Monday, 29 September 2008



Under-age sex is the last great taboo. The one that destroyed the
careers of Jonathan King and Gary Glitter. But they were far from
the only offenders. It runs like a perverse thread through the
entire history of Rock, perhaps they were just the most public faces,
the most visible fall-guys, the ones who got caught …?


‘Streets full of people, all alone, roads full of houses, never homes…’ Jonathan King made his unlikely chart debut during the last week of July 1965, the week the Byrds “Mr Tambourine Man” was competing with the Beatles “Help” for the top slot. Over the next few weeks the tuneful plaintive nonsense of “Everyone’s Gone To The Moon” climbed into the top ten as high as no.4, and he duly appeared on ‘Top Of The Pops’, geeky and heavily bespectacled, to mime it. The lyrics snagged into the era’s blurry-edged ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’ instant-surrealism, he had a Cambridge University background, and he was seen as some kind of intellectual, an academic with cultural credentials.
When the follow-up single, “An Icicle Fell From The Heart Of A Bluebird (Into The Concrete Machine)” failed, he razored the symbolism down to its simplest basics, but “Green Is The Grass” bombed too. Unphased, he took an unlikely group called Hedgehoppers Anonymous under his wing, and created “It’s Good News Week” using them as his template. Set to a metronomic count-down it flaunted Cold War paranoia – ‘someone dropped a bomb somewhere, contaminating atmosphere’, and it blue-streaked all the way to no.5 during September. He’d fortuitously lucked into a formula that would see him right, as Pop maverick, columnist, TV-personality, and eccentric fixer for some years to come, under numerous guises and pseudonyms – the Weathermen, Shag, Bubblerock, and occasionally even as himself. Then he graduated from the Pop-based chat-show host of ‘Good Evening’, into an oleaginous career as a TV-journalist with ‘Entertainment USA’.
All of this tedious history is here for one purpose, and one purpose only. Jonathan King has been effectively written out of Pop history. As has Gary Glitter. In an expunging as complete as Stalin erasing Trotsky out of the Soviet archives, they have been ‘disappeared’. Last Christmas every mouldy embarrassment of superannuated festive cack was disinterred for radio high-rotation. Everything – that is, except for Gary Glitter’s sad “Another Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas”. ‘Dare we say his name on television any more…?’ asks New Order’s Barney Sumner. In a word - no, we can’t. It’s as though soon, there’ll be blank spaces in the ‘Guinness Book Of Hit Singles’ where once were listed their columns of hits. In a ruthless form of total censorship they have become the great unmentionables. And it seems to me that anything deemed ‘unmentionable’ is worth mentioning.
We all know the reason. We all know what happened. They crossed the line. Offended against the last great taboo. And it’s not as though I’m arguing for their rehabilitation. Because I’m not. Or even that there’s some great injustice to redress. It’s just that while Jonathan King and Gary Glitter were enduring their trial by media, and the public destruction of their careers, the shockwaves must have been reverberating throughout the music industry. Provoking as many night-terrors as there was schadenfreude. The ‘who’s next?’ effect. After all, from its very origins Pop music has operated by exploiting Sigmund Freud’s theory of infant sexuality. It’s always flirted with the ‘Lolita’ principle, dial it back in time to the days when the audience were called bobby-soxers, through the teeny-bopper thing, into kidulthood. That’s the way it works. That’s the way it’s always worked. Pop, and perversity, they’re joined at the hip. Where would Pop be without it? It is the pervy motivation that powers its best work as a Titan rocket boosts astronauts into orbit. Thank heaven for little girls, they grow up in the most delightful way. Sam Cooke wrote ‘she was only sixteen, only sixteen’, about how ‘she was too young to fall in love, and I was too young to know’. In other words, the object of Sam’s fixation was ‘barely legal’. If anyone thought about it at the time, which no-one seems to have done, they probably thought of it as being rather cute, in a gooey sentimental – rather than a pruriently perverse sort of way. Back then it was, as they insist on saying, a more innocent time. Entrendre’s had to come in doubles before they counted. When Chuck Berry wrote ‘she’s too cute to be a minute over seventeen’ – in “Little Queenie”, no-one took exception to its juvie inference. Or with his “Sweet Little Sixteen” in which his back-in-school lyric-poetry draws on the iconography of schoolgirl-porn as knowingly as those who would later manipulate that infamous Britney Spears video. Even when the mighty Chuck Berry was jailed ‘for transporting minors over state lines with intent’ no-one pointed out the dubious subtext of the ‘Marie is only six-years-old’ line in “Memphis Tennessee” – it’s a joke, a punch-line, a snap-ending, of course it is – isn’t it? And me, I love Chuck Berry. Always have.
Not that Chuck was the only offender. Flamboyant Jerry Lee Lewis’ career as a rival for Presley’s Rock ‘n’ Roll throne was brought to a juddering halt by juicy red-top revelations concerning his bigamous marriage to his thirteen-year-old cousin Myra Gale. The unorthodox arrangement might have drawn no more than mild pulpit tut-tutting in his home state, Louisiana – where such liaisons were not exceptional, but the storm hit with a vengeance the moment the happy couple touched down for their first UK tour. Journalists innocently enquired who was the Killer’s young companion, and once they learned the lascivious details, they went into such front-page spasms of moral outrage that Jerry Lee was forced to cancel thirty-four of his thirty-seven projected concerts. Retreating home they discovered the tidal wave had reverberated back across the Atlantic, where radio stations were dropping his records from their playlists as though they were radioactive. He took out a five-page trade-press spread putting his side of the story, but by then his career was effectively compromised, and never really recovered its momentum. Of course, Jerry Lee and Chuck Berry are music icons to whom normal social rules do not apply, aren’t they? While – whisper who dares, wasn’t there something distinctly dubious about the King’s marital arrangements too? Elvis was doing military service in Bad Neuheim, Germany, where – in September 1959, he met fourteen-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, the stepdaughter of a US Air Force captain. On their return to Memphis, Priscilla moved into Graceland with her parent’s full approval. Sure, it was into a full family situation with other Presleys in attendance to chaperone, but – to paraphrase TV’s Mrs Merton, what attracted the Beaulieus to this multi-millionaire Rock Star? Would Priscilla’s family have approved such a domestic set-up with any other GI-grunt but the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll? And of course, they did marry, in 1967. And there’s not necessarily any suggestion of pre-marital impropriety… surely?
The Gay subculture was also there from the start, even when it was unable to speak the name of its legally forbidden love. Pop was for kids. An adolescent fad. And Joe Meek, Larry Parnes… and Brian Epstein knew how to recognise the look of the guys the little girls would fancy, because they fancied them too. What the straight men don’t know, the little girls understand. ‘So you wanna be a Rock ‘n’ Roll star…?’ said the guy with the big cigar, we can help. Joe Meek made Heinz a star because he’d fallen in love with him. Larry Parnes created his stable of pretty teenage boys – Billy Fury, Vince Eager, Marty Wilde, at least partly because their sexuality appealed to him as much as he calculated it would appeal to their target pubescent audience. Brian Epstein was initially transfixed as much by the raw rough-trade leather-clad sexuality of the uncouth Beatles as he was by their talent as songwriters or performers. Where movie producers of Hollywood’s ‘Golden Era’ had the ‘casting-couch’ to negotiate naive star-fixated starlets out of their clothes, record managers used the lure of a contract, the promise of studio-time, that shiny seven-inches of black vinyl. It’s not to necessarily imply that their longings were ever entirely consummated. And considerations of under-age don’t really come into it, because the age of consent has been revised so that what is legal now was not legal then, and in fact doing it at all was illegal in those unenlightened time. But sexual manipulation of the gullible and vulnerable – even when a taste for post-pubescent youths make the perpetrators pederasts, not paedophiles, it was no more morally right then than it is now. Even though it’s safely side-stepped into a quaint window of the past. So it no longer touches us.
But soon it wasn’t even essential to hide your Rock ‘n’ Roll shenanigans. In fact, Pop – or Rock as it had by then become, was using edgy sexual content as a kind of dangerous flirtation, in much the same way that it was inserting cheeky drug references into its lyrics. It’s part of the game. The hidden language we recognise and snigger over. On ‘Beggar’s Banquet’ the Rolling Stones taunt by playing the groupie game, with a swaggering vinyl-dialogue that goes ‘I can see that you’re fifteen years old, no, I don’t want your ID’, then ‘you say you got a friend, that she’s wilder than you, why don’t you bring her upstairs, if she’s so wild she can join in too’. Once the girls are lured upstairs Jagger approvingly letches ‘bet your Mama don’t know you scream like that, I bet your Mother don’t know you can spit like that’, while slurring ‘it’s no hanging matter, it’s no capital crime’. Well – no, not exactly, but those groupies being debauched were supposedly fifteen-years-old – it specifies that age precisely, and the scenario they’re acting out would be a career-killer if it were proved for real. And around the same time, the Who’s kiddie-fiddling ‘Uncle Ernie’ - played with gleeful malevolence by Keith Moon in ‘Tommy’, is treated as no more than a slightly sinister figure of fun. While Donovan was blithely doing his “Mellow Yellow” live on-stage at the Anaheim Convention Center in California, where he inserts the playful lyric improvisation ‘I’m just mad about fourteen-year-old girls’, which gets a huge whoosh of audience approval. It’s there on the ‘Donovan In Concert’ CD. In Pop the Union Gap were no.1 and across-the-board loved for “Young Girl” in which ‘you led me to believe, you’re old enough to give me love,/ and now it hurts to know the truth’, but lead-singer Gary Puckett was tempted by the nookie on offer – ‘get out of here, before I have the time to change my mind’. If anyone found the scenario contentious, no-one mentioned it. In fact the general consensus was that the risqué nature of the lyric was only mildly titillating, and the reason for its million-selling success. While the Critters were in the American chart with Lovin’ Spoonful John Sebastian’s wistfully evocative song about an even “Younger Girl”, with its lascivious plan ‘should I hang around, acting like a brother?/ in a few more years they’d call us right for each other’, but ‘why, if I wait I’ll just die’ because he’s also ‘afraid we’ll go too far’. And as for heavier Rock, Blind Faith – the short-lived ‘super-group’ fronted by Eric Clapton and Stevie Winwood issued their solitary album wrapped in sleeve-art showing a nude pubescent girl, an image that still provokes uneasy responses. Is it beautiful? Of course it is. Is it more than just a little pervy…? Probably.
The era’s counter-culture press specialised in deliberately disturbing imagery. That was its intention. To confront staid and outdated morality with a provocative arsenal of contentious shock-graphics. Sex was confrontational. Under-age sex even more so. The designers of the Blind Faith sleeve were merely using the same technique to draw attention to their product. Brand-leading magazine ‘Oz’ was pilloried at the Old Bailey in a high-profile prosecution not so much for its use of explicit collages, but because there were ‘minors’ involved. The ‘Oz’ editors were championed as martyrs of the anti-censorship wars, John Lennon was part of their vaudeville street-support squad. And they got off on appeal. But flicking through those pages now, it’s easy to see that there’s stuff there that wouldn’t survive the hyper-tuned moral climate of today’s supposedly more liberal censorship. In mitigation, the underground press saw itself as part of the liberation-movement upsetting the prim certainties of the times. Before anyone else did, it was championing Gay Rights, ‘Green’ issues, anti-Racism, Gender Equality and recreational drug-use. ‘International Times (IT)’ even published an interview with a spokesman for PIE – ‘Paedophile Information Exchange’, tasking one of its hippie scribes with checking out its claim to be the next ‘forbidden’ and socially-excluded love. The unfortunate journalist dutifully transcribed the full spiel, about how child-love was a perfectly acceptable part of classical civilisations, how Greece and Rome saw nothing strange about it, how Shakespeare wrote about it in ‘Romeo & Juliet’, while non-Western cultures still conform to different definitions of where to peg the ‘age of consent’. The hippie scribe was wisely unconvinced…


Of course, things were different then. Well, they weren’t – surely it can never have been right to take advantage of naivety and gullibility, but it seemed to be different. In the time-space following the widespread availability of the birth-control pill, and before the AIDS explosion happened, when heavy-Rock dinosaurs lumbered the globe, the groupie ‘Overnight Angels’ came as an integral part of the life-style package. And hey, you can’t always check out their ID’s to find out if they’re fifteen years old, you know how girls are – with their make-up they look older, don’t they? And yeah – the hint of jailbait does make it that bit more exciting. Same with Jonathan King. With him, there was never any inference that force was involved. It wasn’t necessary. Or that the relationships he was imprisoned for were anything other than consensual. He used gifts and inducements – often as low-cost as singles. Yet his victims came back for more. The tacky glamour of TV-fame, or his close proximity to glittery Bubblepop stars, was enough to make even the most greasily repellent record industry apparatchiks a sexually viable proposition. With his stylised sneer and irritating speech mannerisms, King could casually mention how he’d renamed Genesis and produced their first single “The Silent Sun”, or how he’d signed 10cc to his own UK Records label. When you’re young and stuck in suburbia where nothing ever happens, to be seen with a celebrity, to ride the chauffeured limo together, to stay over at the swish hotel – that’s worth the trade-off in grubby blow-jobs. Anyway, the sleazy Rock sub-world is meant to be decadent, androgynous, and deviant, isn’t it? It’s only now – sometimes decades later, with the advent of the compensation victim-culture, that the former sexual partners of one-time Pop personalities learn to blame their recovered-memories of abuse for all the subsequent failures of their lives. And perhaps it was. Of course, none of this is intended to excuse or justify what happened, because it isn’t. The essential inequality of power was the same, but it’s not difficult to see how it might have seemed different then, when the media, and people working within it, were less informed and sensitivities were less highly-attuned to abuse than they are now. When the wide-spread extent and long-term legacy of damage were less well-understood.
Jonathan King also had some claim to have ignited the career of the Bay City Rollers by pointing the unlikely quintet in the direction of “Keep On Dancing” – an overlooked American single by the Gentrys, a cover of which provided them with their first hit. He even sang backing vocals on the record. The Bay City Rollers were probably the most atrociously inept group in the history of pop – at least until the advent of Boyzone, but they nevertheless provide a random connection involving pretty much every element of this sad farrago. Beneath the Roller’s gauche, clean-cut milk-&-cookies image, rumours were circulating pretty much from the start, of certain band-members soliciting under-age youths for orgiastic parties. Until, after the band imploded – and within months of Gary Glitter’s release from prison after serving two months for possessing hard-core child pornography, drummer Derek Longmuir was pleading guilty to three charges of indecency involving downloaded Internet child-porn. He was found to have a large stash of videos, magazines and some six-thousand computer images, as well as a slim fifteen-year-old Portuguese boy staying with him. While, in the corrupt opportunistic tradition of Pop management – as they say, it was deja-vu all over again, the band’s some-time manager Tam Patton was also convicted in 1982 of ‘acts of gross indecency’ with underage teenage boys – what the net terms ‘twinks’. He served one year of a three year prison term. More recently he was re-arrested on child sex charges in January 2003, but was cleared of allegations. In a related universe, former group-member Ian Mitchell starred in a porn movie. Scandal-scarred and morally-muddled, the group briefly attempted to reform and tour in 1992 but mercifully an unemployed music fan stole their guitars and hid them in a derelict building. He later admitted his enlightened intention was to ‘save the world from the Bay City Rollers’.
Malcolm McLaren took careful note of the Bay City Rollers’ arc of juvie hits, and claims to have fabricated the Sex Pistols as a kind of dark reflection of their appeal. With his anarcho-Situationist roots he knew all there was to know about the power of agitational-propaganda as a counter-culture weapon against social complacency. Looking back at the publicity generated by the ‘Oz’ farrago, he provoked interviewers with ideas of launching his own ‘Chicken Run’ magazine, slang for underage models. He craftily steered clear of actually doing it. Instead he assembled Bow Wow Wow by putting lead singer Annabelle Lwin together with former members of Adam And The Ants. She’d come to England from Burma, and when McLaren discovered her, she was working in a dry cleaners. She was fourteen, and had the look he wanted. The correct sex-tourist Asian cool. For the band’s album-cover Malcolm contrived a photo-recreation of Manet’s painting ‘Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe’. It was taken when Annabelle was fifteen and – as on the 1863 canvas, she’s portrayed naked. McLaren was smart. He knew what he was doing. Manet’s original painting had caused an uproar of salon controversy. Now, he argued, he was not perpetrating juvie-porn, he was playing cultural-games, knowingly replicating great art. Attack Bow Wow Wow, you’re attacking Manet. A postmodern irony made all the more delicious when Annabel’s mother brought charges against him for exploiting a minor. But is it beautiful? Of course it is. Is it more than just a little pervy…? Most likely.
Malcolm McLaren knows how to play the game, he creates outrage, but stays just the right side of the line when the legal shrapnel starts to fly. Others were less smart, or less fortunate. More devious, more careless, or more evil. They paid with their careers. Without venturing too far into the legal morass that is Michael Jackson we’ll stop short by asking if the world media and justice system would have been quite so understanding if the ‘Prince Of Pop’ had been just the shifty guy from a council flat in Huddersfield and not a billionaire Rock god? Same maybe, for Pete Townshend’s brush with downloading notoriety. In our own more tolerant more understanding times we’re no longer, thankfully, permitted to vilify any religious, racial, or sexual minority. Even those who play S&M games sue, and win damages from the red-tops for invasion of privacy, rather than hiding from scorn, ridicule and prosecution. But society, and the media, nevertheless needs its hate-figures. And there aren’t enough serial killers to go around. So the predatory paedophile threat, amplified by their internet connectivity, has been inflated to fill the void. And who can reasonably argue in their favour?
There’s more. The problem is, there’s much much more. This extended exercise in muck-raking and gratuitous sleeze-dredging is – hopefully, something more than just that. Henry Kissinger called power the world’s greatest aphrodisiac. In Pop, deliberately aimed at youth, that power is held by the contrived anti-glamour of the band on stage, in the videos and on the net. And by those pulling their career strings. There are always those who are going to take advantage of whatever opportunities are there for the taking. And there will always be those who deliberately manipulate themselves into positions best suited to exploit those opportunities. Because a few high-profile offenders have been named and shamed doesn’t mean it’s gone away. Not Everyone’s Gone To The Moon.