Kerrang!, need I say, is the excitable weekly magazine for rock fans whose tastes are for something more, um, basic than the art-school subtleties of Blur and Co. Its pages are full of gormless head-bangers looking scornfully at the camera or bragging about their willingness to vomit on their drummer's head at 30,000 feet (and then eat it). Each issue features the same bands' names endlessly recurring, a curious litany reminiscent of dubious cocktails (White Zombie, Kula Shaker, Skunk Anansie) or maudlin Victorian parlour verse (My Dying Bride, Send No Flowers, The Blood Divine). So did the awards ceremony.
At the bar, tequila-and-cranberry drinks were handed out by strange people with completely scarlet faces, like a Paul Johnson wannabe contest. Tall Elvis impersonators in Las Vegas jumpsuits chatted to fat young men in ponytails, ankle-socks and murderous expressions.
We drifted in to dinner at 4.30pm - but there wasn't the usual arty display of lead crystal goblets and prawn starters. There were no knives and forks, floral centrepiece or damask napery. Instead, every table groaned under cauldrons of beer on ice, bottles of Kerrang! wine, litres of Jack Daniels, oodles of vodka.
Beside me sat a chap last seen in that surreal tyre advertisement - you know, the vast Buddha figure - wearing wraparound shades and swigging Carlsberg. The awards began. A wall-mounted video played frantic images of skulls, babies, disintegrating heads, industrial wastelands and hairy faces in minatory close-up going WHOAAAAAAAA!! (only louder) at the camera.
Some of the awards puzzled me. "Who's the chap that got the Creativity Prize?", I asked the beer-swilling Buddha. "Butch Vig, out of Garbage," he replied witheringly, as if it had gone to Igor Stravinsky. I imagined the Classic Songwriter award would be a natural for Joni Mitchell or Paul Simon; when it went to Alice in Chains (authors of the deeply classic "Grind", "Rooster" and "Them Bones"), I thought of shouting "Fix!" but decided not.
One by one, huge truck-driver types in ponytails lurched up to the stage, accompanied by hulking baldies emblazoned with tattooes on head and neck. The curious thing was that, unlike their berserk video-screen presence, they were mostly wreathed in smiles, even the ones who came second-best. The place looked like a ballroom full of bouncers on Ecstasy. Mind you, if Michael Jackson had chosen to try his white-robed Messiah routine there, I would have feared for his safety.
The biggest cheer was, a little unexpectedly, for Lionel Blair, the bouffanted and smiling hoofer, who gave an award to the Terrorvision ensemble. "My son's a huge fan," he told me, "He wanted me to take him to see them play at the HMV shop, so I rang up to see if I'd be welcome. They said, only on condition you give the band the award this evening" ("That's the best thing about being a rock star," observed Mark Yates from Terrorvision, "You get to meet people like Lionel". There's nothing as sentimental, apparently, as a sentimental headbanger).
Luckily, things gradually loosened up. The speeches became less formal (the chap from the Foo Fighters contented himself with saying "I have got to f****n' pee"). Single-name rockers and monosyllabic bands table- hopped ("Skin, have you met Ash?" "Shutty, I think you know Dim from Rancid ... ").
As a food fight broke out, a chocolate mousse cake landed on the delicious Agnes B frontage of a former Playboy centrefold. The fat guy from Fear Factory elbowed the fat guy from Slayer out of the way to get to the MTV interviewer. Everywhere you looked, huge beaming desperados were stuffing untouched bottles of Jack Daniels down their trousers. It was rock 'n' roll. It was ... SpinalTaptastic.
"So here it is at last, the distinguished thing," murmured Henry James just before he died. The anthologies of literary obiter dicta are full of deathbed sign-offs in varying shades of pretension and pathos. One thinks of Oscar Wilde's alleged parting shot, "Either this wallpaper goes or I do," or the Great War chap whose last observation was "Don't worry, they couldn't hit an elephant at this dist-".
But don't you feel there's been a slight falling-off lately in the quality of Famous Last Words? Learning that Timothy Leary, the turn-on-tune-in acid visionary, greeted the prospect of eternity with the words "Great - why not?", one thinks of Henry James and sighs. And what does one make of Donald Cammell, the maverick film-maker who died in April this year? According to reports, he shot himself with a 12-bore, and was found alive by a girlfriend over an hour later. The last thing he said was, "I feel horny."
Many happy whatsits to Barbara Cartland, who hit 95 on Tuesday. As one surveys the proliferating list of her 700-odd titles, as it meanders across the pages of Who's Who in an unstoppable stream, a thought occurs. According to her entry "She published her first novel at the age of 21," that is, in 1922. How extraordinary to think there's any writer alive today who brought out a book in the annus mirabilis of 20th-century literature, the year of Ulysses and The Waste Land.
Is she the only one? A quick check among other ancient scribes - VS Pritchett, born 1900, first book Marching Spain, published in 1928; AL Rowse, born 1903, first book Politics and the Younger Generation published in 1931 - reveals they're only trotting after her. Or do you know different? Anyone who can name a living author whose oeuvre stretches back before Dame Barbara's own will receive a complete set of her - no no, only kidding.
In Sheila Kitzinger's article on Monday, a error in transmission misquoted her as saying that the Virgin Mary gave birth with women helpers. The article should instead have referred to St Anne, mother of Mary.Reuse content