I had a really interesting time presenting at Newcastle University last week. We had an interesting debate at the end of my lecture, which give me some ideas to consider the final chapter of my book. I am also considering some of the useful editorial comments I have received, in particular concerning why Sting disguising his Newcastle background in the first few years of The Police was given so much press.
Although Sting has been accused of and has accepted that he ‘disguised’ his Newcastle background during the early stages of his career in the late 1970s (when rock musicians were expected to be ‘authentic’), it could be argued that rock music has always been about self-invention. Rock vocalists such as Cliff Richard, Mick Jagger, Robert Plant and countless other sang/sing in American accents, but were never accused of neglecting their hometown backgrounds. Indeed artists such as Black Sabbath have been celebrated for portraying the authentic sound of the Birmingham steel industry, despite Ozzy Osborne’s American vocal inflections (see http://www.birminghampost.co.uk/whats-on/music/birmingham-birthplace-of-heavy-metal-4031445). Even the most ‘authentic’ of rock musicians’ are/were, in the words of Hugh Barker & Yuval Taylor, ‘Faking It’. Most people are aware that fake names abound in popular music, but it is usually less apparent that artist personas are also heavily disguised. Arguably the most famous example of this is Bob Dylan, often cited as an exemplar of authenticity, but who in reality is a buddle of disguises, most notably the playing down of his middle class background and the obvious visual and musical influences of Woody Guthrie. So the question is, why was Sting singled out as someone wanting to escape from his Geordie past? Is it that in the late 1970s, musicians from the provinces in the UK were not supposed to transcend their backgrounds? When he moved to London in 1977 was he expected to speak in a regional accent, in the same way that his Liverpudlian predecessors The Beatles had?
I am interested in any ideas anyone may have as to why such a big thing was made of Sting disguising his background. As typified by Dylan in the US and Joe Strummer in the UK (whose background was solidly middle class), is it deemed acceptable for middle class musicians to portray working class traits, but not the other way around? I am interested in any examples of other musicians who have experienced similar issues. Also – any examples of ‘middle class punks’ would be great. Facebook me or leave messages here. Thanks