A star-studded CD box set of the best of glam rock is being released. I’m a bit of a glam-rock fan on silence (the very calm) so I’m pretty happy with it. All the usual suspects from the 70s will be represented – David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Slade, The Sweet, Suzi Quatro and many more. Missing, however, is one musician who was a key member of the glam-rock fraternity and had three No.1 hits in the genre – a Gary Glitter.
There are three reasons I like his exclusion: 1. He’s a loathsome thug. 2 He’s a criminal. 3. I never really liked his records anyway.
But there are also reasons why its exclusion worries me a bit. First he had these # 1s. Second, how right is it morally, culturally or otherwise to erase people’s work from history because they are loathsome criminals? It is certainly tempting to do so. Indeed, the BBC has done it before with this even more repulsive Jimmy Savile creep, making sure they don’t show any old The top of the pops shows he hosted.
Notice, we’re a little bit selective, it seems to me, about who we try to write history about and who we don’t. The late novelist Arthur Koestler, a literary fighter against totalitarianism, was denounced a few years ago as a serial rapist. I was involved in reporting this story and, in the most heartbreaking interview of my career, spoke to one of its victims – filmmaker Jill Craigie, wife of former Labor leader Michael Foot. She saw her torment again. Still, go to Amazon and there are a slew of Koestler titles out there, many with the word “classic” next to it.
We could go on. It is a delicate question, who to ban and who not to ban. Where does it start, where does it end? It certainly seems morally fishy to me to practice some sort of cultural relativism and say that sex offenses on the pop scene should see the work of writers erased from history, but sexual offenses and abuse by a militant leftist novelist should. not lead to his work being taken off the shelves.
And yet, and yet. There is nothing worse than pedophilia. Do we really want to see Glitter collect royalties? Do we want to look at a CD cover and see its picture? Surely his victims should be spared this pain and the pain of hearing his voice. It’s very difficult. But it’s a slippery slope to start writing people’s work out of history. At what level of crime do you start? And at what level of cultural achievement do you close your eyes?
In an interview with this newspaper a few days ago, famous theater and opera director Dr Jonathan Miller explained that he never goes to the theater or the opera. Never. He was only interested in his own work. Dr Miller said his attitude came from being a doctor – after all, he wouldn’t watch another doctor perform surgery. What a silly argument. Doctors keep abreast of new developments in their field by reading medical journals. Directors might as well keep abreast of new developments in their chosen field… by going to the theater. Besides, aren’t directors supposed to believe in the theater as a place to visit to enrich one’s life? Dr Miller also complains in the interview that the National Theater has not invited him to conduct there for 35 years. Maybe they stick with people who love the theater enough to go there every now and then.
Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell staged protests at the London Symphony Orchestra concerts conducted by Valery Gergiev. The conductor is a friend of President Putin, and Tatchell wants him to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay laws. In a recent protest, Mr Tatchell managed to take the stage before the concert and deliver a short, unauthorized speech before being taken away by security personnel. He said afterwards that the audience seemed sympathetic. Indeed, some applauded.
I support Mr Tatchell who believes that great artists, and in particular Putin’s friend Gergiev, should speak out against these repressive laws, and that is exactly what they wrote before. But I think I have to tell Mr. Tatchell that the heat in the audience that night could also be explained by the fact that he was in formal dress. When someone takes the stage before the show in formal dress, the audience worries that they will be told that the star of the night is sick. When the announcement turns out to be something completely different, the happiness, warmth and support will magically fill the auditorium.