Below is a brief extract from the Introduction, setting up two opposing arguments about pop music's responsibilities when it comes to dealing with death. One of the speakers is young Mick, who was witty, whip-smart and surprisingly thoughtful, as well as being so impossibly Jagger it was scarcely credible; the other is Anthony Wilson, Factory supremo, who sadly died before I could speak with him in person about the subject of death. I'll need to check with Alanis to see whether that's 'ironic' or not.
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“In a way we’re in a bit of a pioneer area, because pop music doesn’t really deal with [death and ageing] as a major topic,” Mick Jagger told me in 2007, in the course of rather tartly conceding that the music of the Rolling Stones might not be, well, very grown up.
“You’re writing within certain conventions – which you can break, but you’re still working with them – and you have to recognise what they are. For years the three-and-a-half minute pop song has been an absurd convention, but we’re still in it more or less. That’s just one of the conventions and there are many, many others that you tend to follow. And one is that it’s not conventional to write about too depressing subjects all of the time.”
Note the taken-as-read correlation between death and ageing and ‘depressing’ music. Need it be so? Not according to Anthony Wilson, the late Factory Records boss who did so much to help bring, among others, Joy Division and New Order to prominence.
“Hamlet is about death, failure, indecision,” Wilson said in 2005. “Do we think of it as depressing? No, we know Hamlet is among the greatest works of art and that everyone can draw a great and worthwhile experience from it. But rock and roll is a comparatively young art form. Maybe it’s not surprising that certain unimaginative people think that music with dark themes, which looks at death and depression and the existential dilemma, has to be a depressing experience itself. It absolutely doesn’t. I think that seeing someone genuinely test the bounds of art and create something new….is absolutely exhilarating.”
This book, then, will swim happily to and fro in these waters, with Jagger on one distant shore and Wilson on the other. As you read, I’d ask you to picture them gesticulating at each other, one clad in lycra, prancing oddly on the sand to It’s Only Rock & Roll (But I Like It), the other pacing along the edge of the cliff-face in a greatcoat with Atrocity Exhibition playing on repeat on his iPod. I’ll allow the reader to determine which is which....."