Carola Long: A cover star fit for a sordid age

Time and nostalgia give rock'n'roll exploits of yore a glamorous patina

As unlikely cover stars go, Silvio Berlusconi's appearance on the cover of Italian Rolling Stone magazine must be up there with Marge Simpson featuring on the front cover of November's Playboy. The publication has hailed the Italian prime minister as its, "rock star of the year", but it's not his musical achievements as a one-time cruise ship singer that secured his place. Instead, according to the editor, Carlo Antonelli, he was a unanimous choice amongst staff, "due to a lifestyle for which the words rock'n'roll fall short."

Since when were scandal-struck politicians on a par with Jimmy Page or Axl Rose? Can we expect an NME cover depicting former Tory MP Peter Viggers throwing a duck island out of the window, a la Alice Cooper? True, over the last decade politicians are increasingly referencing popular culture but that's not what this surprising choice signifies.

The eclectic nature of the other nominees for the title (at number two and three, respectively, were Barack Obama and Pope Benedict XVI) points to the fact that it was deliberately controversial, but it's still a depressing choice. It reflects a thoroughly cynical interpretation of what rock'n'roll has come to mean, not so much pushing cultural and social boundaries, but tawdry displays of sexism and self-indulgence.

Editor Carlo Antonelli said Berlusconi's exploits put those of real rock stars in the shade, and that "Rod Stewart, Brian Jones and Keith Richards in their prime were novices compared to him." His definition of rock'n'roll seems to boil down to gratuitous bad behaviour.

Back in the Sxities and Seventies when Led Zeppelin were cavorting with groupies and shark meat (if you don't know, google it, but not in the office, unless you want a visit from HR) such abandoned hedonism certainly had its casualties. But it was part of a socially pioneering package which combined a more liberal approach to life, after the parochial moral strictures of the Fifties, with some of the best music ever written.

Time and nostalgia have also given the rock'n'roll exploits of yore a glamorous patina that glosses over its more lurid elements. But in our fly-on-the-wall culture, the sordid detail in which the excesses of 'troubled' musicians such as Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty are documented, rather undermines any such lustre.

Another blow to the dangerous kudos of rehab came when the lead singer of the mild-mannered band Keane checked in after drink and drugs binges left him sobbing in front of Cash in the Attic. Womanising, on which Berlusconi's supposed rock'n'roll status must surely hinge, doesn't carry the misguided prestige it used to either, and the sexploits of the likes of the comedian Russell Brand seem more pathetic than priapic.

Far cooler is the attitude of Rap mogul Jay Z, who, the New York Post reported in Page Six gossip column, politely declined to pose with a bevy of Victoria secret models out of respect for his wife, Beyonce. Add in the fact that Alice Cooper now jokes about his old TV-throwing ways in an ad for, yes, TVs, rock'n'roll behaviour is no more than a tired old cliché. Actually, speaking of tired, old clichés, maybe Berlusconi is the perfect cover star after all.