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Does class have to come into everything, including rock?

I suppose some people who loathe rock festivals and want to pretend how much they enjoy playing the “working class hero” line might sympathise with Bruce Dickinson, who is the front-man for group Iron Maiden, in refusing to play at Glastonbury for it being “middle class”. (He was privately educated, which is ironic.) I normally really like Dickinson (if not his music, at all) due to his being a qualified pilot and having fairly pro-free market, no bullshit, views. And he cannot stand Coldplay and all that dreary stuff, so he must be a good egg overall. But something about all this makes me think, “Fcrissakes, can we just take class out of it and enjoy the music on its merits? Does it always have to have some frickin’ socio-economic agenda?”

Here is the item:

Bruce Dickinson, who attended the private Sharrow Vale boarding school in Sheffield, said the band had no interest in playing there. He said: “In the days when Glasto was an alternative festival it was quite interesting. “Now it’s the most bourgeois thing on the planet. Anywhere Gwyneth Paltrow [the actress] goes and you can live in an air-conditioned yurt is not for me.”

Dickinson, who is also a qualified commercial pilot, said he was glad he was instead playing at hard rock festival, Sonisphere, at Knebworth Park in Hertfordshire in July. “We’ll leave the middle classes to do Glastonbury and the rest of the great unwashed will decamp to Knebworth and drink lot of beer and have fun,” he said in an interview. Fellow heavy metal band Metallica are headliner’s at this year’s Glastonbury Festival, which starts next week and is attended by more 100,000 people. Tickets for the event, which sells out in minutes, are £210.

I can see his point about having a raving good time with cheap beer etc. Heck, I went to Le Mans last weekend to watch the 24-hour endurance motor race, which is the petrol-head equivalent of a rock festival with very, very fast cars blasting around a track in central France. There are lots of overweight middle-aged, lower-middle class guys (few women) who attend it, as well as the odd toff, group of rowdy youngsters and so on. I suspect even a few leftie-liberals go, in a guilty-pleasure sort of way. Think of Essex man and his European/North American versions all having a great time away from the other half and the kids. My wife stays at home with her friends and would not go there for love or money. And of course it is gloriously loud, vulgar, a hymn to non-PCness. But I don’t worry about the class backgrounds of those who go and would be a pretty sad individual if that sort of issue coloured my enjoyment. This weekend, I am in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot to watch the horses, and it doesn’t get more “upper class” in a cliched way than that.

Can we please, just for once, take the class obsession out of every such event? Please. Pass the champagne.

34 comments to Does class have to come into everything, including rock?

  • Does class have to come into everything, including rock?

    For the English, yes, alas.

  • Heck, I went to Le Mans last weekend to watch the 24-hour endurance motor race, which is the petrol-head equivalent of a rock festival with very, very fast cars blasting around a track in central France.

    You really need to try the Bathurst 1000 some time.


  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    I’ve met office workers who insist they are not middle class. I’ve called them on it. They don’t seem to understand. I don’t think “middle class” is used to mean what the words say it means. I think people are conjuring with those words some negative stereotype or other.

  • “Upper Class” in Britain has some very negative stereotypes associated with it too, and does not necessarily imply that you have any money (although your ancestors would have). As a consequence, even people in the top one percent will describe themselves as “middle class” if they earned the money themselves, particularly if they did so in a regular job (even if they rose to CEO). People in the actual middle will want to dissociate themselves from such people and so will insist that they are not middle class.

    I am going to withdraw from this conversation in order to avoid madness now.

  • JP. I reckon you are being a bit hard on Dickinson here. When talk about class gets annoying is when it becomes a screen behind which truly bad ideas are being advanced without being spelt out clearly, like making education worse for everyone, or wrecking the economy with crippling taxes on high earners.

    But all Dickinson was doing was saying why he personally does not find Glasto as appealing as once he did, for an Iron Maiden gig.

    In thinking thus, he is surely displaying a lively sense of where his core market is. His fans are, or so I should guess, beer and sweat kind of people, not glass-of-wine Paltrow wannabes. Him going to Glasto rather than the other gig he prefers might well do him and Iron Maiden some significant commercial damage, pissing off loyal fans without getting nearly enough new ones to compensate.

    The fact that Dickinson himself went to a posh school doesn’t change any of that. On the contrary it may make it all the more necessary for him to reassure his most devoted fans that he is not going all posh in who he now wants to play to.

  • To emphasise the key point, Dickinson is not saying that Glasto should not happen and that those who enjoy it should not enjoy it, or perhaps even be forbidden from enjoying it. He is merely saying that it’s not for him and his fans. This strikes me as an entirely civilised attitude.

    Personally I would pay good money not to have to attend either of these events. I am now listening to Bach played on the piano, on my CD player.

  • PeterT

    Rock is not as we know just about the music, but culture. If Iron Maiden performed their music dressed in tuxedos at a sitting only concert hall venue a lot of fans would be disappointed. No doubt such a performance might be interpreted by some as a “contribution to the discourse about post modern interpretations of classical heavy metal” or some such contrived nonsense.

    Anyway the point again…. oh yes, I think it is perfectly OK to value cultural as well as the musical aspects to a musical performance. After all, how would you feel if when you turn up at the Royal Box at Ascot people are walking around in torn t-shirts, or brown shoes heaven forbid.

  • Mr Ed

    Mr Dickinson is a man of many talents, a commercial pilot and a keen aviation enthusiast, he has always struck me as a good egg.

    Might ‘middle-class‘ be an allusion to ‘right-on, whinging, PC, organic yoghurt-eating, sandal wearing, veggie, collectivist, ‘worthy’, greeny, crystal-gazing wastes of space?’ or am I hoping for too much?

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Brian, maybe I was a bit over the top, but I guess it would have been better had BD used a term such as “genteel” instead, since I guess that the issue is that he thinks Glastonbury is now too tame, and all a bit, well, calm, rather than raucous, as one of his gigs will be, and are. No debate on that.

  • Gene

    Perhaps as an American I do not fully understand the British definition of middle class, but to my mind anything remotely identified with Gwyneth Paltrow cannot possibly be middle class. (And of course anyone sensible enough to steer clear of that silly woman at all times certainly has something going for him.) Can anyone enlighten me about what I’m missing?

  • I recently met a woman at a wedding who told me several times that she was from a “middle class” background. I found her mentioning it odd, as if she was trying to persuade me of something. And her subsequent behaviour was either devoid of middle class values as I understood them to be, or full of what nowadays are middle class values. As a friend pointed out to me just today when I made a remark on contemporary Britain, I’ve probably been away too long. The place has changed, and I always thought it was other people who were supposed to say that, not me.

  • Rob

    The BBC are sending over 300 (!!) staff there. That’s a decent marker of what it is like.

  • Mr Ed

    The BBC are sending over 300 (!!) staff there.

    No further questions, your Honour.”

  • The BBC are sending over 300 (!!) staff there. That’s a decent marker of what it is like.

    Plus one of the towers has been named after Tony Benn. No wonder Bruce wants to stay away!

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    More than 300 staff! Are you serious

  • Sam Duncan

    “Him going to Glasto rather than the other gig he prefers might well do him and Iron Maiden some significant commercial damage, pissing off loyal fans without getting nearly enough new ones to compensate.”

    Exactly. It’s marketing. Dickinson’s no fool, and he knows who he’s selling to.

    I wish I could afford to go to Le Mans. Still, the free internet coverage is excellent.

  • toolkien

    As the hipsters in the late 60’s or early 70’s used to say “it’s not Dickinson’s ‘bag’ “. Good enough. He’s entitled to his opinion. I myself am solidly middle class but do my best to not revel in the overly commercial or the “keeping up with the Jonses” that is a part of the middle class (at least in the American Mid-West). Nor do I try and exude an “above it all” pretense either. I look for some finer things in life that are truly special (a five star restaurant) as means allow while enjoying some of the baser (to some tastes) things of life (cheap beer and AC/DC). Nor do I put on a “I’m one of the blue collar common men” in fear of offending anyone. I basically live my life with what I enjoy, seek people who share a particular interest, and not live my life in a way to live up to someone else’s pretense (middle-middle class living beyond their means to impress others in the middle class, being upper class and “roughing it”, being lower class and stumbling through a thought with malapropisms). Hopefully this is Dickinson’s meaning because I like me some Iron Maiden. Of course he’s much wealthier than I, and he has a particular fan base to not alienate, so there’s likely some pretense embedded in his statement. After all, the band TOOL (a part of my moniker) had to reconcile – for their fan-base – being a mouth piece for white-male angst while gorging on lobster and high cost champagne. Their response? “Fuck off”. No desire to be anyone’s mouth piece nor succumb to pretense. So there’s no crime in not liking the things that the median, plus or minus a standard deviation, consume but the trick is to not be a prig about it or be a suck-up.

  • Barry Sheridan

    I suppose it all depends on what you mean by class. As for me, well as I spectate on how people behave, people that is of all types, I see no class, just a lot of people united in the way they look and the way they behave. So then, quite what is Bruce Dickinson on about?

  • RAB

    Might ‘middle-class‘ be an allusion to ‘right-on, whinging, PC, organic yoghurt-eating, sandal wearing, veggie, collectivist, ‘worthy’, greeny, crystal-gazing wastes of space?’ or am I hoping for too much?

    In which case he’s talking about the wrong Festival…That’s WOMAD he’s talking about there. 😉

    I am a Glasto veteran, by the way,went to the very first one. Subsequently in sunshine and snow, flood and plaque,mud that made the Somme look like Blackpool Promenade, and may just post on it over at Counting Cats soon.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Class is culture is style. Dickinson described Glasto as “bourgeois”.

    Since the time of Moliére, the “bourgeoisie” have been stereotyped as conventional and pretentious (not without cause). “Bourgeoisie” != “economic middle-class”, BTW – Moliére’s target was quite wealthy.

    But more recently, anything which is not “transgressive” is put down as “bourgeois”. In From Bauhaus to Our House (1981), Tom Wolfe summed up the acrid “Modernist” architectural esthetic, enforced from the 1930s on, as “not bourgeois”.

    So the question is what Dickinson means: that Glasto is now conventional, pretentious, and therefore boring, or insufficiently transgressive.

    I would say the former.

  • bloke in spain

    If I didn’t go to the first ever Glastonbury, it was the one after. Michael Eavis had hair FFS!. Those days, attending a festival, any festival, could be fraught. I saw vehicles pulled over by the police because their occupants were too “hippy”. They’d smash the lights, break the wipers then declare the vehicle unroadworthy & not to be driven. I’ve watched them search hitchhikers’ rucksacks by tipping the contents on the wet road then tread over them in heavy boots.
    That the Glastonbury tower has been dedicated to the Second Viscount Stansgate, a member of the government who conducted a policy of persecution on the highways of Britain & who personally strove to destroy radios Caroline, London etc tells me all I need to know about 2014’s Glastonbury.

  • Vinegar Joe

    I’m sitting here this morning listening to Pulp’s Different Class……….

  • Vinegar Joe

    And I refuse to go anywhere and pay to be subjected to “hip-hop”……

  • We have the same “class” nonsense Over Here, except that the distaste is directed at lower-middle-class White people — “rednecks”, for those unfamiliar with the class. Its embodiment is not music, but car racing: NASCAR.

    If you want to get a wealthy U.S. liberal [some redundancy] to start pissing froth, start a conversation about “NASCAR Nation”. (If you want to see a musical example of NASCAR Nation, try this little snippet. Then imagine how a New York Times reader/journalist would describe what he just saw.)

  • Snag

    I wrote to the Daily Telegraph the following letter which I doubt will be published.

    “The fact that Bruce Dickinson’s opinion that Glastonbury is too bourgeois is a front page story in the Daily Telegraph probably proves him correct.”

  • RAB

    Vinegar Joe.

    Glastonbury now encompasses everything you can possibly imagine and an awful lot you would never come up with in your wildest dreams/nightmares. You don’t have to have the Hip Hop if you don’t want to.

    Yes bloke in spain, in the early years things were indeed fraught. I covered the 1979 and 1981 festivals all on my lonesome for Sounds Magazine, something that is utterly impossible now. As we were approaching the festival down the Somerset lanes, the Police were pulling stop and search shit on almost vehicle, just to fuck us hippies around. But we had a big press sticker on the windshield, so they let us pass unhindered.

    The only news of the festival you got in the MSM in those days were how many drug arrests were made, did someone die? was there a birth? Now the BBC send 300 staff and you can watch it on three channels almost continuously. C’est la Vie eh? If I can dig out my old cuttings and scan them, I will definitely do that post over on CCIZ.

  • David Crawford

    Funny thing is, Metallica could find their way to playing both Knebworth and Glastonbury this year. Methinks maybe Iron Maiden didn’t like the time-slot offered or their placement in the line-up. So, declining to play, IM decide to try and earn extra publicity and some “right-on man” votes by blasting Glastonbury.

  • Rob

    Michael, agreed, I second that Bathurst recommendation.
    If you want a really good weekend away with your mates, beer and general idiocy, camp up the top of the mountain.
    Doesn’t matter much if you are interested in the racing or not.
    The only thing that can spoil it a bit is if the NSW police get a bit above themselves, which comes and goes over the years.
    IoM TT is another one. Splendid police there.

  • Regional

    Mister Ed,
    It’s amasing the number of people who are well off consider themselves sophisticated but have very ordinary mindsets. As for me, I know I’m an effwit.

  • DocMartyn

    I went to a performance of Richard III about 20 years ago and laughed out loud at the wooing scene and his monologue afterwards.
    The posh wanker next to me looked daggers at me and most of the audience treated the play as a sacrament; they were there because it was ‘culture’, and not because it is a very funny and quite wonderful piece of work.

  • RAB

    Spot on Sensible shoes!

  • Kevin B

    DocMartyn, I was at the Royal Opera House on Monday for a perfomance of Tosca, and the audience was quite prepared to laugh at the amusing bits. For instance when Tosca is having her hissy fit in Act I, we were tittering away quite happily and we even had a good laugh after Vissi d’arte, Tosca’s desperate plea to God where she complains, “After all I’ve done for you, this is how you repay me.”

    Mind you, a lot of it was due to the suberb acting and singing of Sondra Radvanofsky as Tosca and Bryn Terfel as Scarpia. Sondra had been wildy applauded and brava’d after Vissi d’Arte and when it had all died down, Scarpia added his own ironic golf clap.

    Great theatre and the toffs and plebs and corporate wankers share the Opera House and share the experience. So no, class doesn’t have to come into music.

  • Richard Thomas

    Much as I like the music, I have to say that over the years, I’ve heard a few things from Bruce Dickinson that makes me think he is not a great friend to liberty (nothing special, just the usual woolly-thinking nonsense).

    As to Metallica. Meh, they ain’t what they were. I saw Maiden last year and they are still on their game (Though I’m still not completely comfortable with that Gers fellow).

  • Rich Rostrom

    Kim du Toit @ June 19, 2014 at 9:08 pm:We have the same “class” nonsense Over Here, except that the distaste is directed at lower-middle-class White people — “rednecks”, for those unfamiliar with the class. Its embodiment is not music, but car racing: NASCAR.

    We do have the same thing, but it’s not the anti-“NASCAR nation” prejudice. For the liberal culture snobs, those people are mere barbarians, lumpenproles.

    The real anti-middle-class animosity is directed at “suburbia”, the “country club set”, “suits”. I’m going to pull seniority here: you haven’t been in America long enough to really grasp this tradition.

    It goes back to the 1920s, when H. L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis sneered at the “booboisie”. It flourished in the 1950s with films like The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Its anthem was the 1962 “folk song” “Little Boxes” (written by Malvina Reynolds, child of Jewish radicals and Cal-Berkeley grad, a hit for NYC Communist Pete Seeger), aimed at people who “all drink their martinis dry”. The great “counter-culture” rebellion of the 1960s was not against rural or Southern or working-class norms, it was against the middle class life of mainstream America and its exemplar Richard Nixon. What spawned the rage of the feminists: wife-beating among the underclass? No, it was the mind-numbing oppression of suburban housewifery.

    Ever since, the goal of fashionable art has been to be transgressive, to épater les bourgeois. The sneer is directed at art that refuses to transgress.