Teen Idol

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I’m assuming what is meant is an idol who appeals to teenagers as opposed to idols who actually are teenagers. There have been plenty of kid stars whose allure—a sly wiggle, a knowing wink—have over the years excited the bloodstreams of many an adult who ought to have known better: I’m thinking of a tradition stretching from at least Shirley Temple through Brandon de Wilde and Sue Lyon and Ricky Nelson to Leif Garrett and Shawn Cassidy. America, a country in a state of permanent adolescence, has always had a soft spot for the eroticism of certain youths.

Be that as it may, here are my selections, both grown men when they came to prominence.

Underrated The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll devotes eight columns to the Rolling Stones. Bill Haley gets a mere column and a quarter. This is grossly unfair to the man who was the John the Baptist of a whole new business.

Back in 1954, Bill, plump and avuncular, with the voice of a friendly square-dance caller, was conductor of a clickety-clackety train that brought the good news about a brand-new style: “Rock Around the Clock,” a “fox-trot” on the Decca label.

Musically, Bill was a gatherer of sturdy old roots sounds—swinging country mixed with a blues minus the usual ethnic moans of complaint or the sexual boasting —and his hit record was a call to healthy arms, a celebration of leaping about, of outdoor fun and frolics. Chestertonian beer rather than Verlainian laudanum. The latter taste was to be the ruin of the sixties.

Overrated Mick Jagger, the man-boy with the permanent swagger, was always cocksure. In 1969, as an era of excess self-destructed, he and his British Invasion hangovers, the Rolling Stones, were calling themselves “The World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band,” no questions asked. Jaeeer’s only attractions were physical: grotesque rubber lips (in a perpetual sneer at authority, normality, tradition), an alarmingly engorged crotch (enhanced, I once saw when we shared a dressing room, by bunched socks), and gorgeous natural hair. Jagger, earth-savvy, knew from the start exactly what was going on, what he should do both to be a millionaire rocker and to stay alive. He studied at the London School of Economics, he studied black blues stars, he exercised and ate wisely, he loved cricket and stately homes. Then, out front, onstage, he conned a gullible mass into buying his crude sex and hoarse goadings. Vocally, Jagger had fewer notes than Haley, but who cared? Sixties youth, egged on by the new breed of “rock writers,” were suckered by the Rolling Stones not so much for their music as for their screw-you attitude.