No, I have never met the Aga Khan

It a recorded moment from the Sixties that chills like few others. Forget Piggies or Helter Skelter off The White Album, or Never Learn Not To Love, the Charles Manson-composed track off 20/20 by the Beach Boys. This track retains a rare, almost satanic capacity to repulse. If I was running Guantanamo Bay, this would be on the required listening playlist for detainees.

Where Do You Go To My Lovely’ by Peter Sarstedt is a nasty piece of work. To a wistful folk tune, Sarstedt moans and groans a set of malevolent and disturbing lyrics that would make you wonder if they got the wrong Peter when they nabbed the Yorkshire Ripper.

It ends thus:

So look into my face Marie-Claire
And remember just who you are
Then go and forget me forever
But I know you still bear the scar, deep inside, yes you do

I know where you go to my lovely
When you’re alone in your bed
I know the thoughts that surround you
‘Cause I can look inside your head

What I find particularly disturbing is the brutality of the final line ‘Cause I can look inside your head’. In the Sixties, when the language of psychoanalysis and the subconscious began to permeate popular consciousness, when Freud and Jung posters adorned student bedrooms, and figures like Timothy Leary and RD Laing became celebrities, the mind became a central subject of popular art. In the case of psychedelic offerings such as Revolver or Forever Changes, music and lyrics set out to blow the mind. In the case of Peter Sarstedt, music and lyrics gave the impression that the singer intended to crack the listener over the head with a lump hammer and have a butcher’s inside.

If Cliff Richard had sung these lines, he’d have been number one suspect in the Jill Dando murder.

Anyway. This all came to mind because I didn’t buy the Sunday papers, but needed something to read. So I lifted the copy of Marie Claire that my girlfriend had bought, and started reading. Then Peter Sarstedt began to look inside my head.

Unlike Peter Sarstedt or Mel Gibson, I have no gift for knowing What Women Want, so I can’t judge if Marie Claire is a good womens’ magazine. I can give my own view that the writing is a lot more diverting than that of, say, Now or Hello!, but as the content is targeted specifically at women, I feel reluctant to say whether it is good or not, in the same way as I might shy away from evaluating rival brands of tampon, or assessing the effectiveness of gin and tonics in alleviating period pain.

But I don’t like it.

In its favour, the glossy advertisements for cosmetics and designer labels, and the photo shoots showing what clothes you should consider buying are artfully done. It’s the filler material, i.e. the stuff you have to read, that I find hard to stomach.

So what’s wrong with it? Actually, there isn’t much wrong with the individual pieces of writing (apart from one Marian Keyes piece that I will get to tomorrow if I get the chance): they deal with worthy subjects such as Make Poverty History, Thierry Henry’s campaign to combat racism, and beauty pageants in Colombian prisons. One short piece comes up with ‘a few more ways to take your revenge on the banks and big corporations’. If there was one point of view that underpins the writing, it is that of the socially aware and confident urban woman. But the actual amount of writing is quite small, and when juxtaposed with the huge amount of pages of (admittedly fantastic) advertisements for consumer goods that rely on low paid labour for their manufacture, I did start to wonder what women really want from Marie Claire.

Maybe Peter Sarstedt would know.

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May 2005

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