About john king

Early fifties, ex-pat English teacher, cum journalist ,cum musician, carving out an existence in deepest France.

Within Pissing Distance of the Motorway

Back on the road for work next week …

Hotel

A long way from home. A lost, single soul in a world of lost, errant souls – lost from those they love, but all the road with purpose in their white vans or company cars, builders, salesfolk – the wandering workers of the world in their twilight world. Working far from home, livinh in « cheap » and « modular » hôtels. Plastic rooms all neat and scaled into little cubes and slid into concrete skeletons. Fitted boxes with all mod cons – but basic.

The modern hotel on the edge of the « edgelands », cast out of the downtown and thrown up on the wrong side of the tracks, within pissing distance of the motorway, between the shopping mall and the industrial estate. Thses places of no soul for errant souls and lost souls, lost in the week for the ones they love.

Hotels in lost lands.

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Teenage Moonage or (How a song came to be written)

« I had a teenage dream, On moonage days,

I’d be a freak out far out, In a purple haze,

Cruising Electric Ladyland, I’d be silver surfin’

In a rock and roll band. »

« Teenage Moonage » by the Stone Purple Haze Band

So, you wanna be a singer in a rock and roll BAND?

First, find a band, or find a band that needs a singer or find a band that needs a singer and plays the kind of stuff that you want to sing. This narrows down the choice immensely, so first, just find a band, any band.

How do you find a band?

It started with an ad in the local paper

« Are you EXPERIENCED? » read the title at the top of the ad

Sounds like Hendrix cover band. Can I sing Hendrix? Do I want to sing Hendrix covers? I’ve got to start somewhere.

« Hi, I’m ringing about your ad ….

« Can you sing? » asks the laid-back, deeply soporiphic voice on the other end. A voice thick with phlegmy nonchalance nurtured on years of cigarettes and alcohol. The voice reels off a long list of Hendrix numbers to learn for the audition and once the « dictation » is over I hit the local record shop looking for a Hendrix « greatest hits » compilation.

Casting Off

So, you have got as far as the audition phase. This is the point where you physically meet your possible, future band mates, who are not yet mates and might never become your mates. Banding is not bonding. This is about music and not friendship. The band needs a singer and not a soul mate.

It hasn’t occurred to me, but I might actually need a mike and I haven’t got one. I ring the voice again.

« I’ve got a mike » it says flatly. « I’ll see you later »

Later is late. Nine o’clock on a Sunday night, when normal folks have long finished dinner and are settled down ready to snooze off in front of the TV.

The voice lives only a few streets away. I can walk. I get to the « house » and – I’m walking down a tree lined street of neat two up, two down houses all with well tended gardens, then at the end almost out on a limb, almost in another universe is this run down, shuttered up pile of bricks set in an overgrown patch of waste ground. Surely this can’t be the place. I knock on the front door and after an eternity there is the creaking and clanking as the metal shutters are pushed slowly open. A skeletal hand appears beckoning me to the window, a gaunt and ghostly face, framed by long lank strands greasy hair, emerges from the sombre depths. « Side door » rasps the voice

« Do you always rehearse this late? » I ask, entering through the kitchen and into the «rehearsal room ».

Electric Ladyland

The place is a mess. It’s a f***ing mess with a huge capital F. It’s a health hazard. Already from the outside, the house only looks fit for demolition, inside … the sink piled high with dishes, the walls thick with grease and yellow with nicotine, discarded empty dog food tins lie strewn across the floor, and stomach churning stench

The place stinks of wet dog, urine and shit – like proper shit, like faeces, like someone’s had diarreah, bowel cancer or lives on a heavy vegetarian diet and they’ve systematically crapped away their insides over days and never flushed the toilet.

Can I make it through this audition without catching something? Can I survive more than five minutes in this house without some kind of independent breathing apparatus?

So, I finally meet the voice who tells me his name is Patrick though people call him Jimmy and he bids me welcome to « Electric Ladyland » I want to laugh, but Patrick is so into Hendrix that he’s painted the name of Hendrix’s third and final studio album in big purple letters on his front door.

This is possibly the worst place that I have ever auditioned for a band, lord knows I’ve has some strange auditions. I once had to prove my vocal prowess over the phone, and another time I auditioned in a car, singing along to Highway to Hell, on a cassette player, the AC/DC classic doing it’s best to struggle out of the crappy car speakers.

Naked with strangers

Auditions are all the same. There you are in a room with four or five other guys you’ve never met before. You are finally all plugged in, miked up and ready to go, the drummer counts us in and you sing, but you’re not just singing, in a way you are baring your artistic soul. You are fragile, you are naked. You are stripping off in front of strangers. Try it some time, invite four of five complete strangers round to your house and stand naked in front of them. You don’t feel ridicule, you just feel vulnerable.

You sing or try to sing those three or four songs that the voice on the end of the phone has told you to « learn » and after twenty minutes … the verdict

Return to Electric Ladyland

There’s a limp, quivering, emaciated dog lying in a basket in the corner. There’s a fresh patch of (is that dog vomit?)

Patrick (AKA Jimmy) tells me that the dog is ill and for the moment he can’t afford to take him to the vet.

Patrick has red sunken eyes and a gaunt haggard face that has been ravaged by years of … Rock and Roll. (In comparison, Keith Richards is a picture of health.) He limps around the room, all quivering like his dog. He’s all lank greasy hair, torn jeans and a threadbare sweater held together more by the food stains down the front than any of the threads. He introduces me to three « clones » in similar degrees of frail decomposition. There’s Jean Paul the guitarist (AKA Mick) because he’s a Rolling Stones fan; Fabrice (AKA Chris) the drummer

« Chris? »

« Yeah he’s a big Magma fan » explains « Jimmy » so we call him Chris after the Magma drummer Christian Vander »

The last « clone » is Christophe, the keyboard player who logically should be AKA Chris but calls himself John, after his hero John Lord.

No need to ask the musical influences of this band of early fiftysomething, seventies survivors.

« What are you called? »

« Eh? » expressed by the three clones in collective grunt

« What’s the band name? »

A Band With No Name*

There are no hard and fast rules for choosing a band name, save that it should be, catchy, evocative, easy to remember easy to say and short enough to print on a T shirt. A band name doesn’t always need to reflect your musical style but it helps.

I am at present auditioning for a band with no name because at the moment there is no band.

« We’ve decided to get our old band back together » explains Mick.

Is this new old band or old band new?

I’ve got this bloody lyric’s been bouncing around in my head for days,

Hey man !

Gotta quit the band

Gotta quit this rock ‘n’ roll suicide plan »

It’s thumping and pounding about like a great big rubber ball on speed. It’s giving me a headache. The whole band is giving me a headache. I’ve got to get out of this band (if it’s the last thing I ever do.)

This band, this bloody song, like I’m on the verge, I’m on the edge
Once there was that teenage dream of being in a band. We all wanted to be Ziggy Stardust

I had a teenage dream On moonage days

I’d be a freak out far out In a purple haze

Cruising electric Ladyland

I’d be silver surfin’ In a rock and roll band

 

Now, flogging an old dead horse

Cranking it up Wank some life out the corpse

Drive in out Saturdays Across the land

No one gives a fuck You’re just a rock and roll band

 

No one wanna know whose shirt you wear

No one concerned about the way you are

Don’t wanna live this dream ‘cos now it’s real

My teenage moonage got a nightmare feel

 

Hey man ! Gotta to quit the band,

Gotta quit this , Rock and roll suicide plan

Our moonage teenage, Just gone white noise trash

Gotta quit, I gotta save my ass.

 

Drive In Saturday

Another Saturday night, screaming down the rafters in some far flung middle of nowhere seedy shit hole. Up at the mike, screaming out my lungs to the point of breathless implosion. Screaming to the point of physical pain, where I feel I’ll haemorrage. Got to turn up the stage amps. Dirty looks and dirty words from the guitarist, as he roars full throttle into one of his set piece solos cutting me off mid-verse.

Another Saturday night, another bloody dead beat gig for the benefit of no one around. A few pissed punters propping up the bar as we murder yet more jurassic classics. No one really gives a shit what we play, tonight, they just want noise and noise is what we do best

« We’ve got two kilos up there tonight » enthuses Chris, our lead guitarist/manager/artisitic director and owner of all the gear sitting in the two vans that we need to get the gear to every gig. The 24 track mixing desk, the wall of amps, the miles and miles of cables …

« Two kilos isn’t that a bit much ? »

« We’re going to be bloody loud. » he beams, beaming an evil beam and rubbing his hands together in a conspiratorial clasp

This isn’t Wembley Stadium or Madison Square Garden, it’s only benefit gig in a local community centre. We don’t need a wall of sound and no matter how many watts or kilos we can muster, by the end of the first set, I can’t hear myself singing above the noise.

I’ve had bands where we had no gear, old gear, crap gear, but by some miracle I could always hear myself sing, now ironically, I’m in a band with so much gear that no one can hear anything at all, especially Chris who only wants to hear himself.

It’s a guitarist thing. Guitarists are what guitartists are

Time to leave, but how can I announce my imminent departure ?

*The band did eventually get a name after I left – The Stone Purple Haze Band

 

And here is the finished song

TEENAGE MOONAGE

I had a teenage dream on moonage days

I’d be a freak out, far out, in a purple haze

Cruising Electric Ladyland,

I’d be silver surfing in a rock ‘n’ roll band

 

Wanna a métal guru, I gotta be you

Diamond dog rebel in a Stardust hue

White light white heat, need a ballroom blitz,

The boys are back in town for a little fix

Chorus

I wanna a rock ‘n’ roll band

I wanna be that special man

I Wanna live, I don’t wanna die

Maybe I just wanna fly

 

Teenage middle age, flogging a dead horse

Crank it up, wank it up gig, out an old corpse

Drive in out Saturdays across the land,

Never mind the bollocks, you’re just a rock ‘n’ roll band

 

No one wanna know whose shirt you wear,

No one care about the way you are,

Don’t wanna live this dream ,now the nightmare’s real

Teenage moonage, cold turkey feel

 

I’ve got a rock ‘n’ roll band

(Say) It’s nothing spécial man

No way to live, wanna let it die

Cracked actor babe, flown too high.

 

It’s been a long road on the road to nowhere,

(There’s) no life on Mars, I know – I’ve been there

Walking through my sunken dream,

Wake up, break up, gotta scream

 

Hey man gotta quit this band

Gotta quit this rock ‘n’ roll suicide plan

My teenage moonage, white noise trash

Gotta quit , save my God-given ass

 

Rock ‘n’ roll, so over-rated

I just wanna be sedated

Now, I’m down with who I am

I came on too loaded man

 

 

PINK GUITAR

Numb and naked in the kitchen

You’re there popping your pills,

Mourning ritual habitual

Stem the overkills

You knock ‘em back like candy

I say you gone too far

You say «stop acting like you give a shit»

And you grab your pink guitar

 

So, You’re naked on the sofa

With your pink guitar,

Strumming out your dead bar blues,

(You got) Menopausal mourning

(An) Afterlife lament,

You sing «There’s nothing left,

And, nothing to lose.»

 

I’m just so tired of you now

And you’re sick of me to

We’ve gone from love to hate, to drifting through.

There was a once upon a time

We were partners in crime

What was ours, was yours, was mine

 

So I’m leaving this place

That we once called home,

(Oh) Where my heart don’t lie no more,

You gotta listen to your heart

‘Cos your heart never lies

That’s the, beatin’ truth for sure

 

And now I’m drifting

No fixed abode

Following my heart

Down this broken road,

This sure ain’t tripping

This ain’t no movie too

You’re road running in my head

Can’t run back to you

 

Now I’m sittin in a bar

In a town with no name

Or a name I can’t remember,

Been driving day an’ night

I can’t forget you right

Need a drink to forget you better.

 

And there’s a girl up on the stage

So full of hurt an’ rage

She’s strumming out on a pink guitar

Screaming her dead blues

Say’s she’s got nothing to lose

I hope she never gets that far.

 

 

Junk

More junk on the blog, following on from yesterday’s post, entitled “Remnants” in which I speculated as to the origins of rubbish left around my town. After a few apt Facebook reactions, here are some photos of the junk that people leave lying around the streets of my small town when they are either too lazy or simply unable to chuck the stuff in a dumpster.

Remnants of life

car seat

Give way on the sofa

Seat in the sun

Crash test

Tyred of life

street wash

Remnants

Every photo tells a story – what happened before for this scene to be here now – that’s what I lie about  photos, not the stories they tell on the moment, but what has happened.

Here?

What’s left behind

Remnants

The last belongings of refugees forced to flee? The last remounts of their lives, grabbed in blind panic in the middle of the night and now abandoned by the wayside, too heavy to carry?  What do you save when you have to save yourself?  Or  just someone who couldn’t be bothered to take his trash to the dumpster and so dumped it on the sidewalk?

 

 

Sugar Free Cereal Bars For Halloween??? Are you crazy???

Hollowing out a pumpkin – a messy and fastidious business and probably the closest I’ll ever get to brain surgery – anyway Mr Jack O’Lantern is now on the windowsill burning into the dark Halloween night. I can’t say he looks scary, more of a stupid smile …

Sweets are ready too – a big bowl sitting by the front door, awaiting the hordes of ghoulish kids that will soon come to darken our door.

I’d swear that sweets are getting smaller – in comparison to the chocolate or candy bars of my childhood, today’s offerings are tiny – or have I just got bigger? – of course I had to test the merchandise, so few chocolate bars went my way) chomp, one bite, two bites and they’re gone. Increasing obesity levels, rampant tooth decay and a massive hike in cocoa prices – the trend is away from large bars – but no kidding, the size of today’s bars … it’s a joke.

This year, I bought decent « branded » candies – I guess it is in a reaction to all those years I went trick or treating with my daughter and her friends – traipsing round the neighbourhood with a coven of kids in tow, in search of candies – and some people occasionally gave decent sweets, but the result was often crap – cheap candies with near-sounding brand names, from the discount supermarket or the leftover sweets from last year – it doesn’t seem right to have to look at the « use-by » dates on the candy wrapper before your kids can eat it. And what is worse than last year’s Halloween candies? Why, the box of cheap chocolates you got as a gift at Christmas but never got round to eating – stale chocks with « white » surface markings, loaded into your kid’s

Halloween bucket by some seedy-looking old guy – has he washed his hands? DO NOT EAT THAT! You scream at the kids.

There were those Halloween’s of old when I would buy the sweets and then « plant » them with neighbours in the afternoon.

« Oh, the lady at number 21 gave us looooaaaaads of coooool sweets, » my daughter and her fellow witches and wizards would enthuse through mouths full of chewy toffees and bubble gum. (Yeah kids, but that’s only ‘cos dad planted them with the neighbours this afternoon.)

My Halloween nightmare was the lady giving out sugar free cereal bars – what the hell, this is Halloween! A fistful of marshmallows ain’t going to get my daughter tipping the scales.

Okay, I can see some ghosts floating down the drive, better go and fill them full of candies.

Happy Halloween readers.

The Leaf, the Witch and the Hedgehog (A “neighborly” autumn tale)

The old lady across the road stares at me with autumn acrimony, holding me in her leafy gaze as I turn into my driveway. Like an old witch she shakes her broom at me and utters a seasonal curse. She used to scare me, now I know she is just totally mad – the madness of having time on your hands and very little to worry about. Some people call it retirement.

It’s all about leaves, my leaves, or those that fall from the maple tree in my front garden – the branches overhang the street and … in summer the old lady parks her car, on my side of the street, under my tree, under the vast leafy canopy that offers shady respite from the warm sun.

In autumn she leaves notes in my letterbox asking me to perform a « neighbourly gesture » and sweep up the leaves.

« All your leaves end up on my side of the street and they blow into my garden, and I’m too old to sweep them up. »

She is happy enough about her summer parking space, but when leaves fall in the fall.

Occasionally she sweeps the leaves from her side of the street back over to my side of the street, but they all blow back to her side, so she started sweeping the leaves into my front garden and then – in an escalation of « leaf wars », she would bag up the leaves from my tree that had fallen into her garden and come to dump them in my garden.

So, I raked and swept and shredded and filled my composter until it choked, then I picked up, bagged up and loaded up the car with bags of leaves to take to the local garden dumpster, and I returned home to find more leaves and I returned home to find the old witch sweeping up leaves, cursing as the wind whirled up and blew away the piles of leaves she had so carefully heaped up, ready for despatch into my garden. She cursed the wind again, angrily shaking her broom at the sky. I thought about saying hello, but she just flew off.

I did my neighbourly duty and swept and raked and shredded again and decided to call it a day when the day called it night and the sun slowly yawned, swallowing the light and the kind of dusty autumn dusk hazed in.

Bags and more bags and nowhere to store them and an evil idea comes to mind – to creep out in the middle of the night and hump my bags across the street and empty them over the witch’s fence. That is cruel, and with Halloween upon us, this is no time to upset anyone endowed with dark magical powers

So, as every year, leaves and more leaves, composted, shredded, bagged up and disposed of, save those last leaves – piled up at the end of my garden. A place of winter « residence » for our visiting hedgehogs. They nestle down deep in the leafy mountain and have done so every winter for the last ten years