Masonic Boom

"Crazy" "Oversensitive" "Feminazi" "Bitch" bloggin' bout pop music, linguistics and mental health issues

Saturday, July 11, 2015

In With The Out Crowd

I've been meaning to blog about this gig all week, but not until Dickon published his own account. When he messaged me to ask if I wanted to be his +1 for the Jesus and Mary Chain playing Psycho Candy in full at the Roundhouse, can you believe my first impulse was to say no? I hate full-album shows; lazy bad slices of pre-packaged nostalgia for the wealthy wrinklies with the cash to control culture and dominate cultural discourses, and fake historical reenactments for the foetuses, slouching round in T-shirts of bands who died before they were born. What would the slouching, petulant Reid brothers of my teenage years have said to that offer? "Get tae fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, jesus fuck."

I sleep on it. I think about it. Dickon Edwards. The Jesus and Mary Chain. The Roundhouse. Psycho Candy. The specific resonance that all of these people and places and things hold in my emotional landscape. I think about the last time I foolishly turned up my nose at a nostalgia gig: the Stooges invited me to tag along to ATP. I said no, I couldn't get the time off work. Ron told me to quit my job. I demurred. I was sacked from the job shortly after, and within a year or two, Ron was dead. In the previous week and a half, I have barely survived a near-sacking, a disciplinary action and an employment tribunal at my current job. Jobs come and go. Music is forever. I message Dickon and ask him where and when he wants to meet.

The Roundhouse is beautiful as ever, the white-hot peak of Victorian technological innovation, turned to a decaying lump of Camden's musical past. I may hate the Heritage Industrial Complex with a passion, but it's faced a far better fate than The Stables. The cavernous, echoey space especially suits bands of a shoegaze or dronerock persuasion. We're both of an age where we're relieved not disappointed to be seated upstairs in the balcony. And so we perch, high above the elaborate iron tracery of the stage, drinking pink wine as we cackle and gossip and rustle our fans with approval or disapproval. (Pink Wine? The Shimuras trademark. I haven't touched the stuff since the band broke up. Not bad memories, just memories too painful to stir. I don't even drink any more - well, no, my thing is that I do not drink in any circumstances that make me feel even remotely socially anxious. It's not until later that I realise how quickly and how completely Dickon has put me at ease enough to get drunk with him.)

The lights dim, the band appears. I'm slightly shocked that they are all so visibly old now. I suppose we all are. But music has a way of collapsing time. Because music is the single most potent path to memory. (Well, scientists claim it's actually scent, but my sense of smell is very poor.) When one listens to a piece of music repeatedly, letting it carve the groove of long use into your mind, it becomes a kind of emotional muscle memory. Automatic memory. (Procedural memory, I think is the scientific term.) I can never remember the names of JAMC songs (I can hear my friend Kaliflwr shouting "Blues From A Gun - that's the one you mean!" at me) but every note, every bubblegum-soft "ba ba ba", every spasm of white noise, every reverb-distressed drum hit... my muscle memory knows every second, anticipates every note, every beat. (I think I irritate Dickon by playing air drums with my fan. It is my way of touching the music.)

The trick in Psycho Candy is so simple, and yet so devastatingly perfectly executed. Those jaunty, poppy, groovy, melodies, so innocent, so girl-group, so AM Radio - almost completely subsumed under a blanket of noise, of filth, of thick, viscous self-loathing and religious guilt.  ("Why is it?" I hiss between songs, "That a man standing on stage, miserably howling 'I wanna die' makes me so, so happy?") We argue about whether it was Catholicism or Calvinism that fucked the Reid Brothers up. Dickon insists it has to be Catholicism; I'm not so sure. It's the extreme branch of Protestantism, so popular in the Scots culture my parents were raised in, that preaches Double Predestination - some people are born Saved, already chosen for heaven; others are born Damned, born bad, destined for hell from before their birth. To me, this is the place the JAMC are speaking from, with their trifecta of sex, drugs and Jesus Christ, all fixes that promise escape, tempt transcendence, but never quite achieve redemption. Whether one needs redemption from being damned, from being bored, from that deep level of loneliness that's something like hypothermia. Like being 'chilled to the bone', once one has experienced *that* kind of loneliness, one will never really be warm again, even in a crowd, even onstage, being loved and adored by an audience as devoted as the Roundhouse.

See, the loneliness the JAMC capture so acutely is not the loneliness of actual solitude. It's the loneliness of being trapped in a single room with someone you loathe, someone who will never understand you, with no escape, forever. "Hell is Other People" is a common theme in so many of their songs. It's not the sad, fey, winsome loneliness of indie and twee, it's a spikey, angry, sullen loneliness. The kind of loneliness that snarls and bites back. The kind of loneliness that grows on you like moss, like an accretion of awkwardness, that eats away like acid at anyone who dares to come close. I read a piece in Aeon Magazine a few years back, about the physical effects of long-term loneliness, how it warps and changes one both psychologically and physiologically (possibly as an evolutionary trait, because avoiding hostile strangers is a life-preserving precaution in hunter-gatherer societies). That kind of loneliness has an almost tangible, physical quality, the calcified, crystalised spikiness which consumes the blasted maze-wanderers in Barbarella - the exact sound of that howling, whining, spiky gale of feedback and fuzz gale in which the JAMC wrap their bittersweet little melodies.

When Dickon talks about "art for the lonely" as we head for the backstage bar to replenish our pink wine (the wrong bar, as it turns out - the left is the artists' bar; the right is the members' bar) I almost want to laugh at the irony. Dickon is such a social butterfly he can't get from one end of a tiny bar to the other without stopping to say hello to at least 5 people. I know there will have been people at the concert that I know - or at least knew - but I can't face them. I don't want to have to tell them where I've been the past 5 years, don't want to have to apologise for the wreck my body has become, explain the psychological upheavals - Disruption may be great for business plans, but terrible for personalities - and How I Became A Recluse and all that. Too boring for words.

The band play Psycho Candy in its entirety. It is too emotionally intense for words. There are too many memories tied up in this music to talk about it without mythologising it. It sounds just like the record, except it doesn't; it sounds spikier, rougher, more punk, less soft and fuzzy and indistinct. It sounds like memory. It sounds like being 15. I feel suddenly like Dickon was right and I am churlish to try to ringfence my own youth and deny today's 15 year olds the same expression, even through their parents' music. Hell, weren't the Velvet Underground and the Stooges my own parents' generation's music?

After the gig, I miss the last train because - and this is embarrassing - the queue for the ladies' loo is too long. Dickon and I have been dancing coyly around the subject of Gender all night (well, no, actually that is a lie. Within 30 seconds of meeting up, Dickon was doing the Lambada with the subject of Gender, asking with refreshing bluntness "Are you Trans?" and leaving me sputtering to express something it's taken me 40 years to puzzle out. (Is there a third option that is neither here, nor there, but somewhere inbetween? That is where I am.)) You can argue all night about whether gender is a feeling, or whether it's innate, how much is socially constructed, how much hormonal... And here we are. Dickon, the campest boy in London, with his hair dye and his mascara and his pearls, waltzes in and out of the pissoir, breezes off to find the Aftershow (it turns out of course there is one, though they've told the band there isn't, because the JAMC don't *do* Aftershows) runs downstairs and back, greets half of London, and still returns before I, a girl, suited and booted, with a necktie and a shorn head, have even got *inside* the door of the female loos. There are aspects of gender that are about that long use of experience, that come down not to how one *feels*, but how one is *treated*. And at that moment I'd stab my Scottish grandmother for a cock, and still never know the confidence of that default male expectation that there will ~always~ be adequate urinary provision for my needs, but there we are.

Relieved, we find the aftershow, and to my great relief, Dickon plumps for the protection of a booth. Maybe he's ashamed to be seen with me; I don't care. I'm still experiencing the strange dissociative jangle of having your first Proper Conversation with someone you have known for 15 years, yet never really spoken to at any length. Dickon has, I must admit, a real gift for conversation. He has that charisma, that charm, that art of constructing his own personality, painting a world of Self one *wants* to enter, wants to inhabit and walk around like an art gallery. But he is also gifted with that conversational ability to pull people out of themselves, and I find myself pulled, extracted like a mussel from a shell, engaged, debated, prodded, poked into sociability. It's been a long time since someone was simply *kind* to me, acted interested in what I had to say. For someone who is as lonely as I am, this is a powerful drug. I forget myself. We chat. We gossip. We rant and debate and Set The World To Rights. We drink until we're thrown out of the aftershow, and go on to sit on the canal like a pair of teenagers. Yes, I know this could look well dodgy, and in another lifetime, I might have taken terrible advantage - a canal, an Iron Bridge, a Smiths reference waiting to be made - but that's not what this is, is it? We're too old for that nonsense, the orientations are all misaligned, and somehow I'm more delighted by that flash of two minds aligning over a Foucault quip. (For once, the other person's, not mine! I swoon...)

Dickon, Dickon, Dickon, History. Of course I knew who Dickon was long before I ever interacted with him - hell, I knew who Dickon was before I was thrown out of the States and moved back to London, as did anyone who read the Melody Maker as fervently as I did. Not Celebrity so much as a form of Notoriety. Yet I know from personal experience how much of a double-edged sword being Known can be. This is the problem with Personality As Art, when you carefully construct and perform a highly mediated and perhaps exaggerated performance of Self, online or onstage or in the theatre of the music press or a Scene. It takes over your life. People feel they know everything about you and have already made up their minds about who and what you are (not what you represent - as art - but what they suppose you *are*, which is the problem) before they've even met you. People interact, not with you, but with some bizarre projection, and carry on entire conversations with some figment of their own imagination, about three feet over your left shoulder. It's more exaggerated, the smaller the stage, and the London Indie scene was always about as big as a bathtub, the exact size of an L-shaped room.

I listened to Dickon's second band, Fosca, a lot, in a similarly tiny L-shaped room in an attic in Tooting. This is where it gets painful, my lost years. I was living with - engaged to, if memory serves - being half of a London Indie super-couple with a man whose controlling behaviour was starting to turn seriously abusive. He was a compulsive liar I now call DJ Munchausen. He isolated me from my friends and support system, he pressured me into quitting my job so I'd be financially dependent on him, and moved me into his flat way too fast, less than 6 months after I'd met him. He clipped my wings and did his best to confine me to that tiny L-shaped attic flat. And in that flat, I used to listen to that first Fosca record, a lot, while I was washing the dishes, in that tiny kitchen that was my refuge because two people could not fit into it. That had become my life - domesticated by force, pregnant, washing dishes, taking delivery of fridges and that CD was always in the kitchen boom-box. I was rubbish enough at Being A Girl, and now I found myself trying, unsuccessfully, to be A Wife. An utter failure. I lost the baby. My drinking, always heavy, became insane. The abuse escalated, and of course it was my fault, for being so drunk all of the time. It was the only way I could cope.

That record played, reprovingly, in the kitchen, in the background of our kitchen sink drama, telling me of another life, the life I was supposed to be living, bon-mots dropped at parties and indie clubs, with fey boys and gamin girls like androgynous librarians. DJ Munchausen loved that sort of thing, worshipped at the altar of fey, hair-dyed, mascara-smeared, bisexual English camp. They were a band he courted, and was courted by, for his club. I swear, sometimes I thought he'd leave me for Dickon Edwards if he could. (It wouldn't be the first time. For a long time, I was the last stop in hetero for bisexual boys on the fast train to full-time gay. The first man I ever lived with left me for Quentin Crisp. (I did get a signed copy of the Naked Civil Servant out of it, mind you.)) I was torn. I loved the music, part New Order, part C86, with a heavy dash of Girl Group. I *hated* the band with an irrational passion born not just of sexual jealousy of my boyfriend's crush, but of envy. At the time, it all sounded so arch, so studied, this bon vivant, this stylish flaneur, this beautiful boy, singing about loneliness, social awkwardness and exclusion? Puh-LEASE. You've got a thousand friends. Give me a break. 

And 15 years later, here I am, changed my name, dropped completely out of the music scene, vanished from my own life - not even as so many of my friends did, into hetero breeding couples (I proved myself incapable of that, on all counts) - here I am, drinking pink wine on Camden Lock with Dickon Edwards. *That* Dickon Edwards. Who still looks exactly the same - if anything, he's aged into his beauty, that dramatic white hair, architectural cheekbones, craggy jaw - a face as hard and perfect as Cornish granite and weathering as beautifully. But his life has changed to be unrecognisable, he quit his band to go back to University, now has a degree in Anglo-Saxon literature and is launching into the life of a career academic, the cloister that always protected English men who could not perform the masculinity demanded by their class. So here are Dickon and I, sitting by the side of the canal, drinking pink wine and discussing Socialism.

Nostalgia is a powerful drug. So is pink wine. As he turns his head and the light off the canal catches his perfect profile, something twists in me. I'm staggered by his kindness. ("I invited you to this show, because you just seemed like you'd had a rough time of it lately...") His sheer gentleness. We get lost, Camden has changed so much, but I have this strange ability, especially when drunk, to see multiple timelines all happening at once, Camden as it is now, all developed into luxury flats, Camden as it was in the Britpop backwash dog-end of the 90s when I lived and gigged here, Camden as accretions of layers of London history and architecture. All of these different pasts colliding. All of my own pasts colliding. Teenage JAMC fan, failed woman/failed wife, hot mess in a band, just plain mess. It's been a brilliant night, a perfect night. It's been the kind of night so good it wipes away months of badness. The whole damn business with my job. Oh, and the whole stalker mess I've been trying not to talk about any more. (Dickon says he's never had a stalker. I find that hard to believe; he seems like the kind of person that would attract that kind of obsession.) But it's all been washed clean by that music, and the simple act of kindness that brought it to me. The warm, fuzzy glow of nostalgia. The throwback to a happier life. "You, The Night, and The Music" as the refrain goes in the film adaptation of I Capture The Castle. The night bus comes before I can even adequately thank him.

I spend the rest of the week listening to old Jesus and Mary Chain records, feeling a warm, fuzzy sense of joy that comes from being not just known but accepted, dark parts, rough bits and all, teenage me and adult me in agreement for once that we are *not* alone, because the Reid brothers understand our pain. I idly image-google Dickon because I want to draw him, just to thank him - I think it would tickle him to be drawn - and up pops the cover of that Fosca record. In a deliberate move of facing down my own past (it was a long time before I could listen to *any* of the music that soundtracked that relationship) I dial it up on Spotify and listen to it, expecting that dark, L-shaped flat and its kitchen sink to come oozing back. Except it doesn't; what I hear is a giddy rush of joy, spilling out in beautifully produced pop. No wonder I liked doing the dishes to this, all bubbly and effervescent! And how it changes a song, to know another side of the person that created it. What once sounded 'arch', now sounds defiant. What once sounded 'studied' now sounds like the careful and precise way in which he constructs his discourse. What I heard then was my own unhappiness; what I hear now is his cleverness, tempered with that painful sensitivity of difference. I want to reach back through time and pat both of us on the heads. Is this the faint whiff of a crush or just a heady case of mentionitis? Well... I feel like enough of a used-car salesman just trying to persuade people to be friends with me. So, no. Isn't it enough to just admire someone? But for once, not for their beauty, but for their kindness.