It’s been a pleasant enough week. (Or at least it was until the money started running out, a subject we shall return to later, but maybe not this week. I don’t want to spoil the mood.) It started with a bit of a panic: I had a looming deadline in which I had unwisely involved myself by persuading the editor of an online music publication that I could write 1,000+ words on why Wire, a post-punk band who have been going for more than 40 years, were the new Beatles.
At some point one actually has to write the damn thing, but the only way I could recapture the state in which I had had the initial inspiration would render me unfit to spell, let alone write, anything. (Let us just say that I had the idea at the end of a long, long evening.) The only common ground I could think of at first is that they both had two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer, had some nice tunes and were from England.
But I’m a pro, and after two snivelling pleas to extend the deadline, I handed in the piece thinking: “Well, if they publish that in its original form I will be most surprised.” The editor said it was a nice “jigsaw piece”, though, which sounded faintly insulting but meant he couldn’t be bothered to ask me to rewrite it. Then I heard that the band – or its lead singer and songwriter – had read it and said that as far as he was concerned, my tentative speculations about the influence of the Beatles on Wire were “exactly as the article describes”.
Reader: this never happens. No musician, in the history of musical criticism (which begins with Plato saying, in The Laws, that it was a pity Orpheus didn’t stay in Hades because that was the best place for his derivative rubbish) has ever read an article on their work and said: “You know what? This writer’s bang on the money.” Until now.
This was a considerable fillip to the system and it was made all the better as my friend J––, he of the fedora and the black nail varnish, had a spare ticket to see the band in Brighton a few days later. It was the first gig I’d been to for years, since I dropped into the Prince Albert in Brighton after hearing an appealing racket coming from the first floor and found a Very Angry Woman screaming, in front of three cowed male musicians, about how terrible men were both in general and in particular. I was the oldest person there by a matter of decades, and, for reasons too complex to explain, I am pretty confident I was the only person there carrying a teapot. The band had the c-word in their name so weren’t that interested in chart success, but they were pretty good, and I chatted to the lead singer after the set and she was – for some reason this came as no surprise – charming. We even corresponded for a while afterwards.
At the Wire gig, though, I was by no means the oldest person there and for a while I was dazzled by the glare of spotlights off the shaven heads of the many middle-aged men in the audience who had taken an aggressive approach to male pattern baldness. Afterwards I blushingly introduced myself to the bassist, simpering like a teenybopper in front of Paul McCartney. So that’s another thing they have in common with the Beatles.
That was one kind of highlight but the others were visits from the two eldest children. The youngest is studying here so I see him for a pint fairly regularly. The daughter is off to Paris for the foreseeable future (I suppose this means while Britons are still allowed to live and work in the EU) and so we had much to chat about, staying up until 4.30 in the morning. The boy turned up a few days later but he does not have her stamina and only made it until 2.30. He even left a glass of wine only half-finished, I discovered the next day.
I took him to a local café because I didn’t feel like cooking, or washing up from dinner either, and I had just enough money in the account to buy us breakfast. (There was a sign advertising “eggs Benedict £8”, which I thought seemed OK. It was not. This is Brighton, so a classic dish was ruined by not only a woefully substandard hollandaise, but between the ham and the bread was an inch-thick layer of something called “beetroot hummus”, which, I realised soon afterwards by glancing at the food prep area, went into everything – even, if you asked, your coffee. The moral of the story is this: look at the menu carefully before ordering.)
I toyed with my coffee and chatted with the eldest son. I told him about the whole business with the article and the gig and wondered aloud what on Earth my editor had meant by “jigsaw piece”. He replied: “It’s because the readers have to put it together themselves.” I pecked at my inedible eggs Benedict and thought about this. “Yes,” I said after a while. “I suppose that’s exactly what he meant.”
This article appears in the 12 Feb 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Power without purpose