Monday, 30 March 2009

My face is finished, my body's gone...

INT: Small kitchen. Tasteful but not extravagant. Morning.

William Shatner, Lee Majors and David Soul are sitting round a table having breakfast. Shatner's eating Marmite on toast, Majors is sulkily staring into his coffee and Soul is looking at the small ads in Variety.

Soul: Hey guys, here's one: Producer seeks experienced talent. No timewasters. Sounds perfect for us!
Majors (scowling): Yeah right! We all know what that means...
Soul (hands in air): Tell us...
Majors: He's looking for chicks!
Shatner: It could be guys... and if it's experience this producer wants, then hey ...
Majors: Yeah, whatever. Even if he is looking for dudes, we're 'overqualified'.

That's an excerpt from the forthcoming series Six Million Dollar Men. No, of course it isn't, I made it up, but hey, if someone could get those fellas together to do comedy I'd watch it. Majors would have to agree to try and shag anything to reflect his model-marrying in real life. Incidentally, I didn't know Majors markets his own hearing aid, called inevitably The Lee Majors Bionic Hearing Aid - tagline: it won't cost you $6 million but you'll think it's worth it. Something us tinnitus sufferers could use, I'm sure.

Anyway, the reason I mention Steve Austin, Hutch and Kirk is because I've been musing on the concept of over qualification. Last year, whilst I was managing the band, I would occasionally put myself up for job interviews and a couple of times when I never heard back from a submitted CV I would enquire why and be told: you are overqualified. Ouch.

I went to the musical of Priscilla Queen of the Dessert last week (I thoroughly recommend it, by the way - and I hate camp, as you know.). Anyway, in the pivotal role was Jason Donovan. His body is still lean and taut, as he's keen to stress by stripping down to pants in the first five minutes. But he's aged in the face like anyone in their forties has a habit of doing. And so what? He's not the greatest actor, neither is he much competition in the singing department for his co-stars but he does a good job; he's convincing and you're rooting for him. Although not in the Australian sense of the word, I stress. The point is, in the age area he is 'overqualified'. If he was still flogging the cute blonde boy next door it would not work. He would not work. But he's bent his image to fit the market and he's flourishing. Blimey, never thought I'd hear myself defending the Donovan.

And isn't that what everyone is doing? Particularly in the current economic climate. You can tell the people that aren't doing it - the people who have one thing they do and stick to that - people like Oasis, for example, but I suppose you could argue that they don't need to thank you very much - but what happens when Liam does start to lose his insufferable good looks? Well, perhaps he'll retire and do something else. Or carry on Jagger-style with all his self-pronounced 'laughter lines' ("Nothing's that funny" said George Melly)

Or what about Kylie? There is nothing else that people want Kylie to be other than a diminutive, multisexual cypher, once she begins to look her age (which, I admit, may never happen) whither the wispy songs with vaguely suggestive lyrics? Nick Cave - now there's a man who has made a career by sticking to his schtick. In fact, even dueting with Kylie he never went off-message.

That thing I wrote for the Guardian last week about rock stars going off-message has got me thinking. It seems to me that maybe that's what many stars are going to have to do in order to survive. In a world where anything digitizable can be free, you can no longer rely on residual back catalogue sales from CDs or DVDs to keep you going. So you are going to have to carry on working like the rest of us and to do that you're going to have to keep relevant to the market. Sure, if you're Leonard Cohen or Van Morrison you can charge your affluent audiences £200 a ticket for the privilege of seeing you, but you can only do that if you have their stature and crucially, you can't continue to do that every year. So what you surely must do is start thinking laterally and do other stuff. If you're Cohen you can sell your art which sticks to the message and keeps your image safe. But what if you're Michael Jackson, you're 50 years old and you've just sold out 50 O2s? Now there's someone who's overqualified. Surely it's time to leave the Moonwalk behind and just perform some fantastic tracks - use the great voice and occasionally do that thing with the foot, sure. But don't try to pretend you're 25 and book an elephant and 100 Masai warriors...

So many friends of mine are doing their bit for reinvention and going off-message - like my pal I described last week who picked up the Twitter baton (the Twaton?) and ran with it. Or another friend who is lecturing to music students after having been MD of a large music publisher. Re-invention may be deemed undignified by some, but often it's far less dignified to try to remain the same in the face of change - you can end up looking a bit of a Cnut.

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