WARNING: The following article reproduced from the Daily Telegraph (the newspaper with a half-decent crossword that refuses to admit that M******t T******r is no longer Prime Minister) will definitely offend you if you remember anything about John Peel and what he stood for.
Michael Henderson said:
There is something embarrassing, to be frank, unmanning, about the inscription on the memorial to John Peel, the broadcaster, who passed away four years ago. Freshly carved in a Suffolk graveyard, the stone reads: “Teenage dreams so hard to beat”. Strictly speaking, there should be a comma after “dreams”, those phantoms that are, apparently, “so hard to beat”. But, whatever else he did in his 65 years, before his unfortunate death on holiday in Peru, Mr Peel did not speak strictly. On this occasion, therefore, and making further allowance for the fact that the line is borrowed from a pop song, it is permissible to overlook that solecism.All the same, it is embarrassing. The man lived 65 years, and in that time he must have had the kind of experiences that bring a few drops of wisdom; at the very least, a smattering of self-knowledge. Yet he chose to be remembered by the words of a song that, like the adolescent dreams they are supposed to evoke, are thoroughly wet.One doesn’t necessarily expect a Wordsworthian invocation to see into “the life of things” from a man who spent his working life among the sharpies and ne’er-do-wells of the most venal industry in the world. A man who taught me was at Shrewsbury with Peel (or Ravenscroft, as he was known in those days), and remembered him as “the dimmest boy in school”. People have been known to improve with the years, so, once more, we shouldn’t be too hard on the chap for his lack of sparkle in the classroom. He seems to have been a harmless man, loved by those close to him. Yet, like so many young people who found their voice in the 1960s, and were indulged thereafter, he never really grew up. A man who tells a television audience, as Peel did, “I wish I had the courage to be a terrorist”, to milk the applause of the credulous, forfeits the right to be taken seriously on any matter under the Sun. Worse, he presents himself to the world in the colours of a buffoon. There is going to be a lot more buffoonery in the next few months, as the BBC pulls out all manner of expensive stops to mark the 40th anniversary of les événements. They will all be wheeled out again, the well-heeled Trots from Trottington Hall, to tell us how we got things so badly wrong back then, and how, if only we had got the revolution groove, baby, life would now be much sweeter. Again, it is that refusal to grow up, the reluctance to let go of those comforting illusions that seek to make simple what is, of necessity, complex. We all have illusions, of course. Life without them would be intolerable, even if that longed-for century at Lord’s remains vivid only in our morning reverie. But no sentient being who has absorbed the lessons of life would ever submit to the sovereignty of “teenage dreams”. Child-like visions, by all means. Had Peel chosen to inscribe Winnie the Pooh on his memorial, or summoned the spirit of Ratty and Toad, that would have been all right. Innocence always trumps self-deception. And self-deception is exactly what is wrong with that memorial. Its banal sentiment is not child-like, merely childish. Pop music speaks to teenagers because, green in judgment, they lack the emotional resources to respond to anything deeper. With helpful instruction, and a bit of curiosity, that should come with age, though in this case it didn’t. In fact, it often doesn’t. We have now reached a strange, indeed a unique, stage in history, when the ageing process has been reversed, with predictably grim consequences. We read about it again this week, only this time “teenage kicks” meant something else altogether; something literal and devastating. People in their fifties and even sixties are seen on our streets every day behaving like teenagers. In their eating and drinking habits, clothing, language, and leisure pursuits, they can be hard to distinguish from people young enough to be their grandchildren. No wonder those youngsters fail to grow up.Funeral directors across the land have spoken with sadness in recent years of the lack of respect shown to the dead. The passing of loved ones used to release feelings of love, loss and reflection. Now they are just excuses to have a bit of a larf. Death: just one more reason to roll out the barrel.
Peel was, in effect, 65 going on 17, with a teenager’s fear of disapproval. He made his name as a disc jockey playing any amount of bilge because, as he said, “people send me their tapes, so I play them”. Scared of being considered out of touch, he jumped on any bandwagon that happened to be passing.
It is also worth noting that he was a keen fan of football, a game (or industry) that tends to pickle its most fervent followers in a jelly of arrested development. Should you doubt that, feel free to attend any fixture today and study the behaviour of spectators in even the most expensive seats. If you have never been to a football match, you are in for the kind of surprise that greeted the good woodsfolk who stumbled across the Teddy Bears’ Picnic.
“Teenage dreams so hard to beat”. Feeble stuff. What it really means is: “I never grew up”.
Well, the ‘dimmest boy in the school’ inspired countless bands, writers, fans and even this little blog. I wonder if Michael Henderfuck will be remembered four days after his death, let alone four years. One could be forgiven for thinking that this article was written in 1955, so arid and pompous are the rhetoric and the sweeping generalisations. So JP never grew up. So what? That was his charm. I’m sure, by the way, that Pulp, the Smiths, Ballboy, Billy Bragg and Melys, to name merely a small fraction of the talent he encouraged over the years, would just love to be described as ‘bandwagons’. And do we have to prefer ‘serious’ music as a part of acting our age? I love classical music with a passion, but don’t allow it to restrict my listening experience. I also doubt that anybody would dare to denigrate the still-thrilling sound of the Undertones by suggesting that Wind In The Willows is any more poetic.
Henderson doesn’t get it, does he? That line was the rationale for over 35 years of broadcasting: it means, ‘always look for the new, don’t be satisfied with the familiar’. But that is what this writer is advocating: stolid refusal to change. Maybe Dylan Thomas would have been preferable to Wordsworth as an epitaph (oh, by the way, which Wordsworth was that? or is he just hoping we would be impressed by the allusion?): ‘Do not go gentle into that goodnight/Old age should burn and rave at close of day/Rage, rage against the dying of the light’. That’s poetry, and that’s the same sentiment as ‘Teenage dreams, so hard to beat’ (with or without comma…if we’re looking for solecisms, Thomas should have used an adverb instead of ‘gentle’, which is an adjective, but he’s a poet, isn’t he, so that’s OK).
There’s so much crap in this article: I suggest, Mr. Henderson, that you are being deliberately provocative in order to fill up column inches. Get down the fucking wine bar (taking care to avoid the rampaging football hooligans) and shut up. And stop trying to piss on our teenage dreams, because, wet though they might be, that’s what we enjoy. I’m sure the 100 plus people who read this blog every day will agree. Our closing hymn was #12 in the 2000 Festive Fifty, and most suitable it is.
Hefner, The Day That Thatcher Dies