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A Song That Describes Me

May 20, 2014

The adjective, to be ‘rock and roll’, when applied to a person, has become shorthand for being beautifully reckless, acting impulsively without thought of consequence. Most times, if you dig under the surface, it’s nothing but a stance. And I kind of avoid the people for whom it isn’t.

A few years ago, I saw Crystal Castles at Latitude. I didn’t know them before they came on. I haven’t listened to them since. Their music was OK, not terrible, not brilliant. The singer came on slugging at a bottle of Jim Beam, and put in a completely haywire performance, diving into the audience and scrapping with the crowd, who loved it. She was wearing a beautifully-disheveled Smith’s t-shirt. Everything about her said rock and roll, but beside that initial slug of bourbon, she never touched it again. And though she went for long walks into the crowd, she never missed a cue. It was a performance, simulating the wilder aspects of rock and roll, but underneath it all she was very professional.

At first, it really got my goat. But once I’d worked out what was going on, I was fine with it. It was most entertaining. It was not unlike James Brown’s cape act. And, like James Brown, it was all business. That’s one of the things you learn if you watch American bands, they are always incredibly professional. They know exactly what they are doing and how it will affect the audience and they have practiced their set until it is slick. I once read when The Cult were on the same bill as Guns and Roses, there was a delay before the gig was due to start. Slash went to practice. Billy Duffy went to the bar.

Er, what’s point? That the pose is fine so long as you know that if you extend that sort of hedonism into real life, you’ll come a cropper. It’s no way to live a life. And the bands that appeal to me most are the ones who have managed to find a balance between the performance and real life, without compromising either.

Jonathan Richmond and the Modern Lovers always strike me as having thought through these dilemmas. I love that line in I’m Straight, “… if he’s so great, why can’t he take this place, and take it straight.” And I particularly like the one we had played at my wedding, and which sums up my attitude as much as any other song I can think of, Dignified and Old:

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