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Home > Media

Journojism: Cocker And Morley's Middle East Peace Plan

20 October 2006

The solemnity of pop musicians is a joy to behold. Arguably the worst offender is Bono, who has never shied away from Big Issues in his music and pronouncements, whether it's apartheid, Bloody Sunday, or the entire history and culture of America. However, most, if not all, pop musicians have a tendency to go all serious, as though being able to write tunes and dance about a bit somehow bestows upon them oracle-like wisdom.

And this month they were at it again in The Observer's music magazine. In a lengthy feature, guest editor Jarvis Cocker chewed that fat with various musical luminaries including Nick Cave, Paul Morley and Beth Orton. (If you happen to have a copy lying around, *do* look at the pictures of Cave and Morley on page 29, who both have ludicrously grave expressions, looking less like pop pundits and more like members of Golda Meir's war cabinet during the Six Day War.)

What's great about this sort of thing is that no one, not the participants in the discussion, and certainly not the journalist who wrote it up, seems to see the inherent ludicrousness of getting too serious about music. And boy do Cocker et al get serious, not realising that they're doing a fair impression of Anthony Worrall-Thompson or Rory McGrath on 'Grumpy Old Men'. First on the agenda is iPods - are they good or bad? Antony Hegarty (of the band Antony and the Johnsons) observes 'I've got a question about whether the radical diversification of people's interest in music threatens the same kind of community that music used to create 20 years ago.' The panel warms to this theme, and Jarvis observes 'We haven't had music connected to a social movement for quite a while. Not since acid house.' Paul Morley chips in with the portentous comments that we may be 'moving into a different set of realities'. More cryptically he suggests that 'the new generation might be moving into something that we can't possibly recognise'. Well, they might be, Paul, but on the other hand they might just be listening to Coldplay.

It's deep stuff, and Jarvis goes on to highlight the way iPods, previously thought to be a handy way to store music, are a social evil that may be turning us into a society of isolated solipsists, insulated from our fellow man by technology, a bit like in HG Wells' 'The Machine Stopped'. 'iPods allow you to create your own environment,' he observes. 'But they also stop people talking to each other.'

Ah, you see it's this sort of insight that you only really get when a group of musicians and music journalists sit down and really thrash out the issues of our time. And so the debate continues. 'What makes people create?' is another question, one that is definitively explained by Beth Orton and Nick Cave.

Orton: [It's about] Connecting with beauty.

Cave: It's just an act of survival. Whether it's with lyrics or whether it's with the music itself where you feel something happen, some change of body chemistry that happens when you actually make music and a few musicians actually play something together and it's like 'Shit, that's really good'. I was getting upset at the start [of the debate] when we were talking about [pop music being used in] advertising, because it seems a very cynical betrayal of that moment, of that precious, almost religious, experience.

Hmm. Would that be the 'almost religious' experience that we all felt when we heard Nick's dreary duet with Kylie? The debate continues in this vein for six long pages, never really culminating in much more than the conclusions that music is different than it used to be and some vague intellectual noodlings about Art and Creativity.

As ever, the fundamental problem with this sort of reportage is that musicians don't tend to have an awful lot to say, or at least nothing that you probably haven't already thought of yourself. But if you're going to give pop stars a chance to wax lyrical about the mysteries of the universe, why not just give them something to really get their teeth into? The causes of Naziism, maybe? Or the logical problems postulated by time travel? Or just get them to devise a peace plan for the Middle East. The results would be gibberish, but if they're going to ramble on, at least give them something decent to ramble on about.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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