The web page of the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford, now closed (as usual) for business: muses and misspills on books, jazz, poetry, stuff like false flags and smoke screen: was randomly decrepit and proven to be more than neo-bankrupt: it was so analogue it was anal and now deceased.
I wonder what gives old guys like this, haphazard and without shirt and tie, an authenticity to their rebellion, because don’t we laugh normally at older people who flash their trendiness and tattoos when we know they drive BMWs and live in mansions? I mean McCartney and Jagger are just a bit naff to me these days; milksop young rockers, for whom immaturity at least is on their side, only make me smile bemusedly.
I am still amazed to recall my first Red Hot Chili Pepper concert, a rite of passage even in my adult life as I’d never been to a rock concert before, incredibly. I went under duress, not my kind of thing at all, my role was in fact as babysitter (well as young teen sitter). I had to get there early and sit through cacophony beforehand, well two youthful ne’r-do-well bands, full of acne, crisps and Tizer, a modicum of vigour and some chart credibility. To watch them strut their stuff, pull their t-shirts over their faces, was just a hoot and I couldn’t control my disrespect. In spite of their youth and zest they just didn’t cut the mustard. They had attitude but, like their youth, callow and strangely hollow, for the dole queue and teen spirit ain’t quite what it used to be: clearly they had downloaded all the music they’d ever needed at the drop of a hat using their parents’ credit card, they didn’t have to save up their pocket money like I used to and scrabble or hunt out the album of their choice, humph, humph. So the stage was cleared eventually of the youthful mishaps and all other debris, the sunlight faded, and, after much hullabaloo and anticipation, the Red Hot Chili Peppers came at last to the stage. The crowd was baying, whipped up to an hysterical frenzy by the previous crowd teasing and mock drama – set hands coming on to the stage with towels over their heads pretending to be rock stars, lights dimmed only to be full lit again, that sort of thing; it was Nuremberg style hype, Albert Speer or Eisenstein would have been proud of its faux grandiosity and floodlit chutzpah.
What followed was, of course, the real time musical spectacle of my life. For the best part of two hours I witnessed four crocks pogo relentlessly and waltz frenetically around the stage – crocks who had been crashed like dropped crockery at various stages of their lives, lost two band members to rock life excess, according to written legend had mostly false teeth implants as medal scars for various addictions, and were undoubtedly now held together generally by Sellotape, organic yoghurt and strict yoga regimes. Occasionally they would crash in to each other, occasional they would teeter perilously close to disaster at the edge of the rather contained stage. But they swayed and danced all evening, started on a high and then choreographed its ebb and flow – the incongruous highlight a slow and repetitive song with all band members stapled still to the stage – and left the crowd exultant and thrilled at the end of it. The lengthy scrum to retrieve and then set in motion transport home was a natural warm down for the crowd, me amongst it, each one of us by now dangerously high and addicted spectators.
For sure these Chili guys are easy to love as Frusciante’s guitar work is out of this world, raw and vulnerable always; as with Miles Davis there is a desperation and frailty to his technique, and his lines, toppling on the edge of disaster at all times, as fragile as a high wire walker, just one topple from calamity; if calamity entails, that’s turned in to an unexpected party trick and recovery. His constant musical ducking and diving, at times splicing the established recorded riff that forms the basis of each of their songs in to a million pieces, tantalises listeners with his off the cuff, even ribaldic, elan. (Frusciante’s retirement since has catapulted the band in to surprising lows and dismay.) All else in this group is tickety-boo also. The chap who goes under the name of Flea just the most energetic and musically adroit and flamboyant of all rock bassists, his lines bombastic, taught or cascading as though he were Mingus plugged in to the National Grid, yet at times deftly melodic and so back seat as to be reminiscent of McCartney at his most innovative; Chad Smith, the drummer, perhaps lacking in finesse, but reliably responsive and, at times, cajoling; not sure what to say of Kiedis, at times a bit lazy but usually effervescent, sometimes riddled with menace and intent, though he flashed on and off like a Belisha beacon. The highlights of the evening were always the improvised snatches as either interlude or song introduction, a chance for the band to catch their breath and to display their collective and intuitive brilliance. (One of the funniest moments of recent televised rock must be their angular, throwaway introduction to their brief set at 2007’s Live Earth, leaving the popcorn expectant, Wembley crowd by and large bemused and silent.)
But why is it that these four middle age (and now well healed) guys were so successful at focusing my attention and my respect for the rock chic ethos of James Dean and rebellion – denim jeans with tears at the knee, late nights and wacky baccy – and the two previous younger bands not? Well I guess my money was invested in the Peppers. I mean crazy ticket prices only to be deafened (and to be deafened so unevenly that at times you lost the voice mic completely and had to be content to watch Kiedis play hop scotch rather than relay any audible lyric); if it were the London Sinfonietta you’d be asking for a refund. It is surely to do with respect that we hold for the rebellious and their act of rebellion, as though rebellion has to rise through the ranks. The earlier bands on the bill that evening were mere privates, recently enlisted; the Chili Peppers had served as sergeants, colonels, served in skirmishes, lost fellow men in the battlefield, were now fully fledged field marshals. Also an acknowledgement that for rebellion to resonate with each of us and to be seen as real, there has to be a patina of lived-in experience in the rebellious (and rock stars are only a reflection on that aspect within each of us), there might have to be tragedy even: we gotta know that the needle marks up their arms are for real.
And with that in mind, I doubt if the lardy, pig loving, truffle snuffling wanker that is David Cameron or Jeremy Corbyn, even if he lacks a dinner jacket and tie, have got any needle marks, political or otherwise, and I don’t know why anybody would vote for either of them, though the latter at least represents (still, or he did once?) fresh air and a hint of belief in insurrection. Neither of them could charge the steps of the Winter Palace and incite rebellion though, and that is really what we want, even if potentially, in political leadership, isn’t it?
I’m a bit dim, and I’ve not long heard that there is a referendum in a few weeks, sommat about Europe innit? Well that’s a problem that will never go away, even if we try to sweep it under the carpet with a vote. (We did that once before in 1975, didn’t we?) Henry VIII voted for Anglicanism and six wives once, and we’ve been catastrophically schizophrenic since then. June 23rd is the historical continuation of the same argument, except that for Catholicism in the sixteenth century read the Common Market (or the EEC or whatever it’s called now) in the twentieth. And no need to worry: there will always be a Henry VIII to rejoice in Englishness and there will always be a Bloody Mary to lead us back to Europe (or Catholicism), regulation (rosary beads and Papal edict) and Euro-henpecking (cor! all them nuns to be defrocked). I’m disenfranchised (you should try to get a vote if you live on a boat on squatted water), so I don’t give a stuff. And I don’t care that much for democracy in any case, and I can only laugh at the result of democratic choice. It is so clear that Cameron represents nobody at all, not even those who voted for him. But I’d vote for John Frusciante any day.