I’ve just heard that Alvin Stardust has died of cancer, age 72. For those who don’t remember, Stardust was the quintessential black leather magus of the glam rock era. His celebrity persona was patched together from elsewhere.
Everything that he had was borrowed. Indeed, Alvin started life in the imagination of Peter Shelley – not the Buzzcocks’ lead singer, but a former talent scout for Decca Records who had discovered Amen Corner. Shelley teamed up with Michael Levy to start Magnet Records. They needed a face for a song he had written called ‘My Coo-Ca-Choo.’ An audition was staged. In walked a 31 year old blond hopeful from the small market town of Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. His name was Bernard Jewry, better known as Shane Fenton. According to Levy, recalling his story in the Daily Mail, “We explained we had in mind someone with a “harder, rock-type image” to front the song. He was utterly unfazed. A day later he returned – with his hair dyed black and wearing a black leather jacket and one black glove.” Alvin Stardust was born. And Jewry was no longer golden.
‘My Coo-Ca-Choo,’ the most remembered single, owned a debt to Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit in the Sky,’ which came out three years earlier. Stardust’s sartorial persona was even less original and more fascinating. On one level his look was just a gimmick in the shadow of Elvis, but that would be an oversimplification. After all, as I mention in my new book, Elvis’s own 1968 Comeback style was a composite of the likes of Gene Vincent and Vince Taylor, and the very early 1960s ‘bad boy’ image – to my knowledge the King had never worn black leather back in his youth.
Stardust approached Elvis as if taking lessons in attitude from Edgar Allen Poe. His fingers were constantly flexing in those black leather gloves, forming into fists. The result was a lost figure that seductively performed a rich, dark, male sensuality, always hinting at something sinister, with an air of the macabre and slight threat of violence. He dressed like a cat burglar with a quiff. The fun part was that everyone knew it was a put-on: Stardust was part of the glam rock 1970s. He used the noirish 1950s as his dressing-up box.
When someone’s celebrity persona has always been a composite and all these years later we lose them, one wonders, just what have we lost? I don’t mean Bernard or Shane, the humble man behind the legend. I mean Alvin himself, an entity who was always a cipher – a sprinkling of star dust – a spirit willing to trace the pulp ficticious shadows of American popular culture from his vantage point across the Atlantic. As he embraced his myth, it embraced him.
I saw Alvin on stage a while ago at an Elvis convention. He dutifully played the nostalgia circuit for many years, his magnetic electricity somewhat naturally tempered with age.
Alvin Stardust was a man of attitude, but he was also – more than normal – just an outline. As if Brian de Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise had come to life and stalked the streets of London: teen pop sensation by day, menace by night.
RIP Shane Fenton…
Long live Alvin Stardust.