Sunday, 20 November 2016

Seasick Steve and the Joy of Fakes

I like Seasick Steve. Jools Holland likes Seasick Steve. Glastonbury loved Seasick Steve when he wowed the crowds a few years ago. I mean, who wouldn't love a guy who bummed his way around the USA for years, panhandling for dimes, riding the freight wagons and generally living on handouts- and then somehow started making excellent bluesy hit records?
Here's 'Down on the Farm'. Great record, delivered with drive and panache.
And here he is on Jools Holland's 'Later' show...

Great stuff. But then a journalist started researching details for a biography, and discovered a few problems. To start with, our Steve possibly never actually lived as a hobo, and he was much younger than he said he was. What's more, he'd worked as a session musician and sometime record producer for a good many years, before re-inventing himself as a Gentleman of the Road.

But before we get too cross, how many other people have sold us an invented version of themselves for our entertainment?

Vincent Damon Furnier's a lovely chap who plays golf, loves Jesus and votes Republican. He also performs as Alice Cooper- who used to scare the Daily Mail, but he's now like that weird uncle who turns up at Christmas and tells some rather good stories. James Osterberg became Iggy Pop. Harry Webb became Cliff. Madonna Louise Ciccone became the one with the stainless steel brassiere that could poke your eyes out if you stepped too close. And lets not get started on Ziggy Stardust.

Show business is full of assumed names and personas, because marketing people seem to think that liking an artist’s work is dependent on our buying into an imagined lifestyle. The name and the look are all part of that. Village People camped it up like mad in the 1980s for ‘YMCA’ and ‘In the Navy’, but only one of them was actually gay, allegedly (the one wearing the feathers.) Meat Loaf (not his real name, you’ll be surprised to hear) once mentioned in passing that when he started out as a musician, it felt like he was the horse pulling a marketing wagon. Many years later, he said it was now happening in reverse. And living up to your 'hype' (as in ‘hyperbole’) can be an awful pressure. You’ve got to sell yourself to the public every night, over and over again.

Wearing a persona can be awfully wearying. The Ancient Greeks had a word for their actors who performed wearing masks- ‘hypocrites’. We now use that word to describe anyone whose words or demeanour don’t actually match the life and deeds of the person underneath. Those of us having to perform a role at work (like teachers) know that, especially when we're working, we have to inhabit its world and radiate a positivity that says yes, this lesson is important, it matters to me and it should matter to you. It’s all about conviction. Sadly, we all remember teachers who delivered lessons as if they desperately wanted to be somewhere else- because the conviction has to be real, or the message falls apart. Whether we're teachers, preachers, actors or anything else in that line ... we still need to have that integrity, which works like the sealant of a space-suit- holding everything (and us) together.

I do hope Steve finds a way to make his thing work again. Perhaps he can find some better stories to tell. The true ones are usually much more interesting.

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Any requests of subjects for future posts in 2016? No idea too stupid for consideration. And yes, I know I am a bad writer, so don't bother saying that unless you can write something better. But maybe there's a topic buzzing around in your head that you'd like to see covered... because I've got a keyboard here, it's loaded with letters, and I ain't afraid to use it.