Whole Lotta Stuff You Never Knew You Needed

By now the Zep diehards will know much more about this than I would ever care to, but in case it escaped your notice, it was announced yesterday that Phase 2 of the Zeppelin reissues will continue on October 28 with the newly buffed-up releases of their untitled fourth album – aka Led Zeppelin IV, or The One With Stairway On It – and Houses Of The Holy.

I’m not a big one for these sorts of things for the simple reason that there’s usually a very good reason why all those ‘previously unreleased’ tracks were, well, not released. That being: they weren’t as good as the tracks or versions that were released. This is as true of Zeppelin as any other act. Anyone who wants to explain to me how the reissued mix or whatever they called it this summer of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ is remotely as exciting as the original may go ahead and try. But please, this is me, ok? I’m not intrigued by diehard sales-pitch bullshit.

On the other hand… when I actually got to see – to fondle and ogle at – some of the reissues of the first three Zep albums a few weeks ago I have to admit, it was mighty impressive. Kind of like beautiful antique furniture, you don’t necessarily buy them to sit on or stick on a table. You buy them for the sheer pleasure of owning something special. No longer rare, but certainly special.

It will be the same for the countless different editions of Zep IV and Houses coming our way in October. Especially for me as Houses is the first Zeppelin album I ever bought with my own (stolen from my mum’s purse) pocket money. Oh, I’d been deep into Zep IV before that. Of course I was. I was a teenager in the early 70s. Like, duh! But I had borrowed that from my heavy rock friend at school and taped it.

And no, just like everybody else, then and now, I didn’t think Houses was a patch on IV when I first heard it. No ‘Stairway’, man. Come to think of it, no ‘Rock And Roll’ or ‘Black Dog’ or ‘When The Levee Breaks’ or any of the others either. No, in terms of like for like, Houses didn’t even come close. Yet I loved it.

Just looking at the creepy, strangely sexy cover had my teenage brain reeling with I knew not what. Though I would soon come to find out.

So, well, this is exciting, once-in-a-lifetime stuff. Am I looking forward to hearing the ‘new’ version of ‘Stairway’, though? Naw. There’s only one ‘Stairway’. But it will be fun to fool with the rest of the baloney  for five minutes and that’s a pretty high score in today’s time-impoverished world. The extra this and ‘new’ that. Hell, the packaging, that being after all what we’re all really buying if we are daft enough to ever buy these things anymore.

Spare me the commentary, though. Having lived through more horseshit  interviews and god knows how many ‘best album we’ve done so far’ raps, I can cheerfully live without that.

But the fun and the fizz. That we can all do with a little more of, no?

Hell

And this is when you know you are in hell…

Spent all day – ALL DAY – working on my Doors manuscript, all 150,000+ words of it, fixing the last of the changes that need – NEED – to be made, as recommended by the lawyer and as fought over by me, over the past several weeks.

Finally then – FINALLY – we get to the last knockings. One more day, one more go at the manuscript, and maybe – MAYBE – we will be all right. By now, I have somewhat mellowed, dealing with lawyers and what they have to say about my books being akin for me to dealing with a boa-constrictor snake wrapped round my fucking neck.

After the first 29 pages of the ‘report’ it’s hard to keep your cool, no matter how many trips to the toilet you make, or off-map journeys to your other emails. The head goes, then the heart. Finally the balls. Then somehow the balls come back, then go again. Then…

THEN! You finish. You FINISH. Get me? Write the email your publishers and lawyer have been waiting for, attach your responses to their latest report, answers in BLUE. The go to attach the document of the finished manuscript you have been working on ALL DAY.

And…

It’s vanished. Gone. Vamoosed. Where NOBODY FUCKING KNOWS! Not even your computer guy Adam, who is the Dr Who of computers and knows everything. EVERYTHING.

You open the drawer and reach for the gun only there’s no gun there. NO GUN!!!

And hope. Hope that Adam, who you now owe your life to, can help, can do something, can make it all all right on the night. ALL RIGHT!

But he sounds puzzled. Worried. Perplexed.

This is when you know you have arrived at the innermost circle of hell and the devil has sharpened his fork and is openly laughing – LAUGHING – in your face.

But wait. For there is a tiny pinpoint of light at the end of the insanity tunnel. Adam does something. You don’t know what but it is something. And suddenly there in a far corner of the big iMac screen is a tiny little document that looks – LOOKS – like it might just be… the … one…

AND IT IS! IT IS!! I LOVE ADAM!!! ADAM IS LOVE!!!! ADAM IS GOD!!! I WORSHIP HIM!!!

Village Self-Preservation Society

I am not a country boy. I was born and raised in the big bad city. Trouble was my middle name. And although I travelled across the country for years with various bands of variable fame and success, I never dug anyplace like I did my own London hole. Never got how anybody could live elsewhere. Unless it was another big bad city like L.A. or Paris, New York or Sydney.

Then, nearly 20 years ago, I found myself out here in the Oxfordshire countryside. Knowing no one and nothing. I had no clue how long I might stay, or how I’d make it if I ever could. Then, as always makes the difference, I met a woman. One who was young and foolish enough to marry a broken down old rocker. And… well…

So here I am. And how times change. Last night, for instance, I spent the evening with some agreeable friends from a nearby village enjoying what was cheerfully billed as a Beer & Cricket Festival – in the green back fields of a local pub called The Bear.

And it dawned on me yet again, how lucky I am. At least, in some things. For there can be very few more enjoyable ways for someone of my particular vintage to spend a summer’s evening than lolling around in a deckchair, drinking white wine from a bucket of ice, as I and my venerable old chums swap chat about a) the cricket match taking place in front of us, b) the cricket match taking place the next day (i.e. today) and, most of all, the several different varieties of garden gnome you will find at such events. I mean, the creme-de-la-creme of several nearby villages, young and old, men and women, rather a lot of women, as it happens, children and dogs.

Behind us a reggae band chundered along now and again, beside them a barbecue that went on all day and night, and beyond that, when the darkness finally fell, the pub itself, stuffed with armchairs and sofas and, eventually, me and Steve and my wife and one or two others, all enjoying the peace of putting our feet up, while attending to yet another bottle of that rather expensive and wonderfully chilled white wine.

Never having been one, I don’t know what millionaires do for their Saturday evening pleasantries, but I felt like the richest man on earth last night. And please don’t spoil it by coming back at me with fire and brimstone about all the ills in the world. Right then, there was only this, and it, and now, and the summer English sun thrumming its way down past the trees. Heaven.

Hidden In Plain Sight: Johnny The Fox

We had only just gotten into Jailbreak yet here they were again with a new album. Yes, it was the era of two albums a year but even this seemed excessive when Jailbreak was still breaking through into most people’s consciousness. When ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ was still on the radio and word was still spreading. It had better be good.

And it was. Not so ’rounded’ as its breakthrough predecessor – not as many lightweight looks back over the shoulder like ‘Running Back’ or ‘Angel From The Coast’. Instead it had deeper, richer, more painful cuts like ‘Borderline’ – Lynott actually admitting he was a ‘borderline case’. We thought he was being romantic, we didn’t know till it was too late he was simply being truthful.

And it was heavier. For sure, for sure, Jailbreak had  ’Warriors’ and ‘Emerald’ and you’d never get heavier or rockier or more tantalisingly groovy Lizzy tracks than those pair of bastards. But Johnny The Fox had its face-slapping opener, ‘Johnny’, and it’s bad twin follower, ‘Rocky’. Most of all it had the mighty ‘Massacre’…

‘Through the devil’s canyon
Across the battlefield
Death has no companion
The spirit is forced to yield…’

Shitting god! Where was the Big Fella leading us now?!? Then that Robbo solo! And Downey’s running-gun drums! Lead and we will follow…

Johnny The Fox also had ‘Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed’, lowrider funk and hard-stuff rock tangled up in blood and whiskey and the love of a bad woman.

‘In the back of a black cadillac
The voodoo music travels
Down Skid Row only black men can go
The shady deal unravels…’

And of course there were the love poems, the inside-out hurt of ‘Old Flame’, the last thing at night pillow talk of ‘Sweet Marie’. And the journey songs like the sublime ‘Fools Gold’, which in truth Phil would write better versions of later like ‘The Sun Goes Down’ and ‘Dear Lord’. But for now left us gawping, wondering, wanting to join in.

It even had a new version of ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ to get down to on Top Of The Pops, this one called, again more truthfully than we knew at the time, ‘Don’t Believe A Word’, a mournful Phillo ballad Robbo had booted into shape as a class-ass rocker of the first-and-last order.

Weirdly, it ended with ‘Boogie Woogie Dance’, which in no way resembled its feel-good title, but came on like the bad end of a worse night, bottled in some alley. So the album wasn’t perfect but it was hard. As fuck. And totally unexpected after the more joyful face-first fun of Jailbreak. But that was the 70s for you, before things  went all self-conscious and post-modern and tits up. You could always be knowing. The Stones and The Beatles had invented being knowing. But if you dug Thin Lizzy – classic Lynott-Robbo-Gorham-Downey Thin Lizzy – you had to be brave too. Or at least feel brave.

Listening to it now, I still do.

Paranoid – Big In America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice

So they come anyway, whatever I write, whatever messages I send out. How do I get started? How did you get started? The female who is slowly fucking her way to the bottom. The males who don’t have the pussy balls to go out and get it without having their hands squeezed. And the thing is, the only advice you get is never good enough anyway.

It was 1981 and after nearly five years of trying to Become A Writer (for Sounds magazine) I had finally found myself in a place where the magazine was starting to ask me for features, the holy grail of music mag writing back then. Got me a couple of cover stories, found myself sitting in editorial meetings making a suggestion and the editor – the great Alan Lewis – telling me, okay then, go ahead and do it.

Then – very weird – the magazine got a new features editor in Garry Bushell, who was just about their most famous writer by then, and blow me down big boy but Garry seemed to like my stuff and began giving me bigger and better things to do. I mean, I couldn’t believe my luck. Especially as I knew deep down – hell, not even that deep down, it was right on the surface – that I really wasn’t all that, to be honest.

But I wasn’t going to say no – actually that is one piece of good advice, never wait for something to come along you feel you can actually do or might be good at, just say YES to whatever they offer you. So I kept tip-tapping away on the typewriter and… long story short, I somehow slowly got to know the one and only Giovanni Dadomo, for me then one of the all-time greats of rock writing. Gio – as those of us who knew him called him, and suddenly, who’da thunk it, I actually knew him – was over my flat one day. The one I shared with another, older, much better Sounds writer. And I had just finished this feature for Sounds on some band so insignificant I can’t remember what they were called but that week, anyway, I was all over them. And anyway…

I was quite pleased with what I’d just done. Thought I was finally getting somewhere. And…

I showed it to Gio. Asked him for some ‘advice’. What did he think? You know, really?

He sat on the bed and read it. All of it. Then blew out his cheeks, handed me back the sheets of paper and delivered his verdict.

“Yeah. It’s all right. Just a bit… dull. You know?”

Shit.

“How do you mean?”

“You know. It’s just lacking something. I mean, it’s okay, lots of quotes about their album and that. But… just… flat, you know?”

Horribly, I did. I had already known it before I showed it to him but just couldn’t resist. This was GIOVANNI DADOMO. And I was one of his biggest fans. And…

So all you cats who send me your safe as milk shit, copied from Wikipedia, droning on about track one, two, three, etc. Remember this. That stuff, it’s all right. You know? Just a bit flat. And dull. And just like I will never be Giovanni Dadomo you will never be Mick Wall.

So forget me. Forget it. Whatever it is you think it is. And go for it in entirely your own way. And if that idea doesn’t sit well or sound good, or offer help, then, hey, don’t bother. Jack it in. Find something better. Then I can write to you for some good advice…

Winter of Love

The great thing about Johnny Winter was that he never lived up to his name. He was always, always hot. Red raw and steaming. I first saw him live in around ’75. I’d been briefly nuts about his younger brother, circa the ‘Frankenstein’ single, long version, natch. So when my friend Stokey who was a true blue albums guy – prided himself on never having bought a single, except by Roxy Music because they didn’t used to put their singles on the albums – offered to let me have his other rocket for Johnny at some college gig in London I said yeah, baby. Then wondered what I’d let myself into when the band – Johnny Whitehair and two other boxes – hit the stage.

And I mean hit the stage.

I – could – not – believe – my – eyes! In my memory Johnny was bouncing so much behind that bad red guitar he was literally levitating. I mean, it was loud, sur,e but it was deep. The deepest red red I’d ever heard, and the deepest blue blue I’d ever none, down in my bones, where you really know it.

The sweat came flying form the stage before the first number was through. The bitter sweetness ran all the way through. My first experience real live blues rock, mama, and now I was never going home.

The next two times I saw him was in America, his home, not mine, and oh how I envied him it. To see Johnny Winter burn your head offs in front of his own people, that was a trip. To me, he looked old even then. Like he was born old. Which meant he could never die. The man was way beyond death. With that voice, that sound, that hair. This was one man was not born to die. This fucker would live long after the rest of us were gone gone gone.

He still is.

Meet The New Priest

So the new Judas Priest album Redeemer Of Souls looks set to become their first album ever to go into the US Top 10. Well, good for them. I bow to no one in my admiration for the supreme talents of Rob Halford. But can we just take a leedle step back and look at the big picture for a moment.

Their new album going into the US Top 10 says far more about the sorry state of US Top 10 than it does about the new Priest album, however good. How many copies will it have actually sold to achieve this astounding feat? The most recent Sabbath album, 13, went in at No.1, didn’t it? Yet it has yet to go Gold in America – that is, sell even half a million copies, this a year and many giant tour dates since its release.

For Priest to go Top 10… what it that then? 50,000 copies? Less? And where will it be second week of release? For the record, the last time Judas Priest had a Gold album in America was five albums and nearly a quarter of a century ago with Painkiller.

If this was still 1986 – the last year Priest had a platinum album in America, with Turbo, which, for the record, only got as high at No.17 – first weeks sales like those predicted for Redeemer wouldn’t have gotten them anywhere the near US Top 30, let alone the Top 10.

None of which is to seriously disparaged either Judas Priest or Black Sabbath or any other lively-eyed oldsters who still think making the US Top 10 with your new album actually means shit. The whole ballyhoo is so quaint it’s like watching Aunt Jemima suck her warm milk through her dentures before bedtime.

Listening as I am right now to the new Priest album on YouTube a full 24 hours before its officially released as a CD or download or whatever it is the old folks still believe in these days, I can confirm that the boys have done good. If you like The Priest you will doubtless Bow Down before this. But forget all the tough talk about it going Top 10 for the first time. It’s just too sad and pathetic.

And when you go to see them live, by the way, how many of you will be singing along to the new stuff like ‘Halls Of Valhalla’, very catchy from what I’m digging right now on YouTube? And how many will be going to the toilet until they play something from the 70s and 80s? If the band knows what’s good for them, and they nearly always have, they will restrict the ‘new one from our album’ to two, three at the absolute most, puhleaze!

Then get back to what they really are. One of the biggest, best metal Goliaths still roaming the seven hells of the rocking world. New ‘albums’  and spurious ‘Top 10s’ be damned.

The Real Tommy Opera

Joey died at 49 from lymphoma. Dee Dee was next. He was 50 when he died of a smack overdose. Then Johnny, who was 55 when he died of prostate cancer. Now Tommy, the runt of the litter, who outlived them all to get to 62, dying of bile duct cancer yesterday.

So long then The Ramones, the band who single-handedly invented punk rock. The real punk rock, not the New York street rock of The Heartbreakers and The Voidoids, or the art rock of Television and Patti Smith and Talking Heads. The kind of punk rock that got ignored even in New York, before that first Ramones album arrived like a flying ball of spit onto the turntable of John Peel in 1976. He played it – of course he did. Something that uncool and not-now and weird and funny and, well, funny, how could Peel resist? And from those broadcasts came the Sex Pistols and The Damned and The Clash and…

ONE TWO TREE FOUR!!!

Dee Dee would count them in and off the fuckers would go. Sometimes for up to three minutes! But usually more like two. And, well, you can look it all up, right? And I hope you do. Cos most of you were’t lucky enough, like me, to see them back then, when we’d never seen anything like them before.

But the real secret of The Ramones – at least, on their first three classic albums, the only Ramones albums anyone would ever need – was Tommy Ramone. Tommy was the Hungarian Jew – real name Erdélyi Tamás, like that matters in America where names don’t mean shit – who started out as the band’s manager. Then when their original drummer – Joey, actually, yeah, sliding doors or what the fuck, right? – proved to be so inept Tommy told him to fuck off to the mike (no one else wanted that gig) while Tommy showed him how it should be done. And boy did he ever. Tommy wasn’t so much minimalist as barely trying. His style, if that’s what you want to call it, was so simple it made Phil Rudd sound like Mitch Mitchell. Oh, and he wore sunglasses onstage. I mean, come on!

Tommy laid down his sticks after those first three albums and the band was never the same again. Marky, his replacement, played like a proper drummer, god help us, and his replacement Richie Ramone used to play so fast the rest of the band couldn’t figure out what was going on. So Marky came back and that was it, the band was back to being a more mainstream act still searching for that hit record they would never have.

None of which is the point. It doesn’t matter that The Ramones didn’t have hits. Nor that they were finished after Tommy gave up in 1978. The fact is they had – have – reach. That’s the name of the game in the 21st century, baby. Not whether you go to No.1 but whether young mums and dads are dressing their toddlers in your T-shirts. Whether they know it’s you the moment the record comes on anywhere anytime. Whether they spend too many hours transfixed by old clips of you on YouTube, and are still digging ‘Cretin Hop’, ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’, or my own favourite, ‘Pinhead’ – featuring the greatest opening lines in any rock song ever: ‘I don’t wanna be a pinhead no more / I just met a nurse that I could go for!’

I mean, gabba gabba hey! Right? Right?

So long then Tommy. You looked like a member of the Grateful Dead by the end and that was great too. Like The Ramones ever cared what the fuck they looked like. Coldplay and U2 they just fucking weren’t… geddit?

Then / Now

THEN

You’d be walking down the Broadway, carrying a transistor radio. You and your friends. All acting like you knew something. Playing loud music from the radio, even when it was half-arsed shit like Sweet or Slade or Wizzard, always louder though for Faces, Stones, Elton, Bowie, Bolan, Roxy, Sparks, you know, the really good stuff. Hoping the girls would notice.

NOW

You walk alone when you walk at all, ear buds in, friends all on FB and twitter. No idea what’s on the radio only what you’ve just picked up on FB, twitter, YouTube, someone else’s phone. Still hoping the girl will notice but rarely expecting that to come true. And it doesn’t.

THEN

You dreamed of a better world, knew it was coming, just as soon as the over-30s died off and you took over the running of the joint. When LSD would be put into the water supply, weed would be legal and TV would be all night and all day. And the only music on the radio would come from deep on side two of the most far out albums in the world. Fuck the police! Kill the politicians! Be FREE, BABY!

NOW

You know the game is rigged. That the dice are loaded. That the only sensible option is to look after number one, and hope that takes care of those that trail in your wake, be they family, kids, friends, other human beings. (Actually, never mind the other human beings…) You vote for more police on the streets because they just aren’t safe anymore. You still don’t believe the politicians though. They peddle hope and you just have to laugh. When you’re not crying. Or most often, whistling dixie as the whole shithouse goes up in flames. Just make sure you get me to the bank on time first, baby…

THEN

You believed in music. You believed in talent. You believed in cream always rising to the top. You believed if you just worked hard enough you could make it. Whatever happened you believed you would be much better off than your parents’ ever were.

NOW

You still believe in all of that but it gets harder every day to convince yourself that it’s true, to get yourself out of the sack each morning long enough just to stand there naked, belly wobbling, on your own two feet, wondering.

THEN

You played records. Then you played CDs. Then you played MP3s. searching for the rare, the valuable, the lost.

NOW

You either have a streaming service or you soon will have you. The days of drink-clicking amazon for CDs you later regret buying are all but over. But don’t cry. You now have the whole history of music at your fingertips.

THEN

You thought that in the future cars would fly.

NOW

You wonder if in the future there will be any cars.

L.A. Baby

This is a fragment from the final chapter of Paranoid: Black days With Sabbath & Other Horror Stories – The Unexpurgated Version, available exclusively via Kindle for £2.49.

By noon, Ross would have the whole day and night’s schedule worked out for us, so that wherever we went, we were almost always earning money. LA was a great place not just to interview people, but to gossip about them, to mingle and mix and make it happen. Everybody was there. Anybody that wasn’t didn’t matter. Particularly by the start of the Nineties, before the riots and the earthquakes changed everything, when LA was still ‘the new New York’ of the music biz – the new centre of things.

It wasn’t unusual for Ross and I to squeeze in as many as eight or nine interviews and photo-sessions a week. We would farm them out to all sorts of places – RIP, Faces, Billboard and half-a-dozen smaller metal rags in America, plus Kerrang! back in England, as well as The Sun, The Mail, and whoever else was interested. And that was before we got to all the Japanese, Australian and European titles our various agents were selling our shit to.

It was sweet. We weren’t rolling in it, but it was becoming harder and harder to remember what it was like to be really poor and we honestly couldn’t see how that might change. Ross earned far more than me, of course – words go out of date so quickly, you can’t keep selling them on for years and years the way you can certain pictures – but I still had more money than I knew what to do with.

We tried hard to piss it away, eating out every night, usually in Ross’ favourite Japanese restaurant, the exorbitantly priced but ultra-fashionable Matsuhisa, on La Cienega. If we found ourselves with a day off, we would invariably go shopping on Melrose, buying dozens of T-shirts and whatnot from The Gap, or cruising the Beverley Center, throwing it away on faxes, computers, watches, cameras, tape-recorders, mini-TVs, wide-screen TVs, just more and more and more crap, as much as we could get our hands on. It was the American way.

I had never been a shopaholic before and I wasn’t really much of one now – not compared to Ross, who really knew how to spend – but there wasn’t much else to do. Whenever I looked, I always seemed to have thousands in my English and American bank accounts. Cheques seemed to arrive every other day and the way LA was then, you felt life would just go on like that forever.

Even when it rained, you still sat around in your shorts and your sunglasses, donkey-dong throbbing like a toothache between your legs. In LA, the sun never stopped shining, whatever the weather.

Sometimes friends from England would come and stay. But either they liked it too much and we could never get rid of them, or they couldn’t get their heads round it at all and went away grumbling inanities about the place. Usually, the latter.

I didn’t get it. The main objection seemed to be that the people in LA were ‘false’. And they’re not in dreary, class-ridden London? Was that it?

Well, fuck London, fuck England, fuck whatever the old world thinks about anything. Coming from dirt-poor Irish immigrants, I’d never had the hang-up about American dollars that so many little Englanders seemed to have. Seething with racist envy, they clung to the idea that LA was just Baywatch; that Americans really did have smaller brains and that, somehow, not being an American gave you some sort of edge.

It’s an unpleasant and hypocritical attitude that persists to this day. The same old con trick the English have been pulling on the rest of the world for centuries. We’re better than you. The intellectuals are the worst. They see The Player and they think they’ve seen it all. Lord Puttnam was too good to survive? Don’t believe the hype. It wasn’t Big Ben old Putters was dreaming of when he was living high in the Hollywood hills, it was Walt Disney.

No, the English flew in, sat around pale and confused for a few days, watched too much television, went on all the rides, made pricks of themselves in public and went home happy. They had seen all they wanted to see. The real fun was to be had afterwards, sitting around smug London dinner tables, imitating the accents and taking the piss with all their other went-there-once friends.

“And they say ‘Have a nice day’ to everything!”

Yes, and we say ‘I’m sorry’ to everything.

I knew what I preferred to hear, and by the start of the Nineties, I didn’t care if I ever saw England again. We’d sit there at night in Massa’s, us and Bobby De Niro and Jerry Bruckenheimer and the boys, and as I was sipping my Miso I’d think to myself: I fucking love LA. As far as I was concerned, I was going to live there forever. Or until the Big One came and threw us all into the stinking sea…

Black Days With Sabbath

This is from Chapter Three of Black Days With Sabbath & Other Horror Stories – Unexpurgated Version, available now exclusively through Kindle, £2.49.

Of course, some of the older rock bands I worked with then, like Journey, were so out of touch with my own reality they weren’t aware there was anything strange about what they did at all, right down to wearing flared-trousers and rambling on in their interviews about peace and love, which was about as far from the centre of things as you could get in London in 1979. But then they were easy-listening, Californian weed-and-wine guys. If there was a little coke going down, too, it was kept very discreet and never referred to outside the dressing room. Journey had left the street behind a long time ago and they had no intention of allowing you or anyone like you to try and drag them back to it now. Like, what for? Don’t you like money, honey?

We sent Mandy to San Francisco to do a story on Journey for Sounds. But even Mandy had a hard time summoning up the courage to say he actually liked them in the piece he finally wrote. Instead, he crammed the story with smart quotes from the band and some lively anecdotes about San Francisco. It was a good piece. It made the band sound almost hip. But when they read it, they hated it. They didn’t get it. They said they thought he was being ‘disrespectful’. I read the piece again. I didn’t know what they were talking about. They read the piece again and came back even more horrified. Nobody knew what anybody was talking about.

It was the first time I realised that Americans don’t speak or read English, they speak and read American. Subtlety, irony, a caustic wit, these were not much recognised qualities in the reading material of the average American rock musician. The band just saw it all as a put-down. A punk put-down. In short: the PR had sent the wrong guy. What they didn’t realise was that the PR sent the only guy. No-one else was interested.

I ran into a similar situation not long after with Sabbath’s American singer, Ronnie James Dio, who balled me out backstage at the Hammersmith Odeon one night after some comments made in an interview with him that had run on the cover of Record Mirror.

Record Mirror was not known for splashing heavy metal bands across its cover and the fact that I had managed to get Ronnie’s wizened visage on there was, for me, a minor PR miracle. It was a pretty flattering write-up as well, and when I marched into the dressing room that night before the show with half-a-dozen copies of the mag under my arm, I did so wreathed in glory, I thought. If this didn’t force a smile out of them, nothing I did would.

Ronnie very solemnly took a copy of the mag from me and sat down with his reading glasses and began reading. I left him to it. The congratulations could come later. I had stuff to do before the show.

20 minutes later I was standing by the backstage door making some last-minute alterations to the guest-list when I got a tap on the back. I turned around. It was Ronnie.

“What is this piece of shit?” he barked. He was holding a screwed up copy of Record Mirror in his hand.

“What do you mean?”

“Have you read this?”

“Yeah, I read it. What’s the problem?”

“What’s the problem?”

“Yeah.”

“You say you read it?”

“Yeah.”

“And you’re asking me what the problem is?”

I stood there. I knew it was coming but I couldn’t for the life of me think why.

“He calls me a fucking ego-maniac!” he yelled. “Did you read that? He calls me a fucking ego-maniac!

“No, I didn’t read that.”

“HE calls ME a fuckin’ EGO-MANIAC!”

“Let me see.” I took the paper from him and studied the page but I couldn’t find the offending words. I found ‘ego’ – I think the phrase was ‘egocentric’ – but I couldn’t find ‘maniac’.

“Sorry, I can’t see where it says …”

“You can’t see?”

“No.”

“You can’t see! You can’t read! Am I the only fucking person who can READ?”

His voice was getting louder. I looked down at him. He was one of the few people that I could do that to. That was actually shorter than me.

“Let me ask you something,” he said, his face like thunder. “Do you think I’m an ego-maniac?”

“No, of course not.”

“Do ya? Huh? Do ya? Well? Whaddaya say, AM I A FUCKIN’ EGO-MANIAC OR NOT?”

“No, you’re not.”

“Then WHY does it SAY I am RIGHT HERE? Huh? Huh? Well? Shall I tell you? BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT FUCKIN’ DOIN’ YOUR JOB!

He was screaming at me now, his eyes on stalks. I thought, I’m either gonna have to hit him or I’m gonna have to walk away. I thought about the pad in Hampstead. I thought about the quarter-ounce in my pocket. I turned on my heel and walked away. But the maniac had left bits of his filthy ego all over me. I needed a line.

Paranoid NEW Extract

This fragment is from Chapter Five of Paranoid: Black Days With Sabbath & Other Horror Stories – Unexpurgated Version, available exclusively ton Kindle, priced £2.49

It was the same with clothes. The nearest launderette was just a couple of hundred yards up the road from where we lived but, somehow, much as I fretted over it, I simply could not dredge up the necessary energy and enthusiasm to put the filthy clothes and rotting bedsheets into a plastic bag and carry the whole appalling bundle down there. I truly felt the effort would have been too great and so, for over a year, I wore the same T-shirts, the same socks, the same jeans and underpants and everything else, over and over, spraying them with cheap deodorant and hanging them out the window “too air” rather than go through the physical and mental torture of actually staggering up the road to the laundrette with a big, heavy bag on my shoulder, swimming in my own sweat and cursing my misfortune.

God knows what I looked and smelled like on those few occasions I did wander outside the door, but things were at least simple then. We’d never heard of AIDS. It was just around the corner but we didn’t know that. We hadn’t been told about it yet. And even if we had, so what? AIDS, cancer, car crash … strictly for beginners, all of it.

These days, of course, the risks involved in being a junky are even greater, but I notice the number of people willing to roll the dice and gamble has not drastically decreased. If anything, having more to lose has only deepened the appeal of smack still further and there are now more needle-using junkies around than ever before. That’s because there is a romantic side to smack; it is glamorous. The bigger the taboo, the deeper the kick in breaking it. So when people ask: was the film version of Trainspottin’ likely to make young people go out and try smack for the first time? The answer is: of course it fucking was!

Every kid lives his own movie; the projector’s always running in his head. And it wasn’t the Americanised Scots accents and overly theatrical acting they queued in the streets to see in Trainspottin’. It wasn’t even the bit where he dives down the toilet and swims in his own shit – a moment of supposed ‘magic-realism’ that was, for me, the most lifelike scene in the entire movie. People went to see it for those mind-melding, ectoplasmic moments where he’s depicted taking a fix. It’s the equivalent of the moment in a slasher movie when the creature with the 18-inch blade and weird face-mask finally reveals itself; or the bit in a porno flick where they finally reach penetration. Sticking it in

But Trainspottin’, the film, was kids’ stuff and unworthy of  the book it merely paid lipservice to. Cool soundtrack; nice-looking boy in the lead; they made it into a pop video. As a film, Pulp Fiction caught the real adult-oriented romanticism of smack much better. From Travolta’s suave three-gram gangster grouching-out at the wheel of his car, to the dealer’s ice-cream-and-monster-movies-at-2.00am home-life, it was a much more aspirational and true-to-life account of a world where smack is not about moral choices – everything has side-effects, not just heroin – but merely another expression of the same free will which forced them to look beyond the law for their limits, their reality, in the first place.

You can moralise but when you do so you are evading the real issue. Would junkies have shared needles if AIDS had been on the menu in those days? Not at first maybe, but sooner or later, under the right circumstances – the middle of the night, say, and no other works available, a fairly normal scenario for most full-time junkies – of course you fucking would. You would do a lot worse than that to get what you needed, baby.