Dylan Jones: 'Even I am surprised that Karen Carpenter turns out to be such a fan of James Blunt'

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The Independent Online

There is a lot to be said for precociousness. As a 14-year-old, the things that made me want to do little else in life except go to art school were, in ascending levels of importance, David Hockney, David Bowie, a new-found love of Pop Art (resulting from a childhood obsession with American kitsch), and, of course, Tom Wolfe's pin-sharp examination of the social history of the modern art world, The Painted Word. What a self-consciously amazing, ridiculous, preposterous world this was, an exclusive, self-selecting world almost beyond parody. What fun!

Twenty years before it really happened in such a major way in Britain, Wolfe debunked the very idea of fashion-forward conceptual art, exposing the myths and the mentors of a world "like any other" totally subservient to the whims of fashion.

I was such an instant convert to the book that I found it hard to take a lot of conceptual art seriously, even through four years at art school; which is why, I suppose, like many of my generation, as I got older the medium actually seemed to have more potential than the message.

But it's always nice to have your suspicions confirmed, even if you do suspect that the artists involved have their collective tongue in their collective cheek. This happened to me last week when I stumbled upon a copy of Death Disco, a book "originally conceived" for the exhibition Bad Moon Rising in Zürich earlier this year. Its conceit? Employing a clairvoyant, "Steve", to contact dead rock stars to ask them about their favourite pieces of music.

The "artists" - two enterprising souls called Paul Harper and Andrea Heller - asked Steve to contact Kurt Cobain, Frank Zappa, Joey Ramone, Johnny Cash, Karen Carpenter, Serge Gainsbourg, Ian Curtis, Nick Drake, Sid Vicious and Nico.

The findings are hilarious. While it is hardly surprising that Joey Ramone should still be enjoying the likes of "Pretty Vacant" by The Sex Pistols or "London Calling" by The Clash, it is somewhat surprising to find that he enjoys "Make Me Pure" by Robbie Williams, a song recorded four years after Joey's death. Similarly, although we shouldn't be too surprised that Karen Carpenter still enjoys a spot of James Brown, Carole King or Frank Sinatra, even I was surprised that she would turn out to be such a fan of James Blunt. Ditto Nick Drake's improbable appreciation of Paul Weller, or Ian Curtis's frankly unbelievable championing of M People.

But there we are. I'm thinking of commissioning a second instalment of Death Disco, as I'd like to spread the net a little wider. Which sounds currently titillate the likes of Keith Moon, Mama Cass, Jim Morrison or Phil Lynott, I wonder? Do Coldplay blow wind up Janis Joplin's skirt? Indeed, is it too early to ask about Syd Barrett?

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'

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