The Clash. White Man In Hammersmith Palais. Forty Years Old.

 

I know every word. I’ve always known every word. Even before I heard it, I knew every word. It’s alienation. It’s envy. It’s rage. It’s having a dig at Weller. It’s about being cool. It’s about being gloriously uncool. It’s about being white but wishing you weren’t. It’s about being white but fearing you’re not doing it properly. It’s about pride. It’s about equality. It’s about fifteen minutes long. It may be the best song ever written. It’s reggae. It’s not reggae. It’s my past. It’s walking down Ridge Avenue one snow-covered February. It’s Strummer hoping and hurting. It’s me wishing I was Simonon. It’s built on our hopes: yours and mine. It’s what I want playing in the old people’s home as the carers throw balls at me.

Next time I meet you I’ll sing it to you. Every word.

Alex Harvey.

It would have been Alex Harvey’s 83rd birthday today.

It’s 1975 and I really want to stay in and watch Susan St James (and some bloke) in McMillan And Wife. But I’m thirteen and my mate Darren’s got us tickets to see the Sensational Alex Harvey Band at the New Victoria Theatre and my Mum’s letting me go. Mainly because I haven’t quite told her we’re going.

We get the 29. It takes hours. I feel a bit scared. We go to the pub. I feel a bit more scared. I drink my first-ever whiskey, hear my first-ever rebel song. We cross the road, bustle our way in. I feel even more scared and, as we stand there, surrounded by Celtic scarves and pissed, proud Irishmen, I try so, so hard not to vomit. And then, finally…

A hatchet-sharp, thunder-heavy guitar riff leaps towards us from behind the stage. The lights in the place snap out. There’s blackness silence for a second. And then the riff strikes again, twice as loud: it starts pounding and cutting and sawing. I’m not feeling sick anymore. I’m pinned to the floor, free of thought and feeling. A weird, fear-white man, picked-out by a single spotlight, skips onto the stage, all clown make-up, camp-glammy clothes and leering grin. There’s a roar that I’ve only ever previously heard at Spurs — the roar of men united within a temporary community, a transient certainty of connection and loss of self, a near-sexual thrill of anticipation. The painted man plays one huge, building-collapsing chord, the spotlight disappears, it’s darkness again and then He’s there, suddenly, at the front of the stage: black-and-white striped shirt, a lined, knowing face, the smile of the Devil. The roar from inside me and out, from every man there, is deafening, inhuman. A drummer and a bassist and a keyboard-player magic onto the stage behind Satan and The Clown and they start to embrace and kiss and stroke the riff, engorging it, transforming it into a warped, sinewy soul-blues thing that twists and turns and makes me feel more alive than I ever remember feeling.

And then? And then Alex Harvey starts singing. Or, rather, Alex Harvey starts commanding and preaching and whispering and cajoling and seducing and threatening. This isn’t a pop singer. This isn’t like any singer I’ve ever heard. Or would ever hear again. This is an angry, amused, terrifying man who’s both deeply, theatrically *other* and tremblingly, disturbingly real. He’s telling us stories: he’s from Glasgow and Louisiana and Liverpool and Detroit and Berlin and Chicago; he’s a cowboy, he’s a warrior, he’s Vambo. And he’s utterly captivating. Despite the spice and leer and vitality of the guitarist, despite the muscular drive and vigour of the other three, I can’t take my eyes off Alex Harvey. I want to be him and I want to run away from him at the same time. The music his slaves are playing is sharp, strong, stabbing, subtle — whatever he needs it to be so he can beguile us and seduce us and Gorbal us into his shadowy Gothic pantomime, so he can pull the pin of the sweet, orgasmic, dark-camp, circus-caress grenade that sits beneath the stories and poverty, the meaninglessness and waste and glories of our lives.

The world has changed; the two-hour (probably) set lasts two years and two seconds and then we’re staggering out of the place, dripping with sweat, the chorus of Delilah echoing round the city and round our heads, a mesmeric thrum that will last for days…

…Forty-three years later, I’m sitting in front of the computer and listening — for the third time this evening — to Framed, the album Darren once said I should get if I was only going to buy one Alex Harvey album.

I’ve been thinking about how that 1975 night changed me, how I fell in love with music, fell in love with spectacle and with the catharsis of sound, how I fell in love with Alex Harvey and the blues and rock and soul, fell in love with the idea of falling in love and, somehow, recognised the possibilities we all have in us to change ourselves and others for the better as we keep one foot, one part of our heart, permanently in the shadows… I’ve been trying not to think too much about how I’ve let that recognition fade… and I’ve been thinking how genreless and timeless Harvey and the band were/are, how they trod on and tried on blues and pop and vaudeville and rock’n’roll and glam and clambered higher, reaching up to and beyond punk, merging black and white, linking the US and Scotland and all our desires with joy and humour and an acknowledgement of our shared darknesses. Tonight, I’ve been listening to the vast Isobel Goudie, proggy in its ambition, yet sensual, insidious, celebratory, doomed; to the Glaswegian gobbling, swallowing and spitting out of Leiber and Stoller’s title-track; to the Francis Bacon-inspired, oddly-never-quite-made-it-as-a-Yuletide-hit There’s No Lights On The Christmas Tree, Mother, They’re Burning Big Louie Tonight; and to the Gothic/Catholic Southern-burnt rhythms and stabbing concerns of the thing as a whole — serious and winking and blistering and religious and secular and like nothing else and like everything else.

And… I’ve been thinking this evening about time and the ways in which a middle-aged man bewitched a young kid by taking from the past and handing the best bits on to him. I’ve been thinking about the gratitude I owe Darren for introducing me to SAHB (and to gigs and Bob Marley and politics and not accepting the obvious). I’ve been thinking about how sad I felt when Alex Harvey died in 1982 and no-one I knew seemed to care and just how proud I felt when my daughter went out one night wearing a Vambo tee-shirt with His picture on the front. Above all, I’ve spent the last couple of hours not thinking anything very much, just losing myself in the power and the joy and in the silly, redemptive possibilities of music. And, just a little, in memories of Susan St James.

I’d Rather Be Out On My Bike: Fifty Years Of Radio One

Radio 1 may be, for the most part, a helium balloon, and it is the sheer weight of what John Peel gave us that holds it in place. (Danny Jones)

Heart pounding… fingers poised over the pause and record buttons… trying to record the good stuff without the DJ’s bloody voice at the beginning and end. Sunday nights were Radio One nights – a time to hear new stuff and to find out what was Number One. And to decide I didn’t really get 10cc. The DJ was Tom Brown. Or Tom Browne. (I don’t want to look him up: he was a Godlike character who held The Knowledge, I don’t want to find out he was human.)

It turns out those Sunday nights were the second most-mentioned aspect of Radio One in Sad Paradise’s recent utterly-scientific, peer-reviewed, completely-representative Facebook research thing. The first? I’m sure you can guess.

“It was insincere, shallow and ginger. I only listened to Capital Radio.”

The Story Of Radio One: Version One.

For our generation (those born in the Sixties), Radio One’s emergence as a revolutionaryish, piratey, establishment/not-establishment voice of moany, disenfranchised, edgy youth was a quaint – and disputed – relic of the dim and distant past (anyone else hate Flowers In The Rain? Just me??) By the time we started listening – by the pre-punk early- and mid-Seventies –  what had started as a kind of rebellion had, as everything always does in popular music, become swallowed up by the money men and started clinging desperately onto the Status Quo. So we had no choice but to listen to a bunch of strange, iffy-haired, achingly uncool old men, each of whom had a compulsory official nickname, in a vain attempt to make them appeal to The Kids: Gary ‘Diddy’ Davies, Dave Lee ‘The Stewpot’ Travis, Peter ‘Creepy Smile’ Powell, Simon ‘Our Bloody Tune’ Bates, Jimmy ‘I Don’t Have To Come Up With One For Him, Surely?’ Savile etc etc.

For a few years, Radio One was utterly dominant musicwise, it and its dodgy older brother Top Of The Pops trying to (and often succeeding in) dictating what we heard and what we liked: until the arrival of Capital, we had little choice but to listen to it or ignore the radio completely and seek our edge and our succour in other ways. The old, old story – and the way I’d always seen it until the last week or so – is one of a double-headed monster. The uncool, middle-aged head: The Nicknames, Arnold the dog, rigid playlists, a superglued adherence to the safe, the squeaky-clean, the almost-Eurovision, the sexist, the edgeless, the cornerless, the vapid, the facile. The cool, young, questing head: John Peel, who was given carte blanche to play whatever he wanted – on Top Gear, then on his own show, where we willingly sat with him and waded through obscure Reading-based Einsturzende Neubauten wannabes to find the inevitable life-affirming gold. The Man tried to interfere, of course, particularly when punk came along, but Peel always got away with it. His passion and open-hearted/mindedness and wit and generosity led us, led our culture down whole new paths. No Peel = no Ramones, no Undertones, no Fall, no Kindergarten. Billy Bragg travelled up to the BBC and gave him a mushroom biryani when Peel mentioned on air he was hungry – and got his new record played in return… JP was Good to DLT’s Evil.

But:

The Story Of Radio One. Version Two.

All the above, plus… as well as Peel, there was Alan Freeman and there was Tommy Vance and Paul Gambaccini and the wonderful Tony Blackburn and Anne Nightingale and Johnnie Walker: lovers of music (and lovers of the unfashionable AND the unpop) who balanced precariously on the tightrope between JP and DLT and who pushed so many of us in so many new directions. As ever, truth is more nuanced than story.

And:

The Story Of Radio One. Version Three.

All of the above, plus… apparently, Radio One continued after 1982! Playing music! Having competitions! With DJs and stuff! And with Steve Wright, some new-fangled punky youngster! Who knew? By the time the New Romantics arrived, we’d given up caring, as long as Peel was still there. It doesn’t really matter what happened next…

 

With thanks to Carol Eccleston, Tim Giles, Elaine Collis, Karen Ertsaas, Miriam Dunn, Neil Hatswell, Andy Moore, Mark Seton, Delia Parker, Misha Mansoor, Ian Matthews, Miriam Bindman, Sam Burnett, Mary Dearth, Chris Waddell, Alasdair Blain, Ian Macmillan, Helen Balchin, Mitch Johnson. Only three of whom ever went to a Radio One Roadshow willingly. 

Death Or Glory: Thoughts On Joe Strummer’s Birthday.

One Story

1. The Clash version

He was passionate, kind, uniting, decent, restless, ruthless, funny, flawed, full of hope and rage. We bloody need him right now.

2. London Calling version.

White Riot scared me. I knew/know every word of White Man In Hammersmith Palais. That Rock Against Racism gig was one of the most energising of our young lives. I loved that second, evil-Yank-produced, hated-by-NME album. I loved doing my own falsetto version of Police And Thieves one snow-filled night, walking along Ridge Road with friends.

I loved Paul Simonon. But Strummer was my hero.

3. Sandinista (dub) version.

A couple of years ago I put one of those word cloud things on my website. Five words stood out as being used the most: ‘love’, ‘hero’, ‘clash’, ‘story’ and … um … ‘Enfield’. I realised at that moment that I’d spent a huge amount of energy writing and thinking about the past, trying to find meanings in it that might help bring me fully into the present. I’d written endlessly too, I realised, about the inevitable disappointments men’s search for heroes brings – and about the traps and freedoms stories and love offer us.

Johnny Rotten was never a hero, not for me. While I was trying to navigate my poorly-drawn, minor character through the unfolding stories and myths of 1970s Enfield, he was too scary, too different, too scratchily, sarcastically other. And I suspected he wouldn’t like me very much. Paul Weller, meanwhile, definitely was a hero, his malicious Woking a cracked mirror to my grey, messy-hard Enfield, but his sneer masked a confused idealism, his sheer Englishness could be narrow and dark and exclusive and seemed to offer solace without hope. As with Rotten, Weller dismissed America and the American. And – I suspect – vague, meandering grammar school kids.

Which brings us to Joe Strummer: the most English and, I’d suggest, the most American of the three, the one who best merged the individual with the collective. The one who – in one of my stories at least – would definitely have welcomed me as his mate.

He started by scaring us, by twisting our liberalism out of shape. Us wish-we-were-punks loved I’m So Bored With The USA

Yankee dollar talk
To the dictators of the world
In fact it’s giving orders
And they can’t afford to miss a word

– because it echoed the simplistic stories we were all writing about The Real Evil Empire. But the half-hour gob of that first album – as punk in places as anything by The Pistols – also hinted at the space and hope and expansiveness and freedom and nuance of everything The Clash subsequently did. Stuff that was America(n). Stuff that was Jamaica. Stuff that was The World and Mexico and LA as much as it was Notting Hill and Enfield and Woking. Stuff that channelled and shaped Mick Jones’ pop sensibility and Simonon’s immersion in reggae and dub. Stuff that rewrote our culture.

I’ve just been wondering where exactly I was in Strummer’s story, what part I played. In one version of my own, I’m a hippy. An angry, America-loving, contradictory hippy. And that’s what Strummer was too. He saw the price of everything and the value of everything. Watch him in The Future Is Unwritten. Listen to Coma Girl, to his version of Redemption Song. Humour. Trust. Suffering. Belief in a better society, in the individual and the group overcoming The Man. Belief in you and me. In one, shared, story.

4. The Clash (remastered) version

In most of my autobiographies, I’m me. I’m never, ever Weller or Rotten in any of them. In at least one, though, I’m Joe Strummer.

 

Happy birthday Joe.

All The Young Dudes: 45 Today.

I’ve wanted to do this for years.

A thousand times I’ve heard All The Young Dudes. A thousand times Mick Ralphs’ guitar at the start has made me smile. It always will: it’s utterly joyful, utterly sure of itself and burns way, way fiercer than 99.99999% of intros, than 99.99999% of anything. I love it: it’s life and laughter and hope and pretty much everything any of us ever needed. I want it played at my funeral: just that opening guitar riff. I’ll smile, I promise.

I’ve no idea what the real truth of the Bowie-saved-ailing-Mott-The-Hoople-by-generously-giving-them-and-producing-this-song story/myth/fairy tale is. And it doesn’t matter. ATYD tells us the quest for reality and neat narrative is dull, meaningless, avoidable; it tells us stories are always shifting, twisting, mostly wordless, chimeric. ATYD is, simply, one of the top four or five pop songs ever recorded. The organ is majestic, soulful, spiritual. The words and voices are mad and wry and thrilled. The guitars and drums and bass are the reason guitars and drums and the bass guitar were invented. The whole thing is glorious, silly, overreaching, sly, profound, shallow, poetic, plain, aristocratic, working-class, funny, serious, Seventies, timeless, Nietzschean, colourful, noiry. It’s as English as anything so American can be. It’s hopeful and regretful and celebratory. It’s lights and shades and disposable and forever. It’s wrapped itself around us and won’t ever let us go. It’s one of Bowie’s best songs and it’s utterly Ian Hunter’s.

All The Young Dudes is forty-five years old today and it’s ancient and wise and just-born and free. Happy birthday, old man.

 

 

Wilko Johnson. Seventy Today.

There’s no-one like him. No-one. When I think about him, I feel sad and glad and flooded with memory. I feel the thrill of buying Down By The Jetty with the HMV token I got for my thirteenth birthday. I feel the slash/punch of his nuclear cheese-grater guitar on that LP, his sardonic voice, the tense glory of his gives and takes with Lee and the blues and the rhythm section. I feel a laughing, oh-yes gratitude for the fuses of punk he helped set alight. I feel the breathlessness of seeing him the night after 7/7 and feeling so, so glad to be alive, realising that this – his power and passion and mad-stare lust for life – is what gives us meaning. I feel the dark skies and silly Bergmanisms of watching Oil City Confidential and The Ecstasy Of Wilko Johnson and wishing I could access just a fraction of his magical brew of the visceral and the intellectual, the serious and the playful. I feel the stabs of his pushed-away pain for the loss of Irene and of the years and of Lee. I feel the ache of talking for hours about his sweet, real, gleeful/holy response to his terminal diagnosis with a mate who was himself dying of that bastard disease. I feel the joy of each time I’ve seen him since he was supposed to be dead.

I feel… everything about Wilko, because he represents everything good and sharp and doomed and flawed and perfect and hopeful about England and Englishness. Cheers mate: many, many happy returns.

Poly Styrene

X-Ray Spex frontperson Poly Styrene would have been 60 years old today.

Germfree Adolescents. That was the one I loved: sweet, melodic, sardonic, wry. She was weird, sure of herself, unsure of herself. She was post-punk during punk. She was a hippy. Sort of. She was like a de-Gothed Siouxsie. Wild and sweet.  I didn’t fancy her. Not really. She couldn’t care less anyway. I just watched Oh Bondage Up Yours. It’s bloody good. Happy birthday Poly x

The Eagles

The Eagles’ debut album released 45 years ago today.

It was never OK to like The Eagles. But I’m 152 years old now, cool people, and I don’t care what you think anymore. Well, not as much as I did, anyway.

I love Lyin’ Eyes. I love Take It Easy. I love Tequila Sunrise. I really love Desperado and The Last Resort. Always have done. There. Said it. The thing is, I’m not totally sure why I loved/love those songs. I was never what you’d call an Eagles fan; I felt nothing, really, when Glenn Frey died last year (I actually just had to look up which one of the band it was), except for that generic sadness when someone – anyone – who inhabited our childhood goes. I hate (the song) Hotel California – it’s like some kind of inescapable, awful, prog/country/sixth-form poetry monster. And I hate all that almost-rock stuff they do so unconvincingly. But… I’ve been listening to their early, countryish, stuff a lot here in Greenland since the local station played Lyin’ Eyes and loving it. And realising I’ve always loved it. And I’ve been squirming a little at what my attitude to The Eagles even now tells me about my own taste, my own need to belong, the awkward adolescent boy I still am.

When punk came along, it was often portrayed as a raging, proletarian counterblast to prog-rock, to the middle-class pretension of ELP and Yes and Pink Floyd. But it was also a macho mouthful of phlegm in the face of all those soppy, long-haired, insipid, hippy, white, American (that was the biggest sin, let’s be honest) ponces like The Eagles who lived in Beverley Hills mansions, snorted coke on sun-loungers and sang saccharine songs that girls liked. In other words, punk was a fourteen-year-old boy winding his twenty-five-year-old sister up. And I love it for that (I think we all needed it) and for the astonishing, angry punch of its music and its attitude and its clothes and its ability to show us things could be different – but I was never a punk, I could never be a punk. I was too… soppy, scared, hippyish, careful, romantic. My inner Eagle was too strong.

All of which suggests, of course, that we’re talking polar opposites here, irreconcilable differences. But we’re not: I’ve just realised we’re not, not really. Good music (I think) is about communicating the personal and touching the universal simultaneously. And there’s a sadness – a melancholy, an anomie, a sense of lands and people and dreams lost – in those early Eagles songs that chimes as much, has as much sincerity and cool, as any punk song. They’re no more or less white than punk, no more or less excluding of Black American musics, no more or less trying to get you to like it, but they’re also tied to the land, to the American myth, to Woody Guthrie and Steinbeck, they’re truly liberal and heart-on-sleeve and compassionate. And they’re gorgeous. There’s an empathic perfection to Desperado, for example, that – for me – makes it one of the great pop songs. Nearly all of the power and purity lies in the voices – in the lead vocals and in the harmonies – and there are acapella recordings online of some of their songs that are astonishing. But the good stuff – the exquisite stuff – that the Eagles did is as good as it is because the music embraces those voices while simultaneously giving them time and space to breathe. There’s a subtlety to the overall sound that’s not there in their crap stuff, not there in most popular music, a subtlety that springs out from blues and country and pushes the bombastic teenageiness of rock aside. And it’s that warm, sad kiss between sounds, rather than the words (which lurch from clunkily portentous to poetic, often in the same song) which is truly, heartbreakingly poignant.

So. It’s taken me thirty-something years to admit it but I feel good saying I love those songs. They’re beautiful – they make me feel, make me smile, make me feel connected. The Eagles did do all that coke/sun-lounger/groupie stuff as well, of course – but they’ve left us/me something really special. And no-one should apologise for that.

White Riot released on this day 40 years ago

White Riot by The Clash: released on 18th March 1977.

I think I might still be a little bit in love with Paul Simonon (see http://www.kevinacott.com/lies/2016/3/1/man-crush). I’m definitely still in love with The Clash: as a band, an idea, a memory, a rhythm, a rage, a fuck-you, a me-too, a proof that there’s good in the world and it doesn’t always have to be tender. White Riot though? I’ve never been sure about White Riot, that it didn’t have layers we foolishly discarded. It made me happy and free when I first heard it, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced sonically: raw and bare and stripped of ideology or thought or love. It was my first real introduction to punk and to a thrilling harshness of expression, to that tidal wave of manipulated passion that stamped on our lives and helped us both belong and sense a deeper, scratchy alienation. And it had a great tune.

But… We belonged to the mass of kids who were neither part of the cold oppressors nor part of the cool revolutionaries. The stagnant and twisted establishment despised our parents and despised us; the art-school rebels didn’t even notice us, just knew we would go along with whatever they said because we wanted to be them. Somewhere in Strummer’s words there was a reaching out:

‘Black man got a lotta problems
But they don’t mind throwing a brick
White people go to school
Where they teach you how to be thick.’

I went to a grammar school. Even there – especially there – they taught us to be thick, to play the liberal game of ‘openness’ and ‘tolerance’ whilst being unable and unwilling to challenge the structures that propped up our lives while building the bonfires and barricades. Even when I was fifteen, all that wanting ‘a riot of my own’ stuff felt more than a little awkward. It felt apologetic. It felt shot through with flakes of what is now termed cultural appropriation. And it felt real. It felt like the Kev part of Joe Strummer was being given expression as Simonon (just how cool was Paul Simonon?) and Jones (just how uncool was Jones?) and the drummer bloke were punching holes in the seventies in ways I could only dream of doing.

‘All the power’s in the hands
Of people rich enough to buy it
While we walk the street
Too chicken to even try it.’

How true. It’s still true. It always was true. And I loved Strummer for confronting me with that truth. Music unites us, White Riot says, not only in the political realm, but in the personal:

‘Only the very safe can talk about wrong or right
Of those who are forced to choose, some will choose to fight’.

Those words came to me as I was listening to White Riot again this morning and having my comfortable middle-agedness shaken yet again. A decade after The Clash, Christy Moore had chosen to align himself with the Republican struggles in the North of Ireland, with those fighting apartheid in South Africa, walking all the while the inside/outside tightrope. The Clash had chosen to align themselves, to align the alienation and oppression felt by the white working class, with the black struggle against racism in the UK in an age when brutal policing and the poison of discrimination and bigotry were forcing (black) people to choose. This was identity politics, but an identity politics that celebrated the shared, not the unshared, not the slight and unique. I listened to them both, took them both into my world and was offered a glimpse of something different, of an existence that could be remade by flawed and confused people, a world where all our riots are everyone else’s riots. Somewhere in my mind right now I can hear No Woman No Cry. And I have choices to make still.

Have a listen to these and ask yourself if we did anything with the awarenesses their torches lit for us, what we could still choose to do to help finish the revolution…

Lou Reed: Born 75 Years Ago Today

Lewis Allan “Lou” Reed was born 2nd March 1942 in Brooklyn

I forgot I was meant to be writing this. And then Steve reminded me. And now I’m on a plane to LA with only 10% charge left on my phone, trying to finish this before we land and trying to work out what to say. I’m thinking I should, ideally, be on a plane to New York: Lou Reed doesn’t strike me as someone who could have come from anywhere but New York. Or—possibly—London.

The thing is, I’m not really a Lou Reed man. I could never bring myself to love him, to be a fan, to be eager about what he was going to do next, though I always thought I probably should have done. I admired him, yes, respected him, trod quietly and obediently in his presence. I stroke my beard knowingly still when someone mentions him, his influence, his genius. I’ll defend to the death his desire to piss everyone—everyone—off with Metal Machine Music. And I recognise he was one of those rare few who—if you removed them from music’s story, from our culture’s story—would make it collapse in on itself. Without Lou: no Bowie? No Iggy? No Pistols? No Roxy? No Joy Division? No Jesus and Mary Chain? No… whoever. Yep. I get it. I know all that. But I never loved him. I blame him for that. And now I’m stuck somewhere over the mid-West with that bloody doo-do-doo thing from Walk On The Wild Side going through my head and no idea what to write. And I definitely blame him for that.

There were times, I’ll be honest, when Lou Reed lit up my life. Like many of my generation, my introduction to him was through Walk On The Wild Side‘s louche, strutting, BBC-baiting, decadent, other-worldly, jokey, self-referentially holy sleaze. They often used to play it at discos, bizarrely, and that always made me happy. I remember once borrowing Transformer from a mate (who also (obviously) loved the Doobie Brothers) and really enjoying its snarky gloss and verve, its not-quite-smoothed edges, its … Bowieness. And—when I was about 18—I found myself one night in a scary, smoke-filled Hells Angels bar in Amsterdam. We were drunk. White Light, White Heat came on. I’d never heard it before. It was fantastic and transporting: absolutely raw, visceral, urgent male energy. I got the same feeling when I heard the first Clash album, an album made …. years later. The same feeling when we beat Arsenal and Chelsea in the same week. The same feeling when …

I think the reason Lou Reed would punch his way into my life and then slip out again over the thirty years or so we didn’t really know each other was because he couldn’t care less if I loved him or not, or if you did, or if bloody music journalists did, or if Warhol did, or if Cale did, or if Bowie did. Lou Reed did what he wanted to do. That’s it. He once said, apparently, that he was proud of being Jewish but that “my God is rock ‘n’ roll.” I suspect that’s not true. I’m not sure he was ever ‘rock ‘n’ roll’. He was too clever, too much of an inside/outside observer, too much of a contrary poet, too dismissive of those who influenced him and too indifferent to those he influenced. His God was Lou Reed. And, possibly, God.

I’m down to 5% charge now, so I’m going to stop soon. That night in Amsterdam, one of the Hells Angels asked us to take some ‘schtuff’ back in our suitcases with us. I was briefly tempted. But I was one step away from Lou Reed’s own one step away from people like the Angels, from the murderous harshness of the street, so I said no. He’d have had contempt for my hesitancy but I suspect he wouldn’t have done it either. And maybe that’s why I could never love him? I don’t know.

They’ve turned the lights off in here now. It’s cold. It’s quiet. I keep thinking I can hear Vicious playing quietly somewhere at the front of the plane. I’m glad Lou Reed was born on March 2nd, and, despite everything I’ve said, despite even that bloody thing he did with Metallica, I’m sad he’s not still with us. Our stories would have been sadder, thinner and so, so much less rich without him. And that’s not true of many people.