.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And if I’d been old enough I would have had a whale of a time in the front row. But after a while it does get a bit tired. Especially when we now have websites for this kind of thing.
Anyway, getting back to the theme of my favourite Pistols track ‘Pretty Vacant’… it would probably have been faintly heretical to some to ask it at the time, but who was the prettiest punk?
Since punk was mostly a boy thing — and Siouxsie Sioux for instance was more magnficently terrifying than ‘pretty’ - I’m really asking of course who was the prettiest boy punk (or ‘young man used as a homosexual partner especially in a prison’ as the dicktionary definition of punk has it).
So, was it:
Billy Idol, with those extraordinary pouty, enveloping lips that invited as much if not more than they snarled?
Orgasm addict Pete Shelley, the (openly gay) boy next door whose beguiling, big, brown Manc eyes followed the camera as it dollied round him?
Or Dave Vanian, whose heavily made up slicked back look seems to have prefigured New Romanticism (and whose name sounds like a mannered anagram of ‘vain’)?
Or Paul Weller, who had the angriest, most appetising Adam’s apple in the business and a beauty spot on his lip?
Or how about Ian Curtis, the spasming James Dean of punk?
One thing’s for sure. It definitely wasn’t Bob Geldof. (I’m not posting a picture of him here as that would only spoil the enjoyment of the others.)
It’s all a very subjective business this prettiness thing, isn’t it? And I’ll bet you will have your own nominations, possibly written in felt-tip pen or carved in your school desk. But on the basis of the TOTPs performances captured in ‘Punk Britannia at the BBC’ I’m strongly inclined to give the Prettiest Punk prize (a fiver and a cheese burger at Wimpys) to Bernie Masters of Eddie and the Hot Rods. ‘Do What You Wanna Do’ is a great and timeless song. It’s also ‘pretty’ instructive.
As he jumps around, baring his defined torso, thrusting his groin and wiggling his butt, Masters is channelling Mick Jagger of course, perhaps with a little Iggy Pop thrown in – but, as that great contemporary Svengali Louis Walsh (that’s punk sarcasm by the way) likes to say over and over again on ‘X Factor’: he makes it his own.
And it’s the most fetching, most sexual, most Dilly-esque performance in this line-up.
Teeth and everything.
Scourge of The Eton Rifles Paul Weller was sending out quite a statement to his die hard Jam fans in this video for his 1983 Style Council single ‘Long Hot Summer’, shot on the River Cam in Cambridge. Acting the big posh pooftah in a punt.
Like almost everyone in the UK in the early 80s the young Modfather had fallen madly in love with the beautifully-shot 1981 ITV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited – much like today’s Downton Abbey, but with believable, interesting aristos, a script, and an actual point.
Oh, and a seductive homoerotic storyline in which two young hetero men fall for one another surrounded by the Baroque splendour of Castle Howard, Yorkshire. Charles Ryder’s long hot summer with the decadent Sebastian Flyte opened up a whole new realm of sensation for a generation emerging from the concrete rubble of 1970s Britain. Even for the son of a taxi driver and a cleaner from Woking like Weller.
I sometimes wonder, considering the bathetic comparison between Brideshead and Downton, and the general, glorious queerness of early 80s pop culture, whether the notion of ‘progress’ is just a illusion we cling to make the diminishing returns of life more bearable. (And by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’ of course.) Though much less technically sophisticated, Weller’s Brideshead tribute video ‘Long Hot Summer’ video knocks LMFAO’s ‘Sexy and I Know It’ into a banana hammock.
Rather wonderfully, wanking seems to be the focus of this promo, along with the attendant narcissism and homoeroticism of Paul’s display of topless, oiled-up self-pleasuring for the camera – lying on his back for most of the video whilst his fully-clothed chum labours behind him. Thirty years on, and after all the slutty, spornographic advertising campaigns of the last decade, Paul’s petulant passivity in this video is still jaw-dropping.
Understandably, Style Council guitarist Mick Talbot is driven to playing with his pole and gnawing passing willow trees in frustration. Fortunately for him relief is at hand — a little later pretty Paul allows himself to be spit-roasted in his punt by the drummer and the guitarist.
Whether lolling on his back, fingers travelling down his flat abdomen, or dancing barefoot, Weller’s whippet thin body reminds us of what British young men looked like before Ronald McDonald and Mens Health redesigned them.
Or maybe I’m just falling prey to the intoxicating nostalgia for a better, more golden time that permeated Brideshead.
Genius, pop Svengali, theoretician of cool: Mark Simpson gets to grips with the man who really listens to ‘La la la, la la la-la la…’
(Originally appeared in Independent on Sunday 03/08/2003)
What do you hear when you listen to ‘Can’t get you out of my head’? This is a bit of a trick question as you probably don’t listen to ‘Can’t get you out of my head’. Not because, like most hit pop singles that are played endlessly on the radio, in shops, pubs, hospitals and clubs for a while, it is now something that you would never actually play yourself, except maybe at a drunken New Year’s party. But because it was never meant to be listened to in the first place.
It was pop music assembled with fiendish cunning and calculation out of over-familiar cliches (rather like Kylie’s voice, and rather like Kylie herself) to be a hit. By being something you hear but don’t listen to, don’t need to listen to. Background music to dance, drink, shop and die to. If you find yourself actually listening to a pop single, then it has failed. Pop music today is something people hear while doing something or going somewhere more interesting.
Unless your name is Paul Morley. Mr Morley has actually listened to “Can’t get you out of my head”. And as the beginning of his new book ’Words and Music: A history of pop in the shape of a city’ (Bloomsbury) makes clear, he was not dancing, drinking, shopping or dying to it, but sitting in his room. Alone. Mr Morley, to be sure, is something of a genius; he is also a very strange man. He appears to have actually listened — not heard, listened — to almost all the music you might file under “Popular”. This is no mean achievement; arguably it’s a very perverse one. What’s more, Mr Morley has done it with a very large brain indeed.
Here’s just one of the many, many fecund paragraphs in Words and Music about what he hears when he listens to ‘Can’t get you out of my head’:
“The song is a fluid thing of deep, deepening mystery, perhaps because what could be so corny, a pop song about love and desire, which doesn’t mean anything beyond its own limited world, has become something so profound. A pop song about love and desire that succeeds in communicating millions of unique things about the unlimited worlds of love and lust. It’s about how everyday life and love are a shifting set of compromises between the ordinary and the extraordinary…”
I’ve always admired Paul Morley, and for that reason I have never actually, properly listened to Paul Morley before. I have often heard him and been very glad to hear him while I did something else more interesting, but I’ve never really paid close attention before. Words and Music is the first time I’ve sat alone in my room with him and really listened. Unlike Morley’s journey with Kylie, I’m not so sure that this has only enhanced my affection.
It isn’t the way that he writes — which is all too frequently stunning. Or the inexhaustible connectivity of his mind, which has more ideas per sentence, per phrase, per comma, than most writers have in their entire lives. It’s just that, like the meandering narrative and deliberately über-pretentious conceit of this book, I’ve lost track of what the point of Morley is. Perhaps though, this is my fault. You see, I have also lost track of what the point of pop music is.
Once upon a nostalgic time, pop music was invested with far too much meaning. This was the late 1970s and early 1980s, Morley’s heyday as a rock critic, when he coined the phrase New Pop to describe a kind of pop that was smart and superficial, profound and commercial all at once. In other words, pop music at that time was made in the image of Paul Morley. Little wonder then that he actually entered the Matrix, via projects he was involved in to varying degrees such as Art of Noise and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and transfigured himself into a pop star/Svengali/theoretician of cool.
However, since then pop music, which once seemed so important, so precious and so other-worldly at the same time as deliciously vulgar, has swallowed everything and become the world, and has inevitably become, like us, rather less interesting than we thought. Like Kylie, it is bland, shiny, serviceable, very professional and for the most part entirely undeserving of serious thought.
Morley knows about this problem. It is after all his problem. Hence the poser on the back of his book: “Has Pop Burnt Itself Out?” Hence the book is (very) loosely based around the (deliberately über-pretentious) conceit of Morley driving in a Smart car with Kylie towards “a virtual city built of sound and ideas” while trying to convince her to allow him to write a book about her. It’s all very ironic, but it is also, I’m sorry to say, ultimately a bit pathetic too.
Morley of course knows this as well. His very large brain understands everything, but it most particularly understands that writing about music is as stupid as “dancing to architecture”. In fact, it’s rather easier to imagine Morley dancing to architecture than actual music, which would be really ridiculous. Actually, the trouble with this book is not that it’s like watching someone dance to architecture, but that sometimes it’s like watching your dad dance to architecture.
Music is a form of architecture. Especially the kind of popular music that Morley is most interested in: the cool, structured, mathematical electronic music which began with Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, and which influenced his favourite bands New Order and Human League. And also ‘Can’t get you out of my head’, which steals from all of these.
As Morley puts it in his groovy architect boogie:
“It is an elegant demonstration of the way that all great music is about a relationship between sound and silence, between holding and letting go, between motion and pause.”
The architecture of Morley’s own book is, however, a mess. Even the blurb has no structure: “part novel, part critique, part history, part confessional, part philosophical enquiry, part ultimate book of musical lists”. If it were a building, Words and Music would be condemned. As a piece of pop it would not be requested on the main dancefloor, but it might possibly make the chill-out room.
Of course, this is deliberate too. Words and Music is ambient, often dazzling prose that never really arrives anywhere, least of all a “virtual city built of sounds and ideas”. Morley is Eno via a wordprocessor rather than a synthesiser. As Morley writes on his hero: “Eno, to edit a long story short, coined the word ‘ambient’ to describe a kind of intellectual easy– listening music. An easy-listening music that has certain levels of difficulty in its make-up. A background music that you could take — as a weighty provocation — or leave — as a sound drifting around its own pretty pointlessness.”
Likewise, to edit a long, long story short, Morley’s prose drifts around its own pretty pointlessness.
(I also quite like the song)
Last year metrodaddy declared the LMFAO dance hit ‘Sexy and I Know It’ an anthem for the Jersey Shore/Geordie Shore/The Only Way is Essex/The Hunks/Men’s Health Magazine generation of metrosexy young men and the metaphorical (and not so metaphorical) spangly Speedos they’re flaunting themselves in.
But I have to say I was a tad ambivalent about the heavily ironic hipster promo video.
Fortunately, it’s been remade by non-hipsters. In shape non-hipsters. Cadets from the USAF Academy, no less. Now, in case anyone objects that this is conduct unbecoming future officers (and apparently some killjoys have) perhaps we should remember that one of the lesser known meanings of ‘cadet’ is ‘pimp’. Though here of course they’re pimping their own bodies. Like the rest of today’s young men.
Not to be outdone, US Navy cadets have also taken up the challenge (see below). Which do you think is sexier? And which one knows it most? Air Force or Navy? Or neither? So far I haven’t been able to locate an Army or USMC version — but something tells me it won’t be long.
Tip: Roger Clarke and Towelroad
UK Olympic diver Tom Daley and his chums have recorded their own Speedo-tastic version (I especially like Tom’s Carmen Miranda moment):
I recently chanced upon this clip of Rod Stewart singing (or lip-synching) ‘The Killing of Georgie Parts I & II’ on a late-night BBC4 re-run of a Top of the Pops from 1976. I was completely transfixed. Not by nostalgia though, for a change. Bizarrely, scandalously I don’t recall seeing or even hearing this well-known classic before.
I have a bit of a blind spot about Rod Stewart. As a kid I hated ballads. They were bor-ing. Like the kissy-wissy bits in films. And by the time I got into pop music in a big way Stewart was the Bawling Balladeer. I did go to see the Stewart musical Tonight’s the Night with a friend when it opened in 2003. Alas, it was written by Ben Elton and so I had to leave at the first interval.
But I found myself utterly mesmerised by Rod’s performance here. It’s undoubtedly one of the best to-camera performances I’ve ever seen by any artist. Literally breathtaking. And although the song perhaps owes a debt to ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, produced by David Bowie four years earlier in 1972 (the gay/outsider journey to New York on a Greyhound bus, the doop-doop backing…), I think David would give his non-dilated eye to have done this.
The song tells the story – remember when songs did that? – of a gay friend of Stewart’s who, rejected by his family after explaining that ‘he needed love like all the rest’, moved to New York where he ‘soon became the toast of the Great White Way’ – but was cut down in his prime during a random mugging.
It’s not so much the subject-matter (a true story, apparently) that got me. It’s the astonishing performance itself, which in its fearless extravagance and beauty seems the perfect tribute to his fallen friend. It’s as if Stewart, the working class footballing lad and lady-killer, is showing you with his drag queen gestures and shining androgyny what Georgie the show queen gave him, what he liberated in him.
It’s there in the lyrics, of course:
He said “Never wait or hesitate
Get in kid, before it’s too late
You may never get another chance
’Cos youth a mask but it don’t last
live it long and live it fast”
But it’s much more ‘there’ in Rod’s ‘gay abandon’ in front of the camera and Marlene Dietrich eyes.
I’ve watched the clip several times now and the final line to ‘Part I’ – ‘Georgie was a friend of mine’ – delivered with arms stretched out open-palmed towards the audience, towards the world, and that unswerving, heavy-lidded gaze gets me every time.
The ‘Part II’ coda is a frank, almost embarrassing expression of love and loss, mourning and melancholia. Rod weeps for his lost friend:
Oh Georgie stay, don’t go away
Georgie please stay you take our breath away
But by taking our breath away too, at the height of his youth, his beauty and his talent, Rod ensures Georgie – and the glamorous gayness of the pre Aids 1970s – also lives forever and never goes away.
No matter what Rod himself was to turn into, as the mask of youth slipped.
Hip hop has its own Andrej Pejic. The rapper DPhill Spanglish Man is rebelling against the rap-ismo dress code with something he dubs the ‘XY Movement’ which according to this report, ‘encourages men to get in touch with their feminine sides by donning lipstick and other items, like floral print tights, typically worn by women.’
“A lot of people feel like a lot of colors or tight clothes is homosexual. I feel like it’s more of an expression of me,” said Philips, adding, “The only obstacles are in your mind, that’s the way I feel. I had to break down those barriers in my mind to where I was just confident enough to do it.”
And Philips’s girlfriend, Joy Nguyn, is just as confident, even though she hears negative comments all the time.
“I get mostly negative comments, ‘Oh, he gay… That’s not cute. Guys shouldn’t wear lipstick or tights,’ but I really don’t care,” she said, adding, “It’s fine. I wear lipstick. He wears lipstick. We share lipstick.”
Or as Pejic put it:
“It’s not like, ‘Okay, today I want to look like a man, or today I want to look like a woman,’ ” he says. “I want to look like me. It just so happens that some of the things I like are feminine.”
Finally, a party anthem for the Jersey Shore, Geordie Shore, The Only Way is Essex, The Hunks, Men’s Health Magazine generation of metrosexy young men and the metaphorical (and not so metaphorical) spangly Speedos they’re flaunting themselves in.
Alas, our boys in Blue didn’t quite convince enough viewers last night in Düsseldorf that they are beautiful enough to wear the Eurovision Crown, and despite their liberated lyrics they looked very, er inhibited — frozen with fear, actually.
But they did manage a much better showing than the UK has done in years. Even managing to occupy the top voting spot for a brief tantalising moment (prompting a messy snog from Lee Ryan on an alarmed camera lens that couldn’t back away in time — I of course fainted on the spot).
Eurovision 2011 ended up being a contest between warbling Azeri chintzy bridal romance and leathered up Swedish fisting. I was surprised that Sweden got as many votes as it did since even I was a bit scared by the up-your-arseness of their act.
It was reassuring, in a way, that chintzy bridal romance won the official competition in the end. After all it was silly old Eurovision. But Sweden’s ‘Popular’, a song about the irrepressibility of a young leather boy’s desire to be desired, was the one that people will actually remember:
Spread the news
I’m gonna take the fight
For the spotlight, day and night
Eric Saade nearly represented Sweden at Eurovision last year with ‘Manboy’, a song possibly even more metrosexy than ‘Popular’.
James Dean, the lost bisexual love-object of the 1950s, famously denied being homosexual, but explained that he ‘didn’t want to go through life with one hand tied behind his back.’
Probably it’s just because I have a weak spot for Lee Ryan, the cheeky blue-eyed Essex boy who sings in a dreamy falsetto — and I know this makes me deeply unhip — but I rather like Blue’s ‘I Can’, the UK’s entry for next week’s Eurovision Song Contest. I hear in it a kind of metrosexual anthem, about men expressing things and having experiences that they really weren’t supposed to until recently.
Untying that hand — and waving it around a lot in time to the music.
I can untie these hands
Boybands played an important role in the spread of metrosexuality, with Take That most famously evangelising the male desire to be desired in the 1990s, turning a generation on to the charms of pierced nipples, leather harnesses and eager male sex-objectification. It seems none of Take That were, despite the many rumours, gay. But Take That as a band were very gay indeed. Their gay manager took the gay male love of the male body and sold it to millions of teen girls – and boys. All that baby oil helped loosen up ideas about masculinity.
London crooners Blue were in many ways the slightly more boring Noughties successor to the tarty Manc lads. Duncan James famously came out as bisexual a couple of years back, making him one of a very small club of out celeb bisexual males (so small I can’t think of any others off the top of my head).
But it’s not as if the others, especially Lee, are acting particularly hetero in this video for ‘I Can’. At the beginning Lee appears to be shagging Duncan from behind, though never losing eye-contact with the camera of course. And in fact a year ago he admitted/boasted to having had MMF threesomes with Duncan, whom he ‘loves to bits’.
When I first began writing about the subject in 1994 I talked about metrosexuality being the male compliment of female bi-curiousness (then called ‘lesbian chic), but quickly shut up about it when I realised no one wanted to hear that. And while metrosexuality did in some ways culturally stand in for male bi-curiousness — it’s his jeans not his ass I fancy — by encouraging an awareness of male beauty and attractiveness amongst men in general it ended up making the expression of male bisexuality/bi-curiousness much easier. ‘I can’.
Blue recently did a homoerotic, Du Stade type nude shoot for Attitude magazine (with Lee looking by far the most saucy), and have promised another one if they win Eurovision. Those hands have been untied already.
So much so that when the foxy ladies join them at the end of the video, and the heavens open, suggesting perhaps some kind of pan-sexual gang-bang, they don’t really convince as objects of the camera’s gaze – next to the full-wattage metrosexiness of Blue.
I’m obviously a bit slow this week. It’s only finally dawned on me what’s going on with the lady dancers in the video.
They’re Blue’s ‘feminine side’. All tied up in bondage at the start of the video they end up ‘untied’ and freely mingling/merging moistly with the boys.