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

 

 

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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.

 

 

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

Autumn Drive

When it feels like my small town is getting smaller, there is only one solution – ESCAPE – an escape to the country – a glorious autumn drive through mighty forests, golden vineyards, sleepy villages, smelling of sweet woodsmoke – and finally down to the banks of the Loire. Thought I’d share a few photos. though not all the world his yet in its full glorious autumn hue.

Sancerre rising from the Vines

Out on the highway, destination, the world famous wine town of Sancerre – half an hour’s drive from home, the highway starts in the flat plains round Bourges and rises, twisting like some kind of nonchalant corkscrew  to the vineyards.

In the woods

Textures

Through the woods from La Borne and Henchrichemont to Sancerre. Sleepy villages, nonchalant outposts bathed in glorious autumn sun and the air filled with sweet woodsmoke

Woodpile

General store

The store, open when the owner feels like it, and those hidden back years and gardens where we like to peek

Hidden places

Meeting the Messiah at a crossroads. The countryside is peppered with crucifixes

Meeting Jesus

Boat on the banks

Moored on the Loire

Running Down A Dream

So this is a kind of rambling post about my clichéd American dream in the light of recent events

Running down a dream, that never would come to me …

I had this crazy, clichéd American dream – I was crossing the great wide open, in a huge, beat up old RV – I was cruising long roads into nowhere stopping off in battered old gas stations and sad motels – I was driving east to west looking for Bagdhad café, Kerouac, a Fistful of Dollars, Aliens and Vegas – I wanted to start at Rockaway Beach or Coney Island and drift through road movies – I’d be heading out across the plains with Born to Run blasting out the speakers in the RV.

I guess that has always been my American dream – I could hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach and travel on down to sit on the Dock of the Bay.

Running down a dream that never would come to be

It’s Monday morning – had a sleepless night, running work through my head – that’s always Sunday through Monday – half awake with this giant checklist churning in my brain like one of those old dot matrix printers spewing out endless reams of paper – must do, must do , must do … and what if it never gets done ?

Monday morning road trip, the rain thudding down on the windscreen, stuck in a long line of early morning traffic – crawling at dead slow stop snail’s pace, past the bakery, the supermarket, the café, the gas station – turn right at the lights and crawl on. Monday morning, half awake, half asleep – running down a dream ? I’m Running on empty.

Switch on the radio « Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door » – Guns and Roses version – Oh how I hate this song now – it’s been a staple of every band I’ve ever played in – « And now folks here’s a song about a dying sheriff … » – that’s how I announce it now – switch channels and there is news coming in about a mass shooting in Las Vegas – rain outside in the blurred half light of Monday morning and mass murder – feels like that big black cloud really is coming down. In France we are stiil reeling from the latest terrorist « attrocity » – two girls stabbed to death at the St Charles train station in the southern city of Marseilles – two students – both cousins aged 20 and 21 killed by a knife weilding madman who proferred God’s greatness and then hacked up two girls because they were girls – and now a 64 year old mad man who slaughters fans at a country music festival because … because they lke country music ? Because they wear Stetsons and cowboy boots ? Because he is mad ???

The profiler/psychiatrist /specialist professer guy on the radio is asked to speculate about a motive and the « profile » of the assassin. « Is he mad ? » asks the journalist of the expert. « We can’t say the killer is mad, for him, his actions are probably perfectly sane and logical. »

Running down a dream – news comes later in the week about the sad death of Tom Petty

« US Rocker Tom Petty … » announces the BBC – I never thought of him as a « Rocker » but as a poet – I suppose his words were the inspration of my clichéd American dream – I loved his road trip style, far flung, small town, dead town wanderings – listening to Tom Petty, I’d just want to esape to somewhere that was probably nowhere. He had a sideways, poetic, vison of the American dream, that seemed achievable « Even the losers, get lucky sometimes. »

Back in Vegas, the death toll gets bigger as the media rolls out non-stop coverage. I’ve got this kind of 9/11 feeling in the pit of my stomach as news comes in that terrorist group, Islamic State have claimed responsibility for the massacre – 64 year old former accountant/property developper/banker (the killer’s job changes with pretty much every news bulletin) – a white middle class senior with an unhealthy passion for guns, who would seemingly have undergone some fast-track, self-styled, internet radicalisation and then … It doesn’t fit.

I’m still in my American dream. My daughter mocks gently as she sees me consulting pages and pages of cowboy boots on Amazon. « OMG ! » laments the wife « You’re surely not going to …  not at your age. » Dreary, caustic disbelief . And why can’t I have a pair – I’m only just in my early fifties.

I suppose my American dream is still that fuelled by my American idols, from Lou Reed to Ray Bradbury, A Tom Petty, a Joey Ramone, some Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kurt Vonnegut with Patti Smith. I’d like New York Punk, a trip to Coney Island, Breakfast at Tiffanys – an RV ride to Aliens in Nevada and to top it all, a ride on the Chattanooga Choo Choo. – My wierd American dream scape littered with silver rocket ships, flying saucers, vast graveyards of planes left to « die » in the desert sun and rolling up to a battered old gas station on route 66 behind the wheel of my Chevvy Impala asking some « old timer » for some « gas » .

So, at the end of this clichéd and confused post, I guess that I am trying to says that I have, for years, been nursing a stilted and very personal vision of my American dream that procludes the Las Vegas Massacre. My dream is inspired by all my favourite muisical and literary clichés. For me the US is still this giant and impossible gritty western. It is Josey Whales peppered with Steppenwolf. I supoose this is like Americans who thin of the UK as all Bowler hats and afternoon tea ( oh dear). But I wanted in foremost and earnest fashion to sat that my heartfelt sympthies go out to all American readers after the Las Vegas massacre. My love to you all.

Heading For the Normandy Beaches

French holiday road trip from Calais to Cabourg.

We leave the UK from Dover; which is a town so unpleasant and sinister that it makes a great place to leave from – always better to start a journey from some from somewhere so awful that anywhere else is better – the somewhere else is Calais – on the opposite side of the English Channel – another miserable port town – in the news over the past few years for the vast number of migrants, in and around the town. From Algeria to Afghanistan, they come in their hundreds with one singular intention – to cross to the UK and make a life there. In between there lies the Channel – only 23 miles wide between Calais and Dover. The immigrants will try any way to get across, hopping on lorries, hiding in trailers, walking through the Channel Tunnel – any risk is worth the risk for the promise of a new life in Britain. Escaping war torn countries, or grinding poverty in the lands thy called home, they cross Europe, last stop Calais, waiting to take their chance in a chance crossing. For years, the migrants were huddled in an illegal camp knob as “The Jungle” – that was dismantled by the authorities and the migrants were “dispersed” to other parts of France, but many just headed back, intent on crossing to Britain. The migrants err around the town, along the highways into Calais or on the car parks of petrol station or lay bys on the roads into Calais. They have become such a familiar sight that what was once “shocking” is now commonplace.

On the road out of he port, mile upon mile of high wire mesh fences surmounted with rolls of  razor wire to stop the migrant eating into the port. The once sedate Channel Ferry port now looks like a prison camp.

From Calais, we head to our destination of Cabourg – a small family seaside resort on the Normandy coast, near Caen, very popular with Parisians. Welcome to Cabourg – revel in the nostalgia of what the seaside looked like a generation ago.. Along this stretch the Normandy coast is all slong, windswept,sandy beaches with iconic beach huts.

Beach huts in Cabourg

Cabourg beach front with a sepia finish

Sandcastles in Cabourg

Low tide in Cabourg

Once in Normandy – A pilgrimage to the Normandy landing beaches and a viitto the Bayeux Tapestry. Today it is raining, his is definitely not a beach day and every tourist in Normandy has headed to a museum. Lines of wet tourists snake their way around the entrance to the Arromanches museum. No pre booking by Internet, you just wait in the rain. At Bayeux, the queues are o great that they have had to close the museum.

Waiting in line in Arromanches

Rainy day for the beach

Rainy beach misery

On the Beach in Arromanches

Next leg from Cabourg to Lorient