Smash hits of the Sixties, megabores of the Nineties: Jagger, McCartney, Stewart, Dylan, Townshend, Springsteen . . . don'cha just loathe 'em? Alix Sharkey does

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The Independent Online
WHERE can one go to escape them? They rampage through our media, these prehistoric creatures. Navely we thought their age had passed, that they were extinct. Yet here they are, still towering over us, still making their primal gestures, refusing to lie down and die. We are awestruck by the terrible cries that emanate from their grizzled jaws. They are the dinosaurs of pop culture, the dominant, white, male hierarchy, the Big Knobs of Rock.

They are Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Phil Collins, Pete Townshend, Robert Plant, Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart et al. For the most part, they grow old in luxurious isolation, uncontaminated by the complexities of post-modern pop, untroubled by doubts about the aptness of their world-view. No matter that for anyone under 25 their music is almost certainly irrelevant. No matter that they betray their own youthful ideals by their very existence.

Every once in a while, these beasts of beat feel the need to flex their muscles. And so they lumber forward into an MTV Unplugged performance, a world tour, a new sponsorship deal with a car manufacturer or a soft drinks giant. And so, once again, we must endure their banal views in endless soporific profiles, examine their regurgitated anecdotes, acquiesce in their assumed cultural hegemony.

Astonishingly, the Big Knobs of Rock were once young and vital. Thrusting their slinky hips, they pouted and twirled with mike stands between their legs, all hair and flares, flapping wildly; their mating calls echoed out across the global village: Brown Sugar, Whole Lotta Love, Stay With Me. They once had youthful irreverence and their songs struck a chord in the hearts of the young, making them feel the world was changing, perhaps for the better. Now they are old and wrinkled, balding and blubbery, dull-eyed and doddering.

Jagger, who has had nothing to say for a quarter of a century, still bawls at us; still prances and preens in videos, flanked by women young enough to be his grandchildren. His vanity, once alluring, has long since grown loathsome, while his voice, never a sales point, is now unlistenable. Rod Stewart, the cheeky lad with the skinny legs, grows fatter and frumpier with each new blonde. Macca, the avuncular family man, strives for maturity, toying with classical forms. Springsteen, post-Cold War, fades into the background. What need have we for a crusading American Everyman now?

But they have voracious appetites and monstrous egos that must be

satisfied. So they use their experience, their clout, their laddish nous, their managers and lawyers, their PRs and multinational record companies, their pluggers and freebies and contacts, to press themselves on us again and again; to squeeze yet another cover feature out of this or that Sunday supplement. With all the power at their disposal, they force themselves on to the cultural agenda. But they have nothing to say. Their roars merely confirm their existence.

What is the nature of our fascination? Mick Jagger turns 50 and this achievement is regarded as a cultural milestone, to be greeted with reams of fawning prose. Paul McCartney prepares for a world tour - hold the front page. Phil Collins releases yet another doleful song wrapped up in such mellifluous tones and euphemistic imagery that it can only be meant to assuage liberal guilt. Meanwhile, the real singing is done by cash registers.

Though nothing really happens in the virtual Jurassic Park where the Big Knobs exist, it always looks busy, even important. But this is the grand illusion of Dinosaur Rock; everything seems bigger than it really is. Because size is important. Worse, a new breed of Big Knobs is emerging. Leaner and fitter, but every bit as rapacious: Sting, Bono, Michael Hutchence, Mick Hucknall and, by far the worst of all, Axl Rose.

Each of them apparently has some insight to share, some secret and arcane knowledge lost to the rest of us, which they will impart through the medium of rock music. Each subscribes to the messianic view of the rock star. By their stage poses shall ye know them.

But a generation has turned its back on rock icons. The world is more complex and challenging than it was 25 years ago and requires an infinitely more subtle and flexible medium than rock music to make sense of it. The dreams and aspirations of its youth are not best articulated through dance music, which spawns ever more sub- species, each culturally specific to its core audience. Still the Big Knobs of Rock keep swinging into view. Will they ever die out? Do they know how ridiculous they seem? Do they even care anymore?