John Peel would have been 72 today
A colleague just reminded me on Facebook that British DJ John Peel would have celebrated his 72nd birthday today. In commemoration, I thought I’d reprint this editorial from Plan B Magazine #3 mainly because it feels like I miss him even more now then I did then. A rare kindred spirit.
Just heard the news about John Peel.
Don’t know what to write. I’m gutted. I saw him on Room 101 a year back, and he was talking about his fear of death. It left a deep impression on me. He was scared. I could so relate. It made me so sad, seeing Peelie like that. I hope he resolved his fear before the end.
I don’t know what to say. It’s undeniable that Peel’s influence and enthusiasm brightened up my own life, and that of thousands of my friends and loved ones. I never envied him, always admired him: felt that just once – just for one time – someone from our side had managed to slip through and infiltrate the mainstream. That he followed his own path was undeniable, that he continued to follow it, uncaring of what those with the power to make his life exceedingly difficult thought, was incredible. And he continued to follow his enthusiasm for music all the way through his life. He was also about the best presenter I think I ever heard on radio: I loved the way he’d um and ah, stumble over words, mumble and play records at the wrong speed, in a medium where glibness and smugness is prized above all.
And he was so funny!
Herein follow half-a-dozen gems that sprung up on the web within 24 hours of his death, showing his dry, understated wit:
“Ah, the sound of distant seagulls” – after hearing Morrissey’s falsetto wailing at the end of ‘What Difference Does It Make?’
“You know, Aretha Franklin can make any old rubbish sound good, and I think she just has” – after watching the video of the Aretha Franklin/George
Michael duet, presenting Top Of The Pops.
“He’s a dickhead in love” – talking about Robert Palmer, same programme.
About Simple Minds: “Well, that was the most exciting video I’ve seen since teatime. Mind you, I did have a late tea.”
About Pete Wylie’s Mighty Wah!: “If that doesn’t make Number One, I shall come and break wind in your kitchen.”
About Josh Wink’s ‘Higher State Of Consciousness’: “I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that sounded better when I played it the other night, at the wrong speed.”
Like all of my generation, Peel was omnipresent when I was a teenager (late Seventies). His radio show was a lifeline for those of us not based in London: the only place one could hear all those records argued over with such passion in the music press each week. There was nowhere else – no Internet, no cable TV and no deregulated radio stations. No record stores, even. Like millions of others, I barely listened to his actual show. I didn’t need to: his taste informed everything around us. Early Eighties, I had a friend who’d make me tapes of Peel Sessions and let me know when a particular band would be on that night – Dolly Mixture, Strawberry Switchblade, Sophisticated Boom Boom. It must have been one of those years while Peelie was going through his punky girl group phase.
I can still remember the sheer disbelief followed by exhilaration upon hearing that John had played a white label of my first single on his show. He didn’t know what to make of it. He played it three times, and compared it to his then cult favourite, …And The Native Hipsters’ ‘Ooh, Look There Goes Concorde Again’. Man, we were excited. It remains one of the most magical moments of my life.
He was always there for us. No matter how crap radio and the press and festivals got during the Nineties and beyond, no matter how corporate and passionless the music industry got, it was so fucking reassuring to know there was someone like Peelie out there for us, holding his corner, never losing the thrill, forever seeking the new…
He gave us hope – not fake, not forced – in a life where hope is almost the most precious commodity of all.
It feels like some of the goodness and magic has gone out of life, never to return. Peelie didn’t give a shit for passing trends: all he dug was the music, the thrill of the new, one more brain-damaging haemorrhage-inducing blast of speed metal, of Fall B-sides or Marc Bolan or Bogshed or Sarah Records or Aswad or Joy Division or The Wedding Present or The White Stripes or The Slits or Beefheart or Static Caravan or Robert Wyatt or Undertones or Bonzo Dog or PJ Harvey or Girls At Our Best or This Heat or Swell Maps or Babes In Toyland or… I’m crying as I type these words.
We’ll miss you, John.
Everett True, October 2004