I’ve just finished David Hepworth’s excellent book, “Uncommon People: the rise and fall of the rock stars”. I mean, I read it from cover to cover, but it’s one of those rare books that you don’t want to shelve in a hurry. So you find yourself reading three chapters forward and two back. It’s stuffed with bitesize, quirky accounts of rock luminaries that will have you blurting out aloud, snippets and revelations, with annoying regularity.
Meanwhile, Sky Arts are offering “Rock and Roll”, a documentary series with ten themed episodes. I’m only up to number four, but so far there’s a reading of zero on the disappointment scale.
Having been through ‘Death’, ‘Pain’, and ‘Love’, I guess ‘Poetry’ was inevitable. After watching and listening to various stars offering some context to their lyrical expression, a realisation dawned on me. Apart from the fallings out with disgruntled band members, record labels, etc. Apart from the drugs, booze, depression and money troubles, almost every interviewee could be said to have left a substantial part of themselves in their work. I don’t mean that they’d paid their dues, in the hard-life-on-the-road sense, although they probably had – some individuals, now in their 70s, are not wearing their years too well
. Neither am I referring to the long, arduous business of musical composition. No, it’s the words and how they’re arranged and, ultimately, delivered.
The power is invariably in the message, and producing a poetic parcel for the point you want to make and, most importantly, make stick, is exhausting. Every letter has a piece of the poet attached. A piece that only travels one way. Little wonder, after years of treating us to new ways of viewing the oldest and most common human passions, puzzles, and predicaments, the best songwriters stand well apart from the rest. They have given so much of themselves, so much of their humanity, that they are clearly identifiable, not necessarily by a familiar face, but by shape and demeanour beyond the mere physical.
Maybe not poetic. But absolutely ‘Rock and Roll’.