NOCTURNAL EMISSIONS 1: LET'S MAKE HISTORY
"I've had a few ideas recently about attempting to capture the true essence of the transient life on the road in a sort, sharp novel -- that musician's life on the edge where the art is an excuse for eccentric or anti-social behaviour. I want to write about the sailor's spirit that seems to infect bands -- the idea that you're always just passing through and damn, the consequences. Come 10am we'll be on the m-way; tonight this city is ours. That is what I want to write about"
Ben Myers' new column starts here.
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Oh, this is fucking pathetic, I'm thinking, there can't be more than forty people here -- including band members, security and bar staff. Yes, it's deepest midwinter and there's no doubt a whole night of mind-melting TV scheduled to nullify and placate the licence-paying proles but, Jesus, this is Liverpool, birthplace of British rock 'n' roll. Is this the best you can do Liverpool? Did I give up a week of hot food and home comforts for this?
But then a stolen thought pops into my head. It's Coogan as Tony Wilson in Twenty Four Hour Party People, gee-ing up his bongo boys A Certain Ratio after a dour, under attended opening night at the Hacienda: "The smaller the attendance, the bigger the history. There were twelve people at the Last Supper. Half a dozen at Kitty Hawk. Archimedes was on his own in the bath..."
Despite his many crimes against fashion and intellectualism, Wilson did discover Joy Division so I've always given his words some credence. And he's right. Who cares how many people were there? History is rewritten the moment it passes anyway; everyone knows that. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Anyone who has bothered to scratch beneath the surface can tell you that Custer's Last Stand was an unmitigated disaster, yet where would America be without such falsified tales of WASP-ish heroism to believe in, from which to launch an entire belief system from? It wouldn't be the world leader we all know and tolerate today, that much is for sure. So congratulations America, your lies have served you well.
It's a similar tactical approach I've been attempting to adopt for some time in the running of a record label and the continued attempts to self-mythologise myself in the ongoing documenting of my existence through a series of articles, reviews, short stories, poems, novels, biographies and letters. It's almost as if I'm afraid of being forgotten when I'm gone, yet the best I can do is leave behind a stack of paper and plastic which will perish soon after no doubt. Unless my debut novel The Book Of Fuck suddenly takes on the social and historical significance of a Tacitus or a Dickens or an Orwell my legacy will, no doubt, be the same as yours: there won't be one.
So that's why I'm concentrating on the making of history right now as I tug on a crafty spliff and the band file onto the stage and, in a burst of feedback fuelled by great spunking arcs of electricity that I can almost taste, kick straight into some of the most frantic, frenetic, violent rock 'n' roll music I've heard in a good while. The walls are shaking.
This is where I have chosen to go on holiday in a sub-zero winter. I've given up work for a week and am trailing a band of energetic teenagers called The Sound Explosion in my role as part-manager, part-merchandise man, part-voyeur. I've had a few ideas recently about attempting to capture the true essence of the transient life on the road in a sort, sharp novel -- that musician's life on the edge where the art is an excuse for eccentric or anti-social behaviour. I want to write about the sailor's spirit that seems to infect bands -- the idea that you're always just passing through and damn, the consequences. Come 10am we'll be on the m-way; tonight this city is ours. That is what I want to write about.
And for a few minutes each night it's all proving to be worthwhile. I get to see something I love in action. I get to see something magnificent at the earliest stages, when there's everything to play for, to live for. I get to see new art unfolding nightly. Who wants to go and see a band who's 'made it', when all the fizz and anger has dissipated, when everyone knows their name, when you pay your £15 to get the expected? How disappointing, how safe. Just once I'd like to see a successful band fill an arena, play a sixty-second noise set, then leave. There could be no excuses or apologies - after all, this is rock 'n' roll and we, the audience, are here to be challenged. The only recourse we would have would be to riot, and rioting in lifeless sports arenas where drinking during the show and overpriced merchandise is about as good as it gets, would only be a healthy thing. Or at the very least you'd be treated to a night to remember.
Perhaps this is the band who can help me put such twisted sub-Situationist fantasies into practice. Look: one of the singers is running round the crowd, intimidating them into devotion. He's on the bar, kicking drinks over and yelling at the forty or so Scousers through a loud hailer. Guitars are being kicked and flung. Drums pound, newly-blagged shoes are scuffed. These boys are everywhere, utterly fearless. People are smiling, laughing. Some look disgusted, angry, afraid. Crucially, no one yawns. No one walks away. Liverpool is representing. (I've always been suspicious of the inflated level of reverence held for this city's greatest export, The Beatles -- and, by proxy, Liverpool itself. Similarly, despite owning nothing by them, I have little time for people who dismiss The Beatles outright. What galls is the level of reverence held for the quartet and certain blindly devoted fans' inability to appreciate that the death of Joe Strummer meant far more to me than Lennon ever could, that Chuck D was way more important than Paul McCartney. Whatever.)
As The Sound Explosion play a set of hi-octane aggro and bile, a man dances beside me, down the front where the static is thickest.
Afterwards I get talking to him. He's the first -- and only -- person in line at the merch stall. A mix of Alexei Sayle intensity and flabby feminine softness. He explains that he nearly didn't come tonight, that the two friends with whom he has been going to two or three or gigs a week with for half his life both died recently from carbon monoxide poisoning. "It's a bit pathetic," he says apologetically, "I'm thirty-two and I've never been to a gig by myself."
I respond, well, in that case I'm the most pathetic person I know as I've been to see dozens of bands by myself, and furthermore, enjoyed most of them immensely. He thanks the band -- thanks me -- for getting him out of the house and forgetting about his grief for a couple of hours. Humbled into awkward silence I give him a CD.
It's then that I realise that forty people is far from pathetic. Forty people is a congregation. Forty people is a fucking army if you close you eyes and charge out into the centre of the battlefield that is this life. What matters most is you're unafraid to fight. You're unafraid to make your own history.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ben Myers is the author of the novel The Book Of Fuck (Wrecking Ball Press, 2004), which was recently nominated for the 3:AM Good Sex Writing prize. He has also published a number of short stories. As a music journalist, Ben has travelled the world and has written several books on ugly, noisy bands. He lives in Peckham and is a member of the Captains Of Industry collective.