Julie Burchill Julie Burchill

Fallen idols

Reading Uncommon People, I was blown away once again by those great tyrannosaurs of the past, says Julie Burchill

David Hepworth is such a clever writer — not just clever in the things he writes, but in the way he has conducted his career. A decade older than me, he too started out at the New Musical Express; but he went on to take Smash Hits to glory as editor, to launch Just Seventeen, Empire, Mojo and Heat, and remains the only person to have won both the PPA’s writer of the year and editor of the year awards.

His previous book, Never a Dull Moment: 1971, The Year that Rock Exploded, was a great critical and commercial success. And to show how adept he is, he has now gone from examining a single year in forensic detail to assembling 40 vignettes, from 1955 to 1995, exploring defining moments in the lives of important rock stars: for example, ‘24 June 1970: Rock god embraces the occult’ (Jim Morrison); ‘27 January 1984: A superstar on fire’ (Michael Jackson); ‘7 June 1993: Career suicide’ (Prince) and so on. He concludes that rock stars no longer exist, killed off by a combination of hip hop, stage schools and social media. But, as you can see from the chapter titles, he’s anything but a why-oh-whiner concerning the state of rock’s rich tapestry. ‘Jaunty’ says it best. You can almost hear him exclaiming ‘Crikey!’ at key moments of epicness.

Hepworth’s theory of supply and demand — and how the way the internet-driven former outstripping the latter led to familiarity breeding a certain cavalierness on the part of fan towards idol — is illustrated in the most poignant sketch. Here a teenage Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, separated by the class system since their primary school days, meet again by accident at Dartford railway station:

What united them was stronger than what divided them.

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