TALES OF LOW-LIFE LOSERS & ROCK AND ROLL SLEAZE
"I remember one excruciating tube journey to Camden's Music Machine featuring a youngish Kirk Brandon. He tried to invite anyone who would listen to attend The Pack's (his band before Theatre of Hate) performance at the Lyceum. The trouble was, he couldn't maintain eye contact with anyone. Thanks to the walls of the tunnel, the windows of the carriage were like mirrors. How could he possibly keep up this shameless self-promotion when there was such a wonderful opportunity to preen himself? Narcissism, both physical and mental, was the drug of choice for many."
Bob Short does what it says on the tin and dishes out the dirt real nice.
COPYRIGHT © 2005, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Sleaze is easy to point a finger at. It is even easier to accidentally put your foot in it. Unfortunately, it becomes rather nebulous when you try to slap a definition on to its rather ugly posterior. One man's meat is the cliché that I'm groping for here, so help me out by filling in the gaps. It's one of those theory of relativity deals except no-one called Einstein a sleazebag, not in New York.
I've seen guys work a room, barely able to stand upright in their oily wake. Most women see right through them in an instant. They wouldn't touch them with a double condom-wrapped barge pole. Strangely, however, the remaining twenty percent of women find such people utterly charming. These individuals rarely leave a party alone. You do the maths. Sleaze can work big time.
Some would argue that cutting a swathe of anal rampage through your fan base is inherently sleazy but many musicians regard this as par for the course. It is the reward you have earned for all that arse kissing the star has had to do along the way. When Pete Townsend was asked about the reason for the Who's longevity, he replied "Sucking cock." Whether he was being literal or figurative is beside the point.
When I first left home to explore the seedy underbelly of the rock and roll dream, I had a discussion with Andrew McMillan, an Australian who wrote the first articles about the Saints in the mid-70s. I pondered aloud why a third-rate band like The F-----s could appear on local Australian programme Countdown whereas The Saints and Radio Birdman could not. McMillan smiled his crooked smile and produced a Polaroid photo from his desk in which the singer of said F-----s band was being energetically spooned by the hat-wearing producer of the TV show. Those familiar with Australian pop music would not be surprised by this butt cowboy's identity. This, I was informed, was the price of fame. I had no reason to doubt the assessment. Musicians were just meat for the grinder.
Whilst most record companies view ripping artists off as legitimate business practice, most artists predictably view this as typical capitalist sleaze. Looking back at the television show, Minder, your average informed viewer sees a comical parody of low-rent business practices. They know it is not like real life. There are only just so many cons you can pull before Her Majesty decides you need a holiday. On the other hand, those in the business side of music see Arthur Daley as a role model; a living god. They go to the school of hard knocks just to study him. Accents are worked at and steely gazes set. Everyone claims to have a cousin who was in on the great train robbery.
So, these things will happen: the pub you play in will always squeeze that one extra charge in at the end of the night for promotion. The record company you sign to will always go broke the day before your royalty cheque is due. The journalist your record company gets drunk with will always write you a decent review. If they get the editor of the magazine laid, you'll probably get the front cover.
But this petty corruption is not what you want to hear about. You want to hear tales of filth and fury. Me? I just want the chance to start off by nailing one of those record company scum buckets as chief amongst sleaze balls.
X was in his cups. His sorrows needed a quick dipping. Despite having the Au Pairs and The Fall on his record label, royalties would soon need to be paid and I've already explained to you what that means. Tired and emotional, he talked to me paternally (if your father was the living incarnation of Satan). "I hate it when a girl wants to kiss you after she's sucked your dick. Especially if you've ever screwed her up the arse."
His label's A and R man, Y then proceeded to detail an industry junket in Paris. He is proud of the fact that the pair had managed to split up a boy-girl duo that had a string of number ones under its belt. Given that this is the early nineteen eighties and I've been reminded of libel laws, you'll have to work out the name of these Top of the Popsters out for yourself. X and Y apparently hired a prostitute to pass the male member a nice dose of herpes. This, they thought, would break up the pair both professionally and romantically. I personally had assumed the bleached blond fool was as bent as a three quid note but I've been known to be wrong about these things. Probably more through luck than design, the band did indeed split up and, failing to find any kind of solo success, both went back to riding the till at the local Sainsburys.
It is fairly unlikely that Y's story is true. It should, however, demonstrate the quality of intellect present in the business side. It all runs on a healthy diet of urban myth.
People expect the suits to be sleazy old men. You're reading this for the gossip but the trouble with gossip is that so little of it is verifiable. Someone who has fucked someone says…
I've heard some outrageous stories, but I'm a cynic. I don't believe any of them for a minute but, strangely, true or not, they enhance your image of the people involved. I love the story about Eighties radio queen XX. At her birthday party, it was alleged that the underground stars of the day lined up to pay her more than lip service. Legend has it that this stellar cast of well wishers included members of The Sisters of Mercy, Southern Death Cult and Theatre of Hate.
It's a stupid story. You couldn't have selected a group of more diseased looking individuals. You'd be hard pressed to have gotten any of those guys to line up for anything. Half of them couldn't stand up. Those who could would be having a hissy fit over who got to stand closest to the mirror. Still, it's a wonderful rock and roll story.
As is the tale of Billy Idol's Cinderella fetish. According to ancient lore, when Generation X were on tour, Idol took a kinky pair of thigh-high leather boots with him. Only the princess who filled those boots got to feel his royal sceptre.
The engineer of a recording session told me that he had witnessed Becky Bondage being orally pleasured during the vocal takes of an early Vice Squad single. This just has to be another tall tale. Anyone who has heard Vice Squad's recorded oeuvre can only shudder. If this was how Ms Bondage expressed her sensuality, what would PMT sound like?
Of course, most rock stars are lousy fucks. It's not so much the fact that the drugs and the booze cause their loves to lie limp. It is that appalling level of self-obsession. The only people they want to fuck is themselves. Their beautiful selves.
I remember one excruciating tube journey to Camden's Music Machine featuring a youngish Kirk Brandon. He tried to invite anyone who would listen to attend the Pack's (his band before Theatre of Hate) performance at the Lyceum. The trouble was, he couldn't maintain eye contact with anyone. Thanks to the walls of the tunnel, the windows of the carriage were like mirrors. How could he possibly keep up this shameless self-promotion when there was such a wonderful opportunity to preen himself? Narcissism, both physical and mental, was the drug of choice for many.
Once upon a time (the late 70s), the Scala cinema was in Goodge Street and its Saturday all-nighters were the only place to be. The stars were out. The wannabe stars were out. In fact, anyone who lived in a punk squat was out because Saturday night was the night you were most likely to have your home invaded by broom handle-wielding skinheads. You would see a pre "Dog Eat Dog" Adam Ant wearing dark-rimmed glasses and pretending that he wasn't himself.
You would also see Marilyn, friend of Boy George and soon to be one-hit wonder. Marilyn would never leave alone. There was always some ugly old guy who couldn't believe his luck. The drugs hadn't done their worst back then and he could pass himself off quite well as a girl with that little bit of extra oomph. Of course, I'm sure the guy had a big surprise waiting for him at the end of the night (and I'm not talking about the inevitable disappearances from wallets).
That last story would be the stuff of urban legend if I had not witnessed it across the café so many times. The Scala was a regular den of iniquity, a little piece of Hollywood Babylon come to life. There were drugs. There was sex. There were really crappy movies.
Youth, bassist with Killing Joke, was a regular until his hospitalisation with hepatitis. Youth always wore this truly vile tan suit but the hospital staff who boiled it were amazed to discover that, once washed, it was white. Band hangers on tried to put it about that he'd caught the disease from his suit rather from any more logical explanation. That's a common ploy in the music business. I remember reading how Joe Strummer caught glandular fever from being spat on at a gig. Was it really that hard for him to admit that he might have actually kissed someone?
I remember one memorable night when Richard Morgan, the drummer in the band I was in -- Blood and Roses, early 80s punks -- had a fight with his girlfriend. It started at the top of the aisle and rolled its way down to the screen in a ball of scratching, biting and hissing. We held no fears for his partner Siobhan's safety. She could easily deck the bastard, and did quite frequently.
I should perhaps remove myself from the role of saintly onlooker. One morning, Richard came back to the squat and had forgotten his key. I was working my way into a perfectly good hangover when the bastard woke me with his banging and wailing. I was not a happy man as I approached the door stark naked. To make matters worse, Richard's stupid fucking dog had crapped on the floor repeatedly. Guess who put their foot in it? Right. Yours truly. Guess who was dragged in through the front door by a very large naked man and promptly had his nose rubbed into a number of dog turds? That probably does not count as sleazy but now you know what kind of a guy you're dealing with. Bands are always just one big happy family.
That story also goes some way to introduce another form of sleazy behaviour rampant amongst musicians. The Rock biz would like you to believe it wraps itself in the tri-coloured virtues of liberty, fraternity and egalitarianism. I feel tempted to write "ha!" at this point. In fact, I am tempted to write several pages of "Ha!" in double underlined bold type.
It is bad enough that bands rip at each other's throats. In a world where the industry fills media and commercial outlets with the kind of product that gives cholera-infected shit a bad name, most independent acts spend the majority of their time trying to undercut their compatriots. "They're all too busy fighting for a cooler place under the lighting," wrote the Clash with little sense of irony. I mean, the whole song is about slagging off the competition. But business is business and, with so many outside forces playing divide and conquer, such rivalry is at least explicable.
Meanwhile, within the bands themselves, this macrocosm is reflected in increasingly vicious terms. Bands market themselves as little rebel gangs fighting against a cruel indifferent world. However, their battles are often lost by swords blunted in each other's backs. Alice Cooper described his relationship to his old band thus: "Success didn't really change us as people. It just changed what we argued about. Instead of complaining about who stole my tomato, it became get the hell out of my limo."
The Ramones hated each other and didn't speak. Steve Jones masturbated into Glen Matlock's sandwich. Screwing your band mates' wives, girlfriends, boyfriends or pet poodles is more a sport than any kind of revelation.
When we went to record our first EP, I had to go round to pick up Jez James, our bassist. Perhaps it should have been a shock to find him in bed with the woman I'd been living with for the last year. Instead, I was particularly impressed by just how self-destructive their actions were. I mean, setting themselves up to be found with such an impeccable sense of timing. I mean, you work for years to get a record contract. Imagine that, when you finally get one, you do something that could potentially have cataclysmic effects. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Jez eventually went into rehab to find a cure for his many addictions. He celebrated his release by going to the Hope and Anchor, getting blind drunk and walking under a bus. He was killed. That isn't a funny story but it still works as an analogy for how bands tend to work.
If one really wants to check out seediness, investigate bands with a heavy turnover of members. Talent vampirism is widespread and ugly. In particular, I'm thinking about Psychic TV. Genesis P Orridge is a talented man and, despite his reputation, I have to say he's also quite likeable. He likes to work collaboratively with other talented individuals but, unfortunately, does not enjoy sharing the fruits of such collaborations. Until he re-invented himself in a more dance-friendly environment, PTV ate band members for breakfast. They would rehearse, tour, record and even do office duty but their time in the sunshine could be terminated rapidly. Asking about royalties was, apparently, not the most ideal question to raise.
Genesis liked to create an aura of being shocking. When his baby posited on me, his only comment was "If you don't want kids, you have to fuck your women up the arse." His wife and a female band member named Mouse giggled nervously. Mouse had described Mr Orridge as an ugly little sex dwarf and she intimated she had good reason to know this.
Later, Mouse was to suggest that I form a threesome with herself and a large drunken Icelandic member of the band. I forget his name now, but he possessed the basic countenance and bearing of an abominable snowman. I respectfully declined. Even if I had had a sudden overwhelming urge to experiment with homosexuality, it would have not involved a man who, the previous night, had snored so loudly that he could be heard four floors below the one he was was sleeping on.
Some weeks later, I returned home from touring only to be told that this self same man-mountain had borrowed my bed while I was away. I would not have minded if it was not for the fact that he had left an army of his little friends behind him. The weird thing is, pubic lice really do look like crabs.
Meanwhile, Mr Orridge had sown the wind once too often and was about to reap the whirlwind. Christian lunatics had taken on the task of exposing child abuse in satanic cults. Seizing on a PTV video, this crusade announced proof of their allegations. Ignoring the fact that the woman shown was in her twenties and more than willing to participate, a literal witch hunt began. Social services were called in and the Orridge clan had to relocate offshore. After all, not all sleazy tales are based on fact.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Short claims he has not only heard the chimes at midnight, he has stayed up past dawn to hear them again the next time around. Before being old enough to drink, he haunted Sydney's beer barns with proto punk band Filth. Later on, he gained some notoriety in the UK with the band Blood and Roses when he was described as everything from a "shambolic messiah" to a "long, tall streak of piss". He has been a DJ and worked in a sex shop, the civil service and as Musical Director for a theatre company. He claims the only thing ever to surprise him was seeing his thirtieth birthday. Currently, he lives in exile in the penal colonies of New South Wales with his son, Billy. There he has makes low-budget films such as Makers of the Dead, Kings' Cross Vampires, Lone Gunman Theory and Bad Animals. He is also working on a novel entitled "Red".