Former hitmaker Gary Barlow of boy band Take That was recently found to have taken part in a rather shifty tax avoidance scheme, one that’s sullied the pop star’s public image in the United Kingdom. Considering the respective damage each performer has done to society, The Guardian’s Stewart Lee compares and contrasts Barlow’s persona with that of the late Bard Of Hooksett, NH, GG Allin (above). “Gary Barlow accepted an OBE publicly for his good works, despite privately playing his part in closing hospitals, schools, shelters, and women’s refuges across the land,” observes Lee. “Allin’s life was a performance. Barlow’s life is an act.”
The paper trail linking Gary Barlow to a homeless man expiring in an empty building is convoluted. Allin’s culpability follows a more obvious sequence of cause and effect. He ate laxatives. This caused him to soil himself. He then threw his filth around, and if it hit you in the face you might get an illness. But compared with Barlow’s tax avoidance, Allin’s actions seem simple, uncontrived, honest – noble, even. His onstage offences were transient, as ephemeral as the sudden impact of a ball of dung in the eye. But who knows at what age Barlow began planning to present the public face of a charitable do-gooder, while secretly scheming to deprive the weak and vulnerable of succour, if indeed he ever did so? To quote Karlheinz Stockhausen’s oft-misunderstood comments on the 9/11 atrocity, Barlow’s career might be the devil’s “greatest work of art that is possible in the whole cosmos”. Allin aimed to be the ultimate rock’n'roll degenerate, but as an icon of filth, Barlow has surpassed him.
Today’s young people, anxious to offend as ever, need to embrace the opportunity Barlow has offered them to discover an avatar of offence that is entirely appropriate to our corrupt era. Grubby T-shirts of Vicious and Cobain and Doherty all seem so 20th century. In the current climate of cuts and austerity, drugs and violence are silly schoolyard crimes compared with massive corporate and individual tax avoidance. How brilliantly and thrillingly offensive would it be for today’s teens to parade around in T-shirts bearing the smiling face of Gary Barlow, OBE?