I heard a radio presenter the other night describing a track by the Bee Gees as ‘a bit of a guilty pleasure’. The track in question –Stayin’ Alive- is probably one of the finest pop records ever made. How on earth, I wondered, did this babbling oaf get the idea that he had the right to allocate ‘cool’ or ‘uncool’ status to any bit of music, let alone such a mighty piece of work? It should be obvious to anyone who hasn’t suffered a massive blow to the head that it’s wrong to believe that you should feel ‘guilty’ about liking a piece of music and ‘not guilty’ (I presume) about liking another.
But as I tried to imagine just how much joy I could get from administering a small, but potent, electrical charge to the genitals of the presenter every time he used that horrible phrase, it occurred to me that I have not always been quite so firm in my beliefs.
Many years ago, I was in a major record shop in the centre of Glasgow, armed with a few bob that I had managed to save up. I wanted to purchase a copy of Olivia Newton-John’s latest single ‘A little more love’. Being a daft teenager and hung up on notions of what was and what wasn’t ‘cool’, I knew that I couldn’t simply just go in and buy that single. In order to make my purchase look more respectable, I had to disguise it, in much the same way that a man buying a top-shelf porn mag will hide his grubby purchase by slipping it inside a copy of Camping and Caravanning Monthly. Before I snuck up to the counter with Olivia’s single, I had selected my own equivalent of Camping and Caravanning Monthly; my not-so-cunning ploy was to protect my street cred by also purchasing a copy of ‘Tommy Gun’ by the Clash. I was never much of a fan of their work, but I thought that their perceived gravitas would somehow balance with my Olivia purchase and so maintain what I imagined to be my hipster credentials. It pains me to recall just how naïve I must have been to think that I was somehow conveying a nuanced message with what might have seemed like an unusual purchasing juxtaposition. ‘Yes OK, I do have a bit of a weakness for the occasional slice of girly pop’ was the coded message, ‘but I’m actually down with Sir Joe Strummer and his merry band of counter-cultural rebels. The Clash is really where my head is at, man.’
I left the shop thinking I had got away with it, but the only message conveyed, of course, was that I was a complete idiot who couldn’t bear the thought that a shop assistant might look down his or her nose at my choice of music. What on earth was I afraid of? That some bored student grinding out another shift at HMV would think that I had betrayed ‘proper’ music by forcing the Clash single to share the same polythene bag as something by that Aussie bird out of Grease?
I can’t see what could have been done to punish me. As I recall, the law at that time did not allow the NME Indie Taliban to stone people to death for buying pop music that had not been approved by the Central Committee for Hipness and Street Cred.
Sadly, it took me many years to shake off my abject mentality and to learn that there are only two kinds of music: the music you like and the music you don’t.
When you buy into the concept of the musical ‘guilty pleasure’, you’re buying into a notion that is at once adolescent, dishonest and, worst of all, repressively orthodox. Unless you are suffering from some kind of arrested development, once you are a proper grown-up, you should be able to avoid succumbing to groupthink and peer pressure. As adults, aren’t we supposed to teach our kids to resist that kind of thing?
So remember, people … just like whatever music you like and don’t worry about the stuff that you don’t.
I’ll have more on this topic soon. In the meantime, here is a link to that single by Olivia. And yes, it’s still about a thousand times better than anything by The Clash.