Class doesn’t matter, privilege might
Pop writer Dorian Lynskey has expanded on thoughts about pop and class, catalysed by a debate on Twitter amongst a coterie of music journalists, over at his blog - well worth reading.
I love this debate because it makes people awkward, angry and very often wrong. But for me, I don’t think this is about class. It’s about privilege, which is something else entirely.
The beacon used by the class-doesn’t-matter brigade is always Nick Drake. He was wildly unsuccessful in his own time. He wouldn’t be now, and not just because his genius would be much more easily recognised in our information-saturated age. If he went to Cambridge today he’d more than likely be there with the sons of EMI execs, music lawyers and directors of advertising. He’d get synchs instantly. He’d be a million seller within a year. Because he’s posh? Not exactly. Yes, as a more privileged member of society he’d have better access to the apparatus that could propel him into stardom; the more crucial point, I think, is that while he was still posh back then, this apparatus didn’t exist in 1967.
These days the traditional major label industry sits in its ivory tower. You might have to know a lawyer, or a publisher, or the label owner’s son, to get a foot in the door. The bands whose singer went to public school are more likely to have access to these people than the band that formed at the local comp. If you’re posh you can fast-track. In that sense it’s helpful to be middle-class rather than working-class - but I don’t think it necessarily follows that the bands are the ones who should be attacked for this.
There’s one anomaly from the past I can think of to illustrate this point. Peter and Gordon are posh ’60s musicians who succeeded, one could say, because of the privileged industry access they enjoyed, thanks to their status as sons of upper middle-class parents, and as brothers to “media types”. (The biggest helping hand they had, of course, was that their sister dated a Beatle.) Would they have got anywhere otherwise, with their limited talents? Maybe. (There are other factors at play here, e.g. they rode a wave of British Invasion hysteria like many less-than-stellar musicians at the time).
In Dorian’s eyes, they are an example of a complacent bourgeoisie who think joining a band is a laugh, but ultimately have nothing much to say. You couldn’t do that much in the ’60s because, as I say, the apparatus just wasn’t there (unless you were a Parnes-era entertainer, but that’s a genre unto itself). As a one-off phenomenon they get get viewed with fondness. They perhaps wouldn’t now. What’s changed? The industry, of course. Should we hate Peter and Gordon, or Vampire Weekend, for that?link