Jewish World Review June 11, 2002/ 1 Tamuz, 5762
My other thought occurred the moment Brian May, the big-haired guitarist of the rock group Queen, opened the evening by playing a screeching electric version of "G-d Save The Queen" from the roof of Buckingham Palace.
To London's various royal commentators, her majesty's decision to celebrate 50 years on the throne in the company of a lot of leathery old rockers was evidence of her willingness to get "with it," let her hair down, chill out, etc. Half a century ago, they pointed out, she was surrounded by a lot of dukes and marquesses and so forth, and now here she was hanging with Paul McCartney, the Spice Girls, Tom Jones, Elton John and Co.
Well, plus ca change . . . Rock stars aren't a welcome break with the old hidebound aristocracy, they're the new hidebound aristocracy. Over the years, I've met her majesty, and I've met a lot of rock stars, and I can tell you the rockers are a lot queenlier than the queen. They're far more hung up on protocol than your average prince or duchess.
As I mentioned a few months back, dear old Sting had to issue a public apology after throwing a grand banquet and accidentally seating Jools Holland of the '70s band Squeeze next to some no-name session player. Where once the pop crowd had pretend titles--queen, prince, the duke of Earl--they now sport real ones: Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John, Lord Lloyd-Webber. Britain's wrinkly pop elite now live in ancient stately homes they bought from broken-down earls who were only too glad to sell up and move to the Caribbean.
Like the old aristocracy, some of them are debauched, and some of them have merely achieved the state of nuttiness it took Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria's family a millennium of in-breeding to master. Either way, we nod politely and do their bidding as we once did for czars and sultans. The vases in the dressing room are in the wrong shade of turquoise? Outrageous! I'll have the tour manager escorted from the building, this instant!
This is not just a phenomenon of the British music biz. When Barbra Streisand says she won't enter a room unless it's carpeted, we simply say, "Yes, Miss Streisand" and order up the broadloom; for her London concerts in 1994, she insisted Wembley Stadium be carpeted, and it was. For a while, Michael Jackson traveled everywhere with a 12-year-old boy in matching white gloves and surgical mask who'd come first in a Michael Jackson lookalike contest in Norway.
But Britain is the natural home of the new aristorockracy if only because of its preservationist instincts. There must be American rock survivors from the '60s--Bobby Vee? The Velvet Underground?--but the American way is to shrug off clapped-out celebs with nary a thought and get some new ones, while the British would rather treat them as Stonehenge and make them a designated heritage site. No royal scion could get away with carrying on like Sir Elton John. Taking tea on the balcony of his Italian hotel suite a few years back, he became discomposed by the wafting breeze and screamed at the room service waiter, "Can't you do something about this f---in' wind?"
"She's lost it," sighed a member of his entourage. "She's finally lost it."
But that was then. It's fashionable to bemoan the way celebrity has contaminated every aspect of public life, but, happily, a growing number of celebrities now behave with the decorum and restrained formality previously associated with the royal family. Even Sir Elton, whose country house in Berkshire was once full of glitterballs, strobe lighting, amyl nitrate, cocaine, and louche young men, has signed up for the New Gentility.
"I've never seen so much porcelain," bemoaned Mick Jagger after a recent visit. "If I see another piece of f---ing porcelain, I'll go bonkers."
A few months ago, Sir Elton and his male partner were invited by the queen to join her for tea in the Royal Enclosure at the Ascot races. On another occasion, her majesty gamely escorted Elt onto the floor and whirled daintily around to "Rock Around the Clock," dancing queen to queen, while Prince Philip, displaying a visible reluctance to get with the program, was obliged to stand at the side and make small talk with Elt's boyfriend.
How far will it go? Prince William and Britney were rumored to be an item awhile back, and I can't be the only one who wondered what might have been when Streisand let it be known a few years ago that she'd once been sweet on the Prince of Wales. He could, it seems, have married a genuine Jewish American Princess instead of the manipulative bulimic neurotic he wound up with. Barbra is a model of regal dignity: She issues Christmas messages to the peoples of the world, just like the queen and the pope do; at the Democratic Convention, she sings "Happy Days Are Here Again" so butt-numbingly slowly it sounds far more like a national anthem than "God Save The Queen" or "The Star-Spangled Banner." Incidentally, I'm not sure if Bono and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill have danced together on their extensive African tour, but, like the queen and Sir Elton, they make a lovely couple, especially in that exotic native sleepwear they were pictured in the other week.
Nothing but good can come of sober rockers like Bono lending their deep sense of duty and public service and commitment to good causes to a decadent ruling class of chaps like O'Neill who otherwise would be spending their days nailing chicks, trashing hotel rooms and driving their Rolls into the swimming pool.
According to rock critic Robert Palmer in Rolling Stone, "It was mid-'50s rock 'n'
roll that blew away, in one mighty, concentrated blast, the accumulated racial
and social proprieties of the centuries." But it didn't look quite like that at
Buckingham Palace this week. As the timeless Beatles classic put it so well,
"You say you want a revolution? Sorry, I'm having tea with Princess Margaret
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05/31/02: Unless we change our ways ... the world faces a future where things look pretty darn good