David Lister: The Week in Arts

Do male rock stars have a monopoly on cool?
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The Independent Online

What makes someone cool? This is not a piece of personal angst. I have given up on the quest. It is a question provoked by this week's list in the NME of the coolest rock stars, as voted for by its readers. It threw up some anomalies.

It must have pleased ageing rock stars and their ageing fans that 64-year-old Bob Dylan should enter the list for the first time, and as high as number nine. But I would bet that this has nothing to do with Dylan's sexagenarian coolness. I'm quite sure this is a result of the recent Martin Scorsese TV documentary about Dylan in his youth in the 1960s. He is being lauded for a 40-year-old coolness, only now being transmitted to a young audience. Coolness clearly can be retrospective.

It's also a fickle attribute. Poor old Pete Doherty must wonder what he has to do next year to zoom up to the top of the cool list. Last year he was joint number one, but this year he has slipped down to number seven. If winning and losing Kate Moss, leaving a top band and starting another one, and being surrounded by drug rumours can't keep you at the top spot, then what can?

Of course, the overriding trouble with the cool list is that when it comes to cool no one defines their terms. What does one have to do to be cool? The associate editor of the NME says that nonchalance plays a big part, and he ascribes that to the number one on the cool list, 19-year-old Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys. Yes, it is cool to be nonchalant, but nonchalant is not how I think of the number two on the list, Liam Gallagher. He has been known to have bursts of temper and his studied defiance goes way beyond nonchalance. But this is a poll where many voters will have totally different ideas of what virtues they are voting for. Perhaps the essence of cool is that it is indefinable.

I do wonder, though, why coolness is largely a male virtue. Female rock stars can be cool too. But only one, Jemima Pearl of Be Your Own Pet, appears in the top 20 of the NME cool list. I would nominate Kate Bush as the queen of cool, not least for using Rolf Harris on her new album. It is, of course, the uncoolest thing she could do. And it means that either she is completely unaware of trends and notions of cool or that she is quite aware of them but couldn't care less. Both are admirable states to be in, and she has shown that being utterly uncool can be cool.

And it is not just females who should be allowed to achieve cool or have coolness thrust upon them. What about non-rock stars? The NME, of course, is just concerned with rock and pop music. But it's noticeable that there is no cool list in The Stage or Opera Now or Dancing Times or Modern Painters magazine. It's time to let other art forms into this club.

The dancer Sylvie Guillem oozes cool, though she perhaps has to be disqualified from the contest as being French gives you a head start. The actor Mark Rylance has a tangible charisma, but has to be ruled out of a cool list as he also ran the Globe Theatre and being an administrator is uncool. The Arctic Monkeys' frontman would do himself no favours if he took a part-time job with the Performing Rights Society. British theatre is brimming with talent, but the under 30s don't go an awful lot, and the unfortunate luvvie tag doesn't help when it comes to cool.

So I guess rock stars are going to keep the monopoly on being cool. Not much has changed in that respect since the Sixties. No wonder Bob Dylan has popped up again.

Dinner at Picasso's

Who wrote a song about the death of Picasso in 1973? It's not exactly the most difficult pub quiz question, but to my surprise it stumped both Picasso's biographer, John Richardson, and the artist's grandson, Bernard Ruiz Picasso, when I put it to them at the opening of a Picasso exhibition in Istanbul this week.

The answer, of course, is Paul McCartney on the Wings album Band on the Run. John Richardson says that he is now adding a footnote to that effect to the third volume of his Picasso biography.

Bernard, who was 13 when Picasso died, told me that the artist was a much better grandfather than many people would imagine. "He had a giant ego," he says, "but he had a very Spanish sense of family and loved big family lunches."

With Picasso's much extended family, they would indeed have been big, with possibly more than one giant ego at the table. Bernard just sighed diplomatically and said: "It wasn't always easy."