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Nick Mason - Article for "Tatler", September 1995 Print E-mail

ARTICLE BY NICK MASON for Tatler Magazine, September 1995

For the "Life's A Bitch" column (each written by a guest writer)

I don't mind most of the general public wanting to be pop stars, but I draw the line at all the people who should be happy with their lot trying to clamber aboard the stage from their often rather privileged seats. I suppose it's all those perks that excite them, but I feel the need to voice my protest against the swelling numbers of tennis players, Hollywood movie stars, comedians, soap stars and supermodels attempting to get in on the act. Even the President of the United States can't leave well alone. Why can't these rich, famous people be content with life's generous gifts, instead of silting up the recording studios and television talk shows with their musical offerings?

Even writers - who ought to know better - form bands which take the bread and butter from impoverished musicians. Whole teams of football players cram onto "Top of the Pops", doubtless shortly to be joined by combos of snooker players, news readers and, eventually, celebrity chefs. Marco Pierre White, Raymond Blanc, Antony Worrall Thompson and Gary Rhodes could take over where The Kinks left off, complete with on-stage tantrums.

The most likely explanation is that, as these people see it, rock is ultimately the finest career of all; it involves less work but more sex, pharmaceuticals and free guitars than any other job. A vocabulary of 10 words or so is sufficient ("man" "babe" and "hassle" figure strongly), while reading and language skills need only be good enough to deal with room-service menus and the funny labels on bottles of alcohol.

There is also the particular bonus that bad behavior off-duty is considered virtually mandatory ("Good evening, Mr. Rose. This is the hotel manager speaking. May we deliver another half-dozen televisions to your penthouse suite, or would you rather we sent up some more of those loose women you ordered earlier?"). Or is it that rock is perceived as being the career version of the National Lottery? No previous experience necessary, no formal training required. Anyone with a jutting chin, weak personality and tight trousers is eligible - and hell, you don't even need the chin and the trousers. Well, it's just not on. With very few exceptions, pop musicians tend to toe the demarcation line. A little light acting is occasionally indulged in, but a moral duty to avoid any exercise more intense than rolling spliffs and waving a glass in the direction of the roadie who's holding the champagne bottle ensures that few guitar heroes will ever play at Wimbledon.

Frankly, the business is not what it's cracked up to be, anyway. What money the managers, agents and record companies don't deduct is skillfully removed by morally challenged accountants. And any remaining loose change is neatly swept up by the lawyers entrusted with suing the accountants. After that, it's tax bills, the tabloid press ("My this, that and the other hell") and debtor's prison.

The press disparage you for losing your hair, gaining weight, finding God, saving whales, rain forests or traction engines and generally growing old. A chill is felt as the autograph-hunter with outstretched pen and faded vinyl album says: "It's not for me, it's for my granny." Added to this, the BBC has vast archives of you playing 25 years ago, sprouting a Zapata mustache, loon pants and love beads.

All of this is bad enough, but inevitably, there's also always a retrospective of the Sixties, Seventies or Eighties taking place, in which not only the performances but the interviews are dusted off and exhibited. And, as we know, youthful pop stars pontificate, their pronouncements matching Chamberlain's "Peace in our time" speech for embarrassment and accuracy quotient.

The mind-numbingly dull questions never improve and a quarter of a century of being asked how the band got their name is bound to take its toll. You end up feeling like something that belongs to the National Trust, but instead of selling china plates and fudge, it's T-shirts and baseball caps.

If you're in a band, you're locked into a relationship with two or three other lunatics who refuse to do what you want and never say thank you in spite of the fact you do all the work, but who insist on sharing the money. The record company keeps trying to treat the whole thing as a business, with deadlines and promotional activities. Many of these, while being eminently acceptable to a teenage heart-throb, sit uncomfortably on a man of more mature years. Unbelievably, photographers still want to shoot you jumping in the air, 30 years after The Beatles did it. Sir Georg Solti never had this trouble.

The last straw comes when you discover that even the doorman has been with the company less time than you. This goes to prove that it's not only policemen who are getting younger, but record-company executives as well. Meanwhile, the fan mail grows increasingly bizarre and there is an unrelenting flood of cassette tapes from hopefuls who are unaware that the last thing you would wish to encourage at this stage of the game is competition.

Oh well, I'm off to the job center to see if there's anything going in tennis or "Baywatch"."

 
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