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.

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.

The Ghosts of Deepest France

A night at the movies in La Courtine

In my pursuit of chartering those unchartered parts of France. Those towns and villages where the dead seem to outnumber the living – there are more people in the cemetery than   in town.

A few days away from civilisation in a place so deep in deepest France, that it can only be described as an abyss. Welcome to the heavily wooded but sparsely populated region of La Creuse, and more precisely the small town of La Courtine – one of these « forgotten » places that is also best forgot. A dead town of old souls reminiscent with overtones of « Deliverance » and « The Shining ».

Dead station in La Cortine

Deserted station at La Courtine

Almost a ghost town, La Courtine was one of these « outposts » that for generations, served as an important part of French military infrastructure – a huge military camp where national servicemen would be mobilised to do their patriotic duty, and fulfil their military debt to France. La Courtine camp was where national servicemen would do their basic training and after a hard day on the assault course, they would head into town for a hard night in one of the town’s numerous watering holes.

Last orders in La Courtine

 

Fat Sun’s pulled his last pint

Like hunters, diggers and cowboys of old, into to spend their pay and enjoy what few delights were on offer.

In 2000, President Jacques Chirac announced the official end to obligatory military service for all the nation’s able-bodied young men and La Courtine went from garrison town to ghost town.

Main Street La Courtine

Bars and shops shuttered up forever, tattered « for sale » signs » hanging forlornly in the window, both bankrupt former owners and local real estate agents knowing that no one in their right mind would ever want to buy in a place like this.

Alternative shot of the Bazar Universel

Dead bar in a dead own

Former Tabac Presse is just old news

There are ghosts of the past haunting every bar and every street. This town didn’t so much die as get shut in a time capsule.

No more cuts in La Courtine

Deceptively open

Staring in through the dusty windows of the former dance hall – the parquet dance floor still danceable enough for a quick twirl and the garish 50’s stage ready to welcome a local dance band. The long ‘s’ shaped Formica bar propped up by shadowy figures, as supernatural silhouettes trip the light fantastic across the floor and somewhere in the far away, the slight echo of a dance band. How many young soldiers got their first dance, first kiss, and first fight with jealous local lads at this dancehall?

Welcome to l’Esperance

Yes, this is France, this is dead France, this is old France, this is rural France, this is the France where Central government has almost given up on the people, this is neglected France, badly in need of investment. – This is deepest France.

War memorial fallen out of memory

Up the garden path

 

 

 

Up through the vines

Blue skies, brilliant sunshine, crisp and invigorating cold, a hint of frost on the ground – a perfect day for a drive – Off again on my ramblings round my corner of rural France. Up through the vines to Sancerre, down to the might Loire at at St Satur and then home across field and forest. There is a hint of Christmas in the air. Even in the smallest villages, the lights are up. As day turns to dusk, there is a slight mist and a tinge of woodsmoke in the air – I love this time of year – the vines laid bare by winter, the golden autumn forest is now skeletal – all is minimalist, but not barren. I love driving cross country on such days and coming home really does feel like a homecoming.

Sancerre in the vines

Sancerre rising from the vines

The banks of he Loire at St Satur

The banks of he Loire at St Satur

Running parallel to the Loire for quite a part of its length is the Loire canal – a fully functioning commercial waterway and part of the vast European canal. Given time and patience, it is possible to navigate from here on the Loire down on to the Canal du Midi, or even head north to Holland, Belgium and Germany. There are a fair number of Dutch boats at local canal ports. Even the occasional British narrow boat.

Canal basin at St Satur

Narrow boat at St Satur

English narrow boat

A fully functioning commercial canal, complete with grain silos.

Grain silos

Home through the fields – a conference of cows

Conference of cows

Skeletal sunset in the woods. Something evil this way comes??? I hope not.

Sunset

 

 

A Few Ghostly Thoughts.

No ghosts? Not even a fleeting phantom? Not even the slightest errant soul?

The tour guide shakes her head and “assures” me that the castle is not haunted.

You can’t have a castle without a ghost, that’s like Starsky without Hutch or Kojak without his lollipop (yes I betray my age.)

But I want a ghost or at least a spine-tingling ghost story about the castle. I am very disappointed. I almost feel like asking for my money back

This is France. The French don’t do ghosts, not like the Brits and the Americans. I live in the historic heart of France, there are chateaux everywhere, but not a single ghost

My town’s medieval centre is so thick with history, half -timbered houses and historic monuments that it is perfect for ghosts, but in the 25 years I’ve been here, I’ve never heard of a local ghost – if this were in Britain, there would be spirits, phantoms, headless noblemen, grey ladies, white ladies … all happily haunting away.

I get the feeling that it must be hard being a French ghost. Imagine after death, that you need a job as a ghost – well there are plenty of places that need haunting in France, but it seems that the French just don’t have ghosts – employment prospects for phantoms are therefore severely limited in France.

I often wondered why the French don’t have ghosts – sure they’ve got witches and demons and suchlike, but they’re not super on the supernatural. Could it be a religious issue? – this is a predominantly Catholic country and catholic doctrine doesn’t have much room for ghosts. The Spaniards and the Italians don’t have ghosts, yet the Irish have plenty of them (perhaps for the tourists).

A Frenchman visiting a chateau will not consider if it is haunted or not, yet on a tour of a British castle or Stately Home, the guide will always chuck in a ghost story.

So, next time you visit a French chateau and get a tingle down your spine – no, it’s not a ghost, it’s just a draught, and as for that murky apparition – your glasses need a good clean.