Arts, Entertainment & Media
August Tue 02, 2011
The "27 Club", the idea of the rock ‘n’ roll hero burning out at an early age from excess and inexperience, is something we imagine we understand. But perhaps we don’t. Our culture summons up the idea of the giddy pop star, unable to handle the ‘pressure of fame’, or the wealth and lifestyle opportunities that stardom confers. But this way of seeing things may be a half- or quarter-truth.It is interesting that the casualties are always among the greatest. But we need to be clear: it is not that these people have been dilettantes who became notorious by virtue of the "tragedy" of early death. Jimi, Janis, Kurt, Jim Morrison, were the real thing, true originals in a medium that, by virtue of its clichés, tends to be underestimated and misunderstood.
The public conversation tends to treat rock ‘n’ roll with a degree of condescension: odd noises in simple constructions to divert the young. Media coverage emphasizes lifestyle, pose, fashion, hipness and excess. There is some talk about the music and what it may signify, but this is a subtext, lightly sketched. In the main, the music communicates above and beyond this cacophony, artist to listener, heart to heart. Occasionally, in print, we stumble upon something that acknowledges this more personal communication, but mostly we are given to understand that an interest in rock ‘n’ roll is a passing affectation to do with immaturity, which may be clung to into adulthood for reasons of nostalgia.
In fact, the language that is rock ‘n’ roll enables the penetration of human experience to a degree that was once the province of the noble, the privileged and the highly educated. It offers, at street level, the capacity to share the deepest layers of human feeling through an artform at least as potent and capable as any medium ever developed as a conduit for human yearning.
I was struck the other day by an account by the comedian Russell Brand about his friendship with Amy Winehouse and the way he had been running into her for some time around Camden, before finally, unexpectedly, hearing her sing. He had known her as a self-declared "jazz singer" and a "character". Then, one night, he went along to a Paul Weller gig at the Roundhouse and found her guesting with the headliners. As he made his way through the crowd, he heard "the rolling, wondrous resonance of a female vocal" and felt "the awe that envelops when witnessing a genius".
"From her oddly dainty presence, that voice, a voice that seemed not to come from her but from somewhere beyond even Billie and Ella, from the font of all greatness. A voice that was filled with such power and pain that it was at once entirely human yet laced with the divine. My ears, my mouth, my heart and mind all instantly opened."
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