Monday, July 16, 2012

Moment of madness

In their forensic examination of last week's trial of John Terry, this weekend's British newspapers have all come to more or less the same conclusion: that the legal proceedings were "unedifying" owing to the - Shock! Horror! - remarkable revelation that professional footballers use "industrial" language towards each other.

For those of you still curious to know what sort of language we're talking about - and I must assume you are rubbish at word puzzles like Hangman if you have been unable to complete the asterisked tracts of copy in your daily newspaper - you can go online and download the full 15-page judgement from Howard Riddle, Senior District Judge (Chief Magistrate) of the Westminster Magistrates' Court in the case of Regina -v- John Terry.

Fitting for the absurdity of the case, the deliberation contains such inadvertently funny comments as: "It is obvious, and again not in dispute, that at the time that John Terry said “black c**t” and “f*****g knobhead” he was angry." I've never met Riddle and have no idea what he sounds like, but I can't help hearing in my head these phrases being delivered by Rowan Atkinson doing his famous schoolteacher monologue.

Anyway, not wishing to go over the Terry trial again, it is the word "knobhead" that draws my interest today. It may be a splendidly adolescent playground charge but - man alive! - does it fit whoever on Saturday night was responsible for turning off the PA system in London's Hyde Park at Hard Rock Calling, just as Bruce Springsteen was saying goodnight to the crowd.

Unlike most acts of terrorism, no-one has yet claimed personal responsibility for this act of mealy-mouthed officiousness. Therefore we'll just have to stick with calling him, her or them, "Knobhead". Hard Rock Calling's promoters, Live Nation, has said: "It was unfortunate that the three hour-plus performance by Bruce Springsteen was stopped right at the very end but the curfew is laid down by the authorities in the interest of the public's health and safety."

What on God's green could have made Springsteen being allowed to thank 76,000 fans, his band and Sir Paul McCartney, who joined The Boss on stage for a memorable finale, a few minutes over the uptight 10.30pm curfew a danger to the public's health and safety? The music had ended, and there was probably going to be more disturbance to local residents around Hyde Park from people just leaving the site for the next hour. Actually, living around there, you are probably disturbed by the noise of traffic every day than by five minutes of Bruce Springsteen calling everybody "awesome".

The reaction has been understandably furious, especially as all who attended have attested to have witnessed one of the great moments in rock music in recent years. Steve van Zandt, one of Springsteen's guitarists and the man who memorably played consiglieri Silvio Dante in The Sopranos (which, ironically, also ended abruptly), led the invective: "One of the great gigs ever in my opinion. But seriously, when did England become a police state?" he ranted on Twitter.

And he went on: "We break curfews in every country but only English cops needs to 'punish us' by not letting us leave until the entire crowd goes. Is there just too much fun in the world? We would have been off by 11 if we'd done one more. On a Saturday night! Who were we disturbing? The cops got nothing more important to do? How about they go catch some criminals instead of fucking with 80,000 people having a good time?"

Stephen Merchant, Ricky Gervais' goggly-eyed writing partner also took to Twitter to express his frustration: "Ashamed to be British right now. Springsteen and McCartney playing Twist & Shout in Hyde Park and council pulled the plug cos of curfew. WTF."

Applying customary diplomacy, as well as a cheeky plug for London 2012, Mayor Boris Johnson branded the muting as " excessively efficacious decision. You won't get that during the Olympics. If they'd have called me, my answer would have been for them to jam in the name of the Lord."

The identity of "Knobhead" is likely to be a combination of a Live Nation paranoid about never being granted a licence again by Westminster City Council, and the council itself, who conveniently tried to distance themselves from the killjoy moment.

"Concert organisers, not the council, ended last night's concert in Hyde Park," explained Westminster council's Leith Penny, adding that to comply with their licence, Live Nation were allowed to continue the concert until 10.30pm. "Licences are granted until certain times to protect residents in the area from noise late at night."

It is ironic that 50 years ago last Thursday, in a venue less than 25 minutes' walk away from the Hard Rock Calling stage, the Rolling Stones made their stage debut in a time when music was just finding its feet in breaking down the sort of cultural fascism that regarded pop music as subversive. Even if, today, bands like the Stones, as well as Springsteen and McCartney dance with the devil at 'corporate' gigs like Hard Rock Calling, has the country that spawned some of the greatest rock bands in history forgotten what it's like just let things go on a little longer? "Knobhead" really does cover it.

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