Even though William Reid chose not to be involved in the making of this book, his brother, Jim, did. And so did a lot of other players from the days.
HEven though William Reid chose not to be involved in the making of this book, his brother, Jim, did. And so did a lot of other players from the days.
Howe writes the book pretty straight forward, dodging the usual tripe and drunken debauchery that often plagues music biographies by seeming obligatory when it's rarely so. The Mary Chain are described as a lot of moping persons who created music that defined the 1980s somewhat and influenced bands and artists for all time forth, probably.
I wish there'd have been pictures in the book - there are none, bar the cover image.
They wanted to sound like the Shangri-Las and Einstürzende Neubauten at the same time, and they somewhat did, while sounding like nothing else out there:
Musically the brothers had a voracious appetite, listening to bands such as the German industrial group Einstürzende Neubauten, The Beatles, The Birthday Party, The Doors, Dr Mix and the Remix, and 1960s girl groups like the Shangri-Las. But if they had to pick one single group who had the most impact on them, it would have been the Velvet Underground. When they brought home the The Velvet Underground And Nico album (famously bearing Andy Warhol’s image of a banana on the cover), what ensued was tantamount to a religious experience. It was sweet and bitter, ‘psycho and candy’, all on one record.
They walked off stage if bored and practically did what they wanted to do, except for cater much to the media. And they didn't like their peers very much:
‘The whole Scottish scene turns our stomach,’ says Jim. ‘The Welsh as well,’ grins William. ‘And the Irish,’ shrugs Douglas, dourly. (from a Sounds interview with Sandy Robertson, 1985)
And yes, they were viewed as different, by all:
Their parents tried to be understanding of their sons’ often insular behaviour – their mother once bought William a key-ring with the inscription ‘I’m not weird, I’m gifted’ written on it, which cheered him immeasurably.
And they didn't care much about virtuosity:
‘I don’t even think we auditioned Bobby,’ Jim Reid admits. ‘We just said, “Can you drum?” “Yeah, a wee bit.” “Right, OK.”’
Sounds like when Alan McGee thought of John Moore to join The Mary Chain:
Jim says of those early meetings: ‘We’d kind of spotted John around the place; he was almost like a weird stalker. At the Sonic Youth gig John came up and said, “I saw you the other night.” I thought, Oh God, is he coming on to me or what? What’s going on? He was a bit of a hustler, you could see that. He’d spotted the drumming spot was vacant and he was going to go for it. It was McGee as well, he said, “There’s this bloke who looks just like William, and he wears leather trousers. I think you should get him.” We’re like, “Can he drum?” “Er . . . oh, I don’t know about that.”’
...and speaking of drumming:
They actually wanted a drummer, but they couldn’t find anyone who was right. ‘We auditioned dozens of drummers,’ says Jim. ‘Purely on ability, we could have got one easily, but we wanted somebody we could spend ten weeks on a tour bus with. We kept getting these guys that started going on about what type of sticks they would use. We didn’t give a fuck what type of sticks they were going to use! It’s a bit of wood, you moron!’
The band didn't care much for being "correct" with the media:
The journalist asked how they felt about being described variously as both the best and worst group in the western hemisphere. William replied, after a contemplative pause, ‘My favourite colour is gold.’
They loved their fans, who in some cases were as saddening as the band:
Douglas Hart says: ‘I loved playing places like that because they were a bit like the places we grew up in. I remember in Preston this kid came up to me, really young, strange-looking guy, and he said, “I’d like to start a band.” I was like, “You should, you should!” And he said, “But I’ve got no friends.” God, what a thing to say. Kind of beautiful. It haunted me. I always wondered what happened to him.’ This poignant exchange must have accessed a part of Douglas that would surely have felt similarly isolated – another outsider from an outsider town – had he and the Reids not found each other in East Kilbride when they did.
On The Smiths:
The other problem for the Mary Chain, Mick observes, was that The Smiths were increasingly stealing the Mary Chain’s thunder as the decade wore on. ‘People began to see The Smiths as the band of the 1980s,’ he explains. ‘But I still think Psychocandy was one of the albums, if not the album, of the 1980s.’
On picking support acts for their tours:
‘I was friends with the label that had just signed Nine Inch Nails, TVT. The guy played me this stuff and I said, “Yes, that sounds like a band that should open for us.” I sent the records to Jim and William. They couldn’t care less: “Hey, you like them? Fine.” Couldn’t give a shit.’
All in all, the book's a labour of love and doesn't pander to the author's ego, but is about the band. Go read if you're into JAMC....more
How can a man in his early forties hope to really talk about his life as a whole? It’s like reviewing the first half of a song.
While this faux-memoirHow can a man in his early forties hope to really talk about his life as a whole? It’s like reviewing the first half of a song.
While this faux-memoir by Questlove, part founder, drummer, songwriter and tastemaker in The Roots, one of the most influential bands to come out of the USA in the R&B/hip-hop movements, is loose, conjoined and at its worst rushed and unhinged, that is also its main strength; early in the book, Questlove questions (pun not intended) the absence of comments from others in autobiographies, so his manager and his editor comment throughout, in the form of footnotes; for instance:
SEVEN From: Ben Greenman [cowriter] To: Ben Greenberg [editor] Re: Refining the approach No. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the book is coming into better focus, though I would say that my excitement over the nature of the blurriness is increasing.
The book is stacked with interesting anecdotes from throughout his 40-ish-old life:
I was in the bathtub and didn’t want to stay there. What kid does? I came running out of the bathroom into the living room and I fell toward the radiator, which branded me. For the next sixteen years of my life, there was a train-track-like burn from the radiator right up the outside of my leg. Anyway, at that very moment, Curtis Mayfield was doing “Freddie’s Dead” on the TV. And not just “Freddie’s Dead,” but one specific part of the song, the modulated bridge where the horns come in. Even now, when I hear it, it traumatizes me. There’s nothing technically scary about it, but it’s forever welded to the memory of falling into the radiator. I’m not the only one with that kind of association. D’Angelo told me that to this day, he cannot listen to Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” without feeling terror. That’s strange to me, because when I hear that song I think of yuppies singing it in The Big Chill, reliving their youthful optimism. It’s a light song for me, a party song, frothy. But for him, it’s a dark place, and I’m not sure he even knows why. It’s related to something in his childhood, something buried deep. I even tested him during the Voodoo tour. We were backstage, with people milling around, and I put it on the radio. He immediately stiffened, turned around, and said “Take that thing off.”
It might’ve been ’79, but the seventies were like the aberrant child of the sixties. And 1979 was the year that the seventies left home, not just literally, but also in a spiritual sense. Gone was the existential longing that you could find at the core of songs like “Dock of the Bay,” “What’s Going On,” or “Higher Ground.” I figure it this way: when Sam Cooke sang “a change is gonna come,” I didn’t foresee that change being one that would allow for niggas to be rapping about “busting bitches out wit dey super sperm.”
Questlove's honesty plays well into the book:
I was and am so devoted to the review process that I write the reviews for my own records. Almost no one knows this, but when I am making a Roots record, I write the review I think the album will receive and lay out the page just like it’s a Rolling Stone page from when I was ten or eleven. I draw the cover image in miniature and chicken-scratch in a fake byline. It’s the only way I really know how to imagine what I think the record is. And as it turns out, most of the time the record ends up pretty close to what I say it is in the review.
He's questioning things in an interesting way at times:
He told me that I was a man out of time. He wondered if I was trying to be white. Trying to be white? What the hell does that mean? I’ve never understood that. How could anyone be white when they aren’t white? Seems like a simple enough thing to prove, right? Hold out your arm next to someone else’s arm and do a simple swatch test. Of course, what people mean when they say that is that there’s some kind of authentic black experience that the accused isn’t properly expressing. But what is the authentic experience? Clothes that wannabe gangbangers wear on the street? Hood style? What’s authentic about that? For that matter, is fashion even a good marker of authenticity or race, anyway? Aren’t clothes a second skin you wear over your real skin to obscure who you really are? Can they also express who you really are? My mother told me that you had to go to thrift shops to find your own style, which made more sense than going to stores, but weren’t both forms of borrowing where you were always aspiring to have something that was truly your own? The question marks were piling up and I wasn’t even ?uestlove yet.
Yeah, very honest about his growing up:
I knew that my dad kept at least $4,000 hidden in the library. I figured, I’m just going to take a twenty. A perfect crime. I took twenty-five instead. I supposed I would get The Jacksons Live! and then Voices by Hall and Oates and a Rick Springfield record, because there was a girl I knew who liked him. My plan failed. My dad was a meticulous counter. He even knew how many inches high the orange juice was in the jug, so he could tell when someone had drunk some. I had been disciplined with whippings throughout my life, but when he found out I had taken the money it was that and then some, a Kunta Kinte/Django Unchained–like whipping. That incident set the course for our relationship and how it remains today. My father and I are not particularly close. It’s strained at best.
And stuff from the start of The Roots:
But underneath the sense of adventure, it was kind of a dark time. For starters, Tariq and I had our very first real fight. It was a fistfight over a production faux pas. As it turned out, he was not credited for producing the title cut, “Do You Want More?!!!??!” It was neglect on my part and Rich’s part, just an oversight, nothing intentional, but he took it personally. He felt like maybe he was being squeezed out of the group. He confronted me and we went at it in the hallway, shoulder to shoulder. No one got hurt, really. It devolved into wrestling pretty fast. He got up and marched off in what looked like triumph. “I’m not hurt,” he said. I didn’t know until later that he went off down the hall and then snuck around a door so he could sit down on a chair and recover. I’d like to say that the wounds from that fight healed up right away, but the fact is that that was a fight so dark and so deep that I believe it affects us to this day. There’s still an invisible wedge. That fight made me more insular and introverted, more careful around everyone.
There were a hundred people on the floor, dancing, having fun, but the second “Distortion to Static” came on over the speakers, the whole place just cleared. There was only one girl left, out there on her own, trying, unsuccessfully, to dance to it. Tariq looked at Rich, panic in his eyes. “We’re going to fucking fail!” he said. I only heard about it later, on the telephone (a dreadful conversation that I recorded and would, fourteen years later, use as the opening of our Rising Dawn album), but to this day I can’t play the Roots in one of my own DJ sets. The memory of that empty floor is too traumatic.
After I got my advance for Do You Want More?!!!??!, my father came to me and told me that I owed him. I was confused. “You owe me,” he said, “for all those years in private school, all those lessons. I sacrificed for you. I want a cut.” I gave him the money, but it broke my mom’s heart to see me handing it over. She thought that a father was just supposed to do those things for a child without asking for something in return.
The manager, on The Roots playing with The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion:
Remember that? Dude had a motorcycle jacket and a fucking theremin.
And yeah, what is blackness, by the way?
Somehow, I got word that D’Angelo was in the audience that night, and I realized that it was one of those make-or-break moments. I wanted him to know that he and I spoke the same musical language, that we could communicate telepathically via some African tribal shit.
And easily, on what differs old-skool hip-hop from the newer stuff:
Before that, hip-hop had a sense of belonging. When Run DMC did “My Adidas,” you could go out and get a pair of Adidas. You could put on jeans and a Kangol hat. You could be part of that club. When motherfuckers are talking about buying a jet or a speedboat, well, that’s not inclusive. And think of where the videos are set. Early on there was lots of on-your-block shit, videos with regular locations: street corners, houses, empty lots. People could identify with that in ways they couldn’t identify with mansions.
On meeting his main hero, Prince, the second time around:
When I got back, Prince had the briefcase out on the floor. He clicked the lock and opened it, and took out the strangest, most singular pair of roller skates I had ever seen. They were clear skates that lit up, and the wheels sent a multicolored spark trail into your path. He took them out and did a big lap around the rink. Man. He could skate like he could sing. I watched him go, so transfixed that I didn’t even notice Eddie Murphy appearing at my arm. “I’m going to go get your phone for you,” he said. Roller-skating at Prince’s party was cool. Watching Prince roller-skate was cooler.
On the whole: readable, but not a massive thing. On the other hand, it's not pretentious, which I think may be translatable to The Roots as a whole....more
This is quite what the title implies: an encyclopaedia on Morrissey and his world, by journalist Simon Goddard. While the his subjective takes on whatThis is quite what the title implies: an encyclopaedia on Morrissey and his world, by journalist Simon Goddard. While the his subjective takes on what the songs are about are mostly worthless, as are his way of trying to be funny and witty - just read the end of his bit about Johnny Rogan's "The Severed Alliance" and you'll see what I mean - the real goodness in owning this book is that it serves as a collection of interesting trivia.
I'm your average trainspotter when it comes to music: things like label changes, singles, b-sides, shows, changes in lyrics are cool to me; vague, bizarre stuff about music sticks in my mind. And as Morrissey is my favourite living artist and seems to be extremely nerdy when it comes to music, he's left a legacy of borrowing elements from all types of media for his lyrics and music - for instance many a lyric he's culled off Shelagh Delaney's plays, or the music from The Cookies' "Only To Other People" for his "Girl Least Likely To" - not to mention obscure stuff like excommunicating people and leaving messages in the run-out grooves of vinyl records, his unique style and varying likes and dislikes are very much enhanced through this knowledge. If you're a music-sicko like me, that is.
I read this book from page one and forth, and as such it was beautiful to take an inner journey through Morrissey's work. For instance, reading of the workings surrounding the album "Vauxhall & I" really added depth for me, in relation to even the lyrics for the songs, those on the album, those reserved for b-sides and those discarded completely.
If the reader is a Morrissey neophyte, watch out: he has often given pretty varying accounts of events, times and likes/dislikes in the past, consciously or/and unconsciously. Hence, this feels a bit like treading water in wait for Morrissey's autobiography to drop, whenever and if-ever it will.
So, all in all, is this book worth a read? Fairly. If you're as much into minutiae regarding Morrissey and The Smiths as I am and you have a fair amount of common sense in order to try and separate gossip from fact, I'd say go for it. If you've heard "Girlfriend In A Coma" and say "Who?" when you hear the name Timi Yuro or see a picture of The Salford Lads Club, you'd probably fare better with another book....more
One of my favourite quotes is from Zach De La Rocha, singer with Rage Against The Machine. The quote goes like this: "Your anger is a gift". Bearing tOne of my favourite quotes is from Zach De La Rocha, singer with Rage Against The Machine. The quote goes like this: "Your anger is a gift". Bearing this in mind is important while reading "Autobiography".
While some who have read this autobiography - written by one of the most important persons not only in culture but in public existence and now - seem stuck on the idea that Morrissey is nasty and a vile, damp cloth for not whitewashing things, I think he is writing what he feels, even though I'm sure that certain things in this book are debatable and arguable.
However, a nascent non-philistine will know the contents of this book for what they are: a receptacle that will live on and that has, to the best of my knowledge, yet to find its real match.
During my reading, I often found myself invigorated, filled with an urgency of life; paraphrasing and punning not the point; you will find much of that in the book, for instance, where Morrissey semi-starts, by writing of his teachers:
Miss Redmond is aging, and will never marry, and will die smelling of attics.
I won't defend Morrissey any more - which is futile, as his work speaks for itself and really needs no defense - but say this: the past is the past, and I have often read Morrissey's referrals to this book in the past, where he's been quoted by laying out the truth in his autobiography. If his troubled pre-teens were terrible, why not write about it in more than song?
I was small and I couldn’t swim, and the panicked roll to the corn-plastered depths terrified me for years after. This ringing hum of panic returned at Leaf Street Baths on our induction day, and I refused to jump into the pool. Ever-present Miss Dudley made no effort to understand the secret agony of a troubled child, and I was lifted up and thrown into the water in an act that, these days, would count as extreme physical and psychological assault.
It is not without merit that the reader may question Morrissey's sincerity, given his glamor for strong adjectives used in the prop way of a Carry On film; that's his style, not an Attenborough documentary.
Reading Morrissey's words on music at the start of his life is just heartbreaking, and something that all can relate to:
It is only the singing voice, I decide, that tells us how things became how they are, and You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’ by the Righteous Brothers had led me to the light. In this duet between Bill and Bobby, the language of despair becomes beautiful, and the final forty-five seconds hit such call-and-respond excitement that I am now in danger of feeling too much. Bobby’s rooftop falsetto is the fire in the belly, whilst Bill’s deep-chested leveling is the full invasion. Suddenly everything else in life is in question.
There are visions of divine things: Tommy Körberg sings Judy, my friend, Matt Monro sings We’re gonna change the world and Shirley Bassey sings Let me sing and I’m happy.
His sketches on what is "male":
The masculine man hates the feminine man because soft is the enemy of hard.
My notepad resting on my lap takes the scribbles of unspoken truth: effeminate men are very witty, whereas macho men are duller than death.
The womanly David Bowie is attacked by the Daily Mirror as being ‘a disgrace’ – although how he is a disgrace, or why, is not explained.
And, of not being "male":
Female nudity is generally easy to find – if not actually unavoidable – but male nudity is still a glimpse of something that one is not meant to see. In mid-70s Manchester there must be obsessive love of vagina, otherwise your life dooms itself forever.
All the while, school exists:
St Mary’s Secondary Modern School on Renton Road in Stretford may indeed be secondary, but it is not modern.
Sealed up like an envelope, he is unable to act with kindness or humanity, for he has neither, and there is evidently nothing to humanize him. For five years I witness the monumental loneliness of Vincent Morgan as he busies himself day after day with the beatings of small boys.
Good. Wash out the old. Bring crimes to the surface. However, unlike Questlove and other autobiographers, Morrissey doesn't invite anybody else to the party; why should he?, he thinks. Well. It's Morrissey. It's his trip.
Still, there are plenty of self-critical points throughout the book, not least on a fashion tip:
T. Rex are my first concert and my dad and sister drop me off at daunting Belle Vue on June 16th 1972, watching me waddle away alone in my purple satin jacket – a sight ripe for psychiatric scrutiny.
And early bits, before personally getting to know the surviving members, decades from now, on the New York Dolls:
An even darker force controlled the personalities of the New York Dolls, who are younger than Bowie and who are more-or-less transgender in appearance. Melody Maker announces them as ‘the world’s first homosexual rock band’, which, of course, is what they are not. On face value, the Dolls are menacing rent boys who are forcing the world to deal with them. Their arms drape lovingly around one another in photographs at a time when young men are assumed to want to look like Bobby Moore, Jimmy Greaves or Terry Venables.
Morrissey writes - unsurprisingly - about liking Betjeman (the poet), but his words on Housman (another poet) made me cry. Here are some of them, but not all, and I believe they are key in providing valuable insight into Morrissey's writing:
New air is discovered in the words of A. E. Housman (1859–1936), scholar-poet, vulnerable and complex. On the day of his twelfth birthday his mother dropped dead, sealing a private future of suffering for Housman, who was said to be a complete mystery even to those who knew him. With no interest in applause or public recognition, Housman published three volumes of poetry, each one of great successful caress, each a world in itself, forcing Housman into the highest literary ranks. A stern custodian of art and life, he shunned the world and he lived a solitary existence of monastic pain, unconnected to others. The unresolved heart worked against him in life, but it connected him to the world of poetry, where he allowed (in)complete strangers under his skin.
The published poetry makes the personal torture just barely acceptable. The pain done to Housman allowed him to rise above the mediocre and to find the words that most of us need help in order to say.
It’s easy for me to imagine Housman sitting in a favorite chair by a barely flickering gas fire, the brain grinding long and hard, wanting to explain things in his own way, monumental loneliness on top of him, but with no one to tell. The written word is an attempt at completeness when there is no one impatiently awaiting you in a dimly lit bedroom – awaiting your tales of the day, as the healing hands of someone who knew turn to you and touch you, and you lose yourself so completely in another that you are momentarily delivered from yourself. Whispering across the pillow comes a kind voice that might tell you how to get out of certain difficulties, from someone who might mercifully detach you from your complications. When there is no matching of lives, and we live on a strict diet of the self, the most intimate bond can be with the words that we write:
Oh often have I washed and dressed And what’s to show for all my pain? Let me lie abed and rest: Ten thousand times I’ve done my best And all’s to do again.
I ask myself if there is an irresponsible aspect in relaying thoughts of pain as inspiration, and I wonder whether Housman actually infected the sensitives further, and pulled them back into additional darkness. Surely it is true that everything in the imagination seems worse than it actually is – especially when one is alone and horizontal (in bed, as in the coffin). Housman was always alone – thinking himself to death, with no matronly wife to signal to the watching world that Alfred Edward was now quite alright – for isn’t this at least partly the aim of scoring a partner: to trumpet the mental all-clear to a world where how things seem is far more important than how things are? Now snugly in eternity, Housman still occupies my mind. His best moments were in Art, and not in the cut and thrust of human relationships. Yet he said more about human relationships than those who managed to feast on them. You see, you can’t have it both ways.
And, naturally, words on Oscar Wilde:
As the world’s first populist figure (first pop figure), Oscar Wilde exploded with original wisdom, advocating freedom for heart and soul, and for all – regardless of how the soul swirled. He laughed at the squeezers and the benders and those born only to tell others what to do. Tellingly, a disfigured barrister and a half-wit in a wig destroyed Wilde in the end, and in doing so one lordly barrister and one lordly judge deprived the world of further works from Oscar Wilde. Solitary confinement was deemed judicially right for the man who had brought more positive change and excitement and fun to the London literary world than anyone else – dead or alive.
On finding a friend in youth, among others:
Anji’s nightly telephone calls to Kings Road are marathon, and even the most vague generalities of her day are spiced with such absurd account that the two hours kneeling in an unheated hall, ears numb and jaw aching, are always worth the labor.
At times, not for long:
‘Oh, I went to the doctor today,’ begins Anji. ‘Y-e-e-s?’ I say, impatient for Part Two. ‘He said I’ve got six weeks to live,’ she breezes, almost throwaway. I laugh because everything in Anji’s delivery is funny – and she knows it. ‘Yeah – leukemia ... hang on, there’s someone at the door ...’ Some weeks later Anji’s life has met its deadline, liberating laughter leading her every step to the grave, never losing her edge for an instant, bearing sadness with dignity, and always explaining herself so well, at peace with death as she was with life, the black earth of Haslingden entombing seventeen years of best endeavor and generosity. I see her now – peeling potatoes in the sun and laughing her head off.
On being a fan:
At last I am face to face with Marc Bolan – as his flutterers flutter about him in the lobby of the Midland Hotel in Manchester. I am nothing and look nothing. ‘Could I have your autograph?’, I ask softly. ‘Oooh, no,’ he says, and slowly walks away to nowhere –
Manchester, growing up, thinking, tormenting:
I am suddenly full of sweeping ideas that even I can barely grasp, and, although penniless, I am choked by the belief that something must happen. It is not enough just to ‘be’. I am reliant upon the postage stamp, and tactlessly revealing letters are catapulted north and south – anywhere where a considerate soul might lurk. There is such a godsend as ‘penpals’ – friends known only via letters, and these are easier to construct than any living embodiment. The lineage from Dolls to Ramones seemed like a Himalayan missionary’s trek from which a thousand lessons could be applied. But I want no more. I want it to stop now. I cannot continue as a member of the audience. If only I could forget myself I might achieve. I am crumbling from the top downwards – in mad-eyed mode, finding daylight difficult. Unemployable, my life draws in tightly. At 17 I am worn out by my own emotions, and Manchester is a barbaric place where only headless savages can survive. There is no one to take me on, and no one to bother about me. Months go on for years. I explode from intensity. I cannot cope with anything other than my inability to cope. I want to sing. I am difficult and withdrawn – a head, really, but not a body – full of passion within, but none outwardly. There are no sexual guidelines and I see myself naked only by appointment. It is simply a funnel, and there is no one around who suggests otherwise, and my mental horizons are so narrow and no soul is interested in the me that is beneath the chastity belt.
On Sparks, and upon meeting Russell Mael on one of Morrissey's US trips:
I wander into CBGBs, where I find Russell Mael, and I blush my way through a request for a photograph, and there I stand – 17, clumsy and shy, with Russell, smiling beneath the CBGBs canopy. The first five Sparks albums had been constant companions. I had first heard This town ain’t big enough for both of us as Radio One’s Record of the Week, which they played daily at around 5:15. I had no idea who Sparks were, but I thought the singer – whoever she was – had the most arresting voice I’d ever heard. In time, of course, Sparks exploded, the color of madness. Ron Mael sat at the keyboard like an abandoned ventriloquist’s doll, and brother Russell sang in French italics with the mad urgency of someone tied to a tree. It was magnificent, and the ferocious body of sound was a speedboat in overdrive. The life and death question was: what is it? As children the Mael Brothers probably slept in bunk-coffins in an unused wing of the house, playing with surgical instruments whilst other kids of Los Angeles addressed the surf. The straitjacket sound of Sparks could never be fully explained, and even now their historic place is confusing since they belong apart. Lyrically, Ron Mael is as close to Chaucer as the pop world will ever get – elevated and poetic, nine parts demon, and I am very thankful: You mentioned Kant and I was shocked ... so shocked; You know, where I come from, none of the girls have such foul tongues. The lyrics of Ron Mael and the vocal sound of Russell Mael are solid and original factors, so unique that by the very laws of existence I can hardly believe they exist. The sound registered is very tough, although the faces are fixed in imperishable marble. What are Sparks? A miracle, of sorts, and the dead child is momentarily revived.
"You’ve been waiting for your first encounter – what a let-down. I’m just finishing my first encounter – what a let-down."
Further awaiting life:
Deserts of boredom dripped by, thinly disguised as years.
Indeed, language becomes quarry where Moz is concerned:
James was one of the first people I had ever met who spoke in complete sentences, minus the ‘kind of, sort of, like, y’know, actually’ redundancies that prop up most people’s tautological cobblers. Londoners especially over-used the word ‘actually’, and usually placed it where it meant nothing.
On meeting Linder for the first time:
During the soundcheck for the Sex Pistols’ third Manchester gig I begin a conversation with Linder Sterling, who is with the group Buzzcocks. Linder is nine parts sea-creature, and alights with all of the conversational atmospherics of someone steeped in machine-gun artistry.
‘Are you still ill?’ asks Linder, as we meet our weekly meet at Kendals rooftop restaurant, and while a song is born, so too is a lifelong friendship fortified and not weakened by time.
And starting the love of a non-lifetime, The Smiths:
History had trapped me for a long time, and now it must let me go. But my time with Billy is already over. He has been lassoed into joining the excellent Theatre of Hate who are ready for Top of the Pops, and rather than bury my face in the mud I am happy for him. And history takes the strangest of turns. I return to the have-nots, with more reason to cry than anyone else on earth, but Billy has left me with a parting suggestion. He tells me of a boy called Johnny Marr, who also lives in Wythenshawe and who ‘is a much better guitarist than me’. The suggestion is thoughtful, but I am not the type to tap on people’s windows. Luckily, Johnny Marr was the type to tap on people’s windows, and Billy had also turned Johnny to face my direction.
Dispassionate and obviously mad, Margaret Thatcher is presiding over political England, raging war on the needy and praising the highborn.
More on the start of The Smiths:
There are months to follow when Johnny and I – along with Angie (Johnny’s lifelong girlfriend) – concentrate deeply on the realization of the dream. For the first time in my life the future is more important than the past. Angie’s view in 1982 (and for the next five years, at least) held a bravely impartial and apolitical quality, and she would never be of the Girlfriend Syndrome who are famously destructive of the band that causes their love life momentary pause. Angie would always be intelligently supportive and ready to block gunfire; an honorable tack far superior to the commonplace and dreaded musician-girlfriend who would habitually cause infallible destruction and petty squabbles at Thatcherite levels. I suggest to Johnny that we call ourselves the Smiths, and he agrees. Neither of us can come up with anything else. It strikes me that the Smiths name lacks any settled association on face value, yet could also suit a presentation of virtually any style of music. It sounded like a timeless name, unlikely to date, and unlikely to glue itself to come-and-go movements: it could very well be Hancock Park of 1947, or Hulme of 1968; it could be primitive or developed – the Smithy poets of bygone Russia, or the servitude of the hard-working, and so on.
On the Hate for Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis:
I foolishly looked to Geoff for an explanation when the single Panic stalled for two weeks at number 11, inching no higher even though it is generally accepted that here is the Smiths’ first unstoppable number 1. Johnny sends me a postcard yelling ‘PANIC: NUMBER ONE !!!!!!!!’, a common sentiment, yet once again, here we are, derailed by non-existent competition. Geoff leans forward and removes his glasses. ‘Do you know why Smiths singles don’t go any higher?’ I say nothing because the question is horribly rhetorical. ‘Because they’re not good enough.’ He puts his glasses back on and shrugs his shoulders. I glance around his office searching for an axe. Some murders are well worth their prison term.
Re. Linder's pregnancy:
Linder appears at Caroline Place to tell me that she is pregnant. As the full-stop locks the T in ‘pregnant’, the legs of my bent-wood chair give way and I splat onto the floor. We are both bagged. There can be no composure. Reason is lost for ten full minutes, as Linder and I are unable to look at each other, each fit dying down only to start up again with a further convulsion, and out peals laughter and tears combined. ‘Well,’ I begin, with postgraduate’s calm, and suddenly we are both deranged all over again, painful laughter now causing concern, leakage imminent, sealed-up frenzy running loose.
All in all, this autobiography is a triumph. It contains much, much more than the above, which is culled from the start of the book. I strongly recommend it to all. The only downside to the book is Morrissey's bitterness, which can also be a strength, but where it goes on for far too long, it stains; still, this is a truly epic book and should be digested by all, swallowed whole and infused forever....more
Never did it. Never wanted to do it. There was no reason not to, no oppression, I wasn’t told it w
I really loved the start of this book:
Never did it. Never wanted to do it. There was no reason not to, no oppression, I wasn’t told it was wrong and I don’t think it’s wrong. I just didn’t think of it at all. I didn’t naturally want to do it, so I didn’t know it existed. By the time my hormones kicked in, at about thirteen years old, I was being felt-up by boys and that was enough for me. Bit by bit the experimentation went further until I first had sex with my regular boyfriend when I was fifteen. We were together for three years and are still friends now, which I think is nice. In all the time since my first sexual experience I haven’t masturbated, although I did try once after being nagged by friends when I complained I was lonely. But to me, masturbating when lonely is like drinking alcohol when you’re sad: it exacerbates the pain. It’s not that I don’t touch my breasts (they’re much nicer now I’ve put on a little weight) or touch between my legs or smell my fingers, I do all that, I like doing that, tucked up all warm and cosy in bed at night. But it never leads on to masturbation. Can’t be bothered. I don’t have fantasies much either – except once when I was pregnant and all hormoned up. I felt very aroused and had a violent fantasy about being fucked by a pack of rabid, wild dogs in the front garden. I later miscarried – that’ll teach me. This fantasy didn’t make me want to masturbate, I ran the scenario through my head a couple of times, wrote it down and never had a thought like it again. Honest.
Well. It opened up the book to me, and I'm not a prude. At least, that's not what I see myself as. The book is open-hearted in the sense that Albertine seems to write from the heart. She's not usually a writer, except for writing scripts and songs, but this book has content that makes up for the lack of stringency and solidity; somehow, that's what musical autobiographies often lack.
The book, as a whole, is really good because I feel that Albertine is as all people should be: not afraid of one's sexuality and searching for herself. This makes for a very interesting teenage experience, partly as she grows up during the advent of punk, and also as she tells of many interesting persons, e.g. John Beverley (Sid Vicious), whom she was very close to, Mick Jones of The Clash (whom she loved romantically), not to mention the person she later married, Malcolm McClaren and Vivianne Westwood and Don Letts.
I love how she wrote about discovering music, and art in relation to music:
When John and Yoko took their clothes off for the Two Virgins picture, their sweet, normal bodies all naked and wobbly were shocking because they were so imperfect. It was an especially brave move for Yoko; her body was dissected and derided by the press. But I got it. At last, a girl being interesting and brave.
She also writes about what is often left in the dark for us born without a uterus: the period. On it starting:
My period started the day before my thirteenth birthday. I went ballistic. I howled like a banshee, I shouted, I slammed doors – I was furious, crazed, ranting and murderous for days. This thing that had happened to me was totally unacceptable. I hated it, I didn’t want it, but I had no control over it. I couldn’t bear to live if it meant going through life bleeding every month and being weak and compromised. It was so unfair.
And on sexual beginnings:
Once when me and Nic were kissing and touching each other on a bed in someone’s house, he put his hand inside my knickers and I orgasmed immediately just from the newness of the experience. Well, I think it was an orgasm, it felt like a big twitch and then I wasn’t interested in being touched any more.
On loving music, especially certain albums, passionately:
The first album I bought when I got back from Amsterdam was an Island sampler, Nice Enough to Eat. I only had about four records because they were so expensive, but samplers were much cheaper than a normal LP, only fourteen shillings so lots of people bought them, they were important. I listened very hard to all the tracks, I never skipped songs that weren’t immediately appealing to me because I wanted to make the experience of having a new record last as long as possible. This is when I became aware of a label as a stable of artists. I trusted Island’s taste. I saw Nice Enough to Eat in an Oxfam shop the other day, it made my heart skip a beat, like I’d unexpectedly come across a very old and dear friend that I hadn’t seen for thirty years. Someone I’d told all my secrets to. The blue cover with the jumbled-up sweets spelling the bands’ names was so familiar, it meant more to me than seeing a family photograph. I bought the record again of course. Couldn’t leave it sitting there.
On getting her first STD; the story of this is testament to how honest Albertine seems and comes across:
I look into my knickers and see there is a little black dot at the base of a pubic hair. Then I realise with horror there’s a little black dot at the base of every pubic hair. I try and pick one off. It doesn’t come easily, the little bugger. I hold the speck in the palm of my hand. Phew, false alarm, it’s just a tiny pale brown scab. The squat was so dirty I must have got scabs from scratching myself all the time. But as I peer at it, the little scab grows legs and scuttles off sideways. I scream. Not an ‘Oh help I’ve seen a spider’ scream, but an ‘I am the host of living creatures! Evil parasites are burrowing into my flesh and sucking my blood!’ type of scream. A very serious and loud scream. A ‘Kill me now, I can’t bear to be conscious for one more second’ scream.
...and on having said crabs removed:
The next day, Mum sends me to the clap clinic in Praed Street, Paddington. (‘It only takes a minute at the Praed Street clinic’, ‘Rabies (from the Dogs of Love)’, the 101ers.) A nice nurse gives me a blue cotton gown and shows me where to hang my clothes, then she tells me to lie on the bed, which has a piece of white paper stretched over it. I lie down and look at the polystyrene tiles on the ceiling, daydreaming. The nurse explains patiently that I must slide my bum down the bed and put my feet through the stirrups. I start to do it, but realise this means I’ll be lying on my back with my knees bent up to my chest and my legs wide open. I look at her for reassurance, Is this really what I’m supposed to do? She nods. I wriggle my feet through the stirrups and rest my ankles on the black nylon-webbing straps. The soles of my feet are filthy, luckily they face away from the nurse. My legs are held really wide open by the stirrups, my vagina is pointing to the door. I feel as if I’m strapped to a raft on a linoleum ocean, my ankles tied to the sides. ‘Here comes the doctor,’ says the nurse as the door opens. I feel so exposed, it’s unbearable, I’m horrified, ashamed. I’ve never had my legs so wide open before, not even during sex. I’ve never been looked at down there before, never shown anyone, never even looked at it myself. The doctor appears. A man. He’s young and handsome. Why is a young handsome man a gynaecologist? He must be a pervert. I want to die. This is the most humiliating and terrible thing that has ever happened to me (ever happened to you so far). I burst into tears.
On discovering Patti Smith:
Every week I buy the NME. I find it difficult to read because the writers use such long words, but it’s not a chore because I’m interested in what they’re saying. One day I read a small piece about a singer called Patti Smith. There’s a picture. It’s the cover of Horses, her forthcoming album, a black-and-white photograph taken by Robert Mapplethorpe. I have never seen a girl who looks like this. She is my soul made visible, all the things I hide deep inside myself that can’t come out. She looks natural, confident, sexy and an individual. I don’t want to dress like her or copy her style; she gives me the confidence to express myself in my own way. On the day the album’s released – I half dread it in case the music doesn’t live up to the promise of that bold cover – I don’t go into college, I get the bus to HMV Records in Oxford Street instead. I’m so excited I feel sick. When I arrive, I see Mick Jones loitering outside the record shop. ‘What are you doing here?’ I ask. ‘Getting the Patti Smith record.’ I rush home and put the record on. It hurls through stream of consciousness, careers into poetry and dissolves into sex.
The structure of the songs is unique to her, not copies of old song structures, they’re a mixture of improvisation, landscapes, grooves, verses and choruses. She’s a private person who dares to let go in front of everyone, puts herself out there and risks falling flat on her face. Up until now girls have been so controlled and restrained. Patti Smith is abandoned. Her record translates into sound, parts of myself that I could not access, could not verbalise, could not visualise, until this moment. Listening to Horses unlocks an idea for me – girls’ sexuality can be on their own terms, for their own pleasure or creative work, not just for exploitation or to get a man. I’ve never heard a girl breathing heavily, or making noises like she’s fucking in music before (except ‘Je t’aime’ by Jane Birkin, and that record didn’t resonate with me). Hearing Patti Smith be sexual, building to an orgasmic crescendo, whilst leading a band, is so exciting. It’s emancipating. If I can take a quarter or even an eighth of what she has and not give a shit about making a fool of myself, maybe I still can do something with my life.
I love this line of hers on Mick Jones:
I can be myself with him and am loved for it, not in spite of it.
On using "shock":
Sid is into subverting signs and people’s expectations too, which is why he wears a leather jacket with a swastika marked out in studs. He isn’t so stupid as to think that persecuting Jewish people is a good idea, but he does want to upset and enrage everyone and question what they’re reacting to: the symbol, or the deed? Once we hailed a cab and the driver said he wouldn’t take us because he was Jewish and offended by the swastika on Sid’s jacket. As the cabbie drove away, Sid said to me, ‘The cunt should’ve taken us and overcharged, that would’ve been a cleverer thing to do.’
My attraction to shocking goes back to the sixties: hippies and Yippies used it a lot, comic artists like Robert Crumb, the underground magazine Oz, Lenny Bruce, Andy Warhol. I also studied history of art at school, and learnt how Surrealists and Dadaists used shock and irrational juxtaposition. All this influences my work and I try to shock in all areas of my life, especially in my drawings and clothes. Referencing sex is an easy way to shock. I walk around in little girls’ party dresses, hems slashed and ragged, armholes torn open to make them bigger, the waistline up under my chest. My bleached blonde hair is not seductive and smooth, but matted and wild, my eyes smudged with black eyeliner. I finish it all off with fishnet tights and shocking pink patent boots from the shop Sex. I’ve crossed the line from ‘sexy wild girl just fallen out of bed’ to ‘unpredictable, dangerous, unstable girl’. Not so appealing. Pippi Longstocking meets Barbarella meets juvenile delinquent. Men look at me and they are confused, they don’t know whether they want to fuck me or kill me. This sartorial ensemble really messes with their heads. Good.
On Vivienne Westwood:
Vivienne’s scary, for the reason any truthful, plain-talking person is scary – she exposes you. If you haven’t been honest with yourself, this makes you feel extremely uncomfortable, and if you are a con merchant the game is up. She’s uncompromising in every way: what she says, what she stands for, what she expects from you and how she dresses. She’s direct and judgemental with a strong northern accent that accentuates her sincerity. She has a confidence I haven’t seen in any other woman. She’s strong, opinionated and very smart. She can’t bear complacency. She’s the most inspiring person I’ve ever met. Sid told me, ‘Vivienne says you’re talented but lazy.’ I’ve worked at everything twice as hard since he said that.
Getting kicked out of her band by Sid Vicious, this happened:
I hear a phone ringing through the thick fuzzy air. It’s Thunders, asking me to join the Heartbreakers. He says to come over to the rehearsal studios right now. I’m scared, but I go anyway. That should be written on my gravestone. She was scared. But she went anyway.
I want boys to come and see us play and think I want to be part of that. Not They’re pretty or I want to fuck them but I want to be in that gang, in that band. I want boys to want to be us, not have the usual response like that one at the party in Islington the other night, he told me he played guitar. ‘I play guitar too,’ I said. ‘Great! We could do with some crumpet in our band.’ His name was Paul Weller. Mick wanted to have a go at him when I mentioned it but I thought that would make me look weak so I stopped him.
On Ari Up, when starting The Slits:
There’s another trait that adds to Ari’s liberation: she doesn’t care about being attractive to boys. She’s not bothered about looking pretty or moving seductively for them, she only does that for her own pleasure. She doesn’t see her body as a vehicle for attracting a mate, and she doesn’t squash bits of her personality to avoid overshadowing boys. I realise I’m learning a lot from her, and it would be foolish of me to dismiss her because she’s young. Since knowing Ari, I’ve become more aware of how uptight I am about my body, bodily functions, smells and nudity. Ari moves her body with the unselfconsciousness of a child, and I don’t see any reason why I can’t reclaim that feeling, even though I’m older. I’m constantly questioning stereotyping through my work but I’m still enslaved by the stereotype of femininity in my mind. (‘It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head’ – Sally Kempton.) Ari has no such hang-ups. When we played the Music Machine in Mornington Crescent, halfway through the set she was dying for a piss, she didn’t want to leave the stage and couldn’t bear to be uncomfortable, so she just pulled down her leggings and knickers and pissed on the stage – all over the next band’s guitarist’s pedals as it happened – I was so impressed. No girl had pissed on stage before, but Ari didn’t do it to be a rebel or to shock, it was much more subversive than that: she just needed a piss. In these times when girls are so uptight and secretive about their bodies and desperately trying to be ‘feminine’, she is a revolutionary.
On when you're ready for divorce:
Married women tell me I’m making the worst mistake of my life and this is a terrible age to be divorcing: ‘You’ll never get another man.’ A very sophisticated, honey-highlighted blonde divorced mother from my daughter’s school confides in me outside the swimming pool: ‘When you’d rather live in a tent in a field than in your nice house with your husband, that’s when you’re ready for divorce.’
The first part of the book, as it's divided into "side one" and "side two", is my favourite by a long shot; the second part is interesting, but to me, Albertine's thoughts on pregnancy, miscarriage, starting up her musical life again aren't as interesting or lasting as her words on her relationship with her husband and her self-doubt.
All in all, this is one of the more individual autobiographies by a musician that I've read. I'm quite sure that Albertine has put her own words to right here, and not relied on an (eventual) editor to mould her words into shape, as everything feels home made, in a good way; it reflects the music she made as part of The Slits. This book is recommendable even to people who have never heard of The Slits, and to people who dislike autobiographies by musicians. There isn't any trying-to-be-clever here, it's life.
An autobiography that was really finished in 2007, but has dragged along somewhat. Not plotting, just being relevant and to-the-point just like TraceyAn autobiography that was really finished in 2007, but has dragged along somewhat. Not plotting, just being relevant and to-the-point just like Tracey Thorn's music. No fiddling around, really.
Violent lifestyle swings from luxury to squalor and back again – sometimes within minutes. If you like those kinds of stories, stories where the lead characters seem to blunder through life, much as you do through your own, then you might like this one. The experience of writing it has sometimes been very like drowning, except that I’ve spent months, instead of seconds, with my past life flashing before my eyes. It’s been strange, and disconcerting; it has made me confront what I’ve done with my life, take a close look at who I once was and how that has a bearing on who I am now. And so often I’ve heard David Byrne singing just over my shoulder, ‘How did I get here?’ Or even, on occasion, ‘My God, what have I done?’
It covers her life in chronological order, being mostly about music. Listening to it, delving into it. Becoming and being a fan of The Smiths and Morrissey - including her and Ben Watt's correspondence with the man - and becoming bigger and bigger, up to getting dropped by WEA just before "Missing" sold 3 million copies, and the life thereafter.
From the start, Thorn covers her punk beginnings in laudable style, basically telling stuff, e.g. what she did after acquiring an electric guitar:
I don’t have an amp, or even a lead, and if I’m going to be really honest, I’m not certain I even realised you needed one. I had never paid any attention to what happened behind and around guitar players in bands, and so I think I imagined that the point of an electric guitar was that you plugged it into the electricity socket in the wall and somehow a loud noise came out. I still have a lot to learn.
There is a lot of internal thoughts, but none are really ranting nor boring. At times, I wished Thorn had actually delved more into detail, which I rarely think is the case with music autobiographies.
And, upon meeting her love and ETBTG 50%-er:
‘D’you know who I am?’ ‘I think you’re probably Ben Watt.’ ‘That’s right. Have you got your guitar with you?’
After that first evening in Ben’s room, we spent most of our waking hours together. After playing Solid Air to me, he turned up a couple of nights later on my doorstep with a bottle of wine and a Bill Evans record and that was that, really.
And with Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain:
The unlikely nature of this enduring aftershock of ours was brought home to me some fourteen years after our split, when I was appearing on Later … with jools Holland, performing with Massive Attack. Also on the show that night was Courtney Love with her band Hole. Widely regarded at the time as something of a loose cannon, she was the focus of all attention in the studio that day, and when the bands gathered on their respective sets for the filming there was a sense that all eyes were on her, mine included. Just before the cameras started rolling she looked across to our stage, put down her guitar and strode across the empty central area to crouch down next to me where I was sitting. ‘Hey,’ she said, ‘you’re Tracey from the Marine Girls! Kurt and I were both huge fans of your band.’ (Kurt was not long dead at this point.) ‘Y’know, my band, Hole, we do a cover of one of your songs, called “In Love”.’ More or less speechless, I managed to mumble something polite in return, before she strode back and the show began. Fast-forward to May 2010, a full twenty-seven years after the demise of the Marine Girls. I was back on Later … with jools Holland, this time performing as a solo artist. Also appearing on the show were the current incarnation of all things hip and New York, LCD Soundsystem. I was sitting at the side of their stage, watching them set up to do their song, when a member of the band looked up and saw me, made his way over to where I was sitting and said – yeah, you guessed it – ‘I just have to tell you, I have always been such a huge fan of the Marine Girls.’
The whole unlikely story only finally became real for me when Kurt Cobain’s Journals were published in 2002 and I was able to see for myself, in his own handwriting, our appearance in his many lists of favourite bands. There are the Marine Girls on page 128 and page 241, while on page 77, in a list of his all-time favourite songs, are two of mine, ‘Honey’ and ‘In Love’. Most incredibly, on page 271 Beach Party is listed as one of Nirvana’s Top Fifty albums, along with the Sex Pistols, The Clash and Public Enemy.
Funny on record sales, gold discs:
Selling 100,000 records means you get a gold disc, those trophies so beloved of the ageing rock star with acres of Cotswolds wall space to fill. The discs themselves were huge, framed artefacts – a piece of twelve-inch vinyl sprayed either gold or silver according to how many you’d sold – but here’s the hilarious bit: it wouldn’t necessarily be your own actual record that had been sprayed gold – just any old piece of vinyl. You would know, for instance, that your album had five tracks on side one, but there it was, a piece of ‘gold’ vinyl, with seven clearly separated sets of grooves on that side. You might have earned the prize for selling an admirable number of copies of a fairly quirky, uncommercial British pop record, but there on your wall you might well have a framed and gilded copy of The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden.
On the start of describing Ben Watt's all-consuming illness:
We were at the lowest point of our entire career, the point at which it may have looked as if it was all over. We’d had a reasonable run at it, all told. The band had lasted eight years and made six albums. The last one had been a bit rubbish, and we were running out of steam. Luckily, Ben decided to contract a life-threatening illness, and in doing so, saved us.
After having children at first:
We tried to come up with a compromise: play festivals instead of touring. That way we could reach a large audience in a short space of time, reducing the travelling and the time away from home. So we played at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, and then the Montreux Jazz Festival, taking the girls with us and staying in a beautiful hotel overlooking the lake. That little trip was actually quite enjoyable. It was only spoiled by the fact that I began to feel sick the morning after the gig. On the way home, at the airport, I felt worse – sick and faint. It passed as the day wore on, but the next morning I woke up and felt sick again. Eight months later, our son Blake was born, and that gig at Montreux in July 2000 became the last gig I did.
I did an NME cover with Morrissey once, and Morrissey said, 'To some people I'll always be Morrissey from The Smiths, no matter what else I do. And yo
I did an NME cover with Morrissey once, and Morrissey said, 'To some people I'll always be Morrissey from The Smiths, no matter what else I do. And you'll always be Carl from The Libertines.'
Yes, but these are not the words from a panicked man, even though Carl Barât seems to be frazzled and afraid at times. In a good way, because he lets his emotions go and reveals himself as another person than the confident man onstage, as he says he often comes across as, according to other people.
He writes about his special relationship with Peter Doherty, about the greatness, of the "brown" and other drugs that helped to spoil it all (even though all of the responsibility of that use is of course due to Peter himself), and at the very end, on how they reformed. That actually makes this book seem rushed, as though a deadline was set. I'd love to have read more about the Libertines' reformation after the fact, but then we have Roger Sargent's visual documentary, "There Are No Innocent Bystanders", for that.
Barât delves into what made him and Doherty gel, love and live. The former's heroes - notably Oliver Reed and David Niven - are referred to but mainly, this tome is a book on his own life.
Even though he'd ultimately kick my door in and try to steal my stuff, Peter gave me security and confidence to go out and do that, to believe that I could go out on a limb, even in prosaic, financial matters. When we were really firing on all cylinders and were together then it really felt like no one could touch us, and that nothing else mattered. As much as I try to deflect it, play it down and be English about it, there was a very powerful romance and beauty to our friendship.
Yes, and it spawned The Libertines' brilliant first album with a very good second one.
All in all: reflecting on some Days of Yore while his girlfriend expects their first child, having disbanded Dirty Pretty Things and en route to releasing his debut album, Barât has written a scattered yet very honest book about his life, mostly his musical life, that is....more
I bought this in search of interviews that could be illuminating on James Brown, but I really got a biography. This is a collection of articles, essayI bought this in search of interviews that could be illuminating on James Brown, but I really got a biography. This is a collection of articles, essays and interviews that were written on James Brown, Mr. Dynamite, The Hardest Working Man In Showbusiness, The Godfather of Soul (also abuser, tyrant and one of the most influential people ever, in popular music), ranging from the 1960s to the 2000s, displaying James Brown as the crooked, self-righteous, brilliant, crazy and very intelligent man that he was.
While James Brown is often described as a power-monger who controlled his bands with an iron fist, it's a double-edged sword. Take, for instance, the incredibly important song named "Cold Sweat". That syncopated rhythm paired with the horns, Brown's way of singing and the fact that your ass won't be able to stay still as you're digesting it... Brown actually wrote all of that. And used musicians like Clyde Stubblefield to do it.
From the throat of Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis, one of Brown's former band leaders:
"James called me in his dressing room after a gig, said we were going to record soon and for me to have the band ready" [...] "He grunted the rhythm, a bass line, to me. I wrote the rhythm down on a piece of paper. There were no notes. I had to translate it.
James gave us a lot to go by. You got a musical palette from hearing him, from seeing his body movement and facial expression, seeing him dance and from being up there with the band, seeing the audience. So you get a picture of that, and you write it."
"To be in the audience when James Brown commences the James Brown Show is to have felt oneself engulfed in a kind of feast of adoration and astonishment, a ritual invocation, one comparable, I'd imagine, to certain ceremonies known to the Mayan people, wherein a human person is radiantly costumed and then beheld in lieu of the appearence of a Sun God upon the Earth. For to see James Brown dance and sing, to see him lead his mighty band with the merest of glances and tiny flickers of signals from his hands; to see him offer himself to his audience to be adored and enraptured and ravished; to watch him tremble and suffer as he tears his screams and moans of lust, glory and regret from his sweat-drenched body -- and is, thereupon, in the act of seeming mercy, draped in the cape of his infirmity; to see him recover and thrive -- shrugging free of the cape -- as he basks in the healing regard of an audience now melded into a single passionate body by the stroking and thrumming of his ceaseless cavalcade of impossibly danceable smash Number One hits, is not to see: It is to behold."
And Brown wasn't only a self-proclaimed sex machine, but a quotation machine, throwing off stuff all the time. For example:
"Soul is when a man do everything he can and come up second. Soul is when a man make a hundred dollars a week and it cost him a hundred and ten to live. Soul is when a man got to bear other people's burdens. Soul is when a man is nothin' because he's black."
"Don't terrorize. Organize. Don't burn. Give kids a chance to learn ... The real answer to race problems in this country is education. Not burning and killing. Be ready. Be qualified. Own something. Be somebody. That's Black Power."
"I'm not hung up just on black, I'm hung up on right. There's a lot of white kids out there that are really together. It's tradition that we are fighting. We're not fighting white, we are fighting tradition."
The later is a quote from a statement made on national TV during the 1968 riots in Washington, DC, after the Martin Luther King assassination. Brown is often single-handedly credited for stopping the riots in Boston by delivering a broadcast concert and speaking out to people.
Another thing on freedom from the book:
He walked over and put an arm around a chubby white chick deejay. She, being emotional, started to blubber.
"We got to free up people until she and I have a chance. The man has the white woman and the black man uptight. She's trapped in the home and I'm trapped in the field. We're going to break loose. Until a black man and a white girl can walk in here and nobody thinks about it, we're in trouble."
As Brown's empire grew - e.g. he bought the house that he once was shining shoes in front of, a restaurant and three radio stations - he made larger and more boastful claims by the minute. Those claims often rang true, but towards the end of his life he was seen more and more as a weird man, which often was a correct assumption. For instance:
Brown rates his work with the greatest American musical innovations of the 20th century. He maintains that his music has been so far ahead of its time that he had no choice but to restrict the complexity of the compositions and arrangements. Otherwise, James says, we never could have understood it.
And he made songs like "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" at a time where there was nothing like it.
In the radiant article named "Papa Takes Some Mess" by Pat Kelly, written in 1975, it's obvious what a tyrant Brown is, and how little he is revered by his musicians, who follow his every single move and were fined by Brown for things, like missing one of Brown's signals during a show, or showing up late.
The highly personal essay named "James Brown Meets the Nine Nobles" by Ron Courtney, written in 1986, is one of the best pieces in this anthology, describing how Ron's life was changed by hearing James Brown.
King Records released the "James Brown Live At The Apollo" LP and our lives suddenly acquired purpose and meaning!
Heading into the 1980s, the articles turn more into the weird, from the incident where Brown reportedly threatened an entire company with a shotgun while accusing them of using his private bathroom to his troubles with the IRS and his conviction of abuse against several of his wives.
"Havin' that IRS problem kept me from having other problems. Because if they see you owe money, other people don't sue you."
"He scoffed at allogations that he was high on PCP at the time of his arrest--"Not in my life," he said of hard drugs in general--but then he added, "Well, I wouldn't say as I did buy PCP. It might've been in the marijuana. And, if it was, I sure wish I had some more."
There are no computers in the offices of James Brown Enterprises. "He's got this strange notion that they can see back at you," Maria Moon, one of his staffers, explained." [...] Mr. Brown put it slightly differently: "I don't want computers coming feeding direct off of me, 'cause I know what I got to tell a computer that it ain't got in there, and I don't want to. If the government would want me to be heading up the computer people, I would give 'em a basic idea what we should put in a computer -- not just basic things, you know, but things that will be helpful in the future. We don't have that, but I could tell 'em a lot of things." He didn't elaborate, but he told me that on several occasions, while watching television news, he had foreseen the deaths of people on the screen.
The article where Fred Daviss, Brown's business manager for 16 years, recalls Brown's visit to Graceland a day following the death of Elvis Presley and how Brown told Daviss to touch Elvis' corpse because "then it won't bother you no more", and how Daviss saw Brown touch Elvis' dead body and said "Elvis, you rat. You rat." - Later, Davis was the one touching Brown's corpse, saying a similar thing.
Alan Leeds' finishing essay on the death of James Brown, including his legacy and a few final words is quite beautiful, summarising most of what people have prior said about Brown.
All in all, this book is definitely one of the best anthologies based on interview articles that I have read, and it goes to show Brown as a human being, an exceptional one at that, in a variety of fields. His legacy goes on and on, as Brown's accomplishments will forever enthrall and amaze....more
"The thing about hip hop that people keep forgetting, is that it’s not just one definiteAll of the review is found here: http://niklasblog.com/?p=8263
"The thing about hip hop that people keep forgetting, is that it’s not just one definite thing."
A third into this book, I noted:
"The bad thing about this anthology is the amount of repetition: no more about Herc, Flash and Bam, please!"
Apart from the incessant repetition - not only related to The Big Three - this anthology is really worthwhile. It's big. It's intimidating, but there are such nuggets here that the academic vocabulary - which sometimes really got on my nerves; should I hear the word "diaspora" soon again I'll scream - can be overcome.
The edition of the book I read is dated but there is actually a new version printed and sold starting in August 2011! I still really recommend David Toop's brilliant, brilliant book on hip-hop, called "Rap Attack!".
This massively big anthology, however, starts from the start of hip-hop, and delves deeper back in time than that. The elements of hip-hop are of course much more complex than just the verbal, for example the graffiti:
By summer 1971 the appearance of the mysterious message “Taki 183” had sufficiently aroused the curiosity of New Yorkers to lead the New York Times to send one of its reporters to determine its meaning. The results of his search, published on July 21, 1971, revealed that Taki was an unemployed seventeen year old with nothing better to do than pass the summer AU. [...] He explained, “I just did it everywhere I went. I still do, though not as much. You don’t do it for girls; they don’t seem to care. You do it for yourself. You don’t go after it to be elected president.” The reporter interviewed other appropriate neighborhood youths, including Julio 204 and Ray A.O. (for “all over”), who were following in the footsteps of Taki, to whom they referred as the king, and he spoke with an official of the MTA who stated that more than $300,000 was being spent annually to erase graffiti. Patrolman Floyd Holoway, a vice-president of the Transit Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association questioned by the reporter as to the legal machinery relating to graffiti writing, explained that graffiti was barred only by MTA rules, not by law. Thus writers under the age of sixteen could only be given a lecture, not a summons, even if they were caught in the act of writing on the walls. Adult writers could be charged with malicious mischief and sentenced to up to a year’s imprisonment. Taki confessed that as he grew older, he worried more about facing adult penalties for writing graffiti but admitted, “I could never retire...besides...it doesn’t harm anybody. I work. I pay taxes too. Why do they go after the little guy? Why not the campaign organizations that put stickers all over the subways at election time?"
And if you think the Wu-Tang Clan were the first Asiatic influence in hip-hop, you're off:
Crazy Legs is considered by many to be the main focal point of the transition from old school to new school. Having invented many of the new breakdance moves like backspins and windmills, Crazy Legs is the one to whom many of the new school breakers of today are indebted. But other breakers along the way had their influences on the new school of breaking. Not only breakdancers, but media stars like Bruce Lee and other Kung Fu film stars and martial artists had a major influence on breakdancing culture. As said before, the popularity of Kung Fu films during the mid- and late 70s around the world, and especially in New York City, has had a great impact on breakdancing style. Many of the breakdancers were avid fans of martial artists like Bruce Lee. A large number of martial arts moves were incorporated into breakdancing through the influence of the films and the interest in martial arts vis-à-vis Bruce Lee. The Chinese, like many other folk around the world, mainly the Russian peasants and African slaves in early America, had a dance or style of movement that was influenced heavily by the animals on which they depended for survival. Instead of manifesting itself in dance like in Africa, or through sports like the gymnastics of the Eurasians and eastern Europeans, the Chinese animal emulation was expressed through martial arts. Styles like the white crane, tiger style, five star praying mantis, eagle, and monkey style were means of expressing body movement and fighting techniques through the imitation of animal movement. By imitating animal movement a human was able to do moves and body movements that served as a martial art. Kung Fu, with its imitation of animal movements, is a stylized form of human expression. Its heavy emphasis on style and rhythm was a natural influence and inspiration to breakdancing. The films featuring Bruce Lee and other great Kung Fu martial artists appealed to the working class aesthetics of the Bronx and the rest of New York street kids. Since most Kung Fu movements hug close to the ground and use the whole body, both the hands and feet, it was a natural influence on breaking moves. Windmills, which are gyroscopic body movements, are very similar to certain Kung Fu moves.
And then, the music hits. Hard. From a period piece in a national paper, pre-1980s:
NEW YORK. A funny thing has been happening at Downstairs Records here. The store, which is the city’s leading disco product retailer, has been getting calls for obscure r&b cutouts such as Dennis Coffy’s “Son of Scorpio,” on Sussex, Jeannie Reynolds’ ”Fruit Song” on Casablanca, and the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Bongo Rock” on Pride. The requests, for the most part, come from young black disco DJs from the Bronx who are buying the records just to play the 30 seconds or so of rhythm breaks that each disk contains. The demand for these records, which the kids call B-beats, has gotten so great that Downstairs has had to hire a young Bronxite, Elroy Meighan, to handle it. According to Meighan the man responsible for this strange phenomenon is a 26-year old mobile DJ who is known in the Bronx as Cool Herc. It seems Herc rose to popularity by playing long sets of assorted rhythm breaks strung together. Other Bronx DJs have picked up the practice and now B-beats are the rage all over the borough, and the practice is spreading rapidly.
David Toop has done some extraordinary detective work on where New York rap came from: Rap’s forebears stretch back through disco, street funk, radio djs, Bo Diddley, the be-bop singers, Cab Calloway, Pigmeat Markham, the tap dancers and comics, the Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, Muhammad Ali, a cappella and doo-wop groups, ring games, skip rope rhymes, prison and army songs, toasts, signifying and the dozens, all the way back to the griots of Nigeria and Gambia.11 The mix is very rich. The radio DJs Toop refers to were the jive-talkers of the be-bop era like Daddy O Daylie, Dr. Hep Cat and Douglas Jocko Henderson (the “Ace from Space”).
As Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash basically created the scene by DJing, introducing MCs and building the scratching techniques that are used to this day. In an interview with Source Magazine, all three are into it:
THE SOURCE: Who was the first person to take the record in the bathtub and wipe the labels off?
FLASH: That was me. People were getting too close, you know. I will give all due respect to my boys right here, but you know, other people.
HERC: He put us on a wild goose chase [everyone laughs].
BAM: I had a way of telling things from the color of the album. I could know if it was Mercury or Polygram. Then I would try to see who it sounded like.
FLASH: Hey Bam, I followed you on a Saturday with glasses on. I seen one bin you went to, pulled the same shit you pulled, took that shit home—and the break wasn’t on the muthafucka [everyone is hysterical].
BAM: I used to tell people, “Do not follow me and buy what I buy,” and I went into a record store and everyone was waitin’ around to see what I pulled. So I pulled some Hare Krishna records [everyone laughs]. It had beats but . . .
FLASH: You couldn’t play that bullshit. I got a crate full of bullshit.
After graduating in electronics, Flash began combining his two main interests: sound technology and hard funk. He made his own system and would play at night in local parks. To get the power he needed to operate the system he would run a cable from the decks and amplifier to the nearest street light. Flash became an expert at punch phasing. This is when the DJ hits a particular break on one deck while the record on the other turntable is still playing. The punch works in hip hop like a punctuation mark in a sentence. It helps to give shape to the flow of sounds on the record in the same way that a comma or a full stop helps to shape the flow of written language. And just as punctuation brings time to the pages of this book by telling the reader when to pause, so the punch in hip hop can be used to accentuate the beat and the rhythm for the dancing crowd. Flash was also one of the first hip hop DJs to work with a beat box: a machine that produces an electronic drum beat. Together with his MC crew—headed in those days by Melle Mel—Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five produced a hard rapping style that became their trademark. As Flash leapt from deck to deck using multiple turntables Mel would rap in an aggressive, staccato style to the raw, stripped down electronic beat.
This makes me want to go back in time:
Afrika Bambaataa likes mixing things up, too. He has been known to cut from salsa to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to Yellow Magic Orchestra to calypso through Kraftwerk via video game sound effects and the Munsters television series’ theme tune back to his base in James Brown. And in 1982 he made a record with the Soul Sonic Force called Planet Rock that was a big hit. In its own way, Planet Rock is as bizarre as Adventures on the Wheels of Steel. But the Soul Sonic Force didn’t use the edgy staccato rapping style of the Furious Five. Instead their voices weave in and out of the pulsing party beat with lines like “More bounce to the ounce” and “Planet Rock. It just don’t stop it’s gonna drive you nuts!” Meanwhile Bambaataa mixes in snatches of song and sound effects round the steady electronic beat. The rhythm of a rap record by Captain Sky called Super Sporm is crossed with the computer-generated rhythms and melodies of records like Trans-Europe Express and Numbers by the German electro group, Kraftwerk. This is then mixed up with the theme from the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western For a Few Dollars More. (The Eastwood themes composed by Ennio Morricone had also made a powerful impact on dub producers like Lee “Scratch” Perry in Jamaica in the 1970s.)
A large part of the disc jockeys’ mystique and power is their resourcefulness in finding unknown or obscure records that can move a crowd. These can be rarities, white-label pre-releases, acetates, unreleased tapes or simply good songs that slipped through the net at the time they were released. Given the obvious difficulty of identifying tunes in the non-stop collages of the b-boy style, the most creative DJs in the Bronx were able to build up strong local reputations as “masters of records”—the librarians of arcane and unpredictable sounds that few could match. In time-honoured fashion their secrecy extended to soaking records in the bath to peel off the center labels or giving records new names. Previously jealously guarded lists, emerging gradually at the beginning of 1984, make bizarre reading. Bambaataa was one of the most outrageous: The Bronx wasn’t really into radio music no more. It was an anti-disco movement. Like you had a lot of new wavers and other people coming out and saying, “Disco sucks.” Well, the same thing with hip hop, ’cos they was against the disco that was being played on the radio. Everybody wanted the funky style that Kool Herc was playing. Myself, I was always a record collector and when I heard this DJ, I said, “Oh, I got records like that.” I started digging in my collection. When I came on the scene after him I built in other types of records and I started getting a name for master of records. I started playing all forms of music. Myself, I used to play the weirdest stuff at a party. Everybody just thought I was crazy. When everybody was going crazy I would throw a commercial on to cool them out —I’d throw on The Pink Panther theme for everybody who thought they was cool like the Pink Panther, and then I would play “Honky Tonk Woman” by The Rolling Stones and just keep that beat going. I’d play something from metal rock records like Grand Funk Railroad. “Inside Looking Out” is just the bass and drumming . . . rrrrrmmmmmmm . . . and everybody starts freaking out. I used to like to catch the people who’d say, “I don’t like rock. I don’t like Latin.” I’d throw on Mick Jagger—you’d see the blacks and the Spanish just throwing down, dancing crazy. I’d say, “I thought you said you didn’t like rock.” They’d say, “Get out of here.” I’d say, “Well, you just danced to The Rolling Stones.” “You’re kidding!” I’d throw on “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”—just that drum part. One, two, three, BAM—and they’d be screaming and partying. I’d throw on The Monkees, “Mary Mary”—just the beat part where they’d go “Mary, Mary, where are you going?”—and they’d start going crazy. I’d say, “You just danced to The Monkees.” They’d say, “You liar. I didn’t dance to no Monkees.” I’d like to catch people who categorize records.
The daring of Bambaataa’s mixes and the black political input that he has made into hip hop have inspired other artists. Air Force One built a hip hop record round Ronald Reagan’s famous gaffe when he made a “joke” at a TV station. Reagan had claimed in jest that he had the solution to the Russian “problem.” “Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Americans,” he says, barely able to restrain the laughter, “We begin bombing in five minutes.” President Reagan was unaware that he was being recorded at the time. See the Light, Feel the Heat begins with Reagan’s “announcement.” The phrase “We begin bombing” is picked out and repeated several times as the funk rhythm breaks and crashes in a series of explosions round Reagan’s voice.
At the same time, it's interesting and a bit sad to see how people were really naïve and green in the start of the recorded rap-game, as when most artists start out, I guess:
But while he shares these high hopes, a seasoned veteran of “the business” like Charlie Chase remains acutely aware of the pitfalls and distortions involved. After all, he had witnessed firsthand what was probably the first and biggest scam in rap history, when Big Bad Hank and Sylvia Robinson of Sugar Hill Records used a rhyme by his close friend and fellow Cold Crush brother Grandmaster Cas on “Rapper’s Delight” and never gave him credit. The story has been told elsewhere, as by Steven Hager in his book, but Charlie’s is a lively version. This is how it happened. Hank was working in a pizzeria in New Jersey, flipping pizza. And he’s playing Cas’ tape, right? Sylvia Robinson walks in, the president of Sugar Hill. She’s listening to this, it’s all new to her. Mind you, there were never any rap records. She says, “Hey, man, who’s this?” He says, “I manage this guy. He’s a rapper.” She says, “Can you do this? Would you do this on a record for me?” And he said, “Yeah, sure. No problem.” And she says, “Okay, fine.” So he calls Cas up and says, “Cas, can I use your rhymes on a record? Some lady wants to make a record.” You see what happened? Cas didn’t have foresight. He couldn’t see down the road. He never imagined in a million years what was going to come out of that. He didn’t know, so he said, “Sure, fine, go ahead.” With no papers, no nothing. And it went double platinum! Double platinum! “Rapper’s Delight.” A single. A double platinum single, which is a hard thing to do.
The playfulness of early hip-hop and how it can be at its best in an instrumental sense...
Although much is made of rap as a kind of urban streetgeist, early rap had a more basic function: dance music. Bill Stephney, considered by many to be the smartest man in the rap business, recalls the first time he heard hip-hop: The point wasn’t rapping, it was rhythm, DJs cutting records left and right, taking the big drum break from Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” mixing it together with “Ring My Bell,” then with a Bob James Mardi Gras jazz record and some James Brown. You’d have 2,000 kids in any community center in New York, moving back and forth, back and forth, like some kind of tribal war dance, you might say. It was the rapper’s role to match this intensity rhythmically. No one knew what he was saying. He was just rocking the mike.
And no, people didn't really like "The Message" that much!
Like disco music and jumpsuits, the social commentaries of early rappers like Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel were for the most part transparent attempts to sell records to whites by any means necessary. Songs like “White Lines” (with its anti-drug theme) and “The Message” (about ghetto life) had the desired effect, drawing fulsome praise from white rock critics, raised on the protest ballads of Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. The reaction on the street was somewhat less favorable. “The Message” is a case in point. “People hated that record,” recalls Russell Simmons, president of Def Jam Records. “I remember the Junebug, a famous DJ of the time, was playing it up at the Fever, and Ronnie DJ put a pistol to his head and said, ‘Take that record off and break it or I’ll blow your fucking head off.’ The whole club stopped until he broke that record and put it in the garbage.”
Funny bit about Sylvia Vanderpool:
And rap and reggae have a common root in a record called Love Is Strange by Mickey and Sylvia. This record was released in 1956 at the time when ska and soul and rock ’n’ roll were just beginning. On this record, guitarist Mickey Baker and vocalist Sylvia Vanderpool sing a bantering duet over a lilting Caribbean-flavored shuffle rhythm. In the middle there is a sort of mini-rap between the two. Mickey asks Sylvia how she calls her lover boy. As Mickey keeps asking the question: “And if he still doesn’t answer?,” Sylvia calls back to him in a voice that gets sexier and sexier. The record made the top twenty in the States. It was a hit in Jamaica too. It is sometimes classified as a “rhythm and blues calypso hit.” And almost a quarter of a century later, it was Sylvia Vanderpool who set up Sugarhill Records with her husband. This was the company that released the first Bronx-style rap by the Sugarhill Gang before going on to record Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
It's interesting to see how hip-hop at times could be parasitic onto "itself", e.g. "black culture", while being a magnificent political tool:
Although rap would later enhance its technical virtuosity through instrumentation, drum machines, and “sampling” existing records — thus making it creatively symbiotic — the first stage was benignly parasitic upon existing black music.
This book was quite dense in the way that it felt to me as if Joe Pernice really tried to squeeze every last odd word from the dictionary and make eveThis book was quite dense in the way that it felt to me as if Joe Pernice really tried to squeeze every last odd word from the dictionary and make every character very eccentric. E.g. "Paul's cough sounded much more productive and serious than my own because it was."
A good thing about the book is that he didn't use The Smiths/Morrissey too much; of course he referred to lyrics but not that often. Nor did he over-use references to the album, which was nice.
All in all, a nice, romantic read about a troubled boy in American suburbia growing up. The best parts were his inner thoughts spilled out onto the page, and what he decided to keep to himself rather than telling people....more