Entry from June 20, 2002

That President Bush watches “The Ozzy Osbourne Show” is no more surprising than that Al Gore should pretend to dance the Macarena or Bob Dylan be given a Kennedy Center Honor, but there is still a slight jolt in the news of Mick Jagger’s knighthood. Yet this is still only the latest and most striking example of the gentrification of pop music as baby boomers are everywhere in charge of running the “Establishment” that they were among the first to deride. The habit of assuming an adversarial role with respect to the powers that be is so ingrained that a spokesman for Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, recently blamed an “Establishment” plot against him when he was caught in a lie.

The Prime Minister himself once sang in a pop group, called Ugly Rumours, and so presumably his anti-Establishment credentials have even survived his taking over the whole shooting match himself. Nor has even the royal family been much behind hand, as we saw in the “Party at the Palace” in which other pop-music knights — Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Cliff Richard and Sir Elton John (the last on tape) — joined in along with the likes of Ozzy himself, Rod Stewart and Joe Cocker to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee at Buckingham Palace. It cannot have been without the royal imprimatur that the pop anthem chosen on this occasion to express the new allegiance of Her Majesty hip subjects, once of doubtful loyalty, was the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love.”

Can even the rankest of sentimentalists still take a song of such embarrassing and probably drug-influenced naïveté as that seriously? Semi-seriously? As A.N. Wilson wrote in the Daily Telegraph:

It was fine for the Beatles 35 years ago to make themselves rich by selling the record of this song. But why, at the climax to the Queen”s Golden Jubilee, should our head of state, with her Lord Lieutenants and community leaders, who are trying to teach a responsible attitude to narcotics, have been made to go along with such dope-induced drivel before crowds of impressionable middle-aged people?

The answer to his question is of course that pop music is the language of celebrity — not to be taken seriously in terms understood by any of the traditional languages — and that celebrity is the only comprehensible fragment of honor left for those who have sought the honor of a public life. That politics is show business for ugly people is a saying variously attributed to Jay Leno, Paul Begala and James Carville (who ought to know), but it is mistaken. Politics is show-business not because politicians are ugly but because, like movie stars, they don’t know how to aspire to anything bigger than celebrity — anything like respect, honor, awe or majesty. Even Her Majesty, one reflects sadly, would be embarrassed by any suggestion that she be actually majestic — majestic enough, at least, to eschew such inanity as “All You Need Is Love.”

Craig Brown, who writes “The Way of the World” column for the Telegraph, caught the splendid irony of Prime Minister’s position:

Sadly, Ugly Rumours were never signed up by a record company. After a couple of years, its members went their own ways. Small wonder, then, that as Blair watched his contemporaries belting out their classic hit songs on Monday night, he looked a little sad, a little wistful.

It is a simple fact that the first ambition of any man born in the Fifties was to be a pop star. Who would want to end up as Edward Heath when they could end up as Mick Jagger? But we have all had to learn to cut our suits according to our cloth. So we must forgive Mr Blair his yearning glances to the stage, that puzzled expression which said so plaintively: “It could have been me.”

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