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Gavin Haynes Sleepless Nights

Ian Watkins' Crimes Will Force Thousands to Reimagine Their Adolescence

No one's clinging on to their memories of "Last Train Home" at Leeds 2007 any more.

Kurt Vonnegut used to have a riff about Eva Braun: "Her only crime was to let a monster ejaculate in her birth canal." Well, it now seems that an entire generation of nice-enough young Brits with a taste for the modern rock can share that. All they did was follow a popular band and now, in the wake of Ian Watkins' bizarre, beastly admissions, it would seem that this same generation are having to ask themselves similar questions to the ones Nuremberg prosecutors did in 1946.


What is the nature of evil? How much can any person ever be held culpable for their actions when their actions are so foul as to defy reason itself? Can we ever truly know what moves another heart? Perhaps, as Hannah Arendt concluded, the only thing you can say about evil is that it is banal. That the dark light you're looking for often just isn't there. Evil doesn't arrive scowling, chuffing a pipe and farting sulphur under its cape. Evil often asks you how your day was and massages your shoulders. Evil sometimes fails to put the cap back on the toothpaste. It took you to Ibiza for your birthday, didn't it? And hey – wasn't evil the one who cradled your head when you were sick that time? Didn't evil do that one brilliant gig at King Tut's? For years, Watkins was just a normal guy; your average small-town rock pub alpha male made good. He was a guy who put his pants on one leg at a time, and looked good in them when he did. He convinced a lot of people he was just like you and me, and maybe the really scary thing is that, largely, he was. Apart from some crucial part of his faculties that went walkabouts sometime… god only knows exactly when. He sold armfuls of his brand of easily-relatable angst right into the heartlands of Britain. To his fans, he was an underground icon, a Tyler, the Creator, a Casablancas, and in raw sales, he put any number of indie "legends" in the shade. An entire style-tribe bought his line and bought his records and fully admired the wry twinkle in his eye as he bopped along pretending to be a kids' TV presenter in the video for "A Town Called Hypocrisy".


Obviously, the real victims are his victims, and let's hope their lives don't have to be lived in the shadow of one bastard's monstrous nature. But also, spare a thought for all those who idolised the man, who adored his floppy locks and panda eyes, and who now must rapidly re-arrange the contents of their brains, de-idolising to reflect our stark new reality.

For a generation too young to know Jimmy Savile as anything other than a haunted, grey Dick Turpin on TOTP2, this is the moment they too had their collective memory fouled like the generations that preceded them. All the people who watched Lostprophets yawl through "The Fake Sound of Progress" at every Leeds Festival through the noughties – they too are going to have to gingerly try to pry apart what the moment meant to them from the residual mess they've been left with. Suddenly, lots of people with flesh tunnels are unexpectedly finding themselves wrestling at a quite philosophical level with the relationship between author and work, between art and morality, discovering paradoxes, uncomfortable compromises and shades of grey they've never had in their entirely black-n-white wardrobes. All those squaddies who made "Last Train Home" the go-to soundtrack music for hymning a fallen buddy / celebrating good times in Camp Bastion – they are going to be left with an unexpected wave of nausea as they click through to the YouTube tribute to Bombardier Jones (1986 – 2009). Today, a thousand emo townies in a thousand no-hope towns are looking wisftully at the tattoo on their wrists, or at the base of their spines – the one that says, "Sing without a reason to never fall in love" – and wondering whether there are reasonable grounds to bill the NHS for a consultation with a dermatologist. Like the protesters who ended up dating undercover cops who'd taken the names of dead children, they too are coming to the realisation that all those high times when Watkins was "literally saving my life" on their bedroom speakers were built on something that never existed in the first place. That the deception was total. So that, every time they think back to that party where you all stayed up till dawn smoking tabs, drinking Peach Schnapps out of coffee mugs, being young and beautiful, there inside the stereo, irradiating those memories with his own halo of evil, will be Ian Watkins: child rapist. First the Glitter Band fans, then a nation raised on Ready Steady Go, and now the MTV2 audience. No doubt TV archivists are already putting together indices on what episodes of Popworld or Buzzcocks must NEVER be re-broadcast, in case the British public who spend their time getting offended see it and have a seizure. Right now, in TV world, that very modern phenomenon of trying to cleanse history is undoubtedly happening, as though our history itself were culpable. It's not, of course, but it might feel as though it were.

Now that this kind of horrific, paedophilic rock star revelation is almost routine, you'd hope that they can almost act as a learning experience for everyone who was lucky enough not to be one of his victims. Perhaps, far from the online mobs crying out for him to be "kicked to death when he leaves prison", this is a chance to develop a bit more nuance. A bit more sad social realism. One laser tattoo removal later, many will be wiser to the idea that good and evil don't announce themselves, that they are broadly unknowable, possibly medical more than philosophical, perhaps entirely situational, and that paedophiles probs don't always wear raincoats and thick specks.

As for Ian Watkins, well, you can only imagine what a celebrity emo paedophile has waiting for him in HMP.

Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes

Previously: The Crucifixion of Reverend Paul Flowers, God's Hapless Crack Smoker