For some, it’s politics; for some, religion. For me, the subject most likely to drag me into a completely avoidable but necessarily vicious argument contains the dreaded phrase: “guilty pleasure”
It’s a concept I struggled with even when I was a child – possibly because I only ever had a passing interest in what anyone thought of what I was doing – but as I grew older, it became an ever-larger aggravation. It wasn’t long after I’d left school and started working in an indie record store that the opportunity to listen to anything and everything we stocked lead me to unlikely passions – the quirkiness of Sub Pop’s output; the grand, tipsy lounge of Dean Martin; the double-saxophone beat-poet smog of Morphine. Yet, every one of these discoveries led me down evermore twisting avenues of adventure – who had influenced them; who they’d supported; who they were on the same label as. The openings revealed more and more delights, sometimes artists I’d previously discounted or overlooked, sometimes complete unknowns whose records would take years for me to locate. It was always worth it. It still is.
My insatiable thirst for finding the seed from which my new musical friends had sprung did lead to some unusual places, granted. I own an admirably large collection of Tiny Tim records, someone who I will on any day of the week tell you was a genius. I have never once said this to anyone with the slightest tinge of irony and certainly without a smidgen of embarrassment. Many would consider him a novelty act but to me, it’s music of the most elemental kind – there is no production wizardry slathered over it and his absolute commitment to keeping songs alive which were in danger of disappearing forever, is an act of utter selflessness, which most musicians today would find completely alien.
Which bit should I be guilty of? That it doesn’t sound like anything that’s in the charts? Surely not, given that you’d be hard pushed to find anyone who has the slightest idea of what’s in the charts. Someone who isn’t cool? The cult of cool is such an absurd and tangled web that we’d be here all day analysing what “cool” actually is – not so long ago it would have been smoking and telling off-colour jokes; at another juncture, it might have been cool to get Gary Glitter’s autograph (an artist for whom guilty pleasure takes on a whole new meaning).
It was interesting watching ELO’s appearance at 2016’s Glastonbury Festival, Jeff Lynne in many ways being one of the artists who almost have ‘guilty pleasure’ as an unofficial double-barrelled pre-fix to their name. For all the music’s pomp, faux-grandeur and terrifyingly huge hooks, he was dull as ditch-water, if not duller. No on-stage magnetism; seemingly no interest in interacting with the crowd; no deviation from what you would have heard on their records. Bland, undemanding, uninvolving chaff. In one appearance, he managed to reinvent himself as a genuinely guilty pleasure, someone who had so little respect for either his audience or his own music, that he was quite willing to put himself on auto-pilot, take the pay-check and waddle off for a foie-gras butty.
Pop music is nothing to feel guilty about. All music is, as Frank Zappa once pointed out, “Air Sculpture”: simply the art of making air particles bounce off one another to make a noise. To plump up one’s cushions and make judgements on peoples’ taste is enormous fun but is in no way a science and does certainly demand that the judger be judged. The sentence for guilty pleasures should be a sound beating but only for those who use the phrase.
Guilty Words by Daz Lawrence