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Revenge of Popular Culture #7: Celebrity

“Kanye West – through infinite rounds of crazy tweets and confessional interviews is attempting to create God in his own image” (ROPC #6: link)

Deification commandment one: Get thee the media on your side. At least, get them interested. They don’t have to like you, but they do need to know you, for they are the modern God-makers. Revel in thy infamy. Better still, recreate the media in thine own image. Pull thee an Elton and guest edit a national newspaper for a day.

[Handbrake on for a quick disclaimer: Elton John is a pro-active, dedicated campaigner towards Aids awareness. His charity, The Elton John Aids Foundation, has raised over $220 million - money that supports Aids-prevention programmes across Europe, Africa and Asia. Elton's guest editing spot at the The Independent newspaper on World Aids Day was primarily aimed at promoting awareness of a campaign that he has been intimately involved with for over 20 years. It was also a bit silly. And he has a new album out, although that's probably besides the point.]

So, like Bono before him, Elton rocks up at The Independent’s Kensington offices, ready to get his fingers inky. He chairs an editorial meeting, commissions content from showbiz pals and moans about the long hours and hard work involved in pulling an issue together. It’s a normal newspaper day essentially – stack-full of dick-swinging, cronyism and bitching – except most newspaper editors didn’t write Rocket Man.

Elton’s done his homework, so he avoids the pitfalls of guest editing that lesser musicians have bundled into before. He doesn’t do bonkers (Antony Hegarty’s takeover of the Guardian’s music site), he doesn’t do pointless (Vice magazine’s “Anti-music issue“, edited by Born Against singer Sam McPheeters) and crucially, crucially he’s not Bob Geldof so it’s immeasurably easier to enjoy his stint as head hack.

For one day Elton is news and Elton is News. So the BBC follow him round the office . They interview Independent staff and an editor insinuates that if a big breaking news story were to come up, Elton would make the call as to whether it would bump the World Aids Day coverage from the front page. A nice young journalist leans over Sir Elt and says “Because your manifesto’s quite long we’ve allocated a longer…” before the BBC crew move away. But you can complete that sentence anyway you like – Space? … Page? … Newspaper?! Whichever – stop the press until Elton says so.

None of this – not the editorship, nor the newspaper, not even this spin-off piece of shim-sham – is about music in a traditional sense. It’s about charity and politics and celebrity and compromise. It’s about how the combination of musical notes that make up songs that we love have vast power. How Your Song goes from notes in Elton’s head to a global modern folk song to nominal editorial control of a newspaper formerly at the forefront of Britain’s independent press. For one day the owner of that sequence of notes directly dictated the news agenda at a national newspaper. That’s weird. And impressive. Powerful. Almost … God-like.



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