Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Age Ain't Nothin' But A Number (& A Potential Felony)

"It's okay, I'm an artist."

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that any musician, in possession of a good fortune, is always in want of a too young wife. Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones made Mandy Smith his wife at age eighteen after having dated her for five years. (Two years later they were divorced.) At age 23, Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13 year old first cousin, Myra Gale Brown.

It quickly becomes depressing cataloging the actual transgressions made by popular musicians against age taboos in the lifetime of good ol' rock n' roll, so let's discuss the age perversion within the music itself. (We'll leave out the rich vein of schoolgirl felony songs - far too many to list here.)

I don't think that Andre Williams, former pimp, coke dealer and man responsible for the christening of Lil' Stevie Wonder, regrets much in his life. Mostly, he regrets getting caught. And in Jailbait, he issues a stern warning to a chicken-hawking pal to mend his ways. Set to a vamping go-go beat, this is also a world-weary protest against what he sees as the terrible injustice inherent in jailbait cases: the bait goes free while you languish in jail.

In Just 15, Billy Childish takes his below-the-belt approach to romance below the level of acceptable taste by confessing his love for a fifteen year latch-key kid and vowing to fight her father, should the poor working man show up unexpectedly.

I don't know what sort of extremely tasteless behind-the-scenes record industry machinations caused Jerry Lee Lewis and Ringo Starr to duet on an updated version of Sweet Little Sixteen. Similar thinking must have been at work when Ringo recorded and popularized Johnny Burnette's You're Sixteen in 1973. In 1977, teacher Hans Fenger in Langley, British Columbia, had his students record a version for the Langley Schools Music Project. Given that the musicians on this recording were actually 16 or thereabouts, this is possibly the only age-appropriate version of this song ever recorded. Sung by a children's choir, it's either remarkably chaste and cute, or all sorts of wrong. You decide.

Bill Wyman's Seventeen is such a weird droning drum machine dreamscape about a jeans model/actress, that I didn't even want to bother putting it up. Si, Si Je Suis Un Rock Star is faaaaaaaar more interesting as a song: it's got an undeniable bouncy appeal (your parents heard it during their first and last vacation by themselves at Club Med after your birth*), and as a Rolling Stone, you wouldn't expect anything less from him than a confusing soup of self-aware paternalistic post-colonialist sexual imperialism set against a globe-trotting backdrop! Problematic! As the oldest Stone, Bill Wyman was tailor-made for this theme, thus even in this song, the line "They'll think I'm your dad and you're my daugh-ter!"

At their best, the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band are an amusing example of turning oil fortunes into dreamy Californian psychedelic rock through the familiar process of bohemian slumming. At their worst, they are a pricey mistake made by this author when, back in the golden age of compact discs, he decided to shell out far too many clams for some self-indulgent pap re-issue that had Kim Fowley's paw-prints all over it. (Now that's a man who'd have something to say about age perversion and rock music!) Despite the astonishing title, I don't think Eighteen Is Over The Hill is a true age perversion song, as it as a lament for the lost beauty of a golden youth. Or something about narcissists wearing tin-foil hats.

When the the baritone-voiced club king of New Order's acid-house influenced 1988 single Fine Time muses that "You know I've met a lot of cool chicks / But I've never met a girl with all her own teeth" you know that this is not your typical tale of man and girl. It's the same skewered and twisted mixture of longing, humour and weird lyrical puns that makes New Order such a delight, or a bunch of pub-stool jokers in night-clubbing clothes.

Ontario's bearded troubadour Hayden (nee Paul Hayden Desser) goes to the well of age perversion in Bad As They Seem, only to (like New Order) draw from it water that runs deeper and more amusing than your average paean to Lolita. At first pining for a sixteen year old neighbour, Hayden soon turns his gaze to that sixteen year old's mother. Trapped working the same job from age fourteen and living in the same house until forty-three, a perpetual pubescent in Peter Pan purgatory lacking both the joys of childhood and the comforts of adult companionship. Aww...

In the world of popular music and rock n' roll, Steely Dan has always been noted, commended (and scorned) for the general maturity of their sensibility and humour. Admittedly this is a field with little competition. In Hey Nineteen, even the magic combination of expensive tequila and cocaine can't bridge the generation gap between a middle-aged Aretha Franklin fan and his teenage lover.

Of course, it takes Kate Bush to out-creep the rest of these notable perverse musicians with a nanny's tale of an infant kiss from those "lips that speak of adult love" in The Infant Kiss. That mischievous little boy, that predatory preschooler: "a man behind those eyes!"

* Did Dudley Moore ever do a third Arthur film after Arthur 2: On The Rocks? Was it set in the Caribbean? Cause y'know...

"You're so mature for your age."

Many thanks to Sean Michaels at the incomparable and long-standing mp3 blog powerhouse Said the Gramophone for the kind words. Do yourself a favour and keep tabs on his regular missives for the Guardian. And please, people: don't go in for any of that guilt by association stuff. In so far as I know, Mr. Michaels lives and loves within his age.

The images are from the late Eric Rohmer's great film, Claire's Knee.

1 comment:

billy said...


Re Billy Childish's song 'Just 15'. I read that it refers to Billy's first girlfriend who was 15, but Childish was just 14.