Cosmic Slop #8: Why do we have guilty pleasures?

Van Halen's David Lee Roth

Van Halen’s David Lee Roth

As Twitter makes him feel guilty for flying the flag for one of his childhood heroes, Getintothis’ Shaun Ponsonby asks why we allow ourselves to have guilty pleasures. 

Formerly former, now current Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth has been talked about online quite a lot over the last few weeks.

Firstly, he appeared with Foo Fighters, performing Panama and Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love. Dave Grohl referred to him as the “bucket list motherfucker” he wanted to play with and the performance led to him trending on Twitter and Facebook. More recently, Van Halen released some sound clips of their first live album with Roth, recorded in Tokyo on their 2013 tour and due to be released at the end of this month. The overall consensus for both was that…erm…he doesn’t sound great. In fact, he occasionally sounds alarmingly constipated.

But, then to complain David Lee Roth doesn’t sound great is surely to miss the point? That’s almost like complaining that Muse don’t perform enough Right Said Fred covers, as much as I think it’s safe to say we would all enjoy a Muse-ified version of Deeply Dippy.

David Lee Roth pretty much always sounded awful live. He is there to be charismatic and nothing else. Having seen the guy in the flesh, I can honestly say he may be the single most charismatic person I’ve ever seen. And I saw him during one of the lower points in his career.

I would call myself a fan of Roth more than a fan of Van Halen. I find the majority of Roth’s solo work way more enjoyable than the work Van Halen did without him. In fact, I can barely stomach the AOR tedium they made with Sammy Hagar. I grew up with Diamond Dave, and although he may be a court jester, he at least knows it.

Yet the looks I get from people when I profess my love for this wonderfully ridiculous man almost makes me feel guilty. Like I’ve just walked into their house and shat myself on their brand new sofa bought for them by their parents, who recently died in a tragic and surreal kiting accident. Why should that be? The original six albums he made with the band remain critically lauded (despite Roth’s infamous quote, “The reason the critics all like Elvis Costello better than me is because they all look like Elvis Costello”), and in 1984 he was the hard rock equivalent of a Prince or a Madonna in blockbuster fame terms. There must have been a reason for that.

Has the post-grunge rock miserablism made it so wrong to enjoy the kind of fun provided by a David Lee Roth? Is it that Van Halen inspired a series of awful 80s hair metal bands? Funny, nobody holds Creed and Nickelback against Nirvana.

The bigger question in all of this is: what actually makes a “guilty pleasure”?

It never ceases to amaze me how we allow the thoughts of others affect how we enjoy something that we like. Often, it makes us avoid some things altogether, even when that makes massive hypocrites of us all.

If we look at some popular “guilty pleasures” for example, many of the reasons people despise Status Quo are the same reasons people love AC/DC. However, it’s cool to be seen in an AC/DC t-shirt, whereas if you entered High Fidelity’s Championship Vinyl unironically donning a Status Quo t-shirt, Jack Black would undoubtedly taunt you and kick you the hell outta there.

But how bad can three chord boogie rock be? They do themselves no favours image-wise – you can’t write a song as tragic as the Black Lace-ish Marguerita Time and appear on Coronation Street and hope to get away with it – but on a purely musical level, how can one band that do three chord boogie rock that all sounds the same be one of the greatest bands of all time, but another band that does the same is relegated to ridicule? I’m not saying Status Quo are a great band, but the fundamental arguments against them are as inconsistent as Jeremy Clarkson’s relationship with the BBC.

Do the connotations to communities we are otherwise unassociated with have something to do with it? Up until the recent Nile Rodgers revival, disco was still kind of a dirty word after the late-70s “Disco Sucks” movement. Rodgers himself has gone on record in saying that the disco backlash was largely based on racism and homophobia, citing the very phrase “Disco Sucks” as a signifier of the latter.

Yeah, there was a lot of bad disco records in the late-70s, but as Rodgers stated; “are you telling me there’s no bad indie rock out there?” Well, of course there is. But the music industry can be such a white boys club that nobody’s going to hold that against all rock music the way that bad disco records were held against all disco music, where a big chunk of the audience and performers were black women and gay men.

It’s bizarre that so many “guilty pleasures” are also unfathomably popular. Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell is considered a “guilty pleasure”, yet it is one of the most successful albums of all time. From the outset, it was panned mercilessly by critics who take everything so damn seriously. I would argue that the genius of Bat Out Of Hell is how utterly ridiculous it is.

It is not supposed to be taken seriously. Towards the end of the title track, the Loaf describes “the last thing I see is my heart still beating, breaking out of my body and flying away like a bat out of hell”. This is a ten minute song, pumping the rock & roll clichés to the point of parody, sung by an extravagantly dressed hugely overweight man, during which he crashes his motorcycle after which his heart actually leaves his body and carries on beating.  He survives long enough not only to see it, but to sing Bat Out Of bleedin’ Hell while he dies. How the frig could anyone take that seriously? You could probably make a decent argument for it as a piece of Spinal Tap-esque satire.

But it doesn’t work the other way around. Tom Waits is a critical darling who hasn’t sold many records, but no-one feels “guilty” for liking him. If anything, they’re more likely to feel superior.

Maybe that’s part of it. If Bat Out Of Hell hadn’t sold 43 million copies, it’s irony probably wouldn’t be so lost on the kind of lonely arsehole critic who has nothing better to do than sit at his computer on a surprisingly beautiful March afternoon, bitching about things that don’t affect his life in the slightest, but for some reason thinks the world wants to hear his stupid opinions in a weekly column. *sigh*

So, why do we allow the concept of the “guilty pleasure” to exist?

I say we stop it. Immediately. Like what we like and make no bones about it. If no-one in UKIP makes apologies for being a gang of walking, talking twats, then I make no apologies for liking David Lee Roth, damnit! It may make me sound conceited to believe I can single-handedly usher in this new phase, but as Roth himself once said; “I’m not conceited. Conceit is a fault, and I have no faults.”


A US Jury have decided that Pharrell and Robin whatshisname did in fact rip off Marvin Gaye’s wonderful Got to Give It Up for their misogynist and arguably rapey piece of shit Blurred Lines. Which means that it now probably needs to carry a writing credit for Gaye, which might be the greatest disservice to Marvin Gaye’s legacy imaginable.

Robbie Williams and Jimmy Page have ended their housing feud without resorting to reality TV. Dangnabit! Such a wasted opportunity!

Iggy Azalea has quit Instagram. I think it’s pretty safe to say that anyone who gives a shit seriously needs to re-assess their priorities.