Forget ‘Epic’ and Mike Patton. Sure, it lived up to its title, absolutely. As did the album it came from The Real Thing. And Patton was a great frontman if very much in Anthony Keidis fanboy mode. But for those of us that were actually there, this is the real ‘real thing’ Faith No More album, the one that truly broke the mould and introduced the rocking world to the Sound of the 90s three years ahead of time, and two years before the Red Hot Chili Peppers finally found their groove with Mother’s Milk.
At Kerrang! we had been warned they were coming ahead of time by Our Man Newly-Arrived in San Francisco, Steffan Chirazi. “You’ll like them, they’re great,” he said. “And their guitarist looks just like Krusher.” Steffan had told the band something similar, arranging for them to come and visit us all at the office, which they did, along with their Krusher-lookalike guitarist ‘Big Sick Ugly’ Jim Martin, from where we took them to the pub where we stayed all day. Yes, kids, that’s how things were done on Kerrang! back in the 80s.
When a few days later I had them as guests on my weekly Sky TV show, Monsters of Rock, Jim was too hungover to make it – so I suggested we substitute him on the set with Krusher – and the band immediately said yes! These days that seems such tame shit compared to the goings on of the young YouTube stars and the horrible old wankers of reality TV. Back then, in the Thatcher-ridden, Reagan-rocked 80s it was a revelation. So I was already kindly disposed towards the band before I’d seen them actually play.
Then I saw them play. Dingwalls, was it? I think. Then a couple of nights at the Marquee. I remember the place was packed. Word was out. This was not only the real real thing but the hot new real thing. You had to be there or live with the fact you had never been close.
The band had three major things going for them. One, the music. Rock meets rap meets synth-based space-rock meets street poetry meets skateboarder chic meets heavy metal grace meets a giant gargling with nails wearing a tutu. This had NOT been done before. Not like this. It was absolutely positively futuristic. Beside it, everything else suddenly sounded hideously old and out of gas.
Two, they had ‘Big Sick Ugly’ Jim. Fucker ate riffs like donuts and shat them out like rainbows. Fucker rocked at a time when everyone else bar Metallica was simply posing. It came as no surprise to learn that Jim Martin and James Hetfield were beer buddies and would often go out shooting their shotguns in the woods together.
Three, they had CHUCK MOSLEY. For me, easily the best, most exciting, most intriguing, most deeply unpredictable frontman of the 1980s. Forget Axl Rose, Chuck was something else. He was black, he was white, he was bald, he had dreadlocks, he could sing, he couldn’t sing, he was a South Central LA-born street rat brought up in an orphanage and unlike Mike Patton, there was no one else in the world could do what Chuck did. The rest of the band hated him because he just did not give a fuck. No, not one of those assholes who tell you they don’t, one of those dudes who you don’t realise has your number until they’ve already fucked your chick and driven off in your car – not cos they like it but so’s they can sell it later.
I remember coming home early from a holiday on an Italian island, in the summer of 1988, specifically so I wouldn’t miss Faith No More at the Town & Country Club in London. I did not regret it. They started the way most bands started their encores, with the place already insane, the band already much higher. And they just kept climbing. For the real encores, Chuck came on in a gold tinsel wig, alone, just him and an acoustic guitar – they’d been fighting backstage, didn’t want him to do it – to sing ‘Life’s A Gas’ by T. Rex. Epiphany. Then blast off as the rest of the band joined him for a version of ‘War Pigs’ that made the original – which Ozzy had also started doing again that summer now Geezer was in his solo band – taste like old farts and string vests.
Of course the album couldn’t live up to all that. Not unless you could give a record six stars. Back on terra firm again, cold light of day, ashes in your mouth, piles bleeding. Yet it was still the most forward-thinking, genuinely groovy, blissfully exciting, difficult to get into the first 10 times, then impossible to stop listening to for the next 100, album of the decade. No arguments allowed.
I was gonna go through some of the tracks – ‘We Care A Lot’, ‘Faster Disco’, ‘Chinese Arithmetic’, ‘Death March’, to name just the obvious – but as I’m sitting here listening to it I just can’t quite manage to keeps the words in any kind of right order. Which tells you something right there. For the truth, I’m sticking up a link below. Listen, behold, cover your ears, peek through your fingers, and imagine the alternative reality that exists in which the band don’t chicken shit out and fire Chuck – and then later Jim. Ye gods, what the fuck were they thinking! (Same as all the other bands who hate each other, actually.)
End times music.
CDs are dead. Vinyl is irrelevant. Albums are luxury items more for the artists than the audience. Tickets are grossly overpriced and T-shirts still sell more than anything. Meanwhile, movies are dead. DVDs are antiques. Box sets are over. Yet TV rules like never before. Netflix is better and cheaper and more genuinely popular than Sky. Spotify is better and cheaper and more genuinely popular than Amazon. YouTube is better and FREE and more genuinely popular than all of the above put together. So there. Doesn’t matter whether you like it or lump it, this is the reality now.
Streaming. Like Nextflix and Youtube and Spotify all rolled into one, but micro-micro-micro-managed so that the like-this offers are not scattergun and annoying like amazon, but precise to the point of ouch, OK, give in, you got me, just press play. Like Netflix currently is. Piracy? Who can be arsed with that? A fiver a month for all you can eat and more? Yes please, big brother. With multiple multiple multiple options, globe-wide, time zone resistant, on-on-on demand always ever ever. Thankyewverymush…
Meanwhile, you wanna form a band? Go for it. Should anyone else care? Of course not. We never did. Not until what you did was undeniable. You just have less time to make it happen, that’s all. Hard done by? But dude, it’s not about you and your bandmates anymore. It’s about us, the ones paying for all this. And that’s the way we like it, where only the very, very best, or what we consider so, will do.
On the road, travelling, can say no more for now, perusing home news from a certain perspective, quick squints into the vortex and…
What is all this shit about Jeremy Clarkson? He punched a BBC producer? Or he shoved him? Or what the fuck ever. Who gives a rat’s arse? All the Jeremy-haters getting their knickers in a twist over this nothing story. Dude, if you don’t like Top Gear don’t fucking watch it. Meeting over. Meanwhile, I can think of several BBC producers – and film and radio and other media monkey producers – I’d gladly give a kick in the balls to. And some punches to the face. The only really shocking thing about this whole non-event is what an ugly light it has thrown on the people who have been racing to air their hate-filled bile at Clarkson. In my job I would have been sacked, blah blah blah. OK. But Jeremy isn’t in your job. He writes, presents, embodies and came up with the whole idea of the current zillion-pound making enterprise called Top Gear all on his own. That’s right, fucker works hard for his crust just like the rest of us. Don’t like his politics? So what? If you had to like the politics of everyone on TV there’d be no TV. Grow the fuck up and find something else to talk about that might mean something real to somebody some day.
Like for example the news I just picked up of the death of Andy Fraser. I’m not gonna pretend I was Andy’s good friend or anything, but we had been in touch, by phone, face to face, by Skype and email, for nearly 10 years now. Maybe because he’d been through so much illness, maybe because he was just a wiser head than most, I don’t know, but he always got my full attention whenever he had something to say. Like he had nothing left to lose so would just put it out there. The last time we spoke, last year, he was joking about Paul Rodgers being “one of those hairy-backed northerners,” while Andy was “just a little gay boy from London.”
Wow, say the Jeremy-do-gooders, racist and sexist… Well, no, actually. Brave and honest words from a man who knew his time was short but the day was long, and simply didn’t have the energy anymore to worry about trying to set the world to rights. That’s a young man’s conceit and Andy was born old, still a babe when he co-fronted Free and co-wrote ‘All Right Now’ – and all the other great Free classics. I never bothered telling him how ‘All Right Now’ was one of the first singles I ever bought because he’d listened to that story from practically every person he’d met for the past 40 years. I did talk to him about practically everything else though. This made for wonderful conversation but not always great copy in interviews. You’d talk to Andy for some retrospective story on Free or related items like Paul Kossoff, Bad Company, Zeppelin, John Mayall, etc etc, and by the second question he’d have taken the conversation into much better, deeper directions you just knew the magazine (any magazine) would rather he didn’t. Andy was simply too real. Too far gone, somewhere far over the rainbow, in a place you could only wonder at. And funny. The real mark of a master. Very, very funny indeed. Trust me, the world doesn’t deserve your righteous fist-pumping when it takes people like Andy so young.
Which – somehow – brings me on to my own destiny. Love that word, so meaningless yet golden. Several kind souls out there have been sending me well wishes about my financial predicament. Well, thank you, but here’s the new deal. You really only learn what matters when you are in the deep, deep shit. Two things I’ve learned lately. One, you soon find out who your real true blood friends are when you are sinking fast in quicksand. You know because they are the ones who come forward and grab you by the hand and start to pull. For me, that’s been Harry and Maureen. No questions asked help. The only kind that really means anything in the short and long term.
The other thing is this: there is no future, not really. There is only what is in front of you now. Get that right and the rest takes care of itself, as best it ever can. So… no more pulling heavy loads that break my heart. No more getting worked up over nothing. That’s the new rule of the road here. Which reminds me, better get back to it…
Some very nice emails form some very nice people, for which my thanks. As follows…
Thank you so much for writing “Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre”. My daughter bought it for me for Christmas. I watched your interview on the Today show back in (I think) November, and I surprised myself by wanting to get a copy and read it. I have to admit, I wasn’t a Doors fan until they were ‘revived’ back in the early 90’s. They played a big part in my life. Back then, I was in a very sad state. Not long before I had moved from Australia to the Uk, due to my mother wanting to go back to her homeland, and I had to go with her. I reckon it was the closest we came experiencing what it was like to living back in the 60’s (I was 17 at the time) and it has been one of the best periods in my life.
After the Oliver Stone film, which I so loved, I read Danny Sugarman’s book, and realized most of the movie was a load of rubbish. Can’t understand why film people do that. The real Doors story is so much more interesting. I lost respect for Mr Stone for a while, then I watched his brave documentary about America. As I got older, I began to think Jim Morrison was a total tool, and went right off him and The Doors. Your book has renewed my love for their music. I have to say, I laughed a lot at the silly things Jim did. And now that I’m older again, I felt very sad reading about his life. Especially how he was used so much by so called friends and associates. So glad you shed more light on Pam. What an awful piece she was. It’s a real shame Patricia was betrayed the way she was in the movie. The revelation about Paul Rothchild and Janis Joplin was tragic but beautiful. I was happy to read she died in love, and not the sad, lonely person we had thought her to be. To me, the bath death never really sat with me. Your version does. Makes perfect sense. I hope many, many people read it.
Many thanks, Elizabeth (a new fan!)
I’ve read your books on Metallica, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath with great pleasure!!
I just wonder if you have any plans on writing a book on my absolut favourite band – Deep Purple!
I wish you all the best and keep on writing!!
Yours sincerelly, Pelle Thyrstedt, Sweden
Been working hard on my new Foo Fighters book. Of course, to tell the story properly, you have to go back and reconsider Nirvana too. And how that influenced Dave Grohl in everything he would do afterwards. He and Kurt started out so similar, at least on paper, that when Kurt’s mom Wendy and Dave’s mom Virginia first met at Nirvana’s famous Saturday Night Live performance, they decided their boys had so much in common they “could have been twins.”
Yet when Dave jumped from the wreckage of the crash that followed, he came back with something entirely unlike Nirvana, no matter what the half-listening rabble and online haters still say and think. It wasn’t dark, it wasn’t smacked-out, it wasn’t edging into the abyss, it wasn’t deliberately Kurt-like or Kurt-lite, it was pop punk rock music for the velvet-eared. Don’t read that like it’s a bad thing. See it for what it is: a true thing. A personally courageous thing. And if you don’t like it, that’s cool, too. But if you feel you have to shout your hate out loud about it, ask yourself why? Why should you even care? I don’t care when you listen to what I consider to be shite house music. That’s your puddle of piss to lie in.
Anyway, like all my books, it’s not so much the music that gets me, it’s the story, the people, the time and the places. If you can find your way around that far enough to draw a decent map, you will have learnt a great deal about yourself too.
A strange couple of weeks down at the Wall Homestead. Wife’s car died. Then our eldest dog died. Then VAT man told me I might die. Then the bank’s stretched to the point of breaking ‘support’ died too.
Still, spring in the air, eh vicar. Always look on the bright side etc. Been travelling around the cityscapes, mainly London. Saw my new best friend Nino, in Soho, who has become to me what a dealer is to the most addled addict – my mainman supplier of goods I absolutely can’t afford, and absolutely can’t stop buying. The euphoria never wears off though, not when you’re wearing one of Nino’s hand-stitched Italian shirts. I am drooling even as I write this, then trembling with angst as I gaze through parted fingers at my zero-tolerance bank account.
Also saw my sweet soul sister Maureen Rice, who treated me to dinner at Joe’s in Covent Garden. I keep telling her she’s the grown woman’s Caitlin Moran but she thinks I’m just chatting her up. I’m not. She’s got at least one great book in her, probably the makings of a successful franchise. But even my agent Robert can’t talk her into taking the plunge. She clearly knows something I don’t. It’s been this way now for over 30 years.
So then I got ill. Still running around, that isn’t allowed to stop, but I just came down with something that probably has to do with stress, but I’m not allowed to go there either. Or maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe? That’s a laugh. Meanwhile, I have had precisely one new applicant so far for my proposed mentorship scheme and him I fear I may have scared off. Which is a shame as he had potential. But then maybe I didn’t explain myself properly. I’m thinking, an hour a month sitting here with me while I go through your work, carefully it building it up again with all the benefit of my own wit and wisdom and 40 years of experience as a writer/interviewer, until you discover your own voice, or just decide you’ve had enough already. I also make a jolly good cup of tea.
Off now to peruse the houses-to-rent sites for places mad enough to consider the clan and me and two (no longer three) well-beaten dogs. Looks very much like we may have to sell the Palace Wall. Just to keep off those several hairy, long-nosed, sharp-fanged beats that keep hanging around my door.
Occasionally I get people emailing in asking how to get a start as a rock writer. I nearly always tell them to go away. Because I had absolutely zero help myself in my earliest days, I have always had a chip on my shoulder about it.
Unfairly. And not entirely accurately either. In fact, I’ve been hugely instrumental in helping out a great many would-be rock writers along the way, going all the way back to Kerrang! and right through my years as editor of Classic Rock. More recently, I’ve mentored a couple of writers who have gone on to do some pretty great things, giving regular monthly classes to one and regular long conversations and phone calls to the other. They have both done me proud.
Anyway… one of the great privileges of anyone’s life, once they get to a certain stage, is to be able to pass on whatever knowledge they have. I realise now I have long since reached this stage and should do something proper about it.
So… as of now, I am going to make myself available for a variety of ‘mentoring schemes’, let’s call them. I don’t mean quick emails back and forth shooting the breeze. I mean serious attention to anyone who wants to be just as serious about progressing their work as a writer. Not just a rock writer, but any kind of tipper-tapper on a keyboard.
Time wasters and groupies need not apply, but if anyone out there thinks this might be something that they’d be interested in, let me know. Send me an email to email@example.com
Before you ask, none of this is free. Free lessons are worthless on every level. You pay, you commit, you learn. Really learn. For these are secrets from another world. And there are no guarantees of success. But if you are willing to gamble – and you must be willing to gamble to be any kind of writer – then you have to play with real live chips on the table. That way you get the best of me too.
All thoughts welcome.
From When Giants Walked The Earth, 2008
Meanwhile, back in the so-called real world, the band’s own movie was also still being shot. Enlarging on the original idea for a concert performance interspersed with interviews and offstage footage, Joe Massot – who found himself struggling to sequence the footage from the two shows he had shot – proposed they ditch the straightforward documentary idea and go for something more representative of who the band really were with each member, plus Grant, filmed in individual segments in which they would assume a character of their choice. Massot said: “We wanted to show them as individuals, but not in the traditional way with interviews. They wanted more symbolic representations of themselves. All the individual sequences were to be integrated into the band’s music and concerts.”
Not unlike the T. Rex movie Born To Boogie in 1972, which Marc Bolan pretentiously claimed was based on the dreamlike films of Fellini but had more in common with the self-consciously ‘wacky’ ideas first expressed in the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night – specifically Ringo Starr’s brief metamorphosis into a tramp – and although hampered by the fact that none of them could act or would come up with suitably coherent ideas to sustain five consistently interesting depictions, what became known as the ‘fantasy sequences’ would, however inadvertently, reveal much about each of them.
Thus Plant’s incarnation as a sword-bearing handsome prince, given to sailing, horse-riding and rescuing damsels-in-distress, relayed during the extended instrumental passage of ‘The Rain Song’. Seen sword fighting on the cobblestone floor of the Great Tower of Raglan Castle – a 15th century ruin that stands between Monmouth and Abergavenny, and built by Agincourt veteran Sir William ap Thomas, “the blue knight of Gwent” – it was, however cringe-making it looks now, an idea which nonetheless clearly mirrored his self-image as the gallant, peace-making knight of the group.
Similarly, Jones’ highwayman fantasy – played-out during ‘No Quarter’ – of leading some subterranean mission through the impenetrable rigmarole of a weird cemetery scene, before whisking off his mask and returning in more familiar guise to his family – may have featured some of the most stultifying acting ever committed to the cinema but was also perfectly in keeping with his perceived role as the behind-the scenes manic-mechanic of the group.
While Bonzo’s metamorphosis – during ‘Moby Dick’ – from red tractor-driving farmer to drag racing daredevil clearly reflected the split-personality of the lives he led on the road with Zeppelin (dangerous speedy, haphazardly flame-throwing) and off it with his family (both wife Pat and son Jason are tenderly glimpsed scenes under protection of the husband and father only they really knew).
Even Peter Grant and Richard Cole are given their own sequence, filmed earlier in 1973 on the Hammerwood Park estate in Sussex (which the group were then considering purchasing and turning into their own recording and rehearsal facility, an idea later abandoned) in which they become cigar-chomping, machinegun-toting gangsters, laughing loudly as their bullets strafe a roomful of money-counting adversaries – obvious metaphor for the faceless ‘suits’ who run the music business.
Naturally, the sequence that drew the most comment – as it continues to today – is the one in which Page he is seen climbing the steep slopes of some dark craggy mountain at night, a full moon smudged by thin clouds. At the peak, he encounters the cloaked figure of the ancient Hermit, who stands head bowed, holding aloft his lantern, the light to which Page, the apprentice adept, is purposefully ascending. His visage, when revealed, then retreats backwards in time to reveal Page’s own face through middle-age, adulthood, young man, teenager, child, baby and eventually embryo, forked by white lightning, before returning through the various stages back to that of the ancient Hermit – or Magus.
An idea given extra resonance when one knows that the mountain being climbed is actually Meall Fuarvounie, opposite Boleskine House – the same snow-capped peak Crowley liked to climb half-a-century before – and the fact that the sequence is intercut in the final version of the movie during Jimmy’s violin bow showcase in the middle of ‘Dazed And Confused’, the bow melding into one clearly occult image as the Hermit / Magus waves his bow / wand in a slow arc through the air, left-to-right, its colours showing eleven (Crowley’s “general number of magick”) shades of green, yellow, blue, red, gold and so on. It’s as if the ‘Barrington Coleby’ painting from the inner sleeve of the fourth Zeppelin album has been brought to life, its visual metaphor obvious: the journey to occult enlightenment.
“I knew exactly what I wanted to do with that,” Page told writer Mark Blake upon the re-release of the film on DVD in 2007. “I knew I wanted to do it at the house I had in Scotland, and I knew I wanted to be filmed climbing this escarpment, which I’d never actually climbed before.” The shoot had taken place on the night of the first full moon in December. “I wanted the full moon to get a sort of luminescent quality,” he had told me previously. “And I said it would be great if it snowed, too. And it did. Of course that meant it was freezing and when they asked me to do the climb again and again I did think, oh no, what have I let myself in for.”
The scene was intended as “an interpretation of the Hermit tarot card,” he agreed. “The Hermit standing there with his beacon of truth, you know the light and everything. And the attainer [sic] or whatever climbing up to try and reach it. But the fact being that when he reaches the Hermit the face starts to change, and the message being that the truth can be attained at any point but you may not have received it and learned that you’ve received it or whatever.” Elaborating with Blake, he added, “It comes from the Rider [-Waite] deck, but that particular interpretation has allusions to the work of [William] Holman-Hunt, a pre-Raphaelite painter… it was a statement about what was going on in my life.”
Earlier in the film, he is pictured cross-legged by the lake at his home in Plumpton, cranking out an ancient folk tune, ‘Autumn Lake’, on a wheezing old hurdy-gurdy. In the background can be seen some of the black swans he had populated the lake with. Then, as he looks up and his eyes meet the camera, they glow a luminous red, as if recalling the lines from ‘Black Dog’, “Eyes that shine burning red, dreams of you all through my head.” Not that he would say exactly what it was supposed to mean, besides allowing for the generalisation of, “My eyes being mirrors to the soul, that sort of thing…”
When Massot presented a short rough-cut segment of the film at a special screening for the band in early ’74, however, it was a disaster. “They finally came to a preview theatre to see the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ segment,” he recalled, “and started to fight and yell when the film began. They thought it was my fault Robert Plant had such a big cock.”
From When Giants Walked The Earth, 2008
“I was already aware of Anger as an avant-garde filmmaker,” Jimmy Page told me. “I remember seeing two of his films at a film society in Kent – Scorpio Rising and Invocation of My Demon Brother [and] I was already aware of Anger because I had read and researched Aleister Crowley… [That] made him somebody I would like to meet. Eventually he came to my house in Sussex and I went to his flat in London.” It was during the visit to Anger’s London flat that “he outlined this idea for a film that became Lucifer Rising. It was then he asked me if I would like to take on the commission and do the music and I agreed to that.” It was a decision that would, quite literally, come back to haunt him.
According to Anger, he and Page had a “gentleman’s agreement,” and never discussed money, as their collaboration was to be an “offering of love.” The two of them would split the profits from the film, with Page taking all proceeds that were earned from the soundtrack. In response, Page set about creating his aural equivalent of Anger’s film and with it the most imaginative, evocative, if ultimately lost, music of his career. It was, he said, “an honour.”
Page now claims he was given no final footage to work with, pointing out that Anger had commissioned the soundtracks for both Scorpio Rising and Invocation of My Demon Brother on a similar basis. All he was told, he says, was “that it was about the deities of Egypt.” And some of the characters: “You have Isis who would correlate to the early religions. Isis is the equivalent of man worshipping man, which is now where we have Buddha and Christ and all the rest of it, like the three ages. And then the child is Horus, which is the age of the child. Which is pretty much the New Age as it was seen.”
Back in 1976, however, he told Mick Houghton he’d been give a twenty-five minute opening sequence to work with. He was nervous, he said, because “the opening sequence is a dawning sequence which immediately brings comparisons with [Stanley Kubrick’s] 2001 to mind. The film was shot in Egypt and I wanted to create a timelessness, so by using a synthesizer I tried to change the actual sound of every instrument so you couldn’t say immediately, ‘that’s a drum or a guitar’. I was juggling around with sounds in order to lose a recognizable identity as such.”
Encouraged by the knowledge that unlike Zeppelin records which were designed to appeal to the widest possible audience, “This was going to be something which I knew was going to be shown in arts labs and underground cinemas and brotherhoods” he allowed his imagination to run wild. As well as running his electric guitar through an ARP synthesiser, his used a mellotron, his 12-string acoustic guitar, various keyboards, plus tabla drums and a tempura – an Indian drone instrument – all of which he played himself. For the climax he created a synthesiser effect: “These great horns that sound like the horns of Gabriel. It was a good piece.
The end result is, as might be expected, an unsettling listening experience. Beginning with a loud, hypnotic drone which continues for several minutes, what few melodies there are – by turns portentous, forbidding, weirdly euphoric – meld into dissonant cadences that both repel and attract, like an electric current. About two-thirds of the way through a thunderstorm erupts like a growling bowl movement into the aural mire, followed by Buddhist chants that sound like they might have been slowed down and corrupted, harmonic yet dense and ominous, at which point things appear to strive for some sort of staggered, juddering climax as another muted thunderclap is overhead in the distance.
Ultimately, the feeling repeated plays imparts is one of disorientation. Not entirely morbid but a feeling nevertheless of being scattered, dizzy… unhinged. Having played it all the way through several times, I have not been tempted to listen to it much since. Or as the eminent American music critic Juli Le Compte wrote: “Haunting and disturbing, this piece is highly expressive of Page’s strain of morbidity.”
From When Giants Walked The Earth, 2008
Described these days by the American Film Institute as “the magus of cinema”, Dr Kenneth Anger, as he enjoys being addressed since receiving an honorary doctorate in humanities a few years ago, long ago reached the status of real-life Magus and is, according to Dave Dickson, now one of the highest ranked members of the O.T.O. His credentials for such a role go back to 1955 when he travelled to Cefalu, Sicily with Alfred Kinsey, the self-proclaimed ‘sexologist’, where they unearthed a number of pansexual murals at Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema, later mimicked by Page at Boleskine with his Charles Pace-commissioned murals. “I never talk about it with people that aren’t magicians,” Anger told one reporter in 2006. “Because they would think you were a fucking liar. But, you see, I’m not a Satanist. Some people think I am. I don’t care…”
Now seventy-eight [in 2008], Dr Anger lives alone in his Hollywood apartment block, too ill currently to respond to requests for interviews, though he continues to talk of new film and book projects. He is also renowned, says d’Arch Smith, for a volatile temperament and “for putting curses” on anyone who crosses him. Behind the popular image of an almost Nosferatu-like character, however, lies a clearly visionary thinker, bitter perhaps at so consistently being misinterpreted and misunderstood but whose work, lying so determinedly outside the mainstream, ranks amongst the most innovative in cinematic history.
Born Kenneth Wilbur Anglemyer, in Santa Monica, California, in 1930, Anger began his career as a child actor, starring alongside Mickey Rooney as the changeling prince in the 1934 Max Reinhardt production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (also featuring James Cagney as Puck). His own career as a filmmaker began in 1947 with Fireworks, a bizarre short featuring sailors with lit candles for penises, and continued in 1954 with Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome, a gloriously ecstatic exposition of Crowleyan ritual, followed in 1963 by Scorpio Rising, a homosexual fantasy about leather-clad bikers inter-cut with images of Christ, Hitler and the Devil, and a soundtrack comprised of thirteen pop songs – an innovation that prefigured future cine-icons such as Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino in their use of ‘found’ music for their films.
Serious critics placed Anger’s work in the same surrealist category as Louis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou and Jean Cocteau’s The Blood Of A Poet; works that expanded the language of film. Most mainstream cinema-goers, however, remain utterly oblivious of his place in the canon. Instead, he became better known for his Hollywood Babylon books, a trio of tomes published over a forty-five-year period filled-to-bursting with scurrilous anecdotes concerning the sex and drug thrills of golden-era movie-land stars such as Fatty Arbuckle, Gloria Swanson and James Dean, to name just a few.
The late-Sixties found Anger in London, where he began a close association with the Rolling Stones, a period which saw the release of the Their Satanic Majesties Request album followed by the song ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, which Anger boasted was inspired by his conversations with Mick Jagger. He also became close to Keith Richards, who was now shacked-up with Brian Jones’ former girlfriend, the occult-curious Anita Pallenberg.
“Kenneth had a huge and very conscious influence on the Stones,” Marianne Faithfull told Mick Brown, explaining that Anger had initially considered Jagger for the title role in Lucifer Rising with Keith as Beelzebub, and how his kinship with the Stones soon led to “a veritable witches’ coven of decadent Illuminati, rock princelings and hip nobility.” But the Stones quickly began disassociating themselves from him after he freaked Keith and Anita out by somehow arranging for their front door to be painted gold one night while they slept upstairs, in preparation for a pagan marriage ceremony they had agreed for him to preside over – then backed-out of – on Hampstead heath.
Anger claimed that showing his films were magickal ceremonies in themselves, describing them as “spells and invocations” specifically designed to exert control over people’s minds. He often revised and updated his movies – he had been working on and off on Lucifer Rising for years before he met Jimmy – adding soundtracks by famous rock stars to some – as with Jagger’s synthesiser contribution to Invocation Of My Demon Brother in 1969 – and ELO to a later print of Inauguration Of The Pleasure Dome.
Shot in England, Germany and Egypt, Lucifer Rising was to be based on the story of the Fallen Angel of orthodox Christian mythology, restored to his Gnostic status as “the Bringer of Light” – an implicit part of Crowley’s own teachings, as also depicted in Milton’s Paradise Lost, which ends with the angel, and his host, finding reconciliation with “the Beloved” – and would include real-life Crowleyan occult rituals. As Page well-knew, it’s only in recent history that the name Lucifer has become synonymous with that of ‘Satan’. In fact, Lucifer was originally a Latin word meaning ‘light-bearer’; a Roman astrological term for the ‘Morning Star’ and a direct translation of the Greek word eosphorus, meaning ‘dawn-bearer’. While in Romanian mythology, Lucifer (from the Romanian word Luceafär was used for the planet Venus.
Anger experienced numerous problems with his much-cherished project from the start, however, leading to whispers that the film was – literally – cursed. His first attempt at getting it off the ground in 1967 had failed when its original lead, a five year old boy – another representation of Crowley’s “little child” perhaps – died in an accident before filming began. His place was initially taken by Bobby Beausoleil – aka Cupid, Jasper, Cherub, and other weird aliases – a former guitarist, briefly, with the group Love. Beausoleil had lived for a time with Anger in San Francisco, at a rambling old mansion on Fulton Street known locally as “the Russian Embassy.”
They fell out, however, when Anger threw Beausoleil down the stairs after discovering he’d hidden a large parcel of marijuana in the basement. Aggrieved, Beausoleil made off with most of the early footage, burying it in California’s Death Valley. In revenge, Anger placed “the curse of the frog” upon him, trapping a frog in a well. When, soon after, Beausoleil, now running with the Manson family, was arrested for the Tate- and La Bianca-related murder of music teacher Gary Hinman, he was sentenced to life imprisonment – trapped behind four walls, just like Anger’s cursed frog.
Using what little footage he had managed to salvage from the Beausoleil episode, Anger had made Invocation of My Demon Brother using Jagger’s soundtrack. But his intention had always been to return to what he felt would be his magnum opus, this time with Jagger as Lucifer and Marianne Faithfull and Donald Cammel also in principle roles. When Jagger suddenly changed his mind, setting the production back yet again, Anger punished him by casting his younger brother Chris in the role. But the younger Jagger proved no less malleable and was dismissed after an on-set row. Eventually a Middlesbrough steel worker named Leslie Huggins was given the part, and filming finally began.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the release of Physical Graffiti, over the next few days I will be giving in episodic form the true story behind the making of the epochal album. The following is the opening of the chapter in question from my Led Zeppelin biography, When Giants Walked The Earth.
Chap12: Golden Gods…
Even without the threat of John Paul Jones leaving, the calamitous end of the 1973 tour had forced Page and Grant to sit back and take stock. The plan had been for October and November to be spent recording the next album. Instead, Zeppelin was put on hiatus as Jimmy and G considered their next move. In the works was the proposed tour movie – and accompanying live soundtrack album. Also looming on the horizon was the renewal of the Atlantic deal, the band’s initial five-year contract now having run its course. With all five Zeppelin albums having sold well in excess of a million copies in the US alone, Ahmet Ertegun was happy to propose a five-year extension with attendant multimillion dollar signature advance.
But Grant now demanded more. Having seen both the Beatles and Stones graduate to their own boutique labels, he and Page wanted the same for Led Zeppelin. Despite the disastrous outcome of Apple (where the lack of quality control led to more signings than anybody could properly account for) and the strange inertness of Rolling Stones Records (which, despite occasional one-off signings like Cuban rockers Kracker, and former Wailer Peter Tosh, it soon became clear was an outlet purely for the Stones themselves), the allure of owning your own label was strong: not just because it would mean an end to the protracted disputes over record sleeves, mastering, singles, release dates and etc that had persistently dogged them over the years with Atlantic, but because it was a sign that you really had made it; that you weren’t just big, you were supernova; something that appealed greatly to both Jimmy’s and G’s vanity.
Grant was not slow to grasp, either, that it would help offset some of the gargantuan amounts of tax the band would otherwise have been forced to pay. And so negotiations began for Zeppelin to have the autonomy of their own label – though under the distribution umbrella of Atlantic, thus guaranteeing no immediate shortfall in sales opportunities, distribution being the single most important thing giant corporate labels like Atlantic actually had to offer in the Seventies.
Both Page and Jones, meanwhile, embarked on what were essentially solo projects, with Plant also now thinking of making a Rod Stewart-like plunge into a parallel solo career. Though he denied it as soon the press had gotten wind of the idea – “To go away and do a solo album and then come back, is an admission that what you really want to do is not playing with your band,” he said, feigning shock at the very idea – Robert was only talked out of proceeding with a solo album when Grant insisted it would be better to wait until the band’s own label was in full swing before embarking on such a venture.
In reality, G had no plans whatsoever to allow a Plant solo album, he merely wished to present as united a front as possible to Ahmet during the negotiations over Zeppelin’s own label. Ertegun was well aware of the possibility that the bass player might need replacing but that was a situation that could be managed: the possibility, however still remote at that stage, of also losing the band’s singer could not.
Relieved to be out of the maelstrom of touring, Jones had begun producing and playing on an album for his old friend, Blue Mink singer Madeline Bell. Titled Comin’ Atcha, he also performed live with Bell in December on the BBC 2 TV show Colour My Soul. Desperately keen to prove to himself that he still had a viable career outside Zeppelin if he so wished, he also appeared at the invitation of producer Eddie Kramer on the Creatures of the Street album by derided American glam rocker Jobriath. Fortunately for Zeppelin, neither album was a major commercial success; with Grant making suitably consoling noises, he indicated he’d be happy to return to the fold.
With no need for a solo album – Zeppelin albums were his solo albums – Page, nevertheless, had embarked on an intriguing side project which, while it never threatened to replace Zeppelin in his thoughts, would come shockingly close to derailing the future of the band in ways they could not have considered possible back then: to write the soundtrack for a film by Kenneth Anger, titled Lucifer Rising.
Page had met Anger at a London auction of Crowley memorabilia in 1970. “Anger had some money at the time and he and Jimmy were both… not really outbidding each other but I think there was a time when they were competing,” recalls Timothy d’Arch Smith, then acting as Page’s chief procurer of occult books, paintings and other memorabilia. “I think it was for the Bagh-I-Muattar, actually. I said to Jimmy, ‘I’m not bidding for it. I’m going to Paris’. Because [Gerald] Yorke had sent Anger in who always scared me to death. He never smiled.”
So it’s Saturday night and me and the ‘boys’ are locked out of our usual village pub, The Sweet Tomato, on account of its owners taking a three-week skiing holiday and the pub closing down till they return, tanned and relaxed and very much in our bad books.
Seeking a viable alternative we plump for the pub in the next village along, The Crown Jewels. We are early starters and The Crown Jewels at first seems like a most suitable replacement for the Sweet Tomato. They serve us our usual bowl of chips with ketchup, and we keeps the pints of – in this case – IPA coming. We have our own very acceptable table situated towards the back of the pub, in front of a little gallery where we assume the darts players must go.
All goes well, it is early and quiet, and we are all telling stories that may even be at least partly true. But then it begins. The pub has also got two major bookings for a) someone called Greg, whose birthday it is and whose party is being held here, and b) a gathering of young twenty-somethings in an adjoining open-plan room.
We are not unsociable. We are even flexible on occasion. And as Greg’s birthday party is not really lapping at our table (yet) we are fine with the added ‘buzz’. As for the young people, they are also well-behaved and jolly nice. Except we can’t work them out. All the young men seem to be wearing ties and nice pullovers. And all the girls are rather pretty but also rather conservatively dressed. Thick dark leggings, well-covered tops. But very nice smiles and very polite.
One of our elder statesmen, Bad Boy Brian, steams in and asks them who they are and what is going on. But while they humour him like you would an old dog wandering bewildered into the room, they don’t actually spill the beans. Eventually one of the women behind the bar tells us: they are young church people, having some sort of “meeting.” We all stare in wonder, unable to think of a church any of us have ever been to where there were so many – no other word for it – babes.
Much discussion ensues. Until that is, we start to notice the shuffling back and forth next to us of three elderly men who appear to be setting up some sort of equipment in the tiny gallery facing us. Then I realised what it was.
“Oh no!” I cried. “It’s a band!”
Much muttering and shaking of heads.
“They’re going to be blasting it out right in front of us!”
“We won’t be able to hear ourselves think!”
“We won’t be able to speak!”
“Let’s get out of here! Quick!”
Phone calls and texts to much put-upon spouses. Quick-fire plans drawn up. A stern questioning of the three ‘musicians’.
Turns out they won’t start playing until 9.00pm. BB Brian and Strong John are happy with this as they usually bail out about 8.00pm anyway. But Big Steve, Dogman Ian and myself, the stay-laters, are less impressed. I firmly recommend a move to the pub in the next village, The Bare Lady, where they have couches and a strict no-music policy. But Steve and Ian are more resolute. We will stick it out, they decide.
“But it’s a band,” I wail, as though no other explanation is necessary. “They’re going to play loud music!“
Still we sit, waiting for whatever ill wind may be coming. I phone my wife and plead with her to join us, so that we can make a swift exit in her car to The Bare Lady as soon as Steve and Ian wake up to the threat I have identified. Knowing from long and painful experience how I am around such things as bands and loud music, my wife rides like the wind to our rescue.
Except that by the time she gets there the band has begun and… and… they’re quite good, actually. No originals thank the lord baby Jesus, just one big hit after another. Thus, we are treated to a selection of Small Faces, Travelling Wilburys, Rolling Stones, Monkees, T.Rex, and loads of others that have now passed from what’s left of my mind.
I knew we were onto something unexpected and even perhaps special when I glanced over at Steve and Ian and they were both waving their arms in the air and grinning. Of course, I’ve seen them get like this before without the aid of music but clearly this was different. I therefore commend the band to you unreservedly. Their name? Well, when I checked the board all it said was ‘Greg’s Band’. A vastly cooler name than any you or I have heard in a very long while, as I’m sure you will agree.
Extract from Paranoid: Black Days With Sabbath & Other Horror Stories
Black Days With Sabbath
Then, at about 2.00a.m. the night before I was due to return to London, just as I was drifting off into grateful sleep, the old-fashioned phone by my bed jangled and there was Paul, telling me that Bill would like to “go over a few things” before I left in the morning.
“What – now?” I asked, a dark chasm opening up beneath me.
“If that’s OK, mate, yeah. He really wants to talk to you.”
Christ … I had to get out of my nice warm nest, find my party hat, paste some sort of slave smile on my face and go upstairs and appease the master. For what? A big garden in Hampstead? A regular coke connection? A chance to say, “I’m in the music business”? Sometimes, at two in the morning, it was hard to remember why anybody did anything …
As I arrived at Bill’s suite of rooms, the hotel plumber was just leaving. Paul hurriedly explained that Bill’s constant vomiting over the last few days had clogged up so many sinks and toilets in the suite that the plumber was having to work round-the-clock to try and fix them. If we wanted to piss, we would have to go to the public rest room down the hall; the others were all fucked.
“Come in, mate!” Bill called from somewhere inside. “I’ve got a treat for you!”
I entered a large pastel-coloured room with a balcony that looked out over the Eiffel Tower. All the windows were open, letting some darkness into the room. The walls were covered in various paintings, large and small, mainly of flowers, with more big flowers on the sofas and curtains. It was like something out of a mini-series. You could see Joan Collins swanning in with a glass of champagne in her hand, or some millionaire’s dick.
The vibes were all wrong, though. There was a smell of puke in the air. Puke and cigarettes and booze and … something else. Quarrels. Outbursts. Things being busted up in the night. I saw his wife first. She was standing in the shadows on the balcony, looking as though she might throw herself off it. She garbled something by way of a greeting, but I couldn’t understand what it was. She sounded American and when she came closer into the light I noticed the deep black crevices beneath her small, worried eyes. The fatty jowls at the side of her face made her look like a sad, fat hamster. You wondered what had happened to her, how she had got like this?
Then I saw Bill. Slumped on a couch on the far side of the room in his dressing gown.
“All right, mate,” he said, without looking up.
“I’m all right, Bill. What about you? You all right, mate?”
“I’m fuckin’ BRILLIANT, MATE!”
Bill threw his head back and laughed. Paul laughed, too. We all did. Bill was a crazy, funny guy. We were all crazy, funny guys. But Bill, most of all, obviously.
“I’ve got a surprise for you!” he said, getting to his feet and tottering over to where a studio-size hi-fi system was set up.
“You know what I’m gonna to do for you?”
I could hardly wait.
“…I’m gonna PLAY YOU THE NEW ALBUM!”
Bill laughed long and hard again but this time we didn’t join in quite as much.
Oh God … There are very few things more cringe-inducing than actually listening to an artist’s new album for the first time while the artist is actually in the room with you. Even if it’s the biggest pile of shite you’ve ever heard, you’re not allowed to crack on while the poor bastard who made it is actually watching you out of the corner of their eyes, reading every little twitch for the slightest sign of anything less than total, 100 per cent approval.
And God forbid you actually like what you hear. Then it’s not enough to simply sit and enjoy it. You have to jiggle around in your seat, like the magic fever has just gripped you and wont let go. Either way, you have to sit there and think of something to say about it afterwards. “Hey, that’s great!” will not suffice. You have to say why it is great. And then you have to listen to them prattle on at length, telling you the real reason why it is great.
For the artist, playing their new album to you for the first time is like sharing an intimate view of the parting of the Red Sea. For you, it’s like being run over by a two-ton lorry very slowly, back and forth, back and forth, until there is nothing left but an oily, dark stain in the road.
“The only thing is,” said Bill, “it hasn’t got the vocals on it yet. But at least you’ll get an idea …”
Oh God, just shoot me in the head now and shove me down the toilet with all the rest of the puke and shit. The new album without the vocals … I must have been a terrible cunt to someone in a previous life to deserve this. I looked at my watch. It was going to be one of those long meetings…
Suck on This
In March 1986, having signed his first major contract with Geffen Records, Bill Bailey could now afford to make another long-held dream a reality: changing his name legally to W. Axl Rose. The acronym it formed – WAR – was purely coincidental, he insisted, yet it perfectly summed up his attitude towards the journey he was now fully embarked on with Guns N’ Roses. As he would tell me in 1990, brandishing a copy of the then recently published Mike Tyson biography, Bad Intentions, “I relate what I do to what Tyson says about when he punches someone in the head. He says he imagines hitting ’em so hard his fist knocks their nose bone right back into their brains. He says when he goes in the ring he does it with bad intentions. Well, that’s like me getting ready to start something, like going onstage. And you gotta make sure when you knock ’em down they stay down.”
Of course, it wasn’t just onstage that Axl would appear to carry this idea in his head. For now, however, it was an attitude that seemed to serve both him and the band well as they struggled to establish a musical identity for the first time in a recording studio. Things didn’t go well at first when they couldn’t find the right producer. “People were very afraid of this band,” says Teresa Ensenat. “There were a couple of people who dissed us hard,” recalls Slash now. “[People] who were just assholes about it, managers, other record companies, who said, ‘They’ll never make it, Tom Zutaut, you’re a fucking idiot’. Even people in our own record company were like that.”
Amongst the array of producers originally contacted was Kiss’ Paul Stanley, who had expressed an interest in working with them then cried off when he realised their lifestyle was more than just an image they projected. Bob Ezrin, producer of Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Kiss, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall, was also approached by Geffen but had decided to “steer well clear” for exactly the same reasons. Spencer Proffer, a well-known local producer who had helped propel proto-LA metal quartet Quiet Riot to stardom in the early ’80s, agreed to go into the studio but quickly fell-out with the band once it became clear that, unlike Quiet Riot or even Mötley Crüe, this was one LA band intent on not playing the hits-by-numbers game favoured by formulaic producers like Proffer.
Out of desperation, Zutaut even turned to Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe, the band he had signed to Elektra five years before, on the it-takes-a-thief-to-catch-a-thief principle. But Nikki, though flattered, was still wrestling with his own demons. As he later explained: “[Zutaut] wanted me to produce their record and see if I could give the punk-metal they were playing at the time a more commercial, melodic edge without sacrificing credibility. They were just a punk band, he told me, but they were capable of being the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world if someone could help them find the melodies to take them there. I was too much in agony trying to slow my down my drug intake to consider the idea…”
Still high on the Geffen advance – modest though it actually was by the standards of bands with a high-profile management team behind them (something they also still lacked at that stage) – and unused to the rigours of working to a deadline in a professional studio, the whole process threatened to unravel before it had barely begun, with Axl initially only turning up when he felt like it and the others – in particular, Slash and Izzy – finding more pressing ways of spending their cash. In fact, early sessions eventually had to be postponed while Axl and the two guitarists took time off to try and rid themselves of the bad habits they had recklessly been nurturing. According to Steven, “drugs and drink” had already begun “to take their toll as Axl and then Slash [were] secreted away by the label to dry out.”
“There was a point where I stopped playing guitar and didn’t come out for three months,” Slash told me. What snapped him out of it, he says, was a phone call from Duff. “He said, ‘You’ve alienated yourself from the band’. Since they were the only people I’m really close to, that really affected me, and I quit.” Izzy underwent a similar catharsis, only taking action when he sensed his place in the band was under serious threat. It was a pattern both men were doomed to repeat more than once over the coming years. As Izzy later told me, “When you’re on that stuff, you’re always either quitting or starting again…”
Nobody knew which was which…
Extract from The Endless Journey: 50 Years of Pink Floyd
Exhausted from the road yet desperate to somehow ignite their creative spark in the studio, they resorted to all sorts of bizarre recording ideas. At different stages they tried having one member playing something completely different to what the others were playing, then blending both tracks together – with predictably disastrous results. They then spent a couple of weeks trying to come up with compositions based on the sounds of various household objects being dropped to the floor or bashed together, or scraping tables, and suchlike, which they titled the ‘Sounds Of Household Objects’ project. Again though this brave new world of musical ideas came to nought – though they would repeat the experiment, again with only mediocre results, in the aftermath of The Dark Side Of The Moon in 1974 as they agonised on how to make a worthy follow-up to their gigantic success.
Each session would begin mid-afternoon and continue until the early hours of the following morning. Inevitably, tempers frayed as less and less seemed to get done. The ‘Nothing’ demos were followed by a new series of demoed tracks they titled ‘Son Of Nothings’, which in turn transmogrified into something called ‘Return Of The Son Of Nothings’. Before the band was back out on the road again.
The breakthrough finally came when just one note from these latter sessions – a single piano note that Wright had fed into a Leslie speaker, rotating the sound until it resembled the ping of a submarine’s sonar, which the keyboardist then began to gently extrapolate with, until Gilmour’s slinky guitar line came creeping in to lead the piece onto its eventual journey, their twin lead vocals gently layered together, driftwood on a river of guitars and keyboards which Mason and Waters then added a tide of rhythms to, eventually finding its feet in a 23-minute epic that would become the mature Pink Floyd’s first undisputed masterpiece – which they titled ‘Echoes’ and gave over to the whole of side two of the album.
As such, the finished ‘Echoes’ became the first extended musical journey the band had embarked on for a long time as a single, focussed musical entity – an experience even Waters and Gilmour grudgingly agreed needed to be repeated and explored further. Another jagged fragment of these exploratory sessions became the opening track on side one of the album, ‘One Of These Days’. Built around a juddering rhythm that Waters and Gilmour jammed on using two bass guitars, one with deliberately old and more “twangy” strings, that Waters then put through a Binson echo machine, it was a startlingly aggressive-sounding instrumental, made more so by the one vocal line, Mason’s electronically treated voice almost spitting out the words, “One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces.” Gilmour would later marvel at how the Meddle album came together, piece by piece from “bits of demos which we then pieced together, and for the first time, it worked.”
The rest of side one consisted of four more ostensibly mellow pieces which veered from the sublime – Gilmour’s elegiac ‘Fearless’, replete with the sound of a football stadium crowd singing the words to Rogers’ and Hammerstein’s ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, an odd interface that works surprisingly well – to the downright silly: final track ‘Seamus’, a “joke song” featuring Gilmour singing along with a dog named Seamus howling in the background. The dog belonged to Steve Marriot then of Humble Pie, which David had agreed to look after while Marriott was away on tour. Critics understandably derided the track when the album was first released, but the idea stayed with Waters, who would later convene the suite of Floyd material that became Animals, including the sound of various beasts in various states of wonder.
The other two tracks on side one of Meddle were similarly polarising: ‘A Pillow Of Winds’, their first unabashed love song, sung by Gilmour, in the Floydian canon; and ‘San Tropez’, a determinedly louche, lazybones, written and sung by Waters of all people, who would never sound so – no other word for it – happy again on album.
Extract from Lou Reed: The Life
Hey, Shut Up!
Recorded at two shows at New York’s Bottom Line club in May 1978, and featuring a superbly splenetic Lou Reed in absolutely blistering form, Take No Prisoners was the the live summation of everything the post-Velvets Lou Reed had been and become over the past near-decade. Beginning on a suitably heightened note with the sound of a matchbook being struck, a cigarette being lit and inhaled, followed by Lou, his lip audibly curling.
“Hello. Sorry we were late but we were just tuning…” A tape then audibly begins to roll and we find ourselves at the start of the show, the small but vociferous crowd whooping and telling out his name, as the band did indeed tune up, before Lou strolls up to the mike and snarls: “Whatsamatter we keep you waitin’ or somethin’? Are we late?” followed by more crowd baiting, Lou quoting Yeats. “The best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with a passion and intensity. Now you figure out where I am.” Before the band comes absolutely smashing into the riff of ‘Sweet Jane’, which then goes on for over eight minutes as Lou digresses again and again into the kind of backstories and side bars that future MTV-style story-behind-the-song programs could never hope to match, including how much Lou hates “fucking Barbara Streisand” for thanking “all the little people” in her Academy Award acceptance speeches. “Fuck short people and tall people, man. I like middle people. People form Wyoming.
From there the album takes off like a giddy vulture into something that is part rock’n’roll – the band, led as always by Michael Fonfara is hot tonight – part Lenny Bruce comedy act, part confessional, part pure confrontation. “Hey, shut up!” when someone interrupts his flow. “Are you fucking deaf?” at another juncture to someone brave enough to risk a verbal exchange. A weird otherworldly musical milieu where ‘I Wanna Be Black’, with its extra, improvised asides is suddenly hilarious and self-mocking. “Let’s ask the chicks…”
Where ‘Satellite Of Love’ and ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ are equal parts soulful and wincingly revealing, and, somewhat shockingly in this context, played virtually straight. “So now everybody’s gonna say Lou Reed’s mellowed, he’s older. He didn’t act mean he talked. Oh boy. I say we’ll mug you later, all right? You feel better?” Of these relatively straightforwardly rendered songs, though, ‘Coney Island Baby’ is the best. Still jammed with dark side trips – “I was more of a pole vaulter” he jokes of the lines about wanting to play football for the coach. Yet although you don’t hear it on the Take No Prisoners, he would routinely begin the song at these shows with the words, “This is for Lou and Rachel.”
‘Street Hassle’ begins with an aside about how Metal Machine Music “was born”, as Lou fiddles with a feedbacking microphone, before Lou descends deep into character, playing each part in a different crazily garbled voice, including that of a snide, know-all narrator, as the two female backing singers, Angel Howell and Chrissy Faith – one black, one white – add a lush, breathless gloss to the street slime Lou is smearing the stage so painstakingly with.
Most wondrously of all though is ‘Walk On The Wild Side’, which follows, and goes on for 17 minutes without ever quite getting to the song, the ‘coloured girls’ coming in just once, and then only for a moment before Lou interrupts them to return to his speed-jive account of how he came to write the song in the first place, replete with all the biographical details of a book, from the Broadway producers who talked him into writing a song with that title, to have he was working as a typist at the time, to who the real people were he eventually named in the later version, and, ultimately, and most startlingly, what it all probably meant.
Probably. Along the way we are treated to some more classic asides: “I do Lou Reed better than anybody else, so I thought I’d get in on it,” he announces to braying laughter. “Hey, watch me turn into Lou Reed!” He also takes the opportunity to mock his critics, raging on Robert Cristgau, calling him “a toe fucker” for his pathetic A, B, C ratings system, telling on John Rockwell of the New York Times, who “comes to CBGBs with a bodyguard”.
“That’s what Take No Prisoners was about,” Lou would later tell Sandy Robertson. “Because everybody said I never talk. I was in my hometown of New York, so I talked… I thought of even titling it Lou Reed Talks, And Talks, And Talks… but we called it Take No Prisoners because we were doing a job… All of a sudden this drunk guy sitting alone at the front shouts, ‘Lou! Man! Take no prisoners, Lou!” And then he took his head and smashed it as hard as he could to the drumbeat. We saw him doing it and we were taking bets that that man would not move again. But he got up and bam, bam! On the table! And that was only halfway through!”
Yet at another, telling juncture on the album, Lou dry-quips: “Misrepresentation’s not my game.” And it becomes clear he’s not really joking at all. Never has been, perhaps. Least of all whenever we thought we heard the laughter in his songs.
Of course, Lou would have his rationale behind Take No Prisoners – and no matter how implausible it sounded at the time, it turned out to be (mostly) true. “All the albums I put out after this are going to be things I want to put out,” he was quoted as saying. “No more bullshit, no more dyed hair, faggot junkie trip. I mimic me better than anyone else, so if everybody else is making money ripping me off, I figure maybe I better get in on it. Why not? I created Lou Reed. I have nothing even faintly in common with that guy but I can play him well.”
Though not for much longer…
Killer On The Road
Time was short. Jim was scared. The Doors had already decided to go on without him. Even Elektra were now hedging their bets. The question was how? When? No longer, why.
Max Fink had immediately launched an appeal against the verdict in the one-sided Miami case. He felt Jim still had a chance of escaping jail time. At the end of the trial, the prosecution had not been able to secure even one eye-witness account of Jim actually exposing his penis onstage; not even one photograph. They only had the outrage of the ‘solid citizens’ who had testified against Jim to go on. Nevertheless, a guilty verdict had been reached and the fear was that the appeals would merely grant Jim more time to get his things in order, to prepare himself for the ordeal ahead.
One of the State of Florida’s biggest prisons, Raiford was where death row prisoners went to get the electric chair. This was no candy-ass correctional facility, this was the real deal. Jim’s head would be shaved, he would have to share a cell with at least one other inmate, and he would be in for a crime considered beneath contempt by the more hardcore prisoners: indecent exposure. In their eyes, that made him either a fag or a kiddie fiddler, maybe both. The fact he was a rock musician would not have helped either. Longhaired degenerate, pretty boy, Jim was a cellblock bitch in the making.
Everyone else, meanwhile, was looking at it from his or her own point of view. For the three other members of The Doors, Jim had singlehandedly fucked their career for over 18 months. It wasn’t just Miami. It was everything. If Miami had been a one-off, or just symptomatic of a bad patch, they could have rallied around Jim, seen it through with him, all for one and one for all. But it was never one for all with Jim. There was only ever him. And us.
Unable to tour for most of 1969, now things had eased up, promoters’ paranoia overcome by dollar signs in the wake of the renewed success of their recording career with Morrison Hotel, the 1970 shows still suffered from Jim’s lack of engagement. His apparent determination to sabotage their comeback with pathetic, indifferent performances one night, followed by raucous, over the top, pathologically unsound performances the next. The Isle of Wight fiasco had been the last of many last straws. Now the son of a bitch was going to jail and the band was supposed to do what? Hang on? Still? Hadn’t they just done that for nearly two years? If they didn’t do something now, maybe they’d never get another chance. Jim would go to jail, get beaten and butt-fucked and come out even worse than before. Even worse? Are you fucking kidding me, man? How much worse could this shit actually get?
Jac Holzman at Elektra, for so long the cool head, the smart cookie, the one with the vision thing who could see round corners and always knew what move The Doors should make next, even Jac was now hurriedly thinking of a Plan B.