A quick repost from the pre-blogging era, partly prompted by this from Will:
I think that New Labour’s pantheon can only be truly understood in terms of the band that they modelled themselves on: Blur. Consider the following four typecasts:
Front man: charismatic show-pony who drops his aitches and pretends to be into football, inspires visceral hatred in some, but without whom the show would never have really got on the road.
Grumpy side-kick: the one for the ‘real fans’, who supplies substance and grit, threatens to leave about half-way through, but remains on board on the condition that he is allowed greater influence.
Show-off socialite: party-goer and purveyor of ‘dark arts’, not liked by the old faithful (and despised by Grumpy side-kick) but useful for winning over the mainstream.
This immediately rang a bell, although when I looked again it turned out that I hadn’t compared Tony Blair to Damon Albarn immediately after he became leader of the Labour Party. (Drat.) In fact, I’m not entirely sure who I was comparing Blair with, although clearly I wasn’t a big Blur fan. This, anyway, appeared in the tenth issue of Casablanca in 1994; if memory serves it ran alongside a cruel but accurate pastiche of John Smith by the redoubtable Ellis Sharp, hastily rebadged as a message from beyond the grave. (We had fun.)
Think big – think Blurgh!
“Obviously Kurt was irreplaceable. We were all in shock for a long time after his death. It must have been two, maybe three days later that we first looked at it as a vacancy. And then someone suggested Donny…”
Freelance communications co-ordinator Marco Bitzer is being modest. In fact nominations for the post of lead singer with Nirvana opened approximately four hours after Kurt Cobain’s suicide was discovered – thanks very largely to Marco Bitzer. It was also Bitzer who suggested the candidate now seen as certain to succeed Cobain, Donny Blurgh.
To some eyes Donny Blurgh was not the obvious choice for Nirvana. Cobain, widely regarded as the godfather of grunge, was a depressive, drug-addicted slacker from the American Northwest. Blurgh (rhymes with Chris de Burgh) is a 23-year-old management consultant from just outside Guildford. Bitzer explains.
“People tend to think Nirvana under Kurt were just crash, boom, bang-a-bang, thankyou Sam – and that’s nonsense. They actually had some nice tunes, if you turned the volume right down. Credit where it’s due, I think the band had got a lot more – respectable, shall we say? – over the last few years: and that’s certainly the direction Donny’s intending to explore. Then there’s the youth thing. You realised Kurt was pushing thirty? Well, pushing 28, but point taken. Donny’s only 21, so he hasn’t got that kind of historical baggage. Some people say he hasn’t got any baggage of any kind, ha ha ho ho!”
“Of course people say, will it still be grunge? I just say, it’s grunge if you say it is. Respect to Kurt, but some things have got to change. You don’t get to be a superstar these days by strolling on stage in an old pair of jeans and a flannel shirt. They say Kurt didn’t even wash his hair half the time! If you look at Donny, he’s friendly, he’s polite – well turned out, nice smile, nice shoes – and he’s only just turned twenty. I’m trying to line him up some TV: the autocue will love him. I’m told he’s putting a new spin on the whole youth appeal thing – don’t do drugs, respect your parents, call policemen ‘sir’, that kind of area. It’s what Kurt would have said if he’d lived, more or less.”
One area which is often overlooked is Donny Blurgh’s musical abilities. Says Bitzer, “They tell me he sings in the bath, ha ha ho ho! Seriously, I’m sure he’ll be a great lead singer, really great. When you get down to it there are only three essentials in rock music: a distinctive musical vision, a good camera presence and a face like a frightened hamster. No, I’m kidding – only two of those are essential! Although a musical vision is nice, if you can get it reasonably cheap.”
“For myself I’ve got every confidence in Donny Blurgh. He’s young – did you know he’s only just eighteen? – he’s fresh, he responds well to guidance. I’ve had a few sessions with him already on the corporate focus, image, mission, values front and he’s been taken on board pretty much everything I said. In fact I sometimes got the impression he was repeating back everything I said word for word!”
I remarked that this certainly smells like teen spirit.
“How do you mean smells? Oh, as in “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, yeah. Ha ha ho ho”.
What’s interesting about this, looking back, is the ambivalence about who Blair actually was – a contentless creation of spin and Millbank, or a serious and committed reactionary. And let’s not forget, both possibilities are fairly bizarre: I initially wrote “a serious and committed reactionary who had somehow ended up leading the Labour Party”, but for a corporate suit to end up in that position is just as surprising; they’re both the reverse of what you’d have expected from Labour before Blair. I think what Blair’s performance at the Chilcot Inquiry has brought home is that it’s not either/or: he’s a high-profile image-driven reactionary, and a deeply serious empty suit. Above all, he’s committed: committed to being this bizarre hybrid, the reverse of anything a Labour leader had ever been, and then to taking us into his dream with him – first the Labour Party, then the world. Perhaps the least surprising thing that happened at the inquiry was Blair’s failure to apologise – the occasional failure of the world to live up to his expectations might be disappointing, but why would he ever need to apologise?
(Next: more from Casablanca, this time foretelling the destruction of the Labour Party. Just call me Cassandra.)