As Jarvis Cocker’s squirmingly hesitant performance on ‘Question Time’ demonstrates, there’s a world of difference between being a witty lyricist, and being able to unleash spontaneous opinions on current affairs beneath the glare of TV studio lights.
You’ve got to wonder why the former Pulp man put himself through the agony. The history of musicians appearing on TV politics shows is littered with moments of hot shame and rising panic. And that’s just the people watching at home.
The most painful recent example was Dizzee Rascal’s appearance on Newsnight following Barack Obama’s election victory.
The Brit rapper was no doubt brought in to provide a note of gritty urban edginess – well, that and the fact that he’s black – but sadly his trademark rapid-fire eloquence deserted him on the night, and the ‘Bonkers’ star simply looked startled and vacant, not so much rabbit-in-the-headlights, more squirrel-in-a-tractor-beam.
“Political parties? Yeah, they exist. I believe in them…” rambled Dizzee, providing a moment of knuckle-gnawing awkwardness worthy of Peter O Hanra-Hanrahan.
The BBC received 50 complaints, some of them accusing Paxman of being “patronising” and “crass” – although many more, you suspect, came from affronted Middle Englanders demanding to know what one of these “hoodies” they’d heard so much about was doing on the Beeb.
Still, at least it was less weird and undignified than Will.I.Am appearing as a hologram on CNN, phutting out gaseous platitudes, like a kind of R&B Arnold Rimmer.
John Squire at least knew what he was talking about when he went on Newsnight – the guitarist’s sole purpose was to obliterate, once and for all, rumours of a Stone Roses reunion.
Unfortunately, Squire’s bluntness left Gavin Essler with a yawning chasm of dead air to fill, forcing the pair to conduct a surreal semantic tussle over the meaning of the words “no”, “never” and “absolutely not”. Beyond uncomfortable.
Pete Doherty fared better – but only because his 30-minute interview with Kirsty Wark, screened in 2004, never deviated from his favourite subject: himself. It’s unlikely the Babyshambles man would have acquitted himself as well had Kirsty dropped in a question about, say, the Private Finance Initiative.
Similarly, Mark E Smith was on steady ground eulogising John Peel, but one imagines his unique conversational style – stumbling, cryptic, mostly inaudible – would have gone down less well had he been on a panel alongside Tessa Jowell.
But then that’s musicians for you. They spend their entire lives talking about themselves, whingeing about minutiae, and quarrying their own psyches for lyrical subject matter. Expecting them to take an informed stance on politics is like demanding altruism from a psychopath, or coaxing a magic trick from an owl: futile.
Perhaps musicians should stick to what they’re best at – sleeping with models, taking drugs and, just occasionally, waving their bums around at major televised awards ceremonies.