Back when I was a working critic, part two
I’m trying to avoid working here, so here’s another excerpt. Taken from 2001, I believe.
FRIDAY AUGUST 17 2001
Clever, friendly and articulate, I notice I have no memory of the events that transpired more than three days hence. The sun beats down upon a town of ingrates and foreign students, each more desperate than the last. Headlines read of Helen from Big Brother‘s fondness for television and porridge in both the downmarket tabloids and ‘intelligent’ broadsheets. Everywhere is sound bite city. I think perhaps that I am old, or just misanthropic. The world is so much prettier through a picture frame, so I refuse to leave my room. Fireworks explode with a monotonous regularity and I cannot wait for Fireworks Night because if there’s one thing I love it’s monotony. My fiancée travels every day on a train she hates to a place she hates to a job she mostly hates. Two years ago we would have been sipping whiskey in the Punters Club, alive with the possibilities of a new country, and travel. Publishers want to publish a bastardised account of my life story, celebrity as flipped on its head and exposed for the sham it is, but I feel too disconnected to even bother lying now. I used to call it glamour. Perhaps I possessed some: but increasingly I cannot understand why I should view life except through the screen of a Gameboy console. My book has slipped out, and no one cares, me least of all. I knew the bullies and braggarts would win: Charles Cross with his magical ability to recreate the thoughts running through Kurt’s head as he killed himself, Charles Cross and his ability to keep his mouth shut in the right places so he is rewarded with the journalist’s prize of prizes, the dead star’s journals. I receive emails from Tobi, desperately upset at the intrusion into her life. I’m a critic, not a journalist, and I’d never want to be included with that breed. Sure Courtney betrayed me, but then she never did understand the word loyalty or indeed the meaning of FUN. I’m all for rock revisionism, but not if it means that all I lived through was as dull as some have gone and painted it.
In the evening, I visit the Concorde 2 bar in the company of my sweetheart, and stand in the drinking section among the bright lights and purple walls as some timid boy goes through the routine of playing rock music on a stage several feet away from us in another room. We are too disconnected: me too cynical and wary of sounds that have been made many times before, her tired from the process of living. Sparklehorse are fine, especially when they flick a switch and the guitars light up like Brighton Pier on a summer evening, like Dinosaur Jr made ridiculously easy. I don’t like the ones where he mumbles into his beard and beer because I personally can do that sort of stuff much better, although nowadays I like to sing brash and loud like a camp Philip Schofield auditioning for the lead in ‘Cats’. It’s emotional, it’s sensitive, it’s moving, and we leave after 20 minutes.
During the night, I would imagine that I searched the Internet for three hours for a new mention of myself, even my book, but no. The only review I’ve received was a full page pasting in The Times – that bastardised soap opera of an imitation newspaper – that couldn’t even be bothered to get my name right. The review made me laugh because it was funny and so clearly didn’t understand the thrill of DANCING. The review made me angry because I hate people who don’t understand the thrill of DANCING.
I want to regress to a point where I no longer stare at blank walls.
SATURDAY AUGUST 18
Here’s what makes me happy: badminton. When did the world stop laughing? It’s the only time each week that I feel fulfilled, hitting a damn piece of plastic around a too-bright court, hampered only by my inability to move my wrist. I would play for eight hours a day, if I could, and afterwards drink deeply on a Stella Artois, secure in the knowledge that at last I have done something of worth. We play with a market trader and his driving instructor wife, a lady who’s had a few near misses recently. There is no secret, no guest list and no kudos to be had from choosing who and who not to speak to. There is the sweetest music to be heard: the sound of 1-0, 0-1 first serve, 0-1 second serve, 1-1 and so on – plus the odd frustrated bark of comment. That is music, my friends.
In the evening – skimming past days spent in bloody DIY stores and painting doors several shades of white and maybe cooking a mustard beef joint – we break routine, and visit the Hanbury Ballroom. Quasi are playing and this is an occasion for joy, especially as there is no support band just a mausoleum room full of friendly sorts all shy and happy to have braved the rain and ventured out. My nights are filled with referencing the I Love Music message board at greenspun.com where it seems there is nothing more important in life than that which we choose to make important. Two bands are mentioned a fair amount, the White Stripes and the Strikes or Strokes or something, because of course most of these correspondents are NME and ex-Melody Maker readers. The former has just two members and play rock music, fancy! So I boast and I brag and I even tell a few sorts that I will witness Quasi but no one is impressed and that makes me love the band even more because such casual brilliance is always swiftly ignored. I stand down the front and I dance solidly and rather spastically alone all evening. Sam batters his keyboard into several shades of submission and even plays my favourite Seattle, three AM and those damn immigration bastards have turned away my girlfriend from America, soundtrack moment upon request – ‘It’s Hard To Turn Me On’. (It most certainly is.) Janet drums like the goddess of my dream – or at least similar in spirit (if not style) to Allison, my first ever rock drummer – and is always inventive, always having fun. Those minor chords churn my insides, and the melodies leave my reeling in a cornucopia of bedazzlement. Bedazzled, that’s the only song I want to write. It’s like seeing the Shop Assistants during the 80s, the same overwhelming sense of euphoria.
Afterwards we troop merrily and a trifle blearily through Kemp Town – surprisingly rejuvenated and clearly gone upmarket since my last visit, with Ninety Nine several months back – until we reach a Thai Restaurant, wherein we drink red wine and I ask Sam and Janet several pertinent questions barring the only one I wanted. This band are better than Nirvana, honestly, trust me I do this for a fucking (part) living, right? Afterwards Charlotte remarks that she expected Janet to be warmer, but I imagine the Portland lass has met people like me before… actually, that’s unlikely. (I mean fans.)
If only I worked conversation into all this then I too could be parading my dull insecurities in the pages of Heat alongside the mass.
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 22
Another review has appeared, in the Independent On Sunday, one that mentioned authenticity and drink and memory loss and enthusiasm and Angels of Death like they were the only things in life that mattered. Four stars, and a lovely summing up, but the review was short and the review was brief and I strongly suspect the writer might be an old friend so that doesn’t count as it merely proves the point that the only people who could possibly enjoy my writing as those who know me anyway. Mick Houghton doesn’t send me the Mercury Rev album even though I ask him once. Virgin Books advise that there is no possible way they can let me have more review copies to send out – at my own cost – because, hell, they’ve done more than enough in the pursuit of a hopeless cause anyway. I’m currently fluctuating between numbers 40,768 and for one heady moment 3, 412 on the amazon.co.uk chart. Borders have sold at least two copies, but again, each to people I know. Good job I have such a large family.
During the day, perhaps I interview five famous imaginary animals for Rank magazine (no pay, but the abuse they give me more than makes up for that) – thus taking away from myself my one conversational gambit. I’m fed up of saying oh I have eight books on the go because that is patently a lie that doesn’t even interest me any more. I have to write a Ramones biography by February so I ought to think about it soon and if Vision On ever decide to call me again perhaps a fanzine-based (Legend) compendium will appear but… frankly, it’s not the most exciting way to continue a conversation. Much better to tell your new neighbours on either side as you sip French beer in small bottles and discuss the loneliness of touring with the former Alien Sex Fiend soundman that you have the imaginary animal scenario happening. Someone suggests I should return to writing for fanzines and I’m too tired to argue, as long as they don’t fuck too much with my lifestyle by offering money or anything.
In the evening I am in a state of high anticipation, this being the moment the previous two weeks have been lived for – no, not badminton, that comes along tomorrow and sure I want that, but this is even rarer, a gig populated by females mainly and featuring bands who I know and like. I turn up at the Komedia outrageously early, drink in a solitary manner and am rewarded for my pains with an evening high on dudgeon and backbiting. These are of course my favourite evenings. Sarah and Maggie from The Bangs tell me that they call David Feck ‘Daddy’ Feck and this makes me laugh immensely mainly because I’m so drunk and have such a crush on Sarah and Maggie from The Bangs momentarily. Sarah Dougher imparts many words of sweet wisdom to me and I remember none of them, except how in awe I am of her sweetness and simultaneous sternness. I hope I said nothing bad, but suspect I did. The Gossip are like the Make Up, Mecca Normal and Sleater-Kinney all rolled into one so I hate them until they start spitting hatred at the ridiculously favourable crowd. Of course Jon Slade is dancing down the front to them because no one likes to stand out and watch the Lollies now do they? Oh, you must have looked. I talk about bad jobs with my friend Delia from London who I have known for so many years, and who even gets a mention in my book I think for being so much of herself. (It’s only a small mention though so don’t concern yourselves unduly.) An angel with a taxi cab rescues me from the inevitable beach party scenario that would have awaited poor drunken me, and I return to tell my lady love several dozen times how much I love and appreciate her in French, her trying to sleep.
During the night, I write several nasty emails, immediately deleting the evidence so as to fool my sober side, and resolutely ignore all my friends. Someone accuses me of loving irony, and this is so beside the point and WRONG I vow instantly never to speak to them again. I have to go now, or my homemade Lemon Sorbet might spoil.
THURSDAY AUGUST 23
The day is spent in that old familiar state of paranoia and post-coital (I mean alcoholic) regret and I try to ascertain how much damage I may have done and then realise it doesn’t matter as I fell off the edge of the world a long time ago. I see Jon Slade in the afternoon in the beer garden of a pub where presumably it has been ascertained it’s cool to hang out, and we swap subtleties and insults and putdowns so adroitly I still feel we should be on stage, being paid, in front of a bunch of idiot students, together. I am tired and the sun beats down upon my head. A boy from Circuit suggests that I should write, for free. Ali from the Cranes suggests I should write, for free. Virgin Books think I should pay my entire way on my mini-promotion to tour (to Glasgow, Manchester and London) to help make them money. A man from a record promotional company thinks I could interview Smog, as one of a series on a message board. (I had that man from Smog come down to Brighton once, when it was the fashion. He spoke two words the entire day, to ask what the Pavilion was. That comprised the only interview Allan Jones refused to run.) I write for MOJO who unusually agree to pay and even have the good grace to show interest in my interest in new bands. This pleases me, and makes me smile and race around the house singing old Tom Waits numbers.
In the evening, I play badminton and sweat profusely. I watch Lift To Experience – a Texas band whose album had appealed to me in the same way that Slint and Mogwai and even perhaps Ryan Adams once had – at the Free Butt, now turned into a terrible pale shadow of its former glory thanks to money seeking landlords and idiot security supplied by same unnecessarily thank you very much. The sweat is good, the talk with Rory is good and dwells on the idiot media (anything people think I might want to hear) and the heat and noise is very good. I think it will be suitable for these men in their big hats and bigger sideburns and I hold a candle aloft in anticipation but wrongly as it transpires because this is simply Chapterhouse under a different name and less cuddly singer – shoe-gazing that has snuck back into alternative music, made OK simply by its country of origination, and I’ve never been one for that. Maybe I was tired. Maybe it was the sad state of the Free Butt. It certainly wasn’t the heat because I thought it was spot on appropriate. But that whole trick of turning your guitars up LOUD and onto over-chime is kind of lame nowadays, reminds me of hippies in the 70s that I grew up despising. I must listen to the album again, and see whether I am losing my instinct.
SATURDAY AUGUST 25
I wake up screaming, having dreamt of unspeakable forces in the forest. I dream about Beef Wellington and other fine fare. In the town, the flocks of geese gather, crowding around the newsstands and pizza stalls, anywhere that the names of Helen from Big Brother, the Strikes or Stripes or whatever, Nick Hornby and the tarty one from Survivor might be mentioned. People are scared to venture out by themselves so they always shop in packs. The only memory I’ll take away of this country is a false one, of shopping malls in the middle of former villages, of men with cropped hair and women with bleached ponytails. I never trusted those slides of tribes with facial piercing that you find in the old colonial places. I waste days away by bounding up and down flights of stairs. I fuck irony. I fuck irony and spit on every last accusing side-glance. I want every sullen teenager to revel in Slipknot and Sylvia Plath and realise there is no difference, no difference at all just a more media literate marketing agent. I lie awake, bolt upright, in a seat, lights glinting in the still air, dreaming of the day when crowds disappear and when crowds make sense and are one welcoming sensation. I eat slices of melon and irony and new potatoes, organic because I don’t know if I want to fuck with God, not yet anyway. I dream of the day when stars come tumbling down, and it’s my fault.
In the evening, the entire missing puzzle is sitting outside the Concorde 2 sipping on a pint, basking in the sunshine, making the odd abstruse comment about the same and same, Reading Festival and my newly cropped hair. All I want is a shave and a shoeshine. The boys talk of Chan Marshall and the way she is so damn mysterious, the way she’s so annoying in her insistence at treating each live performance as something unique, never content in her misery and dark whisperings, never content to lean within them, but always seeking the new, the false, the lure. The girls talk of little else, because in this world girls do not exist. We stand chilled in our artificially darkened corners and sway in the breeze of a voice that doesn’t exist, only exists inasmuch as Chan makes it easy for us to place our own interpretations upon it. I talk of friends and Australia with two Australians. I talk of dancing. I talk a lot about dancing nowadays. A man named Stevie Chick sends me a typewritten review that suggests I’m the more soulful of two whores. I guess he could be right. The girl on stage sings the blues only it’s a very maudlin, insular music even for that, and only made bearable by the complete stark lack of instrumentation. Any louder and we’d all be screaming. A couple sits in the corner proud in their unit and ignored by all their former friends. ‘She looks so beautiful, though,’ comes the cry from a broken man.
Afterwards, we stand outside the Hanbury Ballroom, revelling in our beauty and grime. Four nights ago, I fell asleep on the bathroom floor and woke in the morning with a towel wrapped around my waist. Jon and Lorne stood outside refused entry because Lorne was too… What’s the word Jerry? Drunk, I helpfully suggested as security laughed. I danced like a blushing 18-year-old to the sounds of Martha And The Vandellas and didn’t think of Reading once. Chan Marshall becomes sexy when she dances. I drink too much and become extremely obnoxious, depressed and argumentative. It’s OK. I’m among fellow drunks. As long as your behaviour doesn’t deviate from the norm you’ll be fine. Know when to act like an asshole.