Lee was incensed. Gary shook his head sorrowfully. Steve turned round, ready to storm off. “That’s completely out of order,” Lee told the journalist whose question had produced these reactions. “How dare you talk about our music?! We are a serious band. We’re nothing like those ” he grimaced ” boy bands, with their minor sevenths and their harmonics …”
“I’m sorry, ” said the journalist, trying to hold her ground, “but you must admit that the history of rock is full of bands with tunes. The idea that music isn’t important and it’s only about the looks is hard to stomach, no?”
Two minutes earlier the band had been happily chatting about their experiments in moisturization and about the vulgarity of retroists who denounce plastic surgery, but she had lost them with the question about music. How stupid of her! What would she tell here editor?
Later that night, after transcribing their answers, she began idly imagining an alternate universe, the negative image of our own, where rock stars would be judged solely on the quality of their music, rather than their looks; where a successful band, like Bloc Party, could be judged according to quality of their songs, rather than the quality of their haircuts. Imagine
Sorry, forgive me this fantasy; but I often feel it would make as much sense to rate bands according to their image than witter on about their music.
Take Gifthorse, for instance, whose Childhood Gang Reunion E.P. is playing as I write. Musically, they sound like the Auteurs covering Morrissey, with an emotional Thom Yorke singing. They have the brash guitars of After Murder Park and the sensually melancholic lyrics of Vauxhall and I (“Touch me there, down south.”). No minds are blown, but neither is one consumed with ennui. In the narrow and fallow genre of wimpy indie they are above average.
However, looking at this pair of Gifthorses is another matter. Brian and Kristian resemble Bo’Selecta caricatures whose wardrobe was provided by BHS, making one ask if image really matters? Why can’t we overcome these aesthetic hurdles and judge a band solely according to their music?
The reason, I believe, is because bands are mirrors – we see ourselves in them. For example, certain corrupted minds see a poet and a visionary when the scrawny, doe-eyed figure of Pete Doherty gets up to sing. Others take the cold sensuality of Madonna to be evidence of glamour. Whatever qualities you see in the figure on stage fills and glows in the mind.
It’s not so much that ugliness is intolerable to the record/ringtone buying public, rather that if you are ugly you need to make more of an effort refining your image. Whether this is through outlandish attire (Slade, Manic Street Preachers) or playing the seer (Dylan, Mark E. Smith) is up to you. But until Gifthorse start caking on the glitter eyeshadow or making pronouncments from on high, I fancy they’ll find it hard to break through.