Creem, November 1977

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Aiming for the heart

Letter From Britain

Simon Frith

I often wonder whether Creem would read any different if it was devoted to the hip doings of, say, chartered accountants. When you've read one rock star interview you've read them all and what you've read is the game-plan of another well-organized professional marking up each gig, each record, each conversation even, in his little book of profits and loss. Creem's Profiles aren't so funny anymore.

In the old days it was all so much easier. The point of the interview was to make the star sound like a good date, and the interviewer just had to be his mother — playing on his good points, tactful about his bad ones, helpful with hints about his diet and tastes in movies. The loyal reader could handle an evening out with every star in the Top 20 and all at once if necessary.

These days rock stars don't got no time for dating and they aren't attractive enough anyway — Christmas, I wouldn't even want to be seen with Ted Nugent! They don't care because they're too busy being interesting and writing their original musical compositions and that's where the trouble starts for the interviewer because he has no say in the matter. The public buys the records and the writer has to justify its choices; the resulting hype is the product of pure boredom. If you thought the real life of Doris Day was a surprise, for example, wait till you read the real Mick Jagger story — Bianca was employed straight out of drama school to keep the press happy; Mick actually lives with his parents, brothers and sisters, original wife Doris, three dogs and a budgerigar in a bungalow in Esher and there's a limit to what even I can do with that.

Anyway, this month's British singing sensation whom I must rally round and find interesting is Elvis Costello. The papers have acclaimed his debut album, My Aim Is True, as the greatest since, hmmmm, either the other Elvis' first or Graham Parker's last, depending how you read it, and it's certainly a well-wrought set of songs of anxiety and humiliation, more obviously appealing than the noise of all those cocksure young punks and very much loved by all my friends (me too). As for Elvis himself, he's got the kind of inferior looks that always guarantee a good press — big specs, bow legs and a solemn grin. Welcome Elvis and let me tell you that IT WON'T LAST! One reviewer has already figured your first album as better than all the follow-ups that you haven't yet made and what charms the rest today will annoy them as arrogance tomorrow when they've run out of your interesting life to write about. I mean, now you're a rock star, how are you gonna be any different from any other rock star!

Back to account books. Britain's next month's singing sensation is Tom Robinson, who's a militant gay or so they say. Just signed to EMI to prove that with it they still are and I haven't heard a record or seen a photo but he'll be a rock star too soon, so that's him done.

I wasn't going to write about punks ever again but the product is still pouring out and the problem of winnowing the chaff from the grain has become urgent. I don't get much help from my ears (it all sounds the same to me) and interviews are no solution, that's for sure. That leaves only two answers: politics and the market.

The reason why 1977 is the best rock year since 1968 is politics. The punk rockers have got the politicos down from their dogma like nothing else since those days when even Creem was a radical mag and it's movement vs. groovement time all over again. Go to a punk gig and it takes an hour to work out whether the inky fanzine thrust into your hands and bestooned with Rotten pictures and Clash captions is the product of a) the Communist Party; b) Malcolm McLaren's office; c) Stiff Records; d), e), f), g), h) one of a variety of Trotskyist sects. Not that it makes much difference. This autumn's Right To Work March will feature punk gigs along the way and on the telly last week six solemn local councillors were trounced in constitutional debate by a quartet of hard kids called, appropriately enough, The Worst. In this context it is clear, I'm sorry to say, that part of the reason for Elvis C's great appeal is a gently reactionary sigh of relief — thank god for a singer who still remembers what 1970s rock is supposed to be about: pimples and someone else screwing the girl upstairs.

Still what the politicos never realise (and why their punk efforts are futile, really) is that in pop, POWER = POPULARITY. The market rules and anyone who never figured disco as the real recruiting ground doesn't deserve to change the system anyway. What's going to matter in the next six months is the top 20 and all the punk LPs are pointless. They haven't got more than one worthwhile song apiece anyway and they don't give the market a chance to operate its wisdom. Its most recent blessing has been cast on the Jam, who represent motherhood, apple pie, and the Who, none of which are much good to anyone anymore. so my heart has not been filled with joy. I'm waiting for the new single from ABBA. They, at least, know how this whole thing adds up.

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Creem, November 1977

Simon Frith profiles Elvis Costello.


1977-11-00 Creem page 46.jpg
Page scan.

1977-11-00 Creem cover.jpg


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