David Lister: The Week in Arts

Wanted: new home for ageing rock stars
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The Independent Online

Visitors to the House of Lords sometimes comment on the eeriness of seeing most of Mrs Thatcher's Cabinet alive and well and still performing with their old gusto. I think the same can be said of some of the rock and pop bands of the Sixties and Seventies. They are still out there, performing and making records, but in a sort of void, shadows and spectres with no particular place to go.

Next week I am taking time off from the current scene to go and see a concert by The Hollies, which must be the musical equivalent of watching Geoffrey Howe, Michael Heseltine and Nigel Lawson in another place. They were pretty damn good in their day and can still pack a punch, but who exactly is listening?

This week I listened to the forthcoming album by Neil Diamond, not an activity one normally mentions in polite, rock-album-buying society. But it turned out to be a startling return to the form of his Seventies heyday. Yet, how to categorise him? He and so many others now wander in a nether land. They cannot, with a straight face, be called either rock or pop. They are not jazz or blues. If they were, of course, they would have infinitely more street cred.

In jazz and blues, performers do not grow old; they simply become icons. The septuagenarian B B King's final British tour later this year will be surrounded by tributes because he is a bluesman.

Most of the Sixties and Seventies pop and rock survivors have fallen into a black hole. It's hard to imagine where their albums can even be reviewed. Not under the label rock and pop, certainly. Jazz, blues and classical music albums all get reviewed. But ageing pop - sorry, there just isn't a category. So, most of the old bands still making records have quite a job even to get them noticed.

And here you have to take your hat off to Paul McCartney. For his last album, he employed Radiohead's producer. It may or may not have made for a good album. It certainly made for great publicity. Every rock journalist in the country was dying to talk to McCartney about working with the producer of one of the hippest bands on the planet.

Did McCartney anticipate that this collaboration would guarantee the album massive and favourable publicity in just the right publications? You can bet your life he did. My advice to The Hollies for their new album is to do a bit of networking with the producers of The Kaiser Chiefs and Arctic Monkeys.

What the Sixties and Seventies survivors need is a new musical genre to categorise them. With a few iconic and energetic exceptions such as The Rolling Stones and The Who, 60-plus outfits can't easily be thought of as either rock bands or pop groups. They need a new category, a music genre that recognises both their longevity and their continuing talent.

An interesting article in the American press might help to solve the problem. A piece in USA Today looks at how songs that can be called Standards are no longer confined to film tunes and Tin Pan Alley songs of the pre-rock era. People we have thought of as rock stars are now providing "standards". The British jazz singer Jamie Cullum is quoted as saying: "Jazz singers ... seem to have opened up to people like Neil Young and Tom Waits and Paul Simon. Suddenly, you've got those guys alongside Cole Porter."

"Standards". Perhaps that is the new category that chart compilers should introduce. There needs to be somewhere for artists who still have talent, energy and industry - but can no longer, even by their grandchildren, sensibly be called rock stars.

Art from conception to delivery

I hope that Tilda Swinton (pictured right) will be among the list of Oscar nominees next week for her marvellously icy portrayal of the Queen of Narnia.

Since making The Chronicles of Narnia, Ms Swinton has been busy with a film called Stephanie Daley which had its world premiere at the Sundance film festival. The movie is about a schoolgirl who murdered her baby, and Tilda Swinton plays a forensic psychologist in charge of investigating the case.

She was reported as saying this week that there was "this strange conspiracy of silence among women about how terrifying it is to have a baby... I was struck by how rare it was for anyone to make a work about how terrifying it is having babies, and I say that as a mother of twins".

She's not wrong. The delivery suite is conspicuous by its absence in art, featuring in remarkably few paintings, plays, films, operas and pop songs. Childbirth is an art form ripe for conception.

* Joaquin Phoenix, who plays Johnny Cash in the forthcoming biopic Walk the Line, recalls in an interview in the Radio Times the time he was invited round to the late singer's home. Phoenix, who was also in the film Gladiator, says that Cash loved that particular epic so much that he had seen it three times. At one point in their conversation, said Phoenix, "Johnny turns to me and says, 'My favourite part in Gladiator is when you said: Your son squealed like a girl when they nailed him to the cross, and your wife moaned like a whore when they ravaged her again and again and again.'"

Everyone's entitled to their own personal favourite part. But those aren't quite the lines I'd have picked as the favourite part of the famously religious and family-minded Johnny Cash. Still, strange things can happen to the psyche when the lights go down.

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