Richard: an Extract
By Ben Myers.
They keep sending you back to Germany.
They tell you that after the UK and the US it is “the biggest market share”.
They tell you that to “crack” Germany is “to gain a foothold in Europe”.
And so like good little servants you do what you’re told.
You’re actually glad of the distraction from yourself. You’re glad of the three or four weeks of daily routine.
And so you fly back into Germany for a more comprehensive assault.
On place likes Frankfurt.
In an attempt to banish the recent bouts of self-pity you give yourself tasks to make each day more bearable and to get the best out of the experience that’s been afforded you.
So you shop for mementos of each town that you visit because you know you will never remember them otherwise.
In towns like Karlsruhe.
You read only German authors for the entire trip.
People like Goethe.
You punctuate your heavyweight bunk-bed reading sessions with trashy gossip magazines and European pornography, of which there is an abundance in all the service stations.
Porn mags like Busen.
You continue your regime of sit-ups and press ups – what you call your “jail cell” work-out – and take swims and saunas to ease the hangovers. You veer from one extreme to another within hours: from exercise to oblivion.
In towns like Essen.
You eat a lot of fruit during the day and drink a lot of vodka at night. You even grow to quite like the stiff, malt breads and cold meats that you hated so much on the last tour. You exchange pleasantries with the American bands you find yourselves sharing cramped graffitied dressing rooms with.
Bands like Afghan Whigs.
Babes In Toyland.
And by the time you fly back into Gatwick your suitcase is rattling with tacky trinkets.
Bavarian beer mats.
Jars of unidentifiable pickled vegetables.
You dump them all in the bin outside the Duty Free shop before you’ve even left the terminal.
We leave Newport and are soon heading north, up towards the mountains.
The Welsh couple have a flask of tea out and the American couple are excitedly taking photos of the passing landscape from the window – photos that will almost certainly contain, at best, nothing but a washed out, indistinguishable blur of sky and landscape, which I am sure is not their intention. Also their flash keeps going off so they’ll be lucky to see anything other than the reflection of the white flash. But I don’t tell them this. It is their business. It is their mistake to make.
Just as this is mine.
I have my forehead against the window to cool the beginnings of another nagging headache and I watch the sky slide overhead. From here it does not look real; it’s an impression of a sky, like a painter’s attempt to evoke quiet foreboding and its rolling, swirling potential.
The bus judders over a pot-hole and my head bangs against the glass with a deep thud.
It looks like rain.
Autumn comes and Sinead O’Connor tears up a picture of Pope on live television and inspires a wave of death-threats. You are all immediately jealous that you didn’t think of it first, especially Nick who excels in these matters.
Elsewhere the Church of England finally allows women to become priests.
America gets a new head of state, Bill Clinton. They call him “the first black president” and “the rock ‘n’ roll president”, even though he is neither. Such a country would never vote a black man or anyone deemed remotely ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ as their leader. Not in your lifetime.
Windsor Castle is ablaze.
And you. You spend each night in a different British city.
From Glasgow to Exeter, Newcastle to Bournemouth you make a final assault on the UK for the year.
More than half of the shows are sold out, ticket prices have increased, the dressing rooms become cleaner and roomier, the rider more elaborate. Finally it feels like you are playing to your people.
Gone are those who came to hate you and abuse you. Instead, familiar pale faces fill the front rows.
Each of you has your own following now, identifiable in different sections of the crowds. To stage left are the girls who think they have a chance of getting on Wire’s big penis and those who smile and laugh at his increasingly ridiculous onstage declarations and rants.
In the centre are those – boys mainly – who crush themselves up against the barrier to study James’s guitar parts up close so they can go home and replicate them later in their bedroom – a blatant substitution for masturbation – and the girls who sing each and every word back at him, their eyes closed, heads titled back to the ceiling, their delicate white throats exposed.
Over to your side, stage right, are the clones. The thinnest, quietest and fiercest girls, usually dressed in clothes similar to those you wore on the last tour or, for those particularly fastidious fans, replicas of whatever it was you were wearing in the last NME shoot. Flowers fall upon the stage. Faces press against the tour bus window. Their attention to detail and willingness to hang on your every move is unnerving. Flattering.
But you enjoy these shows.
You enjoy these shows because you understand your role now.
You enjoy them because you just have to turn up and let the noise of the crowd and the band spur you on. You’re living on adrenaline alone.
The only down-side to this tour is the perpetual cold.
– Why do we only ever tour in the British bloody winter? you ask, backstage at The National on Kilburn High Road, before your ninety-fourth and final show of 1992.
– It’s your fault Edwards, smiles James. They think we like pain.
– Yeah, Edwards, says Nicky, one long leg crossed over the other as he picks at his bare feet. They think we actually enjoy suffering. I tell you something though – coo – they’ve obviously never experienced the pain of chilblains.
You laugh and pour the second of your required three pre-show drinks, your breath hanging there in the air.
And then we’re out into Wales – the real Wales. The Wales of the Thomas’ – Dylan and RS. I remember reading both at school for my O-levels where I learnt that in no other medium but poetry has my country been so successfully portrayed for what it really is: a beautiful country made ugly by the burden of the past, and by the brutality imposed upon – and perpetrated by – its people. A land of pride and pity.
RS Thomas said it best: “There is no present in Wales / And no future / There is only the past / Brittle with relics / Wind-bitten towers and castles / With sham ghosts / Mouldering quarries and mines; / And an impotent people / Sick with in-breeding / Worrying the carcase of an old song.”
And this is where I differ from my average fellow Welshman: I can recognise that this mess of a life is all my fault, and my fault alone. I refuse to blame God, Wales, the English, my heritage, my history or this bold and brutal and brutally beautiful landscape. I blame no-one but myself.
No. We all must be accountable for our actions; without culpability we are inhumane and though I am many things, inhumane is not one of them.
It must be the idea of someone at the record company because it sure as hell isn’t yours: stick them in the priciest studio around and they’re bound to strike gold. Throw enough money at them and something will happen.
It has to.
So here you are, wandering around the gardens of a fourteen bedroom Elizabethan house in deepest, grandest Oxfordshire, the place that belongs to that producer guy from Buggles. The one with the glasses. You’ve not met him.
It is bedecked with Tudor panelling and ornate fireplaces and has stone-floor rooms for better “resonance”.
James bloody loves it here; he’s like a kid let loose. With his cut-off sleeves and pumped-up pecs he’s even starting to look like The Boss. He’s letting his hair grow out.
When you leave them, James and Sean – who is wearing a furry Russian hat and tracksuit – are huddled in the corner, conspiring about multi-tracking, middle eights and other things you have no concept of. Wire, meanwhile, is practising and perfecting his trick shots over and over, the click-clack of balls emanating from the games room; his tall frame folded double, legs spread, tongue hanging from his mouth. He doesn’t even need to be here. In fact, tomorrow he’ll be gone – back to Rachel, back to the house for the week, back to his hoovering, his videos, his crisps, his domestic bliss.
You leave them to walk through the gardens where you stop to smell a flower, check to see no-one is watching and then pluck it.
From the studio you hear the sound of cheering. Nick has just done something remarkable with the cue-ball, the black and a pint pot.
There follows a burst of feedback. A strangulated guitar riff. More cheering.
It’s probably time for a drink.
You walk back across the lawn.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, September 29th, 2010.