Art & Design Magazine

Whatever Happened to Susan Maughan - and Other Stories from My Youth.

By Ianbertram @IanBertram

When I was young I wanted to be Fred Astaire (and here). I'm not sure whether I was attracted to the dancing or the idea of getting my hands on Ginger Rogers (and here). (For some reason I never seemed to grasp that these movies were some 30 years old and she didn't look like that anymore.) Then one day I saw Fred in a movie with Cyd Charisse - oh those legs! After that I'm afraid it was all over between Ginger and me. Later on I wanted to be a singer - this time attracted I think more by the charms of Helen Shapiro and Susan Maughan than any realistic chance of making it.

At the same time however I was still listening to Duke Ellington, Debussy, Charlie Parker, Stravinsky, Sonny Boy Williamson and Fats Waller although for some reason I just didn't 'get' Lena Horne. I didn't at the time see any contradiction in this - music was music. I still don't. I now love Lena Horne but I am just as happy listening to Victoria de los Angeles, Celia Cruz, Cecilia Bartoli, Amalia Rodriguez and of course Billie Holiday.

I was drawn to these reflections by a stray memory of a conversation years ago, when I expressed a preference for Fred and Ginger above Nureyev and Fonteyn. The person I was talking to was I think at heart a snob. His expressed preferences were not based on what he really felt but on what he thought they should be. At the time, and even more so now, I wonder however why he felt the need to express his snobbery in this way?

In Private Lives, one of Coward's character's says "Strange how potent cheap music is" while playing a recording of one of his own songs. Why though did even a master like Noel Coward feel the need to denigrate his own work in this way? Why is the virtuosity of Hendrix in some way less than that of Jacqueline du Pre? Why should I be met with incomprehension when I call Ellington one of the greatest composers of the 20th Century? Why are the wonderful lyrics of Johnny Mercer somehow felt to be inferior to the appalling librettos tolerated in opera.

Similar prejudices exist in the visual arts - dare I say Jack Vettriano?

All yet another demonstration of the difficulties of defining 'Art'. So forget the definitions and listen to these two superlative artists:

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