Fiona Scott Norman_header
Divide Line

by Fiona Scott Norman
The Stick – Episode 5

It was in 1997 that the hard drive on Paul Francis Gadd’s laptop, off for repairs in Bristol, was found to be as riddled with child porn as a Stilton cheese with saprotrophic fungi. In retrospect a foreshadowing of #metoo by two decades, Gary Glitter was an instant outcast; his music tainted. Being a champ and not a quitter, Glitter doubled down on a life path of underage sexual predation, and to this day it’s not possible to hear his arguably brilliant glam rock anthem Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah!) without viscerally associating its el dodgy lyrics and Glitter’s sexually charged hypermasculine vocals with child abuse, and being triggered to take a really long, hot, acid shower.

Which is why we don’t hear it. Ever. Seventies music gets a lot of airplay, but Gary emphatically does not, and you could argue he destroyed the resurrection options for the entire glam rock music subgenre. Glitter and his creative output have, to borrow from the philosophical stylings of Gwyneth Paltrow, been ‘consciously uncoupled’ from a society doing its utmost to exile the silver-booted toad from its collective memory. Joan Jett’s cover? Total classic. But it takes a strong stomach to endure Glitter himself singing, ‘Every growin’ boy, needs a little joy, all you do is sit and stare … Do you wanna touch me there? Yeah! Oh yeah!’

It’s a special kind of awful that triggers such a determined cultural forgetting. The operas of Richard Wagner, for example, while played freely and enthusiastically around most of the world, have never been staged in Israel because Richard was Hitler’s favourite composer and a frothing anti-Semite. Wagner, from Israel’s POV, no matter long dead he is, can go fuck himself.

In Australia, Rolf Harris – even the name, right? – is in the process of being unwritten. No longer everyone’s beloved albeit slightly racist/handsy quasi-uncle, we’ve had to rip Rolf’s songs from the heart of our identity, unstitch them from Australia’s cultural fabric. It’s raw and it hurts. Two Little Boys? NO. Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport with the verse about ‘abos’? NO. Jake the Peg with his ‘extra leg’? NO. His cover of the Divinyl’s I Touch Myself complete with heavy breathing and wobble board? NO NO NO. Jesus the red flags were there all along if we’d just cared to notice. If we ever listened to lyrics. Which we don’t.

Rolf Harris was one of the tipping points which paved the way for #metoo. A big, old-school scalp. A high-profile male musician and entertainer destroyed because of his behaviour towards women. Today’s climate is different to the cesspool of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ that Glitter, Harris, and others so happily breast-stroked through. This is a nervous time to be an insistent fuck boi with bad boundaries and a hazy grasp on consent and power. The music industry, always and ever a rat king of misogyny, sexual violence, alcohol, drugs, and exploitation, must be shitting itself.

In May this year, Guns N’ Roses trumpeted a grandiose and bloated ‘five CD with extras’ boxed re-release of their monster 1987 album Appetite For Destruction and follow-up 1988 EP G N’R Lies. Well, most of it. On the downlow they omitted the song One in a Million, a charm offensive from Axl Rose which uses the ‘N’ and ‘F’ words to refer to people of colour and gays, and chucks in a couple of lines accusing immigrants of spreading disease. Axl was unrepentant at the time, citing freedom of speech, but this time around I picture him wrestled to the floor by marketing people, anxious not to compromise sales of their US$999 product. Also missing from the Gunners’ merch tsunami is their iconic ‘80s T-shirt image pulled from Appetite for Destruction’s original cover art, the one of an assaulted woman slumped underneath a spray of graffiti which reads ‘Guns N’ Roses Was Here’. They do, however, have a Guns N’ Roses ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ iPhone case. The baddest band of the ‘80s have sniffed the wind and pulled their heads in. ‘Gang rape no longer a thing? Cool. Got it.’

Thanks to social media, culture change and #metoo, the ‘acceptable behaviour’ feedback loop for today’s musicians is close to instant. In 2017, critically acclaimed American queer punk duo PWR BTTM were dropped from their label, their management, their tour, touring band members and by a swathe of bands they’d been touring with, when founder Ben Hopkins was accused of sexual assault. In May 2018 American rapper Riff Raff’s Australian and NZ concerts were cancelled after an accusation that he drugged and raped a fan. Rising Melbourne punk folk band The Football Club imploded in 2017 after sexual allegations were made against the lead singer, Ruby Markwell. Sydney band Sticky Fingers, a psych rock and bourbon band, went on hiatus for two years in 2016 due to accusations against frontman Dylan Frost of racist violence against an Indigenous musician.

You couldn’t go wrong getting ‘woke’ and calling out bad behaviour in the current climate, but Spotify managed in May by choosing rappers XXXTentacion and R Kelly as two acts to bury as an introduction to their ‘no hateful speech and conduct’ policy. It lasted two weeks. It reads as racist, neither artist has been convicted, and Spotify is essentially using a broom to sweep the beach clean of sand.

Artists on Spotify who either beat their women or wrote disturbing lyrics about underage girls surely outnumber the ones who didn’t. Will they ban Abba for Does Your Mother Know? James Brown and Ike Turner and Jerry Lee Lewis? The Beatles? ‘She was just 17, if you know what I mean?’ No, I don’t Paul McCartney, would you care to unpack it for us? There’s no pulling up one or two hairs from the drain of misogyny and violence in music, you’re immediately dealing with a vile wad of stinking matter that drips and sinks into the bowels of the earth.

Also, there’s no thanks to be had, spoiling everyone’s party. It’s worth noting that one of Gary Glitter’s 21 hit records has survived the shit-slide of revulsion that accompanies him everywhere, and that’s Rock n Roll Part 2. This is because it’s essentially an instrumental, it was sampled on the 1988 novelty classic Doctorin’ The Tardis by The Timelords (aka KLF), and, mostly, it is catchy as fuck.

This is the thing. If #metoo ‘The Music Edition’ has highlighted anything, it’s that we, the listening public, do not let go. Music fuses to our soul in a way that other artforms don’t, so while calling out a contemporary musician for bad behaviour is relatively easy, we will duck and weave like Shaquille O’Neal to keep our historic playlist uncompromised. We take talent over morals any day. Two words, yo, Michael Jackson. Just too damn good to let go of.

Consider this. At the height of his rock goddery, David Bowie was bedding underage girls the way most of us pop the contents of a bag of Skittles. That is totally known as statutory rape, and I’d be lying if I said it compromised my listening pleasure one iota. You will take David Bowie from my cold, dead hands. He was an artist and a visionary, and for much of my adult life I would have been delighted to answer the door in my cheap silk kimono and be bent any which way by his radiant hotness. There is no limit to the cognitive dissonance I can summon to keep him untainted.

I certainly won’t be considering that Bowie was originally a glam rock star, almost a stable mate with Gary Glitter.

I tell you. It’s a rat’s nest.

The Stick Critter - Shaun Tan


Divide Line