Vital Signs

Pop Idols

The English middle orders from Ruskin onward have had an inbred prejudice against America.  True, they may dress like mutant versions of Kurt Cobain and bundle themselves and their cloaca-tongued broods off to Disney World, but when you say “U.S.A.,” much of the professional class still thinks of headlines like “NEW JERSEY BABY BORN WITH THREE HEADS” or, more topically, “BUSH LEFT ME ON A ROOF TO DIE.”  Indeed, there are few sights and sounds more British than that of some lucky H2 work-permit holder yapping at the heels of the host country while simultaneously enjoying her hospitality.  Many grand pronouncements about America’s decline made by visiting rock stars would seem to illustrate this point.

Take, for instance, Sir Paul McCartney.  Nothing that follows is intended as an attack or slur on McCartney or his family, or as a reason not to buy several copies of my new book on him.  Unlike some of his ex-colleagues, I would not dream of questioning Sir Paul’s talent, drive, restless creativity, exquisite taste, philanthropy—notably the last, which has matured strikingly since the day in 1968 when he announced, “Starvation in India doesn’t worry me one bit, not one iota.”  In the years since, he has variously embraced, among others, Friends of the Earth, Live Aid, War Child, Greenpeace, Adopt-a-Minefield, the National Endowment for...

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