In the Critics this week

Stuart Maconie on the Doors, Kate Williams on the gothic novel, Simon Blackburn on human nature and

In the Critics section of this week's New Statesman, Stuart Maconie reviews The Doors by leading American rock critic Greil Marcus. Even Marcus, a "magisterial and important writer", isn't able to persuade Maconie that the Doors aren't "the most overrated bands in the history of rock music". Doors frontman Jim Morrison embodied all the band's shortcomings, Maconie argues: "Watch the old footage of him, preening in his leather kecks, his self-satisfied, puppy-fat-frat-boy face pursed waxily as he declaims some sententious claptrap ..."

In the Books interview, Jonathan Derbyshire talks to American author Chad Harbach, whose first novel The Art of Fielding was published to great acclaim in the US in the autumn and has just been published in this country. The book is about a college baseball team, and Harbach says two of the principal influences on him when he was writing it were Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace: "They are two of the only novelists who have really thought about the relation of sport to larger society" DeLillo's End Zone and Wallace's Infinite Jest were, he says, "models" for The Art of Fielding.

Also in Books: Simon Blackburn on Beyond Human Nature by Jesse Prinz; Simon Kuper on Sport Italia: the Italian Lover Affair With Sport by Simon Martin; Helen Lewis-Hasteley on The Brain Is Wider Than the Sky by Bryan Appleyard and How Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? By John Brockman; and Leo Robson on Masscult and Midcult by Dwight Macdonald.

This week's Critic at large is historian and novelist Kate Williams, who examines the enduring appeal of the gothic novel: "Gothic fascinations," Williams writes, "tend to increase with recessions. [Mary Shelley's] Frankenstein was perfectly fitted to the economic slump that followed the end of the [Napoleonic] wars. ... Recession ... makes us desperate for distraction - the more monstrous the better."

Also in the Critics: Ryan Gilbey on Shame and Margin Call; Rachel Cooke on ITV's Eternal Law; Alex Preston reports from a British Council-sponsored event in Athens; Antonia Quirke on a radio history of the obituary; Will Self on the suburban way of death; and "Endowments" by Terry Jones, the winner of first prize in the Bridport Prize, 2011.

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We knew we’d become proper pop stars when we got a car like George Michael’s

“That was George Michael!” we both shouted. “And he was driving the car we want!”

One of the clichés about celebrity life is that all celebrities know each other. Back in the Eighties, when we were moderately famous, Ben and I did often bump into other famous people, and because of mutual recognition, there was a sort of acquaintance, if not friendship.

There was a random element to it, as well. Some celebrities you might never catch a glimpse of, while others seemed to pop up with an unexpected regularity.

In 1987, the car we drove was a 1970s Austin Princess, all leather seats and walnut dashboard. In many ways, it symbolised what people thought of as the basic qualities of our band: unassuming, a little bit quirky, a little bit vintage. We’d had it for a year or so, but Ben was running out of patience. It had a habit of letting us down at inconvenient moments – for instance, at the top of the long, steep climbs that you encounter when driving through Italy, which we had just recklessly done for a holiday. The car was such a novelty out there that it attracted crowds whenever we parked. They would gather round, nodding appreciatively, stroking the bonnet and murmuring, “Bella macchina . . .”

Having recently banked a couple of royalty cheques, Ben was thinking of a complete change of style – a rock’n’roll, grand-gesture kind of car.

“I wanna get an old Mercedes 300 SL,” he said to me.

“What’s one of those?”

“I’ll let you know next time we pass one,” he said.

We were driving through London in the Princess, and as we swung round into Sloane Square, Ben called out, “There’s one, look, coming up on the inside now!” I looked round at this vision of gleaming steel and chrome, gliding along effortlessly beside us, and at the same moment the driver glanced over towards our funny little car. We made eye contact, then the Merc roared away. It was George Michael.

“That was George Michael!” we both shouted. “And he was driving the car we want!”

We’d always had a soft spot for George, even though we seemed to inhabit opposite ends of the pop spectrum. He’d once been on a TV review show and said nice things about our first album, and I knew he had liked my solo single “Plain Sailing”. We’d done a miners’ benefit gig where Wham! had appeared, slightly out of place in their vests, tans and blond bouffants. There had been a bit of sneering because they’d mimed. But I remember thinking, “Good on you for even being here.” Their presence showed that being politically active, or even just caring, wasn’t the sole preserve of righteous indie groups.

A couple of weeks later, we were driving along again in the Princess, when who should pull up beside us in traffic? George again. He wound down his window, and so did we. He was charming and called across to say that, yes, he had recognised us the other day in Sloane Square. He went on to complain that BBC Radio 1 wouldn’t play his new single “because it was too crude”. “What’s it called?” asked Ben. “ ‘I Want Your Sex’!” he shouted, and roared away again, leaving us laughing.

We’d made up our minds by now, and so we went down to the showroom, flashed the cash, bought the pop-star car and spent the next few weeks driving our parents up and down the motorway with the roof off. It was amazing: even I had to admit that it was a thrill to be speeding along in such a machine.

A little time passed. We were happy with our glamorous new purchase, when one day we were driving down the M1 and, yes, you’ve guessed it, in the rear-view mirror Ben saw the familiar shape coming up behind. “Bloody hell, it’s George Michael again. I think he must be stalking us.”

George pulled out into the lane alongside and slowed down as he drew level with us. We wound down the windows. He gave the car a long look, up and down, smiled that smile and said, “That’s a bit more like it.” Then he sped away from us for the last time.

Cheers, George. You were friendly, and generous, and kind, and you were good at being a pop star.

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge