listen without prejudice


LET'S be honest here.

It's misleading to think that all rock critics are failed musicians, out to wreak their revenge on an uncaring world which rejected them cos of lack of talent. That's bollocks. Rock critics, by and large, are way more creative and interesting than the bands they write about. At least they don't stick around long after they've outgrown their original purpose. Joke.

What rock critics are, in matter of fact, are failed groupies - too scared or too ugly to sleep with the musicians they really want to - forever pandering to musicians' egos by writing about them. It doesn't matter whether the prose is favourable, or unfavourable: what counts is that the poor pampered dears are being paid attention.

With that in mind, my fave rock utopia moments (and I do appreciate the tautology of that phrase, believe you me, I've wrestled with my conscience, slapped my former English teacher and clipped my toe-nails, but I have to do it this way, cos my life is an enviable one, one that folk have tried to kill for) are as follows . . .

    (i) Nico in so much pain at The Venue, early Eighties - hunched over her pedal organ, churning out doomed ode after doomed ode, singing like she'd seen too much and experienced too little, beauty pouring from every note. My idea of utopia here is almost certainly most people's idea of hell - unremitting despondency. But then, why would I want to join anybody else's party? And no, I hadn't even heard of heroin at that point. The music worked for me, cut off an uncaring outside world, cocooned me within its dark splendour.

    (ii) Sixties soul siren Irma Thomas handing out signed hankies at the T&C - utopia should always involve some sort of hero. The only heroes I ever had were ones I never wanted to know anything about, and they were always female, too. Why? Because I already knew what men were like.

Hold on. Irma's a soul singer. Sorry. I digress.

    (iii) Scottish cutie experimentalists Melody Dog (an offshoot of those eternal keepers of the flame, The Pastels) playing a concert to an audience of one, me - because the whole point of music is that it feels special to you and you alone . . . and how much more special can you get than to have a concert played solely for your benefit?

    (iv) Any band that I've ever travelled in a van with, thus giving vent to all my deepest rock groupie fantasies. That feeling of being involved. That feeling that the band want you. Ah, bliss! Just one difference between me and 99 per cent of other successful critics, though. I've never slept with one of my charges. Why? Cos that'd be blurring the line between fantasy and fact a little too far. Also, I'm an ugly bastard who drinks too much.

(Incidentally, there's no reason why I should be telling the truth during any part of this talk. Everyone rewrites history - which doesn't exist, anyhow - to fit in with their current worldview.)

    (v) Half-Japanese supporting Nirvana on their last US tour - it made me feel so proud, seeing one of my kind, up there in front of all those people, all those Metallica and Bon Jovi fans, all those fucking Frampton offspring. Half- Japanese singer Jad Fair had it completely right when he said "there are two ways of playing guitar - loud and soft". Exactly! It helps if you have Jad's so- resonant voice and natural ability to deconstruct songs, though.

    (vi) Huggy Bear, any time - for their doomed attempt to reinvent rock with some meaning. Doomed, cos too many people have too much of a vested interest in keeping rock exactly as it is.

"The chords and notes don't mean a thing/Listen to the rhythms/Listen to us sing" - ATV, 1977 . . . or is it Warren G, 1995?

Remind me. What exactly was it that Nirvana changed by reaching Number One? Oh, I forgot. They made it possible for Stone Temple Plagiarists, Spin Doctors, Pearl Jam, Offspring and Green Day to go US Top 10. They spawned that bastard monster people still call grunge. They indirectly made MTV VJ Kennedy famous, and made Danny Goldberg and David Geffen two even richer men.

Fuck you.

    (vii) Seattle, circa the time I first discovered the city and invented the word "grunge" (sorry) . . . but then that's true of anything. It's your first love that cuts the deepest, which is why almost all rock commentators are at such pains to emphasise how important the music of their youth was. Most bands are obsolescent by the time they reach their debut album. All this rubbish about giving bands time to grow - don't you fucking dare. Suck 'em up and go onto the next, before they have the chance to turn into Counting Crows.

Just say NO! to boy-boy rock and L7's moshpit and bleedin' rock careerism.

    (viii) Guided By Voices, before the American rock media discovered them and completely ruined what made them so special - their splendid isolation. Yes, I do know what I'm talking about. I'm the bastard who did their first interview.