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Aug 07

GARY GLITTER – “I’m The Leader Of The Gang (I Am)”

FT + Popular99 comments • 7,519 views

#335, 28 July 1973

A question I’m honestly unsure of the answer to: if Michael Jackson had been found guilty of child molestation, what would have happened to his songs? Would “Billie Jean” or “Beat It” have emptied party dancefloors? Would “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” or “Human Nature” suddenly have become harder to like? And if Pete Townshend’s ‘research purposes’ hadn’t kept him out of legal trouble, would The Who’s old tracks have fallen from grace?

My hunch is that – after the news story had died down – the music would’ve been largely unaffected: already worked deep into pop history, it could be separated from the putative crimes. But in Gary Glitter’s case this didn’t happen – his music has been infected by his convictions for sex offences. His hits – so emblematic of seventies pop when I was growing up – have vanished from all that era’s compilations (Alvin Stardust seems to have been the main beneficiary here). Glam rock CDs occasionally feature the Glitter Band but leave Gary out. A couple of foreign Greatest Hits CDs surface on Amazon from around 2001, and then nothing.

It’s worth asking why this has happened. One reason, of course, might be that my hunch is wrong and that a child sex conviction of any kind means erasure from rock history. Another sensible inference would be that Glitter’s records weren’t good enough to survive exposure to his exposure. You could also argue that, even if they were good (and “Rock And Roll Part 2” is really good), their upfront party pop couldn’t bear the weight of darker associations in the way some records could.

Whatever the cause, listening to “I’m The Leader Of The Gang” and putting Glitter’s downfall out of my mind isn’t really an option. But is there anything in the record itself that makes the link so inescapable? This is a question I ask myself quite a lot when dealing with art by people who have done awful things. Take William Mayne, for instance, a children’s book writer of immense imaginative and empathic skill, and also convicted of serially abusing fans of his books. Is the thing that makes Mayne an excellent writer for children – his ear and head for how they talk and think – also what made him an effective paedophile, able to win and exploit their trust? An unpleasant thought, but that gift is also his art’s possible salvation: it’s not Mayne’s voice you’re hearing when you read his books. Whereas Gary is in your ear, informing you that he’s “the man who put the bang in gang”.

Hearing that, some kind of nervous chuckle is about the best he can expect. But it’s worth remembering that Glitter was never remotely a sinister figure before his conviction: he was always a largely comical one. My initial memories of him are of his eighties career, endless comebacks mocked in Smash Hits, and a Young Person’s Railcard advert with Gary in a facepack, supposedly trying to pass for under-26. A lame – but loveable – duffer who gave good show and was desperate to be young – this was his profile during his long twilight.

It probably wasn’t far from his profile back in his heyday – Glitter was a jobbing rock and roller who had seized hungrily on glam as a way to stardom, and maybe as a way to capture the remembered verve of rock and roll before the art school boys got hold of it. “I’m The Leader” kicks off with motorcycle noise lifted from the Shangri-Las but it has none of their sass, humour or emotion – it’s pure marching bludgeon, big on energy but doing nothing with it, leading the gang in tiny, repetitive circles. (It is to rock and roll what Calvin Harris is to eighties pop, you might say). It’s a cult-of-personality track made bearable because you know “the Leader” is a clown (“Who’d ever believe it?” he chirps, giving the game away) – and when suddenly he wasn’t a clown any more it couldn’t survive.

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Comments

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  1. 76
    Geir H on 23 Dec 2007 #

    One funny footnote here is that Cheap Trick’s debut single was called “‘Ello Kiddies” and obviously very influenced by Gary Glitter musically. Did they know something that the rest of the world didn’t by then…..???

  2. 77
    Mark G on 24 Dec 2007 #

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. 78
    Lena on 24 Dec 2007 #

    I thought it was called “ELO Kiddies”? Clearly next year I must get that album…

    The other day I saw some footage of him on TV from about this time – taken from TOTP or some such thing, I don’t know…and I know if I’d seen it as a little girl I would have been frightened…

  4. 79
    Geir H on 24 Dec 2007 #

    I think there are two elements that make it harder for Glitter than for any other of those people, really:

    – Michael Jackson’s music is obviously classic, while even before his downfall, you would never see any Gary Glitter albums in those lists of “Best albums of all time”. There might have been a “Rock’n’Roll Part 2” showing up in some singles or tracks lists, but that’s all. He was also largely hated by critics in his time, and was even quoted back then saying that his music wasn’t any good, but that it was a nice way to make money (and get laid… Well, he didn’t say that, but go figure…..)
    – Had he been caught with those images on his harddisk, and that it, it may have been different. Glitter, however, has spent the later part of his life travelling around the world to have sex with underage prostitutes. This puts him in a league of his own, really…

  5. 80
    Tony Tinsel on 22 Aug 2008 #

    Who says Gary Glitter wasn’t scary?…I was there man! Back in the ’70’s, when there were power cuts and your grandmother would tell the family tales about The Blitz while you sat huddled around a candle at night. Seeing Gary Glitter on Top Of the Pops back then used to make me hide behind the sofa just like seeing Daleks or Cybermen.

    His image wasn’t much different to those Dr. Who monsters. What with the shiny catsuits, tower boots, shoulder pads, grotesque Japanese kabuki performer make-up, and a hairdo like an electrocuted mulllet.

    I remember peering round the from behind the settee and seeing him shot from below by the camera, his face contorted into a pyschopathic mask of evil as he looked down into the lens with demented eyes.

    Don’t tell me that’s not scary son!

  6. 81
    Mark G on 22 Aug 2008 #

    Funnily enough, Geir’s last sentence has it spot on.

    There was some newspaper article that asked: Are Paedophiles mad or bad? We can’t have it both ways!

    And I thought, why not? Mad, for wanting, bad for actually going out and doing.

  7. 82
    DJ Punctum on 22 Aug 2008 #

    I think this may be the article you had in mind.

    Excellent piece with which I agree completely and thoroughly but sadly in the current wave of medieval hysteria its message is unlikely to be heard or heeded.

  8. 83
    Jonathan Bogart on 22 Sep 2008 #

    I’d just like to point out that at least from this American’s vantage point, Michael Jackson is no longer quite as classic as he once was over here (if indeed he ever was, but that gets into the basic rockism of the vast majority of Americans and can probably be ignored).

    (And as an aside, any legal complications of saying that I believe Jackson, Spector, et. al. to be guilty of the crimes of which they have been accused don’t exist for me. O.J. Simpson did it, too.)

    As DC notes, one in a hundred Americans would be able to identify Gary Glitter as the “author” of the omnipresent R&RP2; possibly one in a thousand would have heard of his bad behavior (I hadn’t until this blog); one in a million would care. This is not to say that Americans are freer from pedophile hysteria than Britons — if he were a household name Queen’s “We Will Rock You” would get even more use than it already does.

  9. 84
    DJ Punctum on 22 Sep 2008 #

    And I believe that people are innocent of crimes until or unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This, you understand, not being Iraq.

  10. 85
    Jonathan Bogart on 27 Sep 2008 #

    Your faith in the American legal system is a noble sentiment which does you credit.

  11. 86
    DJ Punctum on 27 Sep 2008 #

    Even if R Kelly in his press conference last week skirted around all the relevant questions with such sprightly aplomb that he should consider enrolling for three day eventing at the 2012 Olympics, he has still been found…well, it’s hard to say but from what I can gather it’s the American equivalent of that venerable old Scottish legal third way, “not proven.”

  12. 87
    Waldo on 10 Nov 2009 #

    HANG THE LEADER!!!!!

    Did any of the Populista catch that astonishing but quite mad little fantasy served up by C4 the other night, “The Execution of Gary Glitter”? It was presented as a news documentary set at a time when Parliament had restored the death penalty, not just for murder but also for child abuse. To stretch credibility further, kiddie fiddling overseas was also included in the new Criminal Justice Act and thus Paul Gadd was nicked, convicted and hanged. There were “interviews” with the female Home Secretary, as well as the prison chaplain and also the hangman. I guess this was a supreme black comedy.

    Basically we saw the Gadd character (brilliantly played by Hilton McRae) slowly deteriorate into a grizzing wreck begging for his life only to have this denied him by the mumsie-looking Home Sec at final appeal. I’m not at all sure what the point of it all was but it was curiously compelling viewing and I would urge any of our contributors, particularly fellow old lags and lassies, to try and grab it.

  13. 88
    Conrad on 10 Nov 2009 #

    Waldo I didn’t see it, but it’s concept disgusts me. It doesn’t surprise me alas.

  14. 89
    thefatgit on 10 Nov 2009 #

    I didn’t see it either, but if it’s aim was to spark off a new debate about the death penalty, then perhaps they could have chosen a less sensationalist approach.

  15. 90
    lonepilgrim on 7 Nov 2011 #

    Gary is the subject of the OneweekOneBand Tumblr this week, starting here:
    http://oneweekoneband.tumblr.com/post/12479722748/gary-glitter-plotting-history-an-introduction

  16. 91
    Lena on 17 Jul 2013 #

    Mungo Jerry go French…sort of: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/think-about-it-then-forget-it-mungo.html Thanks for reading, everyone!

  17. 92
    Lena on 30 Jul 2013 #

    Detroit Tomboy Saves Rock: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/grrl-power-suzi-quatro-48-crash.html Thanks for reading, everybody!

  18. 93
    karen on 7 Oct 2013 #

    I always thought that Gary Glitter was creepy, seedy, not a good person to be around if you were a teenage girl. There were others, too. I felt very uncomfortable around his music. Nor did I like Jimmy Saville – same reasons.

  19. 94
    Brooksie on 9 Oct 2013 #

    You could say that about half the Glam acts of the time; they were usually slightly older men who’d been in the industry longer than their new found fame indicated, and they were dressed in ridiculous tin foil and tinsel outfits surrounded by 12 year-old girls. In retrospect – very creepy. At the time – totally normal. “I felt very uncomfortable around his music.” That’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever heard.

  20. 95
    Mark G on 9 Oct 2013 #

    Hindsight is a wunnerbar t’ing.. How many of those acts seemed a bit, um, yeah, at the time, but subsequently (at the time of posting) have not been implicated in any kind of shenans? Even to the point of if someone had named the name and other people say “yeah, i always had my doubts about Him..” only to get the rejoinder “nonono I’m saying he *hasn’t* been arrested” and so forth?

  21. 96

    Hmmm. This is what I wrote last year re JSavile and hindsight. Shorter me: I no more buy “everybody knew” than I buy “all doubt exists only in hindsight”. Bcz (for example) I can remember my grandad putting his foot down about my sister going to a tot’s disco c.1970, on “these older young men are all creepy” grounds. My mum put her foot down harder — it was a famous family row. In this instance mum was right — no harm came, and it wasn’t grandad’s call — but of course predators could exploit exactly this (generational) dissonance, and did.

  22. 97
    Mark G on 9 Oct 2013 #

    VShortMe: I think a lot of people knew, but the trade-off was all the charitable stuff he did. I don’t necessarily think he did all that purely for the availability of xxxx, but I do think that he had the “all the good things here I have done, I am entitled to xxxx” message ends.

  23. 98
    Rory on 1 Mar 2015 #

    Alexis Petridis on the Gary Glitter fans who still follow the leader.

  24. 99
    Adam on 22 Mar 2015 #

    For further analysis: Dero in Pazz & Jop 2013: “Why Are People Finally Paying Attention to R. Kelly’s Many Crimes?” http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/2014/01/r_kelly_sex_tape_underage_crimes.php

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