I have a question to ask, but first I have a confession to make. On three separate occasions last week I made a fist and punched the air. So my question is: does this, by my own lights as someone who despises mass feeling, make me a fascist. In extenuation, allow me to say that I didn’t punch the air as an act of ecstatic connection with my fellow men. I did it at home, once with friends, twice solitarily. And while what you do solitarily has its dangers, it can’t, I think, constitute a Nuremberg Rally. On the other hand, I did briefly sway in unison with others last weekend, did share in communal excitement, did feel what a crowd felt at the moment of its feeling it – so what does that make me?
This latter breach of my own strict code of individuality occurred at the Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park. I don’t often go to rock concerts but make an exception for the Rolling Stones. I have liked their mocking bluesiness since first hearing it half a century ago. The joke of being rockers in their seventies only compounds the joke that was always intrinsic to Jagger’s performance. Go to New Mexico and you will find countless depictions, from ancient petroglyph to contemporary souvenir, of the trickster god Kokopelli, a humpbacked, flute-playing, body-twisting, mischief-making, sex-laden fertility figure – like all tricksters, simultaneously dangerous and absurd.
To my eye, Mick Jagger is the urban equivalent. Kokopelli’s humpback is said to contain seed and unborn babies, but Jagger – I’m speaking figuratively now – is the seed itself. Watching his sinuous, worming strut last week, I was reminded of Woody Allen’s faint-hearted sperm in Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask). But where Woody Allen played it only for laughs, a shmuck-sperm never going to make it through as one of millions of pumped-up paratrooper spermatozoan, Jagger has it both ways – the über-sperm going boldly where others do not dare, and the comedian-critic, instigating and deriding the whole procreative frenzy. Woody Allen’s ineffective reproductive cell is dressed in a sort of fluffy white babygrow; Jagger snakes into the crowd in black from head to toe – a pastiche of potency, Max Wall and Mephistopheles, the seed of Satan.
I don’t, of course, clap my hands when Mick tells me to. And I would rather have my fingernails pulled out one by one than join him in ooh ooh ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh, if that’s how you spell it. Never join, is my motto. Never clap along, never sing along, never do what you are asked to do. This is partly a matter of personal pride: I am not another person’s unpaid backing group. But it is also a political statement. Whoever consents to being manipulated in one area of life will consent in another; whoever submits to the will of the majority in matters of trivia will submit to it in matters of moment. Today it’s ooh ooh ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh; tomorrow it’s Sieg Heil!
Few of my friends concur with me in this. “Bullshit!” is how my wife views it. Indeed, I had to promise her, before she would agree to our going to hear the Stones together, that I would at no point in the concert invoke Hitler or Il Duce. A tough promise to keep when tens of thousands are swaying with raised arms to the same rhythm and hooting like one giant owl in jackboots. But even I could not resist the universal enchantment of “Honky Tonk Women”. “Gimme, gimme,” I sang in a voice too low to be detected by those surveillance agencies that are plugged into me day and night, “gimme the honky tonk blues.”
For which capitulation to mass hysteria I’d have punished myself all week had not Andy Murray put me through the wringer the following afternoon and given me a new sin to expiate. Reader, the minute he won that most recalcitrant of match points, I leapt from the sofa, gave a Nazi salute, and shouted: “Yes!”
“Yes” isn’t even a word I use. Out of what hitherto unmined deposit of hand-me-down enthusiasm did I dredge it? And having found it, who or what of no conceivable interest to me might I be employing it about next? Lewis Hamilton? Michael Bublé? Call the Midwife? As for the pumping fist, for all the choice I had in the matter I might as well have been in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. But the biggest question of all is this: why did it matter, why did I care so much, what’s Murray to me (“What’s Hecuba to him?”) or I to Murray (“Or he to Hecuba?”)?
He, of course – the First Player in Hamlet – is nothing to Hecuba, just as I am nothing to Andy Murray. Why, it’s conceivable he doesn’t read this newspaper, let alone this column. But isn’t that precisely the virtue of entering sympathetically, as actor or spectator, into the trials of someone unconnected to you? It’s an act of pure disinterestedness, useful to you only in that it gives you a holiday from yourself. So did I punch the air as an expression of pure selflessness? And if I did, then how to describe the motivation of those who punched the air when Il Duce addressed them? Still selflessness? Concede that and selflessness doesn’t look so fine a virtue. Retaining a fierce imperviousness to the rhetoric that moves multitudes seems a better option to me.
Knowing which didn’t stop me punching the air when Anderson took Michael Clarke’s wicket with a perfect ball. “Yes!” Or doing it again during Newsnight when the marvellous Margaret Hodge trained her intelligence on the smugness of BBC management. There at last was something unequivocally worth saying “Yes!” to. Talk about a honky tonk woman.Reuse content