Enter Title Here

There is a gurning simpleton outside my office door. He keeps laughing like this: herherherherherherherherherherherher. Like a rattling gun. Herherherherherherheher… on and on. With that wincing air of desperation that people have in their laughter when they are doing it at work where not much is really that funny. They just keep laughing anyway, nervously, desperately.

I am on the other side of the door at my desk trying to write a think piece about Pink Floyd. That is, something serious, yet poetic, as befits their music. Something insightful, hopefully, that will suggest an extra layer to the story, already well told elsewhere.

But the laughter is stopping me from thinking about anything like that. I imagine taking a gun and going outside and shooting the fucker. But I know it’s not his fault. He is trapped, like the rest of us, in somebody else’s dream, and the manic laughter is merely his signalling his fear.

I sit back and take a long drink of water. It doesn’t help. I stretch my legs out, my feet touching the radiator by the window and close my eyes. Try and block it all out. But it is not easy.

There is the Floyd thing and there is also The Doors thing. The book is coming out end of October and I am writing a couple of pieces about it for a Certain Magazine. I am fortunate, it should help publicise the book. I am fortunate and yet I feel low. Hard done by. Not by the offer of work but by something I can’t quite define. Fed up being here in my office. Fed up being here in this same life, that I’ve known for nearly 60 years. It bores me. I am all too familiar with the terrain. I no longer care how it turns out in the end.

And then more laughter. What in fuck is so funny? It’s not just today it’s every day this guy is around. I think he is some kind of salesman, goes out to do the deed then comes back and makes his report. Amidst much endless nameless desperate laughter.

Meanwhile, back at my desk, there is also the Van Halen thing. Something I said I would write for a Certain Foreign Magazine. Again, nice work if you can get it. And I am so very, very grateful. Yet so very, very unglued. Neither happy nor unhappy.

And the emails. Someone in Australia is making a documentary, and asks if they can interview me, first week of December. I have said yes, but how much will they pay? They have not responded. They never do straight away when you ask for the money. And when they do they will say we don’t have a very big budget but we can offer you £150 and I will say that’s not enough and they will say well how much is enough and I will say £500 and they will faint with shock and come back and say we could stretch to £200 plus your travel expenses and I will say I don’t live in London and my travel expenses alone will come to about £100 which is why I want £500, cheap at the fucking price mate and they will say how about £250 and if I am sufficiently bored I might say yes but I will likely say no and anyway whatever way it goes come the first week of December I will give even less of a fuck than I do right now. Unless they come up with the £500 then I will be OK. But they won’t. They never do.

That fucking laughter. Herherherherherherherherherherher. Herherher. There is a gurning simpleton at my door and there is nothing I can do about it. I can’t even ask him to go inside his own office and close his door. I did that at my last place and was forced to move office because everyone took against me what harm was there in a bit of office banter that guy’s weird and etc.

The girl from Argentina who sends the long pleading email asking me to put her in touch with the ‘boys’ from Iron Maiden. The guy from Brazil who wants to know about Guns N’ Roses. I tell him it’s all in the book he says can I send him the book I tell him to click on fucking Amazon.

It’s too much. It’s not enough. My feet won’t settle on the radiator and besides I have work to do. I get back into character and try and go to work. All that other stuff is going to have to wait anyhow as I have a book proposal for a book I’m really not that sure I should be doing that I am hurrying to finish. My tax inspector needs the money. Has threatened to ruin my life if I don’t give it to him. I must be a bad guy for him to talk to me like that.


You too?

I realise I am blissfully behind the curve here but just now I watched that wincingly awful ‘presentation’ on YouTube of the ‘unveiling’, via Apple bigwigs and iTune carnalities, of the ‘new’ U2 album, Songs Of Innocence.

Never, surely, has an album been so sarcastically titled as this. From Bono’s risibly scripted ‘conversation’ with Tim Whassisname, the Apple head nerd, wherein he ‘asks’ whether it might be ‘possible’ for U2′s new album – their best ever, says Bono, you’ll be staggered to hear – can be, somehow, by pushing a “magic button” be made ‘available’ to the entire world via iTunes, to the moment when the rest of the band, asleep in a line behind the ever-beshaded Bono, almost break into embarrassed smiles, the whole thing stinks.

Followed by, oh the sheer anticipation, will it never start, the vaunted Tim Applenerd touching Bono’s finger and thereby ‘activating’ the new album so that we all might have the benefit of this wondrous thing from above FOR FREE!!!! To me sitting here going what the fuck is this shit? Am I not getting the joke? They can’t actually be serious can they? And if they are what does that say about how they view their own audience, as gormless wankers with no clue whether it’s Tuesday or Tesco?


Didn’t Radiohead do all this years ago? Didn’t the world’s music-loving populace all learn how to ‘access’ these so-called new ‘albums’ FOR FREE years ago too? Worst of all, have you heard the ‘brilliant new single from U2′ as the radio DJs seem to have been ordered to describe it? It’s shite! And I speak as someone who has always admired the musical works of this once great group. I mean, bollocks. Total. I can’t even remember how it goes and I’ve heard it three times now.

How could know-all Bono have got it all so spectacularly wrong? A week on from this great ‘event’, has anyone even bothered to listen to the damn thing? OF COURSE NOT! In this hype-filled century we have come to know the smell of horse shit better than we know our own screen names. One click and if it doesn’t work… we’re gone!

Contrast this with the comparatively low-key arrival in October of the first Pink Floyd album for 20 years, Endless River. The first anyone heard of that was when Mrs Polly Gilmour tweeted about it back in Juy. Since then… nothing. Nor will there be much more until the album is available for download or stealing, or both, in the next few weeks. At which point, I guarantee you, we will all be much more curious to know about that than the  by then totally forgotten Songs Of Innocence – I can’t stop laughing at that title. How fucked up must these old geezers be to think they could get away with calling their latest contrivance that? Like Miley Cyrus – now their nearest rival – calling her next album (does she do albums, or isn’t she that foolish?) Songs Of A Little Girl.

Or maybe I’m wrong and we really can expect to see David Gilmour and Nick Mason all jigging around like drunken tinkers on stage with some nobody from Microsoft jabbering about how staggeringly awesome it would be to make their album ‘available’ to everyone FOR FREE. Did you hear him – FREE!!! So you’re not allowed not to like it. You have to have it. Bono insists.

At least Pink Floyd keep their flying pigs floating in the air, far away from the stage…

The Real Paranoid

An older friend told me over the weekend that he had recently bought a copy of Paranoid, and I found myself, not for the first time in such circumstances, hurriedly trying to explain that the book is not a work of straight autobiography but rather an amalgam of fact and fiction. And in so doing, sounding like I was being defensive, even deceitful. Which is when, again hardly for the first time, I found myself wishing I had written a proper introduction to the work, so that I wouldn’t be caught on the wrong foot like this, trying to explain something that shouldn’t need explanation – not if it works the way I intended – but which nonetheless always seems to require some form of explanation to those that understandably simply take it at face value.

So… deep breath…

First off, it is emphatically not a book about drugs. But it is a book about addiction. That is, addiction as allegory and metaphor for what, at the time, I was seeing as various systems of control that exert intolerable pressure in all our lives. Be they politics, sport, fashion, music, TV, food, love, whatever. That far from being outsiders the self-styled drug addicts were actually just a more obvious example of all of us at our most controlled.

So that when the book begins, ‘I took the needle and stuck it in right my arm’, I am saying, ‘I bought the ticket and took the ride – all the way, come what may.’ Which is what Paranoid is actually all about in one line.

For to me, when I was young, there was no point in buying the ticket and not taking the ride all the way to the bitter end. That is, no point living without doing it hand in hand with death every step of the way. No point, no meaning, no risk, no reward, no punishment, no crime, no nothing, finito, amigo, dig?

Paranoid is about being addicted to the drug of life. All the drugs of life. Being, as Clive James says, sentenced to life. Knowing that the secret of life is death. As the book says ‘Everyone knew it but acted like they didn’t.’

As for the characters in Paranoid, including the one called Mick Wall, these are again either composite characters, or merely two-dimensional aspects of various characters, real and imagined. I was never trying to accurately describe anyone. Not even myself. Especially not myself. That would have been much too hard. Instead, I wanted to accurately describe something else. A story. Told from the outside, by one who had deliberately put himself there, knowing he was never really in anyway. That’s how it felt and looked at the time anyway.

I really should have tried to write this down and put it at the front of the book at the time it was first published. But I couldn’t. Because that would have given the game away to the publishers, who honestly thought they were getting a book about Black Sabbath, or about rock music, or something like that. The truth is, I really didn’t know what kind of book I was writing as I did it, just that it definitely wasn’t one of those sorts of books.

This would be something else. And still is. Even as I sit here shocked that people have begun buying it all over again, albeit in original form via Kindle. And that I feel moved to try and explain myself, all these years and lifetimes later.

Finally then that other question: will I write a follow-up? For years I told my friend Jon Hotten that I was going to write a follow-up called 40. A kind of what-happened-next book to Paranoid. But that would have required something too literal. As though Paranoid was a faithful description of a life I might have once led. Which, I repeat, most emphatically, it is not. It is a blackened version of how things might once have been. Maybe. If not for…

I am, however, working on another, semi-autobiographical book, about my years hanging out with the you-know-whos of this rocking world. This will be the yin to Paranoid’s yang, though. For if Paranoid was darkness visible, this will be that shining star that lights the gloom. Occasionally, almost always when you’ve given up hope of ever seeing it again.

Still trying to think of a cool title though…

Neck And Neck With Cheryl

Never mind the Yes and No vote. The real race for No.1 is the current hour-by-hour battle being waged on the Kindle music charts between Paranoid and the Cheryl Cole book, My Story.

Arguments for and against as follows:

1) I wrote my book all on my own, sweating and shitting and wondering what the fuck I was doing. I finished it the day before I got married in 1998 and wondered if I might actually live to regret it. I still get that every time someone mails in taking it all at face value.

Cheryl only read her book, smiling and crying and sniffling about feeling the ‘pressure’. Poor pet. She finished it between buggering up her American X Factor chances – actually missing a bullet as the show was a total flopperooon – and being asked (begged) back onto the UK line-up of said sinking ship.

2) There are far more mentions of ‘fuck’, ‘cunt’, ‘blood’ and ‘shit’ in my book than there are in Cheryl’s. She definitely missed a trick there.

3) Cheryl only married a cock in her book. I actually am a cock in my book.

4) My book is cheaper than Cheryl’s. Though in fairness my book seems to be cheaper than everybody else’s in the Kindle chart due to my super-duper September promotion whereby you can click and buy for just 99p.

5) If you vote Yes to my book nobody has to get a new passport. While if you vote No to Cheryl’s book, even if you don’t buy my book, you have demonstrated that you have remarkable good taste and don’t deserve to die. Yet.

6) Come on, when did Wor Cheryl ever write a good blog? Or even a bad one? And if you buy Paranoid I promise there will be another to follow, even more disgusting and horrible and full of WORDS!!

Paranoid – September Promotion 99p

For one month only – September – you can now download Paranoid: The Unexpurgated Version onto your Kindle for just 99p.

To mark this event, here is one last extract from the book itself, the original version, not the one that originally appeared in the book. From Chapter Seven…

It was the morning of Live Aid, in Philadelphia, and despite our vicious hangovers we were getting ready to feed the world. Thankfully, there was no Geldof-figure in America to bore us with their tantrums, but still it was wearying the way every person you met felt obliged to mouth some staggeringly repulsive guff about what a ‘great day’ this would be. Let the crowd send all their money to Africa, then go back to their racist little lives, so what? The crowd would always love a circus. Me, I wanted to stay in bed and watch the other channel. Fat chance. As usual, the job had gotten in the way.

This time I had some really big pots on my hands. Along with Led Zeppelin, Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Who, Status Quo and several other old grizzlies, Ozzy and the three other original members of Black Sabbath had agreed to reform especially for the occasion, and in exchange for a four-page feature in Kerrang!, Sharon had flown me out to Philadelphia to meet up with Ozzy and accompany them all to the show.

We were staying at the Four Seasons hotel, in the centre of town – us and all the other second-stringers like Simple Minds, Bryan Adams, The Pretenders, The Power Station, The Thompson Twins … Do-gooders, all doing it good for the cameras, far more interested in fame than famine, all sucking each other off in the lobby and finger-fucking in the bar.

The really big boys like Eric and Bob and Jimmy and Ronnie all knew better, of course, and were safely ensconced in secluded mansions on the outskirts of town. We might be feeding the world, but that didn’t mean we would be changing places at the table.

“I know it’s for a good cause, but to be honest, I don’t really care,” Ozzy had admitted, when we spoke on the eve of the show.

I had discovered that, once you’d got past the sad clown facade, Ozzy was one of the very few rock stars who always told you exactly what he thought. He was the first person I’d met since Mandy, who really knew what a bucket of shit the whole business was, and wasn’t afraid to express it. He was fearless, not through arrogance, more just a certain weariness. He hadn’t just bought the T-shirt, it was his fucking picture on it …

“It’s like my father used to say: in the war, everyone was friendly and helped each other, but as soon as the war ended they were back to being pricks again,” Ozzy said. “And I bet there’ll be people there tomorrow who’ll be telling each other to go fuck themselves again the next day.”

Did it matter though, as long as the money was raised?

Yes and no. “The thing is,” he said, “they’ll get the money, and food will be taken over and they’ll feed them and they’ll still fuckin’ starve again! Because the food, no matter how much is raised today, wont last forever. I think that not only rock ‘n’ roll groups should do this, but industry, too – the IBMs and GECs. They should say, ‘All right, one week a year our output will go to charity’, whatever that might be. I mean, they spend hundreds of millions on nuclear defence, but would they ever say, ‘OK, let’s save a hundred million today and feed these fuckers’? That’s nothing to the government, it’s not a piss in the ocean! It’s like giving a tramp a dime. But no, they’d rather burn left-over supplies of wheat than stop people dying. They crush billions and billions of apples back into the ground because of surplus stocks … I mean, I know it’s only apples and they’d probably be bored stiff sitting back in the old desert eating a ton of fuckin’ apples, but its better than a fuckin’ pile of dirt, ain’t it?”

It was a poor joke, perhaps, but Ozzy wasn’t the only artist who had expressed serious doubts about the true validity of the Live Aid concerts. Huey Lewis And The News, who were then huge in America, had actually pulled out of the show at the last minute after reports had been aired in the US that many of the supplies the London-based Band Aid Trust were sending to Africa were being left to rot in dusty, unguarded docks while more ‘important’ deliveries of weapons and ammunition were unloaded first.

And if Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, Lionel Ritchie, Quincy Jones and all those other black supercats that regularly thanked God on their albums had thought enough of the project to record the buttock-clenching ‘We Are The World’, why didn’t any of them put themselves forward for the actual show? Was it because they hadn’t been asked? Or was it that they’d been asked but had turned it down?

Whatever, something strange was going on here. If I’d been any kind of a reporter, I would have tried to dig a little deeper, perhaps, tried to unearth a few ungnawed bones. But I wasn’t just any kind of reporter. I was Tarzan, swinging through the trees, grabbing at the first vine that came to hand, anything just to keep moving, keep me up there … above ground … yodelling.

Readers Write, Author Answers

Hi Mick
Just finished your book on WAR, and must say as a fan of the band since hearing Appetite in the school classroom in 1987, I absolutely loved it, in fact have read it twice on our recent family holiday.
Am now immersing myself in youtube videos to accompany the text!
Many thanks for such an enjoyable read!
Stuart Calder

Hi Mick,

I’m a huge fan of your work and just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your books. I consider your books on AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, and Black Sabbath to be the definitive biographies of those particular bands. The research and detail that went into all of these books is astounding and I believe you have set the benchmark for all future rock biographies with the standard and consistency you have demonstrated over the last few years. You can add your Axl Rose book to that list as well, another excellent read.

I also must have read your Iron Maiden biography cover to cover around 7 or 8 times. I realise this was an official biography and therefore your hands must have been tied, so to speak. Knowing how in control Steve Harris likes to be I would find it interesting to hear what you have to say about the writing process for that book and would love to see what an unofficial biography on Maiden might read like (I realise this is probably unlikely).

Recently, I purchased your e-book Paranoid for my Kindle (the only book I’ve ever bought for the device) and thoroughly enjoyed it. The honesty with which you discussed dark topics such as your drug addiction was refreshing. I found it even more enjoyable than Nick Kent’s Apathy For The Devil, which I also read recently. If you intend to release another biographical work, like you have hinted, I would certainly purchase it, in whatever form it is released.

I have been reading your website lately and enjoy your posts – honest, unapologetic, an best of all, insightful. You have mentioned Thin Lizzy a few times and it made me wonder if you’ve ever considered giving them the Mick Wall treatment?

Also, have you ever considered writing books on Alice Cooper, Motorhead, or Neil Young?

There’s not much in the way of quality reading material out there on either Alice Cooper or Motorhead, and both certainly have careers long enough and discographies large enough (and personalities interesting enough) to make for a decent read.

And while there are some decent books available on Neil Young, I feel you could bring a lot to the table if you were to try and explore his contrary personality.

Anyway, I hope you continue to write for years to come, whatever it may be.

All the best,

Fearghal Traynor, Dublin, Ireland


Football and Time Travel

Time travel first…

The new Dr Who, Episoide One… hugely underwhelming. The plot was so thin you could have worn it as a condom. And don’t give me that guff about it’s a children’s programme. That’s like saying Top Gear is a programme about cars. Dr Who is top drawer BBC 1 entertainment and from 2005 until Russell T Davies left it fucking rocked. Big time. Not now though. This was like going back in time to the 1980s. Better effects, just about, but a worrying reliance on recurring characters, Victorian England – again? – even a dinosaur.

Even the novelty of seeing the brilliant Peter Capaldi as the ‘new’ doctor didn’t excite my inner tardis. He would have been better as the ‘new’ Master. If they’d really wanted to thrill us with a new ‘old’ doctor they should have stuck with John Hurt. Or carried on as they were with the boy who used to play Merlin. Or if all else failed, got Jeremy Clarkson to play the dinosaur. Or make Mr Hope from Holby the new older companion.

Anyway, balls to it. I am a Who fan, from 1963 to the start of the awful earthbound Jon Pertwee iteration. Then leaping forward in time to the magnificent Christopher Eccleston revamp in 2005. I thought Tennant was the apotheosis and Smith a surprisingly good, if uncompelling, replacement. And I was very intrigued by the arrival of Capaldi. But if this first episode was anything to go by it’s time for me and my sexpot companion to vanish into space and time and find a better world to save.

Football… Something I don’t write about here but which I will make one small observation about now. MK Dons 4 Manchester United’s Second Team 0. Who gives a shit? I mean, really? Apart from deluded MK Dons fans who now imagine their next match against Crawley will be more of the glorious same. Fair play to the underdogs, etc. But none of this is news. In the same way that stories of some band going straight into the US Top 10 with their latest album is news.

But a story that says, Fave Metal Band look certain to sell 29,000 copies of their new album in first week of release, thereby guaranteeing them a No.3 place in the charts is not quite as sexy, is it? No more than Poor Old Little Team Beats Poor Old Big Team’s Reserves is a gripping headline.

What I’m saying is, tell me something good. That means something to me not just the copy-hungry hacks whose job it is to turn farts into fantasies. Give me a real reason to turn to the sports section, not just some tabloid tarting around. Same thing with TV. Fuck’s sake, BBC 1, you’ve had a year to make the ‘new’ older Who better than the ‘old’ younger Who and what do you do, turn back time and turn it into a boring children’s programme.

Holiday Daze

This has been the longest holiday the family and I have ever been on. Not in days but in daze. Eldest daughter got sick. Wife had recurrence of chronic back problem. Then boy got the shits. Someone out there out decided they couldn’t pay me the deal-breaker money that was supposed to see us through the time we were away (huge thanks for that). And the weather turned from sunny and cold to rainy and cold.

And yet… there has been planty of largely unforeseeen good stuff. I discovered who my real friends are (I already knew but nothing shows you more than when you become the friend in need). I agreed a way of working on a new project which wasn’t what I really wanted but may turn out to be just what I really needed. Kids and wife and I all recovered, as has (today at any rate) the weather. I even – just now – did the sodding ice bucket challenge thing. (Hardto refsue as my 8 year old son nominated me, little bastard).

We have two days – daze – left and we are determined to make the most of it. Sun, sea, and thanks and praise to the lord, cos it will be all right. As the great Irv says in American Hustler, “If you believe it’s true…”  

You’re So Lucky

Bill opened up the laptop and clicked it on. While he waited he surveyed the morning post. Bills from both Gas and Electrcity. Two credit card bills, both red with additonal late payments charges. He had three other maxed-out cards that would be sending in their monthly bills too but that was for another day.

He checked his bank’s phone app and saw that his savings were 0, current account £59 over its overdraft limit, and his business acount had just enough to pay the office rent. That left him £17.

He opened up his email and there was the email from his agent he had been waiting on. Would it be good or bad? His head said bad but his heart still hoped. He opened it. Bad. The latest proposal was loved by three different publishers but the only one ready to get started on it offered no advance but a big royalty. On paper, on email, it sounded good. But Bill thought of that £17 and those bills by his laptop and his balls began to wither. His agent advised accepting the offer. Bill answered, yes, great, that’s wonderful, brilliant, thank you. Then he went back to bed and stared into space.

There were three other book ‘projects’ floating around in various states of advancement. There was also a film script. None of it paid any money whatsoever right now, though might do eventually. Probably. By which time Bill would be dead in the water. He thought about selling the house. But that would mean fiixing the broken downstairs lighting, the broken upstairs plumbing leak and covering up the fact the shower hadn’t worked for two years. And even if he swung that, what did he tell his wife and kids?

From his bedroom, Bill heard his email ping. Avon calling?

He dragged himself out of bed and went into the other room and opened the email. It was from a reader.

“Dear Mr Balls, I read your book on Saul Bleed and all I can say is it’s the biggest piece of shit I’ve ever read. What a total rip off! I don’t know how you can sleep at night, cashing in on the death of this great poet. It’s obvious you ony did it for the money. People like you make me sick! I hope you get cancer and die a lonely death you scumbag. Best wishes, Helen Sockcuck.” She added a P.S. “You are so lucky to be writer. Most of us have to do horrible jobs. You get to sit around all day writing about the things you love. Think of the nurses and the ones in Tesco. You don’t know how lucky you are. Wanker. HSx” 

Bill started his own new email. It was to his last and only friend Gary - another writer, also with wife and family to support, and with his own worries. Bill hated to do it but what choice did he have? He knew Gary would ony be able to kick in a few hundred, if at all, but that would give Bill a chance to breathe. To think. To unfreeze long enough to give the wheel another turn. He wrote the email, pressed send, then went back to bed to hide his shame.

Heart FM

One of the things about being on holiday – apart from the constant, hour-by-hour wallet-emptying – are the daily drives back and forth to whatever pleasure palace the kids have demanded we take them. This also entails huge dollops of Heart FM on the car radio. Or Kiss FM. Even when I sneakily switch ro Radio 2 it doesn’t help, throwing out something so off-limits kids-wise I am soon detected and flogged.

There is, however, a positive to this. The realisation that there are some seriously top-drawer artists and records out there. Case in point: Ed Sheeran and Pharell Williams ‘Sing’. People talk about the golden days of Motown, or of soul. But this mother is up there, trust me. A wonderful, glorious pop-soul-hiphop moment guaranteed to make your sun shine hard. But then another Ed Sheeran comes on, ‘Thinking Out Loud’, a ballad, completely different and utterly masterful. If James Taylor of Rod Stewart had done this in 1973 it would be heralded today as an all-time classsic.

Then there’s Bruno Mars, who is so prolific he makes Elton John in his two-albums-a-year heyday look slovenly. And each song a true pop gem. Or Jesse J, who whatever you think of her on The Voice, has to be one of the most talented singer-songwriters this country has ever produced. Or Sam Smith. For fuck’s sake, what a voice, powerful, nuanced, real. And rock oldies still harp on about Coverdale and Hughes and so forth. Sam Smith pisses all over them. He sounds more like one of the great 60s soul men than he does a powder puff Heart FM boy-toy. And don’t even get me started on Adele, the current Queen of Soul who also does a stunning cover of Bob Dylan for fun. I don’t find gigs fun anymore but I’d pay to see Adele.

But wait. None of this is to say I now listen to Heart and get my jollies off singing along to Katy Perry. Just how astounded and impressed I am at the sheer quality of the stuff out there that my kids listen to. If only some of the odler rockers could still produce stuff even half as good as this, as new and fresh and full of imagination. We might even start buying their here-today-gone-later-today albums again.

North of Nor Folk

Another new day in nice Norfolk and things are in full swing. Sort of. Stayed in this morning to finish a ‘thing’ that can’t wait while wife and kids went out exploring the local town. 15 minutes later they were back in the car on their way to Norwich. We both did all right-ish in the end. I nearly finished what i was doing and wife didn’t quite kill the kids. Then in the afternoon we all drove to Mundesley beach where it was sandy sunny and arse-clenchingly cold. Later we drove home shivering. The kids loved it. Wife and I were no longer speaking. Stopped off on way for very cold beer. Funny how that can warm you up. That and the large Jamie’s I poured to go with it.

north folk

So I did the Voewood thing on Saturdsy – with all the fam in front row attendance. In the main tent which I thought I’d never fill yet was somehow full by the time I started blathering. What I discovered was that people are intetested in book talk but much prefer the stories which they all laughed at. I always knew this but was surpised as this crowd was more literary than rock. Made me definitely want to do more. Meanwhile… Sunday was the official start of the holiday part of this trip. Which of course meant a day out at Dinosaur World! Motto: You’ll be glad you came and saurus. Proper monsters of rock stuff. Boy loved it. Girls hissed and moaned for first 10 mins then loved it. Mum and dad… who cares what they like! Yay! Actually a long afternoon in the sunny fresh air. Did us both the power of good. Day ended with a real find – an exceptional Chinese takeaway. We are now spoiled forever. No other Chinese will ever come close. Then the real highlight of the day. All in bed by 9pm. Trying to read but actually zzzzzzzz. Today – true metal at Norfolk Lavender. Smell it good baby…

Robin Williams

Yes it was a shocker. For the first 10 seconds. Then the more I thought about it, the more I recalled that manic zipwire energy, that bipolar-like speed-of-light jump from happy to sad and back again. That grin on his face that always said I’m desperate more than it ever did I’m happy. None of which lessened the shock or dismay. Just that’s what came to mind when I read the terrible news.

My next thought was: how do I tell the children? My kids were all very young when they first got into Mrs Doubtfire and they still watch the DVD from time to time, still reference it in their talk, their fun and games. My boy was only about five when he had The Fisher King on repeat (boy did that drive me crazy but I had to admire his taste) and The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen. How do you explain to them what just happened? How do you explain to yourself?

I never met Robin Williams but I knew a couple of people that did and they both tell me they were shocked by the news but not surprised. They said he reeked of it when they met him, not death but madness, not that kind of madness, but sadness. The deep cut kind. The black dog that always follows you home.

I know a lot of us get that. He must have it had it bad though to take those steps, to think about it, probably for far too long a time. Yes, he had the money and the fame and the kids and the beautiful wife. So what? Being famous, a comedian, a high-wire act like Robin Williams was, you don’t start that journey whole. You start because you have a chasm inside that can only be temporarily filled, even a little bit, by the contact high of an audience’s ecstatic laughter and applause. 

Only somebody that has never had real-deal depression would consider fame and fortune a significant factor in making someone think twice about taking their own life. Of course he thought twice. He almost certainly thought about nothing else for weeks, months, years.

Someone who knows told me just now: “At least he is now out of pain. Can you imagine the pain he was in to do something like that?” I’d like to think that was true. Only that would postulate a place beyond death where such concepts still matter. Maybe there is. Maybe they do. Cold comfort though right now for those he left behind. And the thought of what he must have been going through all these years we were laughing our asses off at him.

Lou Reed Paperback

Dear Lou,

I thought I would write you a letter, let you know what went on when I wrote my book about you, after I heard of your death. Books are different. Not like newspapers, or TV programmes, or radio tributes, or online obituaries. All those things can come tumbling down the wire when a famous person dies. Put it in a book, though, and people look at you say you’re obscene.

Claim you only did it for the money. Well, you and me know all about that Lou. Of course we did it for the money. That’s how we survive. Like when you hooked-up with Bowie and made Transformer. Man, you were on your uppers but you pulled it out of the bag. Do what you gotta do, as you sang on ‘I Love You Suzanne’.

Writing books that people don’t buy won’t feed my children or give my wife that replacement CD player in the car for the one that’s broken. So of course I did it for the money. I do all my books for the money. There isn’t a word I’ve written for 35 years that wasn’t for the money.

In this case though, when I wrote my book about you, there was something else, as you well know. I was putting part of my entire record-buying, music-loving life on the line.

The day I was walking home from school in the pissing rain and Stokey made  fun because I was carrying a copy of Transformer under my arm.

“What a load of rubbish,” he sneered, and Stokey was the authority on album music back then. I hid my face in shame and kept walking. What else could I do?

Or the time my mother walked in while I was listening to ‘The Kids’ on Berlin, alarmed at the sound of the kids all howling so pitifully. Wow. How do you explain that kind of pop music to your mum? I didn’t know. Just endured the face she pulled as I showed her the album sleeve.

“Just turn it down, will ya? Your father’s trying to sleep.”

Or those times a few years later when me and Mick and Sandy and Pete would sit and argue over the merits of Growing Up In Public or Rock And Roll Heart. Man, those were hard albums to love. I knew what the others were talking about as they dismissed them as second rate junkie dreams.

“He only does albums now for the money,” said Sandy and, well, he was probably right.

“You wait,” I said, not really believing it, “One day we’ll be looking back on these albums the same way we do now the Velvet Underground albums. Everybody thought they were shit too when they first came out.”

They all looked at me doubtfully. Very, very doubtfully. And I wonder if even now Lou you don’t agree a little bit too.

Or all those times, in Paranoid days, when ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’ or ‘Beginning To See The Light’ or ‘Sister Ray’, or anything you crazy fucker did really, became the permanent midnight soundtracks for my own ‘psychic explorations’, let’s put it that way. You know what I mean, Lou. I learned it all from you, after all. You and William Burroughs and Keith Richards.

Here’s something I don’t think I ever told you about before, though, Lou. That summer back in 1977 between my first rejection letters from Sounds magazine and my first review getting published – that rotten 10 months when I could have gone any direction except the one I really wanted – one of the things that made me more determined than ever to somehow find my way into that place, was the three-part piece Giovanni Dadomo wrote in Sounds on the history of the Velvet Underground.

Lou, that was real street poetry, as good as yours, and you know it. It came as no surprise to learn later that Gio was one of the only rock journalists you could ever stand.

Well, guess what, about five years ago, I was browsing through this old-issues list, a grown man looking up old stories from his youth for whatever book I was writing for the money at the time, and I came across the Giovanni 1977 three-part feature. They only had parts 2 and 3 and they were going for about £20 each but fuck that I HAD to have them. So I mailed them, sent them my money, and when that package arrived in the post days later I spent hours on my grown up own devouring each and every word, unable to tell which was greater, Gio’s magic writing or your magic story.

Then sitting alone in front of the TV, watching you and Metallica go at it on the Jools Holland show, doing ‘Iced Honey’, from the FANTASTIC Lulu album, the album I reviewed in Classic Rock and gave 10/10 to then was told that was ridiculous and to rewrite the review, with an absolute maximum rating of 7/10 if I really, really had to. Which I did, giving it 7/10, but still meaning 10/10.

Until that Sunday, Lou, when my friend Harry, not a Lou Reed fan but knowing me well enough to understand what the news would mean to me, texted to let me know you had died. And how it hurt. How it felt. How much I desperately wanted to write something about it. Yes, for the money. Of course, for the money. Always for the money, like everything, right Lou?

Then reading those nothing little snips with their snotty reviews, people like that U2 groupie Neil McCormick in The Telegraph, still hung up because Bono won’t return his calls anymore. And by the way, did you know Neil once played in a band? That’s right, you can read about it in every fucking thing he writes. The kind of cunt we’re talking about. Woulda run a mile had he seen the real you, Lou, and me coming, waving our needles.

Or that other anal joke in the Sunday TImes, Waldemar Januszczak, all bent out of shape because he once had dinner with Lou and droning on about how well he knew Lou and what a nice fucking guy he was.

I bet you smiled indulgently when you read your dear friend telling people that, right Lou? That fat little starfucker, writing his boring reviews for the money, all for the money, kind of trip you woulda stepped on in the old days, look behind you fatty.

Then today, as the paperback version  of my book, Lou Reed: The Life, is published, feeling justified and glad and deeply relieved that I got to write what it was I had to say. For the money. And the sheer fuck of it.

Because I loved you, Lou. I still do.

Best wishes,


Hidden In Plain Sight: Hysteria

Even now, people still go on about Pyromania, as though that was the definitive Def Leppard album of the 1980s. While completing missing the obvious. That Hysteria was a million times better, more advanced, more successful, musically and commercially.

Let’s stay with the music. For me, Hysteria is the definitive rock album of the 80s. Not Appetite For Destruction or Master Of Puppets or whatever else the conventional wisdom currently is. That was niche music that somehow seeped into the mainstream like blood through the bandages.

Hysteria was designed and built for the widest possible audience, and it found it. Except it did more than that. It also delivered a new, far more elevated form of rock, one that the world had not seen before. Nor, arguably, has seen since.

And it was all down to the producer, Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange. Mutt was already a superstar, of course. Had guided AC/DC through their two best albums, in Highway To Hell and Back In Black, had lifted Foreigner and The Cars to heights they could never have dreamed of otherwise. Had even, way back, transformed the Boomtown Rats from a second division pop-punk band into an act of real substance with ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’. And had also, it’s true, produced the second and third multi-platinum Leppard albums.

Now, though, in 1987, both Lange and Leppard were poised to take a great leap together into the sonic unknown. They didn’t have to. Another Pyromania would have gone down just nicely thanks. But no, because of Lange, Leppard were about to go through the looking glass into a place neither they nor Mutt would ever be able to find again.

With the 12 tacks – all killer, no filler – on Hysteria.

It wasn’t immediately obvious. No ‘Photograph’ to instantly fall in love with. No ‘Rock Of Ages’ to charge around to. Instead there were the almost subliminal rock joys of tracks like ‘Animal’, which took 10 plays to really get but then never let go, and ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’, which seemed a more instant hit, until you’d also heard that 10 times and realised it was probably the greatest rock anthem of its age, in much the same way that ‘All Right Now’ had been in its time.

But that was the obvious stuff. The best though was in tracks like ‘Love And Affection’, ‘Love Bites’ and the sublime title track. They all worked as great songs but that wasn’t what made them genius. It was the production, the subtlety, the fact that Phil Collen was recording one string of his guitar at a time and Joe Elliot was singing one line, sometimes one word, at a time, again and again and again – and again – until a year had gone by along with a lifetime of production techniques until they were left with the thrice distilled magic of a million golden moments all somehow fused – into one.

The drums were all electronic too. But not because Rick Allen had lost his arm between albums. The drums on Pyromania were all done by machine too. The reason things were done the way they were on Hysteria was because Mutt was looking to take this one to the other side of the rainbow, just to see how far the rocket could really fly, when injected with the right fuel. The special gear he’d been developing in secret all these years in his night lab, alone and crazy and far too far gone.

And in Leppard, unlike those moody bastards in AC/DC or those egomaniacs in Foreigner, Mutt finally had the right band to make it happen. To do what they were told. Because they were young and still on the upswing too, and looking for adventure. Not just another hit album – they’d already seen all that could be seen in terms of giant hits by the time they were 24 – but something beyond the beyond.

They found it in Hysteria.

Why Writers Drink pt 95

Because you get to the end of the day often, most days, in fact, and you feel like you’ve done NOTHING. That is, no writing worth a damn. Oh, you’ve maybe transcribed an interview or two, which goes a long way towards writing something, you might even have done an interview or two, which also goes a long way towards writing.

But mostly you’ve been checking email, fending off creditors, trying to sound positive in meetings – mainly on Skype or phone these days – while at the same time feeling your wet T-shirt sticking to your back. Making phone calls to people who aren’t there then suddenly are when you’re trying to do something else. Trying to make coffee then realising it’s gone cold. Trying to sound blasé when inside your guts are churning because you have no safety net and everyone else has a proper job or is already wealthy, leaving only you in the entire world as the one who might fall down dead at any moment. Then realising you’re talking rubbish to yourself. Then realising actually you’re not.

Then hearing from a dear friend from the unforgiven yesterdays, now old and ill and wondering where it all went, the good times and bad, the sky rocket and the underground blues, the idea that there was always tomorrow. Now proven wrong.

Sitting here daydreaming of ringing a rich friend and asking for their help, in exchange for anything they might want. Your soul? Hey, £10k and it’s yours, same price as the last time you peered over the cliff’s edge. Then having nightmares about what would happen if you ever did make those calls. No way back from that sort of mental collapse. May as well tell them you have the plague. Unclean! For whom the bell tolls…

Only one thing you know, if you can just keep writing, just keep on keeping on, without pausing to grab the knife and rest it against your throat, making those desperate calls that will only make things more desperate, then you might might might just have chance.

Then sitting back and surveying the scene and realising, for fuck’s sake, but you haven’t written anything at all again today. That the clock keeps beating you like bat, a nail driven in, until finally, finally, yes, really, you say: fuck it. I need a drink…

Talking, Signing, Begging…

So amongst all the usual stuff that has been occupying the start to my week – trying to finish something that should have been finished weeks ago, trying to touch base with my publisher who isn’t returning emails, trying to explain to my accountant why I won’t have any of the VAT money due, er, this week, actually let’s not go there, and trying to keep my young family happy who assume because it is the summer holidays for them it must be for me too, at least for some of the time, deep sigh – I have also been making arrangements for what will be my first two personal appearances as an author.

The first will be at the Voewood Festival in Norfolk, on August 15 and 16. On the 15th I will be there at 2.00pm talking with fellow-author Chris Salewicz about his frankly awesome biographies of Bob Marley and Joe Strummer. The following day, a Saturday, please gods don’t let it rain, I shall be there from 2.00pm in my own right talking about whatever the hell it is I pretend to do all day – apart from fretting over my publisher, who I love, admire and look up to, by the way, and who sometimes reads this blog, and the taxman who I won’t insult by pretending I feel the same way about, but who, oddly, also reads this blog sometimes.

There will also be a Q&A session with the audience – assuming there is an audience, he said not at all modestly but more in a spirit of terror. After which there will also be a book signing. More trembling hands.

Meanwhile, my second appearance in the rotting flesh has just been pencilled in for Thursday November 13, at Blackwell’s bookshop in Oxford, where I will be giving a ‘talk’ on my new forthcoming biography of The Doors, Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre, which will have been published a fortnight before. After my talk there will also be a Q&A, followed by a book signing. Followed, I dare say, by a dash to the nearest pub.

The weird thing is I am actually looking forward to all of this. In the 28 years I have been a published author I’ve never done anything like it. (Unlike my friend Harry Paterson, who published his first book this year and was immediately taken on a nationwide book tour full of people lining up to buy him pints of beer and offering him speaking engagements and signings and all that sort of stuff, not that I was in any way jealous. Obviously.)

I feel almost virginal on the subject. All giggly and coy and googoo-eyed. Ooh, please go gently on me, kind sirs and madams…

Also, if there is anything in particular anybody out there would like to suggest might make a good topic to natter about at Voewood, please let me know. Especially if it’s got anything to do with music and/or  books, thank yew kindly.