Monday 20 December 2010

'I Was Elvis Presley's Bastard Love-Child' Interview




Frank Zappa said ‘writing about music is like
dancing about architecture’. ‘I WAS ELVIS PRESLEY’S
BASTARD LOVE-CHILD’, collects eighteen music
interview features, revisiting highlights from twenty
years of on-the-road journalism, including
conversations with THE BYRDS, LEFTFIELD,
this is the sound of dancing architecture

‘False-colour photos from the dark side of Uranus. A switch-back of black rings no unlensed eyes have yet seen, a dance of ten new unpaced black moons in lost frigid orbits, beautiful and complex... but what the hell FOR? For whose benefit? If those moons, those rings, didn’t exist would it REALLY upset some vast eternal cosmic plan? The system runs in total impersonal isolation, according to its own illogics and for the apparent benefit of no-one. A Wonderful and Frightening World... like the Fall. Ring-systems of black vinyl noise across some ten albums, a spatchcock of LP’s with tracks not so much posed or even composed – more decomposed. A more extensive back-catalogue than that racked up by either Velvet Underground or the Doors. But a band hermetically sealed off in its own space-time continuum run on its own devious motives. As real, and as irrelevant as Uranus. The Fall are something of an enigma, and one worth probing...’ (extract from the chapter interviewing the Fall’s Mark E Smith)

‘Music is like acne. Zits. Teenage spots. In the vast eternal cosmic scheme of things, it’s not very important. But if it touches your life, if it affects you, if it alters your relationship with the world and with other people, then it’s important. If it’s important to you, then it’s important.’ Andrew (on the book-jacket, Andy in the flesh) Darlington’s current book is called ‘I Was Elvis Presley’s Bastard Love-Child’. Published by the ‘Critical Vision’ imprint of Manchester’s fiercely independent ‘Headpress’ it’s a glossy package made up of eighteen revised music interviews, personally selected highlights lifted from over twenty years of Music Journalism, and a life-time of slavery to the rhythm. And these are brain-biting, body-popping, paradigm-morphing, genetically-modifying, phase-realigning, gravity-neutralising, gender-reassigning, semantics-defying, shape-shifting, DNA-tingling pieces of Sex, Speed, and ‘See-You-Later-Alligator’ jive. ‘Andy is a poet, but he is also an intrepid pioneer at the edges of all things creative and life-affirming’ enthuses SF writer Michael Butterworth in his full-on foreword, ‘he is editor, publisher, journalist, writer of fiction, promoter /entrepreneur, Poet-for-Sale, often simultaneously’.

But ‘I was essentially a fucked-up adolescent,’ Andy confides in person, here and now. ‘I was wrecked on trashy Rock ‘n’ Roll, cheap Science Fiction, and masturbation. When I should have been doing homework revision for Algebra and French, I was memorising chart positions, B-sides, matrix-numbers. Compiling my own charts. There’s this thing now of saying ‘better than sex’. Football is ‘better than sex’. A movie is ‘better than sex’. For me – nothing is better than sex. But music – and books, have been more profoundly life-changing to me than any other artificial stimulant I’ve ever encountered. Even now, whenever I’m feeling bad, down, depressed, I whack on the Ramones, the Electric Prunes, Flamin’ Groovies, Prodigy, turn the volume up to eleven, and it gets me high. It never fails.’

‘What I’m essentially doing now, with this book, is sending a message back through time to that fucked-up kid that I was then, a message to say – hey, it’s alright. What you did then kind-of worked out OK.’ So what truth is there behind the title? The genetic lineage to Elvis Presley? ‘OK – I admit it. This book is based on a lie. It is not true. There was no Elvis Presley sperm involved in my conception. Sorry – does that mean I have to give the advance back...? But no, there’s enough truth there to exaggerate into reality. Which is what you do when you write these things. A story. A feature. You take an element of yourself, and you exaggerate it until it becomes a kind of focal point. The first chapter of the book is the most directly autobiographical. It’s all autobiographical in the sense that this is the music that has defined my life. Each chapter embodies as essential part of my life. Each chapter takes another little piece of my heart.’

‘Rock ‘n’ Roll is the ‘Schoolboy Crush’ you never grow out of. When Little Richard said ‘Awop-Bop-A-LooBop-A-Bop-Bop-Bop’ it was a shining truth expressing everything that later – more articulate, poets like Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Eminem never could, containing all you really need to know about Life, the Universe and Everything. It by-passes the logic centres of the brain and homes in direct at the non-verbal universal core of truth. The man don’t know, but the little kid inside you understands.

‘But the first chapter – the Elvis one, is the most directly narrative one. It’s true that I didn’t meet my ‘biological’ father until I was sixteen, and even then we didn’t really hit it off on any meaningful level. And – particularly during the mixed-up confusion of adolescence, you’re trying to interpret sexual behavioural codes through whatever role models you have available. And I was picking up twisted warped encryptions of it. As part of what was essentially a single-parent family in the early 1960’s, all my influences tended to be overwhelmingly female. Which is not necessarily bad. It gave me a heightened awareness of the feminine perspective. Which is no bad thing. But at the same time it came into direct conflict with other elements that I was already encountering, attitudes and gender double-standards which contradicted a lot of that. In the Elvis Presley chapter I use the mock-comic example that Elvis presents through movies like ‘King Creole’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’ – simple, one-dimensional images, as a way of getting through it. So no. It’s not true in the absolute sense. But sometimes truth can come in strange disguises. And there’s enough truth it there to fabricate what I hope is a comic-absurdist and not-unperceptive feature. But there is an accidental Elvis theme to other bits too. In the dressing room at the back of the Irish Centre in Leeds, Ian Hunter (of Mott The Hoople) relates this long anecdote about how he was in Memphis doing a gig, and how after the concert they drive out to see Gracelands – Elvis’ mansion, and when they’re refused admittance, Ian climbs over the wall and breaks in anyway. Then Robert Plant explains how Led Zeppelin got to meet and duet with Elvis in a Las Vegas Hotel suite. How I shake Robert Plant’s hand. The hand that shook hands with Elvis. So how – by proxy, I get to shake hands with my REAL father.... ‘

‘And, as we speak backstage at the Wakefield ‘Pussycat’ club in the lost wastes of West Yorkshire, it is EXACTLY twenty years to the month (22nd June 1965) that the rarefied stratospheric harmonies and janglipop Rickenbacker guitars of “Mr Tambourine Man” peaked on the British chart at no.1, over the likes of the Yardbirds (“Heart Full Of Soul”), Elvis Presley (“Crying In The Chapel”) and Joan Baez (with Phil Ochs’ “There But For Fortune”). It stays there two weeks, to be deposed only by the might of the Beatles’ “Help”. In those far-off time-lost days a 45rpm single costs a precise 6s 8d. And on a personal note – I get stranded in the Hull city centre with just enough carefully hoarded pocket-money either to go to ‘Hammonds’ Record Department with its luring listening booths to make the purchase I ache to make, or to pay for the long and winding bus-fare home. So – inevitably, I walk all the miles back clutching that orange-labelled CBS Byrds single tightly in my hand. For the Byrds – their harmonies carried on the futuristic mystique of Dylan’s methadrine-fuelled poetry, horizons seem infinite. The epitome of Beat Hip with Mod(ernist) Cool. In their first promo shots they are five immaculately aloof fringes posed ‘WITH THE BEATLES’-style out of the black. Superior. Articulate. As cool as every promise of tomorrow. A band of awesome vision and wondrous innovation, who opened the dayglo floodgates to all things West Coast esoteric and ultra-Hip, the Byrds personified, and made flesh, a seismic shift in popular culture that still reverberates now, across decades, up – to the Stone Roses, down – to Travis and Teenage Fan Club. Pop seldom came better ...”
(extract from the chapter interviewing Byrd Gene Clark)

So how did you get into Music Journalism? ‘Well, I was always writing. And I was always listening to Music. As far back as I can go. But essentially, through the 1960’s, I was a consumer. I was living in Hull. And I saw all the big bands who came through. It was odd in the sense that other kids I was hanging out with would go to dances or whatever to pick up girls. And while I was always up for that when the opportunity arose, I was primarily there to see the bands. The shiny guitars. The curly leads. The red lights that glow on the amps. The Cuban heeled boots. The volume. The riffs. I saw the Beatles when they played the Hull ABC Theatre. I don’t remember much about it. But I saw them. I saw the Rolling Stones in – what must have been around 1964, at the Bridlington Spa. With Brian Jones. There must have been about fifty people in the audience. At Hull Beverley Road Baths they used to put flooring over the pool and put bands on there, I saw the Animals and Manfred Mann with the floor juddering precariously all the time. I hitchhiked down to London to see bands on a fairly regular basis. Saw the Who three times. Went to Leeds to see the Beach-Boys play the Odeon on the Headrow, missed the last train home, and spent the night just walking around the city. But my own real involvement began when I started writing for what was called the ‘Underground’ Press, ‘IT (International Times)’, ‘Styng’ and others. I interviewed Genesis P Orridge of Throbbing Gristle – badly, around that time. But I got better. I’ve always been semi-autonomous. There have been regular magazines I’ve written for – I’ve been a contributor to ‘Hot Press’ for over twenty years, and ‘Rock ‘n’ Reel’ too, but I’ve never been exclusively tied to one in particular. This means that they ring me up and say do I want to interview this band, and more-often-than-not I’ll do it. They know the areas I specialise in. ‘Hot Press’ arranged the Kraftwerk and Can interviews after I’d first done Cabaret Voltaire and other electro-bands in Sheffield. But it also means that I go out and do the pieces I want to do, then market them. So in that way, it’s a personal thing. I’ve never gone into an interview with the intention of mocking or ridiculing. I’ve always taken the attitude that these are creative people doing interesting things. And I’ve seldom been disappointed.’

For the Kinks interview you speak to Dave Davies, not Ray Davies. ‘Yes. And it’s weird. What you’re dealing with, in an interview, is the totality of people’s lives. And I’ve got something like 5,000-6,000 words to explain it. Any one of these people deserves a full book. Many of them have full books written about them. So Ray – yes, obviously. He’s been analysed, his work, his songs, his role in British Rock. But Dave has an equally intriguing story to tell. He was there throughout, a provocative presence at the centre of some of Twentieth Century music’s most seismic decades. And think – Don and Phil Everly. Liam and Noel Gallagher. Sibling love, and sibling rivalry is part of Rock history. And the strange combination of hurt, affection, pain and jealousy that comes across during that interview is very affecting.’

Favourite interviews? ‘For this book David Kerekes, of Headpress – who was astute and perceptive enough to first suggest doing it, asked to see a list of all the interviews I’d done, and from that we selected the contents for the book. There was some trading. He suggested putting the Fall piece in. That’s fine. I rather wanted to put the Moloko piece in, because that also ties in with a continuity angle, I’d already interviewed Mark Brydon in his earlier band – Chakk, and some kind of two-way synthesis of the pieces would have been nice. But Moloko went a bit quiet around that time so it got shelved. There are masses of other things that could have gone in – Deep Purple, Shamen, Erasure, Saint Etienne, ABC, Throwing Muses, Chumbawamba. But the Cabaret Voltaire piece in the book is probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. For lots of reasons I love the Grace Slick piece. It was incredible for me to finally get to interview her. But some of my favourite pieces are not necessarily the most obvious ones. Everyone says – yeah, the William Burroughs interview must have been great (not in the current book!). And it was. But I have an equal affection for things I did with now-neglected bands like Clock DVA, who were incredible... I mean, this book starts out with the 1960’s, but it’s not about the sixties. Probably my best time, as an interactive participant was the Eighties electro-industrial scene. That was an amazing time. But it goes on through the Stone Roses and Skunk Anansie. Until last year I saw Oasis, Prodigy, Sneaker Pimps, the Chemical Brothers. And the spirit is the same. At any given time 99% of what’s happening is shit. But it’s that remaining percentage that validates it.’

Where next? ‘Where it all goes from here is anyone’s guess. The next book might be a sequel to this one – called something like ‘I Was Charles Hawtrey’s Movie Body-Double’. Or it might be a Science Fantasy epic novel. Whatever – this book is like a definite punctuation. I’m obviously going to continue doing music journalism. But I’m also going in other directions too. Throughout the years I was doing all those interviews, hanging around soundchecks, watching gigs, doing clubs and festivals, I was also writing fiction and prose things for other areas. At the moment – now, I’m trying to concentrate on doing more fiction. Catching up on that. And that is happening. And that will continue happening. But Martin Amis was interviewed not too long ago about his vision of his own relevance, and he came up with something about ‘if my writing is still read and valued in a hundred years (or was it fifty?), then my work will be validated’. And I think it was Nick Hornby who said that being valued by posterity is less important than reaching a wide and responsive audience in the here and now. What I’ve got is this stupid vision of perhaps in ten or fifteen years time some messed-up kid might come across something that I’ve written stashed away in the chaos of some second-hand bookshop, and – not knowing a damn about the name, he’ll be mildly interested enough to buy it – 20p or 10 Euros or whatever it is then, and he’ll read it and think ‘that was quite good’. I like that idea. I’d be happy with that... perhaps it’ll happen with this book?’

‘A nervy subtlety. A sound like biting steel nails. The shock of the newer. Mal takes a bassline for a walk, a low-rider in a contraflow of rhythms with a low low drag factor. He’s leaving after-images of nervous shock and mind-games of terminal disorder hanging in the air, doing wheelies over your braincell tissue. Ideas sometimes disguised as sound, sometimes as a geometry of moving pictures. Watch the sounds. Listen to the pictures. Mal’s face is made up of vertical, planes and angles, sparse and economical. Richard’s is made up of curves, flourishes, and flowing lines. Richard chain-smokes and watches the wrap-around screens. Extracts from Japanese TV. Aerial shots of the Toyota / Xerox buildings. The screens overlap, overlay. A Harrison Marks nude housewife comes down the stairs... comes down the stairs... comes down the stairs, trapped in trick-frame repetition. A Blue Thunder whirlybird slides out behind skyscrapers into the sun. Over and over. Over and over. Cabaret Voltaire is a multipack of projects. Better. By lack of design...’ (excerpt from the chapter interviewing Cabaret Voltaire)


Published in:-
‘THE SUPPLEMENT no.28’ UK – May 2006

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