Sweet taste of success

Food - Bee Wilson takes pity on rock stars with dodgy diets

Sinead O'Connor has recently spoken of her fears for her friend Shane McGowan, the former Pogues singer. Not only is he addicted to heroin, not only does he look even more bruised than in his heyday: he also lives in squalor in north London. "As soon as you go in the door, the smell of puke hits you," Sinead told Q Magazine. "The carpet is black and rotten. Bottles everywhere. No food in the fridge. All he eats is Marks & Spencer's tiramisu."

This last detail is the telling one. You have to be pretty far gone before you can treat a moussey plastic sweet as your staple diet. Even trifle would be better. With trifle, you would at least be getting a few vitamins and some chewing action from the fruit. But tiramisu is the undertaker's pudding. It requires neither teeth nor the will to live. If you find yourself supping on M&S tiramisu instead of food, you can be sure you have sunk as far as any being can, short of the grave.

When the rock star diet goes wrong, it goes horribly wrong. In his cocaine-snorting days, Sir Elton John used to alternate jars of pickled cockles with tubs of Haagen-Dazs. Think how it would curdle in the stomach. The virtue of cockles and ice cream, I suppose, is that both of them can be slurped as much as eaten, not interrupting the ingestion of drink and drugs. Rock-star food must be soft. When Nirvana had just been signed by David Geffen, Kurt Cobain got by on wine, assorted drugs and corn dogs, those Day-Glo yellow hotdogs on sticks.

This is actually a relatively unneurotic regime. The worst rock-star diets are those that combine the wanton swilling of rock'n'roll mouthwash (bourbon) with "my-body-is-a-temple" hissy fits about the food that soaks it up. Is there anything more pathetic than a groupie high on barbiturates fussing about the tofu and beansprouts to go in his sandwich? Courtney Love was briefly intimate with Rozz Rezabek-Wright, a glam-rock wannabe. One day, she made him a bowl of porridge, specially adding currants, nutmeg, cinnamon and double cream. Rozz looked at this thoughtful dish and hurled it across the kitchen. "Don't you know that singers don't eat dairy products?" he is said to have screamed.

Then there are the stars who avoid rock'n'roll eating altogether. Shania Twain used to eat mustard sandwiches in her poverty-ridden past, but now she adheres to a boringly modest diet. The Cardigans dine in a civilised fashion at nice restaurants. Britney Spears professes a love of cookie-dough ice cream, but you can bet she doesn't eat it by the Elton John method. Even Bruce Springsteen grills his own vegetables and fish. Back in the 1970s, in New Jersey, he was known as "Gut Rock" for his addiction to junk food. Since becoming "the God", however, he started watching his "carbs" and his music suffered the consequences.

He could have learnt a thing or two from "the King", whose genius for proper rock-star food shines ever brighter with the passing years. Elvis's love of fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches is well known. He also relished six-egg omelettes, vast pineapple cakes and barbecue pizzas. At any given time, the Graceland kitchens had to be kept stocked with bacon, brownies, banana pudding, bell peppers, shredded coconut, fudge cookies, hand-squeezed orange juice, wieners, ground meat, sauerkraut, pickles, hamburger buns, hot rolls, "shasta" diet drinks and assorted flavours of chewing gum.

Elvis put away prodigious amounts (a pound of bacon and a whole jar of grape jelly went into his "fool's-gold sandwich"), but he ate carefully, discriminatingly, usually with a knife and fork. Some may have thought he looked desperate by the end, staggering in that bulging white suit, but he never resorted to tiramisu. His dignity was intact.

This article first appeared in the 06 March 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Profile - Caprice