Physical Graffiti Part 3

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.”

Physical Graffiti Real Story Part 2

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.

The Story Behind Physical Graffiti

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.”

 

Gig Review

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.

Black Days With Sabbath

Extract from Paranoid: Black Days With Sabbath & Other Horror Stories

Chapter Two

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

Extract from W.A.R. – The Unauthorised Biography of W. Axl Rose
Chapter Four

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…

Future Echo

Extract from The Endless Journey: 50 Years of Pink Floyd

Chapter Five

Future Echo

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.

Hey, Shut Up!

Extract from Lou Reed: The Life

Chapter Eight

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

Extract from Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre

Chapter Nineteen

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.

Extract: When Giants Walked The Earth

I’m doing a piece for Irish radio tomorrow on the story of Physical Graffiti, so I thought I’d better brush up on the facts by reading my own Zeppelin biography, When Giants Walked The Earth. It’s seven years since I turned my life upside down writing it, and have consequently forgotten most of it. So I was taken aback to read the following extract. Timely, too, I suppose, as there is the hoo-hah over the re-released Physical Graffiti that Jimmy is currently touting as the latest mist-have addition. This extract from Chapter 12: The Golden Gods.

By the spring of 1974, Zeppelin was ready to reconvene for their third visit to Headley Grange, taking Ronnie Lane’s mobile studio (cheaper than the Stones’) and engineer Ron Nevison. With Jones having thrown his hat firmly back in the ring, though still antsy about having to put up with the increasingly wayward offstage proclivities of the others, G compromised on the living arrangements and had Cole book them all – bar Page – into the plush nearby Frencham Ponds hotel. “Page stayed behind at Headley,” chortled Cole. “He was quite happy in that fucking horrible cold house.”

Once they had finally begun work, new tracks were laid down quickly and relatively easily with the bones of eight lengthy new compositions rapidly emerging: ‘Custard Pie’, ‘In My Time Of Dying’, ‘Trampled Underfoot’, ‘Kashmir’, ‘In The Light’, ‘Ten Years Gone’, ‘The Wanton Song’ and ‘Sick Again’. With final overdubs and mixes taking place, as before, back at Olympic in London in May, had they left things as they were they would have emerged with an album somewhere between the gritty sonic overload of their second album and the methodically applied brilliance of their fourth: that is to say, one of their three greatest works. As it was they took the decision to try and build on that remarkable achievement by adding a plethora of older tracks still sitting in the can from as far back as their third album in 1970: ‘The Rover’, ‘Houses Of The Holy’ and ‘Black Country Woman’ from their various Houses Of The Holy sessions two years before; ‘Down By The Seaside’ from the December 1970 Basing Street sessions for the fourth album; ‘Night Flight’ and ‘Boogie With Stu’ from the January 1971 Headley Grange visit; and ‘Bron-Yr-Aur’ (spelt correctly this time) from the original June 1970 Basing Street sessions for the third album.

Thus, Led Zeppelin finally got the double album Jimmy had always craved. There were many reasons why he decided the time was finally right for it. To begin with, there was the simple fact of having such a large and impressive backlog of material. In the days before ‘bonus’ tracks and endless box-sets featuring ‘previously unreleased’ material became the norm, the likelihood was that any material leftover from previous albums would never see the light of the day. More pressing than that though was the burning desire – as with the fourth album – to prove wrong the naysayers who had dared to question the worth of Houses of the Holy. Stung, just as they had been with their third album, into pushing themselves to their limits with the follow-up, Jimmy wanted to nail the dissenters once and for all. This was also the age of the double album as Major Status Symbol. Much as with owning their own record label, in order to be considered in the same light as the Beatles, Dylan and the Stones, even Hendrix and the Who, all of whom had been praised for releasing momentous – even career-defining in the case of Blonde On Blonde, Electric Ladyland and Tommy – double albums, Page felt deeply that Zeppelin would also benefit from having “a bigger palette” from which to paint their pictures. It was also the fashion now, with everyone from Elton John to Deep Purple, Yes and Genesis having released portentous double albums in the past two years.

Did it actually make for a better album, though? Certainly the fifteen tracks spread over two LPs created a textural and thematic breadth one could only stand back and admire. As such, Physical Graffiti, as it was to be called – an inspired title, Jimmy had come up with at the last-minute after viewing early drafts of the proposed artwork – is now regarded by many as the pinnacle of their career. The sheer variety of material – from stonking crowd-pleasers (‘Custard Pie’, ‘Trampled Underfoot’) to leftfield acoustic enchantments (‘Bron-Yr-Aur’, ‘Black Country Woman’), lighter pop moments (‘Down By The Seaside’, ‘Boogie With Stu’), slinky, slit-eyed groovers (‘The Rover’ – remodelled from its acoustic blues origins – ‘Sick Again’) and, of course, lengthy body-dredged-from-the-river blues (‘In My Time Of Dying’, ‘In The Light’, ‘Ten Years Gone’) – it also gave the band their third hallmark track in ‘Kashmir’. Of the same order of class as previous touchstone moments as ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘Stairway To Heaven’ – that is, destined to transcend all musical barriers and become universally recognised as a classic – and another song that utilises Jimmy’s signature DADGAD tuning to create a musical and metaphorical drive toward some irresistible far-off horizon, ‘Kashmir’ encapsulated Zeppelin’s multi-strand approach to making rock music (part rock, part funk, part Himalayan dust storm) as completely as ‘Stairway…’ but is arguably an even greater achievement. Certainly Robert Plant thinks so, even now. Especially now: “I wish we were remembered for ‘Kashmir’ more than ‘Stairway to Heaven’,” he says. “It’s so right – there’s nothing overblown, no vocal hysterics. Perfect Zeppelin.”

Jimmy wouldn’t go quite that far, though he agrees it’s one of their finest moments. “It was just Bonzo and myself at Headley Grange at the start of that one,” he explained. “He started the drums, and I did the riff and the overdubs, which in fact get duplicated by an orchestra at the end, which brought it even more to life, and it seemed so sort of ominous and had a particular quality to it. It’s nice to go for an actual mood and know that you’ve pulled it off.”

Of course, there were many different moods on Physical Graffiti, as well as the usual handful of ‘borrowings’. Most notably in the case of ‘Custard Pie’, credited to Page and Plant, but its juddering intro recalling Blind Boy Fuller’s 1939 recording ‘I Want Some Pie’ (later reworked by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee for their 1947 recording ‘Custard Pie Blues’), while Plant relies for his lyrics almost entirely on Sleepy John Estes’ 1935 recording, ‘Drop Down Mama’, while also lifting lines from ‘Help Me’ by Sonny Boy Williamson and ‘Shake ’Em On Down’ by Bukka White, before returning to Fuller’s ‘I Want Some Of Your Pie’. Arguably, Sleepy John Estes and Blind Boy Fuller should now be co-credited in the same way Willie Dixon and Memphis Minnie are on current Zeppelin CDs. Similarly, ‘In My Time Of Dying’, credited here to all four Zeppelin members but actually an original Blind Willie Johnson tune from 1928 called ‘Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed’ – the title of which Plant references in his own adaptation (along with a cry at the climax of “Oh, my Jesus!” cheekily interspersed allegedly with “Oh, my Georgina!”, the name of yet another on-the-road conquest) – and famously covered in previous years by everybody from Bob Dylan to Plant himself in pre-Band Of Joy days. It’s interesting too that Page uses the song to show off his chops on the slide guitar, one of the few occasions he would actually play one, an instrument Johnson himself famously excelled on.

Ironically, the one derivation they did try to credit the original source for – ‘Boogie with Stu’, actually an improvised reworking of ‘Ooh My Head’ by Richie Valens (itself little more than a reworking of Little Richard’s ‘Ooh My Soul’) – resulted in the threat of a court action. As Page tells it, “What we tried to do was give Ritchie [Valens’] mother credit, because we heard she never received any royalties from any of her [deceased] son’s hits, and Robert did lean on that lyric a bit. So what happens? They tried to sue us for all of the song! We had to say bugger off!”

There were also some moments where cloaked references to Page’s ongoing obsession with the occult could be discerned: an obvious, cheesy reference to “Satan’s daughter” and “Satan and man” in ‘Houses Of The Holy’ and a less obvious but likely more accurate reference to having “an angel on my shoulder, in my hand a sword of gold…” in the same song. ‘Kashmir’, too, seemed to resonate with occult meaning with its images of “Talk and song from tongues of lilting grace” – Enochian calls? – and a “pilot of the storm who leaves no trace, like thoughts inside a dream” – a Magus, perhaps? All pure speculation, of course. As is the fact that the title to ‘Trampled Underfoot’ appears nowhere in the song, but seems to hark back to something the occult writer V.E. Mitchell wrote some years before when he revealed that “Whenever a Templar was received into the Order he denied Christ… forced to spit on a crucifix and often even to trample it underfoot.”

Good vibes

Dear Mick

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 to experiencing what it was like to be 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 film 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 film 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 portrayed 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, [Jim's] 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!)

PS  I have never tried LSD but I swear when you wrote about their uni days, I felt high!!

Extract from The Doors biography

Chapter Ten

Young Lions

Danny Fields claims it was he that first brought the commercial potential of ‘Light My Fire’ to the attention of Jac Holzman. ‘I was the first person outside the company that thought ‘Light My Fire’ should be a single,’ he told the writer Giovanni Dadomo in 1977. ‘They’d already released another one but it was ‘Light My Fire’ that made all the difference, that made the company from a small, classy company into a force in the marketplace.’

Speaking now, though, Holzman insists ‘Light My Fire’ had always been in his thoughts, pointing out that the full seven-minute version from the album was already being played on the new, longer-format, stereo FM stations. ‘It was already a hit on FM. That’s what I was counting on. I was counting on FM Radio to force AM Radio to play it.’ The problem was AM had strict rules about ‘needle-time’ – the duration they would allow a record to run between commercials: no shorter than 2mins 45secs, no longer than 3mins. So Jac asked Paul to go back into the studio and cut an edited version that would fit. Paul was sceptical. Jac told him to get on with it. He did what was required and cut nearly five minutes worth of the lengthy solos Ray and Robby had spent so long perfecting. The result was the defining hit song of the summer of love. And nobody, not even Jac Holzman, could have predicted that.

One thing that most definitely was not Holzman’s’ idea was the acquisition by The Doors of their first managers: Salvatore Bonafetti, an old school Italian-American East Coast mover-and-shaker who had previously managed Dion and the Belmonts, and his partner Asher Dann, a Beverley Hills real estate broker and regular patron of the Whisky, looking to get in on the crazy, go-go scene then enveloping L.A. – Sal and Ash to their friends, of whom The Doors would never quite be counted.

‘Let’s just talk about these guys,’ says Holzman, still smarting all these years later. ‘These were managers not experienced in music and without the connections in music. And I personally thought they were a little on the crude side.’ What really hurt, though, he admits, was ‘the boys had gone on ahead and done it without talking to me. And that really hurt. I knew what that was about. They got talked into something. They knew that they had to have a manager of some kind to keep things going. They signed up with these guys and then they found out what I suspected all along. That these were not people that a band of that quality should be associated with. That’s a personal opinion, it’s not a legal opinion.’

In fact, the band had not needed much persuading at all. Max Fink had put the deal together, seeing in Bonafetti a hardnosed music biz pro that would get the band working and cut the best deals for them, while Dann was the typical Hollywood schmoozer seen as the perfect foil to keep Crazy Jimmy in check. To add insult to injury, as far as Holzman was concerned, no sooner had the band signed with them than Sal and Asher did everything in their power to try and get The Doors out of their Elektra deal – and back with Columbia.

Says Jac, ‘The way actually Bonafetti and Asher Dann would have come off, is that they could get out of the Elektra contract and move to Columbia and get a giant advance. Because then they would get a piece of that. They had no piece of the [Elektra] recording contract.’

Holzman mentally gave the band six months to right the boat, while at the same time preparing himself for the worst. He knew his contract with the band was cast-iron. He also knew from hard-won experience that a contract in the music business was not worth the paper it was printed on if both sides simply refused to work together. The immediate impact of the new B&D management structure on The Doors, however, was largely positive. Overnight they went from being a ramshackle club act living from one week to the next, to a professional working band with a diary rapidly filling up with work.

The band’s only real stipulation, made at Jim’s instigation, was that the band be an equal four-part democracy, with all songwriting credits split equally and credited simply to The Doors. And all decisions pertaining to their music and business are reached unanimously in order to carry them through into action. It seemed like the perfect all-for-one strategy to bind them against whatever vicissitudes having a major record company and management behind them might require of them. If all else failed, they would have each other. A decision they would all come to regret.

Oh God

Hadn’t seen him in a while, had almost forgotten he was still alive. Then this morning there he was waiting for me at my office, sitting in my chair, his shoes off, helping himself to my wheat-free chocolate-ginger cookies. For someone who prides himself on always being in the right place at the right time, I’m always somewhat irritated when he just shows up like this.

“So my son,” he began, “how goes things?”

“Aren’t you supposed to know?”

“Of course. But I want to hear you say it. Just to see if you know. Really.”

I breathed out. Heavily. “Really? Right now? You couldn’t just come and ask at night when I’ve got nothing better to do.”

“I do,” he smiled, “But you’re always already asleep or just not in the right frame of mind to see I’m there.”

“At least let me have my chair back then…”

He appeared on the other side of the room, just standing there looking, waiting.

“Well?”

“Well, if you really want to know, I’ve had better days.”

“Ah…”

“I mean, I count my blessings and all that…”

“Good.”

“… but there are times I just want to run away. I can’t seem to fight my way through the fire every day to get to where I need to be for my work. It gets me down. Down and out, it feels like lately.”

“Don’t you always feel like that though?”

“Not true. I’ve been feeling pretty good actually since the start of the year – general speaking. I – just – can’t – get – with – it.”

“Did you watch the Grammy’s on TV?”

“What?”

“The Grammy’s – did you see ‘em? Worst one I’ve seen for years.”

“No, I didn’t see the fucking Grammys. Who gives a shit?”

“So you didn’t see AC/DC?”

“I don’t need to see AC/DC – I’ve seen them enough these past 40 years. Same old schtick every time. Boring.”

“Oh, I agree. But what got me was they didn’t even do a song anyone recognised – not even me! They didn’t even do a song that had anything to do with the Grammys. They just did a track from their new album.”

“That piece of shit.”

“Well, exactly.”

We both sat there, chewing on the cookies, thinking it over. I needed a coffee.

“Staying for coffee?” I asked idly. Hoping he wouldn’t.

“No,” he said, “I’ve really got to go. Can’t spend all my time listening to your bullshit.”

“So… no advice then?”

“What? Oh… sure. Keep your chin up. That’s what I always say. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

“What?”

“You know, don’t bore us, get to the chorus!”

And then he was gone again. Why does he even bother, I ask myself. Why do any of us?

The Legend

He was the greatest star of them all, a rocker so black leathered, so blue-eyed, he could never get old, never die, never just disappear. Until one day he did.

The fans wailed and moaned but he refused to come out of wherever he was hiding. Generations passed and now the sons and daughters of the sons and daughters of the original fans had become the new breed of worshippers, only they didn’t crave his return, never having known him for themselves, they simply idolised the myth, helped keep the legend going even as he refused all offers of a comeback. Would not let the hits dry up even as the radio stopped playing them and the TV comedians made jokes about him.

He had only one friend, someone he paid to be so, a woman, old enough to be his mother, who acted as his mother, lover, friend, fan, follower, sooth sayer and cook. His hair had thinned out but he hadn’t even bothered to replace it, hadn’t even been to see the liposuction guy when his gut started spilling over his spandex.

Instead, he spent his days and nights praying before the false gods of the Internet, aping their malicious trolling one moment, then ‘liking’ dozens of hundreds of click-tributes and heart-shaped-box forums.

Finally, he could stand it no longer and agreed to one Final Show. To be performed in outer space aboard the Russian space module. The fee: $100 million. To be donated to his favourite charity: Battersea Dogs Home. The date: February 14, 2015. A final unhappy valentine for his lost career, his ruined life, his horribly misinterpreted death to be.

He even granted one last interview: to me. It was short but sweet. He asked me to tell you. It went like this.

Me: But why?

Him: Why the fuck not? As my friend Freddie Mercury once told the audience at Madison Square Garden, before pouring a bottle of champagne over the heads of the front row, “You are all cunts!”

With that he was off to rehearse. That is, to fail to turn up for rehearsals. Then later to be late for his own show. His own own deathbed. His own song.

Doors Jim Morrison Extract

An exclusive extract from Chapter 13 of Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre.

Unable to get near Jim because of all the other girls surrounding him, Judy had hung on a little longer in the parking lot afterwards on the off chance that Jim might wander by. Stoned on grass, she thought she was imagining it at first when Jim actually show up – surrounded by the same gaggle of eager chicks, all of who crowded into his blue Mustang. But there was an exchange and Jim told Judy to follow in her car.

One thing led to another and within a couple of hours Judy was alone with Jim in his squat little motel room at the Alta La Cienega. Jim had been so sweet, so vulnerable almost. Taking it slowly, playfully, a tender lover. When the next morning Judy asked him about the other Doors, he told her: ‘The other guys in the band are like brothers, you know, brothers… I mean, I like them, we work well together, but we’re not really alike.’ It was a Sunday morning Christmas Eve, and Judy was sure she would see Jim again soon.

The next time they met, again at his motel room, in January, after Judy had taken a chance and just shown up at the Alta La Cienega one afternoon, Jim had been surprised, but pleased. He had to run an errand, told her tow ait for him in his room. The when he returned he was kissed her passionately, pulled off her clothes and his, in a tremendous hurry suddenly, and threw her down on the bed. And then raped her. Anally.

She recalls the scene in her astonishing memoir, Love Him Madly. They were on the bed, naked, about to make love, but this time there was something different about Jim, something menacing. ‘Have you ever been fucked in the ass?’ he demanded. ‘I want to fuck you in the ass.’

Alarmed, she pretended to be aloof, told him she had but that she hadn’t liked it. ‘I don’t really want to. Don’t, okay?’ Jim ignored her. She wrote: ‘”I want to,” he hissed, hollowing me to the marrow. He had snapped. Jim’s eyes looked black, blazing with hatred or defiance. I was afraid he was going to hit me, slap me, shake me. He pinned down my arms, flat against the bed. I was watching a movie I was acting in, but he was directing. He seemed so crazy that I realised he could kill me. And something died, dropped out of me. The surroundings blurred, my boundaries were lost, and nothing was left but his brutal need driving out of control, until I realised he was raping me.’

Judy then describes ‘lashing out for survival’ and yelling for Jim to stop, which he reluctantly did. She lay there stunned while Jim went to take a shower, whistling as he went. When Pamela Courson turned up a little later Jim taunted her about having another girl in the room and refused to let her in.

Pam called Jim by her pet name for him, ‘Sapphire’, which only made Judy squirm more. Pam pleaded to be let in. Jim just continued taunting her. Eventually he told Judy to lock herself in the bathroom while he dealt with Pam. Judy heard angry voices, then the door slamming as they went off somewhere together. When Judy crept out she noticed her own blood, ‘bright on the clean bedspread, and hoped it would make a nice conversation piece when they returned.’ She never told anyone what had happened. ‘I was too ashamed.’

Old School Ways

The way it worked back then was if you couldn’t keep up you just got left behind. My first night in San Francisco, October 1980, arriving at the hotel that afternoon to hook up with Split Enz, falling sleep on the bed, still strung out from a week in New York. Then waking, realising I was 10 minutes late for the planned rendezvous to catch the bus to the gig, rushing down to the lobby to be told the band had left – exactly on the dot of seven. In a panic I ran out into the darkened SF streets looking for a cab. Couldn’t find one, nearly got mugged, then got lost and couldn’t find my way back to the hotel. Eventually found a cab and got it to take me to the venue, where no one had heard of me and I only got in eventually on the strength of my English accent and clearly hysterical demeanour. The gig itself was fantastic. Always  a great live band, the Enz.

But that’s to take it literally. There were other, more profound ways in which the band bus could just take off without you at any time or place. If you couldn’t keep up. Some dealt with it by allowing themselves to become obvious cogs in the bigger, all-powerful wheel. Me, I couldn’t wait to get my hands dirty. I wanted to help drive the wheel, not just exist under it. That meant sticking with it through the day and, mostly, night. In the era before the phrase 24/7 had been invented, before the rules had been written, back when today’s would-be rock monsters were reading how it could be done by the likes of me. I was the darkest knight of my kind, the cuckoo in the nest, the crossover artist who could keep up with the band and their roadies. “You’re a tough little motherfucker,” I recall a hard man from Thin Lizzy telling me.

I wasn’t that tough, not on the inside. But I was fucked if I was going to let them know that. I lived for the road even as it was killing me, more terrified of being left behind than I was with what might await once the bus itself finally reached the end of the road.

I once shared a far too small space with a very famous guitarist and his longstanding girlfriend, as he was waving her off the tour – for the last time. He had given her a very expensive watch as a sort of going away present but she was inconsolable. He was not known for shelling out a penny more than he had to, so this expensive present was a measure of his guilt, rather than a heartfelt gift, a bribe not to cause a scene basically, which she knew perfectly well, and did her best to abide by. But it was no use. He was hooking up with a new girlfriend on the next leg of the tour and it was time for her to leave – forever. It still makes me shudder recalling how glad I was that it wasn’t me being pensioned off. Though that was to come, and much sooner than I ever thought, and without the expensive gift to go with it.

In my case, when the drop off occurred, it was a deep cut that seemed to extend right across the whole spectrum of my life. The moment I stopped being a writer for Kerrang! I tumbled straight into the abyss. Phone calls no longer returned. Invitations no longer issued. People no longer afraid to come out and say how much they hated me. Other, lesser, writers dancing for glee, feeling validated for never sticking their own mediocre heads above the parapet. Bought off by the promise of a backstage pass and a free beer, neither of which ever satiated my thirst for knowledge and more, more, more. The ultimate triumph of the blind over the one-eyed man.

What they could never understand, though. You can’t be left behind if you never made it onto the bus in the first place. And you can’t come back if you were never down to begin with.

Send Your Love To Kathy

I had a warm and enlightening conversation on the phone last night with the wonderful Kathy Etchingham. Kathy, in case you don’t know, met Jimi Hendrix on the day he arrived in London for the first time in September 1966, and immediately became his girlfriend and long-term partner – a relationship which lasted until some months before he died, exactly four years later.

Kathy, who lives in Australia these days, kindly agreed to let me interview her for my forthcoming biography of Jimi, out next year. For that reason, I can’t go into the details of our two-hour conversation here, though I will allow her thoughts free reign in the book.

However, I just wanted to draw your attention to a battle Kathy has been waging against the perfidious maker of the recent, much-hyped, and completely inaccurate and flawed biopic of Hendrix, entitled, All Is By My Side, starring Andre 3000 as Jimi. In the pitiful history of offensively inaccurate Hollywood movies purporting to be based on ‘truth’, this hits a new all-time low. John Ridley, who wrote and directed the movie, should hang his head in shame. At the very least he should offer an unreserved apology to Kathy and the many people depicted who actually knew Jimi – but recognise no one, least of all the fictions Hendrix, in this film.

For the full mind-boggling story, click here to read about it on Kathy’s website http://www.kathyetchingham.com

Help Kathy in her fight to put a stop to this ugly little movie by liking her FB page here https://www.facebook.com/KathyEtchingham

Meanwhile, if you’d like to read a truly honest, utterly compelling semi-bioography of Jimi Hendrix, check out Kathy’s memoirs, titled Through Gypsy Eyes, here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Through-Gypsy-Eyes-Kathy-Etchingham-ebook/dp/B009AIXGF4/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1423235581&sr=1-1&keywords=kathy+etchingham

You won’t be disappointed.

Pink Floyd Extract

This from my Kindle-only Amazon biography of PINK FLOYD< The Endless Journey

Wish You Were Here, the album that would follow Dark Side to the top of the world’s charts in 1975, would represent Rick Wright’s last meaningful contribution to Pink Floyd for many years. That, paradoxically, an album whose dominant theme would be one of absence, would mark the beginning of the slamming shut of a series of doors, beginning with Nick Mason, before continuing swiftly on through Rick Wright, and even, eventually, that of David Gilmour, until the only pig left flying above the factory below was Roger Waters. Before finally closing the door on himself, leaving everyone else, including perhaps most of all Waters, to later wonder why.

At the time of its release in September 1975, though, Wish You Were Here had seemed to represent just the latest step up for a band that was now approaching its towering best. Despite its emphasis on the now recurring themes of madness and alienation – as evidenced in its two cornerstone moments, ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ and the superb title track, both movingly poignant monuments to Syd and, in a broader context, to their own lost innocence – there was something triumphal about its majestic eminence. Two months earlier, Pink Floyd had solidified their position at the very top of the British rock totem pole by headlining a huge outdoor show at Knebworth Park before 100,000 people, topping a bill that included Captain Beefheart, Monty Python and the Steve Miller Band, amongst others.

The show itself was sketchy but the event was considered a milestone. Now, as though impervious to criticism, surviving some very mixed initial reviews to climb to No. 1 in both Britain and America, before repeating the feat across the globe, Wish You Were Here immediately claimed its place amongst other quintessentially seventies’ masterpieces released that same year as Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, David Bowie’s Young Americans and Fleetwood Mac’s eponymous debut with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.

Despite the insistent strangeness of tracks like ‘Welcome To The Machine’ – a synthesiser-heavy symbol of disillusion, specifically with the ‘machine’ of the music business – and the almost proto-punk sarcasm of  ‘Have A Cigar’ – another biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you satire on shallow record company executives, one of which asks, ‘Which one’s Pink?” – Wish You Were Here was easy to listen to, good to lay back and chill out to, trippy but not excessively so, layered like fluffy pillows, so that even when the guitars and vocals seem to virtually arch their backs with antagonism they never really spoil the overall mood of blissful, night sky swooning.

Like its predecessor the music on Wish You Were Here seems to glide seamlessly together, making a whole of some very edgy disparate parts. Unlike Dark Side, the lead vocals are evenly shared between Waters and Gilmour, with the exception of ‘Have A Cigar’, which they brought in maverick folk-rock visionary and all-round hangout artist to Zeppelin, Floyd, Jethro Tull and others, Roy Harper to sing.

The steak on the plate, though were the stately title track and the positively glacial ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’. Syd Barrett actually wandered into the studio during a playback of ‘Shine On’, as Waters was trying to do his lead vocal, but that nobody recognised him at first. The waiflike Syd with the curly permed hair and patterned satin attire had been replaced by a rotund, stranger in a long black coat, his head and eyebrows shaved bald.

“This guy kept on getting up and brushing his teeth and then sitting,” Wright recalled. “Doing really weird things, but keeping quiet. And I said to Roger, ‘Who is he? And Roger said, ‘I don’t know’. I said, ‘Well, I assumed he was a friend of yours’, and he said, ‘No, I don’t know who he is’.”

Paranoid Extract

My book Paranoid has been creeping up the Amazon Kindle chart again, nearly six months after going to No.1. So I thought I’d play along with a little slice of the toxic cake for y’all here…

Later that first night, at a party for the band in an unnecessarily roped-off section of some expensive shithole in Knightsbridge, I could feel the smack wearing off. I could feel myself returning to beery disco-reality. I realised I didn’t want that and immediately went looking for Dennis the Menace.

Like a lot of people you get tired of hearing about, as a student Dennis had played guitar in a band. The band hadn’t made it but unlike most people, who simply put away the guitar and forgot about it, Dennis still clung to a certain image of himself. He wasn’t just a drug dealer, he was quick to let you know, he was a musician in his own right and a close personal friend of the band. Any band. Which, while he was hacking them out for free, as he always did for the stars of the show, most bands were perfectly happy for Dennis to be.

I wasn’t in a band so I didn’t get the here-take-some-home-with-you treatment, but I was the guy to see about backstage passes and tickets etc. and so Dennis, in his ex-public schoolboy fashion, always made a point of sorting me out early on in the evening, and always at a nice little discount, too. In return, ‘the Menace’, as he pretended to hate but secretly loved being called, was on the guest list for everything I did.

“I’m not what you would call a dealer per se,” he would explain earnestly while weighing you out a quarter-ounce of coke on his old-fashioned grocer’s scales. “I simply do my best to accommodate old friends and business acquaintances, like yourself, old boy. This isn’t actually what I do. I’m just getting the necessary funds together to make a new demo …”

I don’t know what kind of guitar player Dennis was – he gave me one of his tapes once but people were always giving you their tapes and I just threw it down in the corner with the rest of them – but he had a lot of fucking friends, I’ll say that. Especially after 11 at night when all the pubs had closed.

“I didn’t know you were into the old naughty-naughty,” he said knowingly, when I tugged at his sleeve that night.

“I’m not,” I shook my head. “I just want to know if you can sell me a bit for a later.”
“Well, I don’t know, matey. We’ll have to see. How much were you looking for?”
“I don’t know. A gram?”
A gram? That’s rather a lot for someone who claims they’re not into it, isn’t it?”

“It’s not for me, it’s for a friend. I’m just gonna have a taste.”
“What, a friend in a band?” he asked hopefully.

“No … some writer, you don’t know him …”
“A writer! No, and I don’t want know him!”
Any mention of the press was always greeted with scorn by the people backstage. It was another way of showing which side of the dressing room door you belonged on.

“Fuck the press!” cried Dennis indignantly, not that he’d ever been reviewed in anything himself. “One simply cannot trust those cunts …”

“Tell me about it,” I said.

 

Oh, OK, one last one…

From the newly updated Kindle-only 2015 version of W.A.R.

The mess and confusion over ‘One In A Million’, however, would continue to dog both Axl and the band for years to come. Speaking to me at length about it in January 1990, during our interview at his blacked-out West Hollywood apartment, Axl began by making light of what Vernon Reid had said about the song. “Vernon Reid was talking about how people make racial jokes, but that it was kind of sad. Because you’ll laugh but then, after all, when you think about it, it is sad. But humour and comedy, you know, everybody makes fun of everybody and everything. It’s kind of like you go, well, I can’t find a way to be happy, maybe I can find something to laugh at for a moment and take my mind off things…”

Was that all ‘One in a Million’ was, then: a joke? He nodded thoughtfully. “The whole song coming together took me by surprise. I mean, yeah, I wrote the song as a joke. West [Arkeen] just got robbed by two black guys on Christmas night a few years back. He went out to play guitar on Hollywood Boulevard in front of a bank at, like, Highland and Holly­wood… he’s standing there playing and he gets robbed at knife-point for seventy-eight cents. A couple of days later we’re all sitting around, we’re watching TV, there’s Duff and me and West and a couple of others. And we’re all bummed out, hungover and this and that. And I’m sitting there pissed off with no money, no job, feeling guilty for being at West’s house, sucking up oxygen and stuff. And I got hold of this guitar – and I can only play, like, the top two strings, right? But I’d been fuckin’ around with this little riff for a while, little by little. It was the only thing I could play on the guitar. So all of a sudden I wanted to write some words as a joke, right? We’d just watched Sam Kinnison on the video, you know, so I was gonna make my jokes, too. So I started writing this thing. And when I said ‘Police and niggers / That’s right…’ that was to fuck with West’s head. Cos he couldn’t believe I would write that, right? And it came out like that, okay?”

Maybe it was one of those jokes you had to be there to find funny, I said. He shrugged and lit another cigarette. He said it was true that he had underestimated the scale of the reaction the song would provoke. “I used a word, it’s part of the English language whether it’s a good word or not. It’s a derogatory word, it’s a negative word. It’s not meant to the entire black race, but it was directed towards black people in those situations.” He shrugged.

“I was robbed, I was ripped off, you know? I had my life threatened, okay? And it’s like, I described it in one word. And I wanted to see the effect of a racial joke. I wanted to see the effect that would have on the world. Slash was into it.” Now it was my turn to shrug and look confused. “It wasn’t contrived so much as we were trying to grow with it,” he insisted. “Now after getting beat up over it in the press we’re like, hey, fuck you! It says: ‘Don’t wanna buy none of your gold chains today’. Now a black person on Oprah Winfrey who goes, ‘They’re putting down black people’ is going to fuckin’ take one of these guys at the bus stop home and feed him and take care of him and let him babysit their kids? They ain’t gonna be near the guy, okay? And it’s, like, I don’t think a black person is a nigger. I don’t care. I’m like, they’re whatever, you know? I consider myself, like, green and from another planet or something… I never felt I fairly fit into any group, so to speak. But it’s like… a black person has this three hundred years of whatever on his shoulder. I don’t got nothin’ to do with that! It bores me, too.”

He knew plenty of black people that felt the same way, he said. “Like, a black chick came up to me when we were in Chicago and goes, ‘You know, I hated you cos of ‘One In A Million’. But I ride the subway, and I looked around one day and I know what you’re talking about. So you’re all right’. I’ve got a lot of that.” He said that for every Vernon Reid who took the opposite point of view, there was an Ice T or an Ezee E who agreed with him. “Ice T sent a letter, wanting to work with me on ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ if I ever did it as a rap thing. And I got the word to Ezee E that I’m interested in having him be a part of it too, if we ever do it. I mean, I don’t think it’ll be on this [next] record now, there’s already too much material. But we ended up having this big heavy conversation about ‘One In A Million’, and they could see where I was coming from. And those guys know more about that shit than most.”

He began to tire of talking about it, sensing the circles he knew he was going in. “I don’t defend it,” he growled. “I just record it.”