“Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there..?”
Joaquin Phoenix’s stunning reinterpretation of Batman’s arch nemesis the Joker, in the recently-released film of the same name, has rightly been lauded as one of the performances of the year. Phoenix excels as Arthur Fleck, a social outcast-cum-antihero that seeks social salvation through violence.
And Joker is nothing if not brutal. Film critic Peter Bradshaw, reviewing the movie for The Guardian, highlighted the “terrible revenge bloodbath” that concludes proceedings, while Vanity Fair even suggested that the film could be interpreted as offering justification for mass shootings.
Not one to bring the kiddies to, in other words.
[Spoiler alert: If you’ve not yet seen Joker, it’s probably best if you refrain from reading any further]
Violence aside, an aspect of the movie that has similarly earned plenty of column inches is the use of Rock and Roll Part 2, a single by disgraced former glam rock star Gary Glitter, in one of its most iconic scenes.
As CNBC reported during the week of the film’s release, “Glitter, whose real name is Paul Gadd, is reportedly expected to receive a lump sum for allowing the recording to be used in Joker. He is also thought to be in line for music royalties depending on the success of movie theatre ticket sales, DVD sales and film soundtrack sales.”
In the past few days, it has emerged that all royalties are likely to go not to the jailed rocker, but to Universal Music Publishing Group and a number of other associated parties, which bought the rights to the track more than two decades ago.
But that hasn’t stopped Rock and Roll Part 2 from being on the receiving end of plenty of vitriolic tut-tutting from the social media galleries.
The track, written by Glitter alongside Mike Leander, was released in March 1972 as a single from the Liberace-styled rocker’s debut album, Glitter.
Today, given its author’s lurid indiscretions – Gadd began a 16-year prison sentence in 2015 for attempted rape, indecent assault and the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old girl (not to mention a series of previous crimes) – Rock and Roll Part 2 is undoubtedly ‘tarnished’.
But does this mean we should turn our backs on what is still an outstanding piece of music; arguably one of the greatest rock instrumentals of all time? There is a case to be made both for and against this argument.
Lest we forget, Rock and Roll Part 2 has a longstanding connection with US sports, where, along with Steam’s Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye and Queen’s We Will Rock You, it has historically been associated with the spoils of victory.
As a 1992 Sports Illustrated article noted, the track even had the ability to turnaround the flagging form of the legendary Chicago Bulls (complete with Michael Jordan) in the 1992 playoffs, as it was broadcast over the tannoy during a torrid Game 6.
“The standing-room-only crowd of almost 19,000 responded as predictably as Pavlov’s dogs,” author Lisa Twyman explained. “The fans were on their feet, swaying and clapping. Some punched the air as they belted out the song’s trademark ‘Hey!’ After the game a few observers suggested that it was this unleashing of fan energy that had helped the Bulls charge on to their 97-93 win and second consecutive NBA title.”
Fast forward two decades, and Rock and Roll Part 2 had crept onto the sporting world’s blacklist, as news of Glitter’s dalliances came to the fore. But few other tracks had the same impact as the glam stomper; as Yahoo News reported in 2013, the New Jersey Devils sought to replace the song with Bon Jovi’s This Is Our House, to be met by a chorus of boos.
As Yahoo’s Greg Wyshynski reported, “Rock and Roll Part II is as much a part of the Devils’ legacy as [legendary goaltender] Martin Brodeur, parking lot celebrations and Christmas tree jerseys. Yes, even though its performer is a monster.”
Which brings us to the track’s current status, in a sort of rock limbo; both hailed and reviled at the same time.
In this era of the ‘rock biopic’, it’s abundantly clear that there will never be a Rocketman or Bohemian Rhapsody-style picture about Gary Glitter. In fact, even the substance from which he took his name – glitter – is now seen as a polluter of the oceans; a social nasty.
The passing of time will determine how Gary Glitter will be remembered, and such is the nature of his crimes that his copybook will likely be forever blackened. But despite this, I would argue that Rock and Roll Part 2 deserves a place in music’s pantheon: it is still exciting, still exuberant.
There are parallels (albeit perhaps not as stark) with comedian Bill Hicks’ exhortation to those labelling drugs as society’s number one menace: “If you don’t believe drugs have done good things for us, then go home and burn all your records, all your tapes, and all your CDs because every one of those artists who have made brilliant music and enhanced your lives? Real fucking high on drugs.”
Or as Yeats famously wrote, ‘How can we know the dancer from the dance?’ Rock and Roll Part 2 is an example of how art can transcend the artist: a timeless rock anthem penned by a disgraced star.
I have no doubt that when putting together the soundtrack for Joker, director Todd Phillips was acutely aware of the controversy Rock and Roll Part 2 would cause, as journalists and social-media junkies alike pointed to its darkened origins; something that upon discovery inevitably adds to the film’s allure.
For example, would the Joker’s descent into madness have proved as impactful when set to the music of Bon Jovi? Or another perennial sporting fave, Kernkraft 400’s Zombie Nation?
As one of the oft-repeated lines in Joker goes, “I hope my death makes more cents than my life”. That typo, while perhaps unintentional on the part of hapless Arthur Fleck, is particularly telling when the movie’s soundtrack is considered.
After all, glam rock is long dead, but Rock and Roll Part 2 continues to prove a valuable moneyspinner, close to 50 years on from its creation… and with or without its creator.