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Jewish World Review June 4, 2002 / 23 Sivan, 5762

Diana West

Diana West
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Can rock gods save the queen? | Burbling on about the historic spectacle of Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee and the centrality of tradition is probably best left to Britishers. But there's one aspect of the jubilee celebration that, far from being anachronistic, spotlights a more universal and thoroughly postmodern phenomenon.

After months of puzzling over why "the Party at the Palace" -- next week's rock concert at Buckingham Palace marking the queen's half-century on the throne -- has held such a ghastly fascination for me, I've finally figured it out. First, the palace announced the headliners: Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Tom Jones and Paul McCartney. Rod Stewart and Tony Bennett have since signed on, along with newer acts including Atomic Kitten and Mis-Teeq. "There appears to be a fervent hope that 30-year-old Dido will perform and lower the average age of the cast," the London Telegraph noted.

Next came the royal rock video put together by Sir Michael Peat, Keeper of the Privy Purse, for what was billed as a palace press "presentation." This included tracks by the Beatles, decibels cranked -- natch -- along with a half-century's worth of queenly imagery welded to concert clips by Cliff Richards, Jimi Hendrix and Freddy Mercury of Queen (the group, not the monarch). Talk about a bad trip. According to the Telegraph, Sir Privy Purse wasn't hoping "to show the Palace was 'with it,' but simply to impart information." For instance: Friends don't let queens go to rock concerts?

This month, courtiers announced they'd snagged rocker and reality-TV-millionaire Ozzy Osbourne, fresh from his addled display (sorry, smash success) before a fawning press corps at the White House Correspondents Dinner this spring. Did the queen herself make the request?

"The queen was said to have been kept informed of who had been invited, though not necessarily consulted," the Guardian reported, which makes you wonder what the point of a crown really is. As one palace official put it, "We have taken the very best of advice, mainly from the BBC."

Et tu, Beeb? Here, apparently, are more results of that advice: "Queen to sing yeah, yeah, yeah," headlined the Telegraph this week, heralding the biggest story since Ronald Reagan was shoehorned into singing "We Are the World." "The Queen is to join Sir Paul McCartney on-stage," the newspaper reported, "and 'almost certainly' sing along" during a performance of All You Need Is Love. Noting that the song opens with the French anthem -- odd choice right there for a British jubilee -- the paper also provided the first lines for easy reference: "Love, love, love. Love, love, love. Love, love, love...."

Stop. This must be a put-on, or maybe a government sting operation -- or even a royal coup masterminded by Prince Charles to reveal that the Empress Has No Judgment. If not, this pending union of rock royalty and royalty royalty is so attractively awful it must mean something. After all, while Lennon and McCartney and The Rest didn't go to war against the queen, per se, they did attack the vast British middle class who hung her image in the parlor -- sans irony -- in obeisance to fealty, honor, duty and other soul-senses made obsolete by the rock revolution. Surely, culturally significant sparks are flying as the aged advocates of Wild Abandon prepare to meet the immutable keeper of the Stiff Upper Lip. But no. There has been no discernible tut-tutting, no Letters to the Editor wondering what the country is coming to, not a single feather ruffled or otherwise displaced. No one has noticed anything amiss about an event that will bring together a man who bites bats with a woman who has a Royal Taster. The cultural revolution isn't just over, it's forgotten.

This wasn't the case in 1977 during the queen's last jubilee, when the Sex Pistols (remember them?) prompted vestigial clucks of outrage with their banal if nasty punk anthem, "G-d Save the Queen." The song was actually banned for a time from the land and the airwaves, prompting a performance on the Thames that ended in a few cheap thrills and several arrests. Those were the days when no rock star worth his authenticity would have dared cross the palace moat -- nor would he have been asked. Boundaries like that don't exist anymore.

Which may, in the end, be the moral of this concert. As the queen is a symbol, so too is her no-boundaries jubilee. Such a phenomenon, however, is by no means limited to the British realm -- or even to the realm of culture. A no-boundary world is all around us, from bar-to-boardroom vulgarity in the language, to the line-crossing improprieties in the Catholic Church, to the very porousness of our national borders. Which leads where? Keep an eye on Ozzy and Elizabeth to find out.

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JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Diana West