Archived: Ringo Starr, Man of the People Or What?

Originally published as a FB Note, on 20 May 2008 at 22:09

So, it’s Friday night, Johnathan Ross is back on and his big guest is one time skin-beater Richard Starkey.

As you’d expect, he’s got an album out so it’s hardly like he’s on there because he wants to be anyway and boy did it show. Now the fact that you hardly see him anywhere gives you a clue as to just how in touch he is with the rest of the world.

When I’ve seen him in the past – and it would have been a while ago – he struck me just as the nutty former drummer, the one it seems that everyone loved but no-one fancied. Okay, I’ll say it. The thick Beatle. Seemingly at the the time though, he played up to it and in the public’s perceptual filing cabinet by which celebrities find themselves thereafter defined, all was well with the man.

Last Friday, that Starr faded. He insisted on wearing dark glasses throughout the show. How cliched is that? Of course, we’re told that the really big stars can ‘get away’ with that – whatever that means. I can ‘get away’ with wearing my football boots while shopping at Tesco, but I’d still look like a knob – so I don’t do it.

Further evidence that to Mr. S, the 90’s, 80’s and possibly even 70’s may never really have intruded on his consciousness came with his standard (for his era) two handed post-Churchill V-sign, denoting the accompaniment of the greeting “Peace”. As a bona fideoriginal hippy, you could maybe accept that he’s entitled to use it still, sort of semi-ironically, like Paul McCartney does. A branding tool, if you will. Me, I got the distinct impression that in his case, it was because he figured it still meant we should take him seriously.

What was hardest to stomach was his repeated insistence that he is a musician. Now call me uncharitable, but I’ve never seen him actually play anything other than drums. Call his vocals singing if you wish, but if that defines musicianship, then I invite you, whatever your ability, to warble an karaoke of “Octopus’s Garden” into a tape and use it to apply for any music shop ‘Singer Wanted’ ad. They won’t be calling you. All of this questionable musical calling calls to mind the old joke that band members everywhere still use daily:

Q: What do you call someone who hangs around musicians?
A: A drummer.

I really don’t intend to be mean-spirited here – well, maybe only a little. I’ve tried drumming and it’s bloody hard work for lots of reasons. It takes a fair bit of talent, a lot of dedication and quite some physical endurance to be even a half-decent drummer. Fair play to the lad for making a living out of it. Where he was really lucky, though, and I’m talking unbelievably-fell-on-his-feet-on-a-mattress-in-a-brothel lucky was to happen to be good enough to be in a band with the biggest, most successful songwriters the 20th century would see.

Would it be too much to ask to see a little acknowledgement of this, a hint of appreciation for being in the right place at the right time? Er, no. Listening to him talk, you would think he really was the third member of Lennon-McCartney when if we’re all honest, being the Fourth Beatle would have suited us all just fine.

Perhaps it would be unfair lay the blame for this selective revisionism solely at his feet. I’m sure that for the last, what 40 years, he’s been surrounded by people telling him how cool and smart he is. It’s an extreme existence, and like all extreme existences, we never really know how capable we ourselves would be to lead it without being affected by it in some ways. Yes, we could all lose touch with reality if the reasons to do so are compelling enough. Could we allow ourselves to be so deluded for the best part of the next half-century, though? I’m not so sure. We’re talking about almost clinically insane levels of delusion here. People have been sectioned for less.

Looking at the guy differently, as I found myself inevitably doing at this point, I wondered, if fate hadn’t given him one the biggest gifts it has probably ever handed out, what would he be doing today. A recently-retired hardware shop assistant perhaps. Only then did I really notice how small and frankly puny he is. Of course he would probably say he’s trim from a routine of gym and dietary advice. Looking at his early medical history on wikipedia, on balance, I’d back the puny theory.

Finally, the thing that puts the tin lid on the whole thing was his clear disdain for his roots. In Liverpool more than most places, the rejection or token advertisement of your hometown is a crime for which there can be no adequate recompense. Cilla Black famously plays on her (“Scottee Roawd”) scouse-ness and yet has lived in Surrey or somewhere since 1966. As a result, she is to Liverpudlians what the hairy haggis is to the Scots – something that’s there for the tourists, nothing else. Even Paul McCartney has suffered from this effect to some extent over the years. You can take the star out of Liverpool and there’s a perception that to some, it’s possible to take Liverpool out of the star – whatever they may claim to the contrary.

It all makes something of a mockery of the decision to have him open Liverpool’s City of Culture festivities recently. Read the lyrics from his new record in this light and they merely become lame protestations about having to follow his own path but never forgetting his roots. Even under the unusually benevloent line of Ross’ questions, it didn’t take much probing to conclude that he probably hated his upbringing and everything the city represented. Let’s not be too judgmental here. Either point of view is probably fine – but maintaining both may lead to accusations of hypocrisy.

Anyway, please don’t buy the record. It’s terrible. If I’ve shattered your view of Mr. Starr, then don’t spend too much time worrying about him. I got the distinct impression last Friday that all the time he spends worrying about himself will be more than enough to keep him in the manner to which he has become accustomed.