Paranoid – Big In America

This is the final extract from Paranoid: Black Days With Sabbath & Other Stories – The Unexpurgated Version, available exclusively on Kindle, priced £2.49.

The Nineties had arrived like a drunk stumbling down the road, but no-one in LA seemed to notice. People kept talking about a recession but the conveyor belt of bands hadn’t appeared to slow down yet and we didn’t know what else to do except keep on keeping on. What else was there?

Down on Melrose, retro-Seventies chic was already big in the stores. But that’s all it was: retro. Whatever happened next, the Eighties had left such a mark on the world, it was hard to imagine it ever going back to the way things were. You could wear flares and buy lava lamps again but you’d never turn the clock back on AIDS. Promiscuity may have been back on the agenda, along with cigarettes and heroin, but free love was gone for good. Now everybody had to pay.

The only place I saw anything happening at all, weirdly, was in the music. Groups like Jane’s Addiction, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Metallica had demonstrated rock’s ability to regenerate itself into newer and fresher hybrids. But even there it was more a case of rummaging through the detritus of the Sixties and Seventies to try and say something new than it was actually having something new to say.

So bland and demographically-driven had the Eighties music industry become, the appearance of a band like Guns N’ Roses – cliché bad-boy rockers swigging Jack Daniel’s and singing about bitches and motherfuckers like they knew something about it – took on huge historical importance. We’d heard it all before, of course, but that had been back in the pre-MTV era, when rock fans still used to expect something from the lyrics. The fact that Guns N’ Roses had arrived just at that moment when Bon Jovi – corporate Reaganomic rock at its zenith – seemed to have taken over the world, was more than just coincidence, I felt. It was the natural order restoring itself. If ever we needed a bunch of arseholes to throw their weight around it was right then, and for me, the Nineties began in earnest, in late ’88, when Appetite For Destruction, the first Guns N’ Roses album, went to No.1 in America. It was almost exciting.

Meanwhile, the onset of rap and acid house had made it abundantly clear to anyone that still gave a shit that there were still some original artists working out there, despite the cynicism and the cost. I thought the signs were good and though I never bought vinyl records anymore, I began to amass a surprisingly large collection of CDs, going back and rediscovering old stuff I’d completely forgotten about like Little Feat, Steely Dan and Dr John, as well as dipping into new pools of wisdom from the likes of The Digital Underground, Ice T, Nine Inch Nails and Dr Dre.

CDs were where it was at, dude. More tracks, less hassle. And you got to programme the tracks to play in any order you liked, even skip the ones you didn’t like. Here, at last, was real democracy at work in music. It was funny how all the old farts had such a downer on them. Even DJs that liked to think of themselves as ‘new wave’, like John Peel, displayed a sickeningly old-wave attitude to vinyl, building up an utterly unwarranted mystique about it, as though even owning a CD required some form of mumbling apology.

Don’t get me wrong, Peely still does the best show on the radio, but this affectation for vinyl reminded me of those anal little strips of humanity who accused Dylan of being a Judas for picking up an electric guitar. It was all so much better in the old days, they seemed to be saying. Yeah, right. Steam-trains, white bread, flat-caps and shelves and shelves of carefully alphabetised vinyl … all the things I hated about musty, more-tea-vicar England.

The Nineties, I felt, could not help but be a better time for music. Maybe it would be a better time for everything. We would all be richer, saner, older, wiser. All we had to do was pray they didn’t drop the bomb, or that the aliens didn’t finally reveal themselves and spoil the game for everyone. As long as neither of those two things happened we would all live happily ever after … That’s how it seemed to me, anyway, sitting out there by the pool some mornings with my CD Walkman on, squinting into the smog and thinking about Pamela Anderson’s breast implants.

The Gulf War had been a pleasant enough diversion – with CNN as the new MTV – and now they were going to vote in the first sax-playing, dope-smoking, draft-dodging, ex-hippy president. The fun just never stopped. Of course, he had lied about not inhaling. But then what hadn’t he lied about whenever his personal life came under the media microscope?

No, Clinton was the genuine article. He knew it wasn’t his job to tell the truth. If he was to be any sort of president at all, he knew his job would be to placate and reassure the TV-watching audience; to reinforce the lie that at least someone somewhere knew what was going on, and to deceive as many people as possible into believing all the things they wanted to hear.

It was a highly specialised job and only the very best could pull it off. But looking at Clinton, seeing him turning on the naughty schoolboy smile, you knew he’d fit in with the rest of the bleary cast no problem at all. Bill had mendacity written all over him. You knew there wasn’t anything that pretty boy wouldn’t do when the time came. He was perfect. There hadn’t been such a smooth operator gunning for the gig since Reagan made the part his 10 years before. But even the Russians fell for Big Ron. Maggie, too. Everybody loves a cowboy. Well, now they had another one. Cowboy Bill and his feisty little woman, Hopalong Hilary…

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