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

 

 

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.

Back in Time

In praise of rainy autumn Sundays with cups of tea, roaring fires and toasted muffins – in praise grey skies brewing heavy weather. In praise of leaves strewn across the ground in thick, wet clumps – in praise of nights gradually drawing in, heading home in the smoky dusk and enjoying a nip of good whisky to keep out the cold – in praise of everything autumnal.

In praise of this Sunday, the longest day – the magical moment in the year, when we put the clocks back and gain an hour’s sleep, free and untaxed, precious slumber time.

In praise of small town Sundays, when all the shops are closed, and whatever the need, you’ll just have to wait until Monday morning.

In praise of boring, lethargic, stay-at-home Sundays, when time floats slowly by and we forget what it is like just to have the luxury of time to waste.

The clocks have gone back, but on days like this, I feel I have turned the clock even further back in time, to those Sundays when I was a small kid, and the whole world was closed and you had time to waste.

Heading Home (Looking for lunch)

Heading home after a walk in the woods, entering Bourges from the north east through the Edgelands – those places on the periphery of town – the final frontier of fast food restaurants, DIY stores and shopping malls, marking the limit of urban sprawl, that seems to sprawl ever further, every year, eating up the countryside. The Edgelands – vast warehouse shops with unlimited parking space. The downtown is dying as consummers opt for accessible, automobile friendly stores where there is more choice – that is actually no more than more of the same.

Bourges Skyline from the edge – The cathedral between the pylons.

Awaiting development.

Looking for lunch. Hey we’ve got traditional American cuisine out here in small town France.

Chez Ronald.

Buffalo Grill - a nation chain of French steakhouses and a firm lunchtime favourite for families because kids eat cheap.

Southfork Ranch? We’ve got an invite to munch from the Ewings

Bouncy Pink Giraffe for the kids.

These perihperal places are all so depressing. How about a delicious Pizza in town?

Buy ten and get one free.

Count to three for Pizza

Semi Circular

Driving cross London – the A406 – or North Circular Road – a three lane 1960’s built highway that cuts a swathe through the north east London suburbs. Residential streets crooned off from the road by walls or wire fences. This is the worst of suburbia – mad urbanization meets neglect. This for me is like some kind of parallel world. I wouldn’t believe that people could live in places like this, unless I saw it with my own eyes – we are not totally detached, jet semi detached – mile upon mile of that unique “English” housing format, built everywhere by private developers between the two World wars.

After the slaughter of the Western Front, the returning soldiers needed “Homes fit for Heroes”, built on they premise that an Engishmans’ Home is his castle – the result – small “cottage like” three bedroom houses. A unique and national but non imposed housing format – I’m not even sure that Soviet Russia could have achieved such uniformity.

A few photos of semi detached house on the North Circular Road, hence “Semi Circular”

 

 

Small Day Hot Town Blues- No Road Trip this Summer

“I got those small day hot town blues baby …”

Yep, temperatures are starting to soar again on this, another weekend for the great French summer getaway. All routes to the sea have been at gridlock all day, with police and the national road authorities describing driven conditions as “black” – meaning just don’t leave home today if you want to get anywhere soon.

Small town, hot day, I am reminded of all those songs about spending a long hot summer “kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town,” – My dreary small town favorites – that Tom Petty classic “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” – slow summer in a hermetic tupperware kind of town. For urban boredom – the Jam song “That’s Entertainment.”

Your soul i screaming for adventure but your bank balance is telling you to stay home. No titles on these, just your judgement. “Small Day, Hot Town.” or “No Road Trip this Summer” – it is 35°c and all you want is shade or a week by the sea. You need release.

You need to get away “Autres destimations” – written on every mail box in France – that slot where you post letters to other places where you want to be. Those places that others send you postcards from, wishing that you were there, and you wish you were

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No road trip this summer. Your car ain’t fit for tripping.

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If you can’t afford a garage, you’ve just gotta keep the car in the garage.

No money to get away, you gotta look closer to home for your place in or out of the sun.

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Forgotten Soldier

It’s one of those  airless,  hot summer Sundays. The world is on holiday, deepest France is in full summer slumber – a perfect time for a country drive, on uncluttered winding roads – across the fields and through the forests. On a photo safari down to the village of Souesmes, sight of a major battle in 1944 between local resistance fighters and the Wehrmacht heading north to reinforce German forces fighting in Normandy. This is the centre of France, where, in July and August 1944 over a quarter of a million German troops  heading north to south and west to east, were stopped in their tracks by the local Resistance. There are hundreds of small roadside monuments commemorating such events and occasionally village war memorials inscribed with the names of the dead from World war Two and World War One – in many villages nowadays the names of the dead from both wars are greater than the number of current inhabitants. Here are some photos of an “unknown soldier” on a village war memorial. His face shows the suffering and scars of war and his state of decay shows the indifference of modern France where once the link between the nation’s army and its citizens was a true historical and moral bond. here is the forgotten soldier.