A manager lashes out: Camille Paglia thinks managers are villains. Simon Napier-Bell believes she hasn't checked the small print.
Thursday 11 March 1993
She proposes that young rock musicians be encouraged to read poetry, study Hinduism, look at painting, listen to jazz and go and see foreign films. She wants them to rediscover rock music as a pure art- form - as if it ever had such a purity. From the beginning, rock was the music with which youth blew its top. Stuck with a dumb job and nagging parents, a young man could pick up a guitar and yell, 'I'm getting out of here.' And one way of getting out was to grab for the success of stardom. Just being the artist was a substantial part of rock expression.
Rock was never musically pure, like folk or blues - it was always an amalgamation of lifestyle and music. To help them with the lifestyle, budding rockstars seek out managers and beg for commercial success. Paglia, who in another part of the book says she is broadly in favour of 'abortion, sodomy, pornography, drug-use and suicide', draws the line at this.
'Our musicians need to be rescued from the carpet- baggers and gold-diggers who attack them when they are young and naive.' She seems to think rock music cannot be adapted, however slightly, towards profitability without destroying its artistic integrity.
Yet it was this adaptation that gave birth to rock music in the first place. Rock was born from the corporate marketing of youthful rebellion. This seemingly impossible marriage created a hybrid art-form dependent equally on both sides. Though Paglia points out that 'where rock goes, democracy follows', she doesn't seem to understand why. The reason is, to be considered great, rock music has to be both artistically and financially successful. Its principle is to reward rebelliousness, and that is what makes totalitarian governments so terrified of it.
A good rock manager eases his way in gently. His first job is to assess how far his artists want to compromise their artistic integrity in order to achieve commercial success. Will they put out a single? Will they plug the record on television? Will they perform at the record company's sales convention?
Rock groups mostly answer yes to all three questions. It is often the manager who has to propose a more rebellious attitude. These days he is more likely to ask them to filth up a bit than to 'sanitise them' - to propose some surly arrogance or even outright violence. These are the images of rock that nice middle-class kids with musical competence have to be taught if they are to be made marketable. Think of Guns N' Roses, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy - all skilfully managed, yet hanging on to their 'unruly free will'. Think of the Sex Pistols . . .
When they first started, their manager, Malcolm McLaren, had a lot of trouble with the Sex Pistols. He was trying hard to turn them into little monsters, but in reality they were young, naive and decidedly pleasant. At the time of their first record, they had to do an interview with a female journalist who lived in Brighton. On the way down in the train, McLaren rehearsed his four proteges. 'Don't forget - put your feet on the coffee table, swear a lot, and for heaven's sake, DON'T say please or thank you.'
When they arrived, the journalist offered them tea.
'Do you take sugar?'
'Yes, please,' said Sid Vicious, and McLaren flung his arms above his head in fury.
'Dammit]' he yelled. 'How many times have I told you? Don't say please.'
Sid looked up apologetically. 'Sorry, Malc. I forgot.'
McLaren howled in despair. 'For Christ's sake - you can't say sorry either.'
Later on, of course, the group got the hang of it.
Record companies and managers willingly collude in the concoction of such images. Clashes between rock stars and the establishment are an essential part of rock imagery. Simulated images soon become the real thing. It is all part of the creative process of rock music.
Paglia says 'rock music should not be left to the Darwinian laws of the marketplace'. On the contrary, to be considered rock in the first place, the music must balance commerciality with creativity; packaging with content; financial reward with the need for self-expression. Rock music is art as commerce and commerce as art.
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