If we were to scrutinise your rock and roll heroes properly, Britain might lose the only power it has left.
Hello, I'm the Editor-in-Chief of VICE UK. I never get to write because I'm too busy walking around noisily criticising others. But, in an attempt to change that, here's Alex Miller's New Column. I asked Twitter to help me decide on a name and someone pointed out that this was a good one because it's a joke that only gets funny as it gets old.
ALEX MILLER'S NEW COLUMN #2: HOW BRITAIN'S PAEDOPHILE SCANDAL KILLED THE 1960S
I remember being at some awards ceremony a few years ago. For some reason there was a proliferation of 90s indie bands there getting drunk. I stood next to a guy I knew and gushed.
"Wow, it’s like all of my heroes are here in one room, all at once."
"If you think any of them aren’t rapists, you’re fucking kidding yourself."
It’s a fact universally acknowledged by TV sociologists that the last 80 years of British history have been an emotional identity crisis. As the Empire collapsed we pottered around confused, unable to define ourselves; after all, if we weren’t the camp, imperialist perverts with massive boats, who were we? The answer, I was reminded by Danny Boyle’s Olympic superdrama, was The 1960s. Britain is The 1960s. More specifically, Britain is The Beatles. And The Stones, Bowie and Hendrix’s blue plaque. All that Austin Powers crap; yep, that’s us.
Today we’re Adele, we’re Amy Winehouse, we seem to be less and less Damian Hirst, but we’re so much James Bond that the fucking Queen helped advertise Skyfall, by falling from the sky. (The consensus between critics, politicians, monarchs and public seemed to be that another poorly received Bond film would be the end of us, so everyone said it was better than the Crucifixion when actually it was kind of a Dark Knight rip off. Though the bit in Battleship Island was cool.)
People call it "soft power" these days – a way of promoting British interests overseas without gassing Kurds or invading Iraq for the umpteenth time. So yes, it’s soft, which is lovely, but it’s still power, which I guess is why no one has brought up our rich heritage of teenage rock and roll groupies. I mean, if Savile spent most of the decade putting his shrivelled gland in illegal places, imagine what someone with a guitar who didn’t look like a oven-baked toad got up to.
Yesterday morning another child molester in the public eye was outted. MP Cyril Smith died ages ago, but before that the politician had a fair old go on teenagers’ willies and no one arrested him for it. But those were the bad old days, right? A time when people could get away with anything simply because they had money and were important. Now though, we’re different, yeah? We’re going to readdress the balance. We’re going to correct history because we are ashamed of the crimes of the past. We’re paying cultural reparations to the victims of Savile and his ilk. BBC Director Generals are being thrown on a pyre, that’s how serious we are about it.
Unless they’re rock stars of course.
Unfortunately, Britain’s identity, our "soft power" is rooted in the 1960s. An era we’ve defined as “rebellious”. An era whose combination of sexual revolution and hero worship apparently combined perfectly to make Broadcasting House a steaming den of rape and molestation. Before the BBC derailed the witch hunt by libelling some innocent old Lord on the back of some age-old conspiracy theorist rumours (can’t wait till the Newsnight expose on Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbour plot) think about who was getting internet lynched: Jimmy Savile, Gary Glitter, Freddie Starr, Dave Lee Travis, Tory Lords, former Tory Prime Ministers. Light entertainers and chronically unfashionable right-wing establishment figures. Not exactly hard targets. Not the people upon whose legacy our soft power is based.
So, back to that quote: "If you think any of them aren’t rapists, you’re fucking kidding yourself."
You know what he means, right? Cocktails of cocaine, power, money and a culture where behaving like a twat can get you invited to Number 10, or the Royal Variety Whatever, probably don’t produce the most delicate of lovers.
Fuck knows how delicate Bill Wyman was when he screwed Mandy Smith when she was 14. Wonder if he thought about it as he re-joined The Stones for their Jubilee show this week? If you google the names Lori Maddox, Bebe Buell and Cyrinda Foxe-Tyler, some of your greatest heroes don't come out of it looking like saints. I heard a Led Zeppelin sex anecdote the other day that made people leave the room.
As a nation, don’t we feel the need to heal those wounds, to amend for those crimes? No, of course we don’t. We don’t really care. But that’s because Britain has identified itself alongside these powerful men. These people are too important. Too tasteful. The British establishment long-ago made a deal with rock and roll – they would both pretend they weren’t walking hand-in-hand through life; one would "rebel", the other would, occasionally "supress" and it’d all end up in OBEs. Now more than ever the rock star is the untouchable god. What has Britain got if it hasn’t got its cool?
What would happen if police started to turn up at the front doors of our rock stars whose sexual misconduct has been well documented? I guess we’d be tearing apart the seams of the 60s myth. I think we’d have to recontextualise that decade – the decade that saw Britain reborn – as a weird one off, a strange moment to be regretted and NOT, as it's currently understood, as the beginning of a long drive towards the righteous liberal party state called The United Kingdom. And without that reputation, how on Earth are we gonna impress the Russians?
Imagine Danny Boyle’s Olympic thingy. But this time, instead of that bit where they played Bowie songs, Stone Roses songs, Orbital songs and Dizzee Rascal songs, imagine a big spinning question mark. A gap in our identity where pop culture used to be.
Basically, for our soft power to thrive, we probably need soft moralising on our cultural icons. Which is kind of fine with me, because I love all those bands.
Don’t give a shit about Savile though, burn that fucker, his shit always sucked.
Follow Alex on Twitter: @terriblesoup