A LIBERTINE ON THE ESSEX ROAD … 6 of 6
or, The Way We Were
or, Freedom Is A Full-Time Job
or, Catching Snatches Of Chaos
It’s easy to see reasons for Peter not wanting people like me around. He’d reinvented himself and, after all, i could remember when he was an upstart, was only trying, was not getting the Buzzcocks, was practising his louche swagger.
People can be well lazy, in that they don’t much update their judgement, idea, of you. Or they can’t be bothered to try.
So they treat you as if you are the still the same as when they first met you, saw you, even though you’ve changed. Maybe changed a whole heap.
They keep you in a tight box: they don’t, won’t, can’t, let you grow. And its bloody annoying to be a prisoner of other people’s small-mindedness: its one of the reasons people become an artist in the first place.
And so, i’ve found, one of the great things about moving around is, moving on is, you make this escape. For if they’ve never seen you before, they can only judge you by what’s in front of them right now. Which lets you, the artist, the person, shed skins, leave baggage, cut strings.
This worked for me doing shows out of London, first Bristol, then the Edinburgh Fringe. Then moving to Edinburgh. Then Canada.
Skins shed. Burdens lifted. Liberations
Well Peter, he didn’t so much move on elsewhere as MOVE UP, way up, in front of people who only ever saw the Star.
And he was a star, a great star.
So why bother with people who are caught up in the old, shed, unwanted you? Liberate yourself. Be free of your past. And if that involves dropping people, well so be it. The world’s full of more people, great people. Everywhere.
Fifteen or so years back, i saw some documentary on Peter, made by an uber-fan, Max Carlish, a wallyish social inadequate before the court of cool. It must have broken many of the rules of documentary making: no objectivity, much too close to subject, too much about the film-maker. Yet, despite its many faults, and your worries about the mental well-being of the documentarian, it did its job well, told its story: of fandom, and just how this rockstar actually was in his stardom.
I watched it with interest, wondering how disastered Peter might or might not be,. I came away thinking, “for all the notoriety, he ain’t doing so bad”.
I remember saying to friends, “It’s just Peter, being Peter. He’s OK”.
When you leave, you leave.
I spend my whole life leaving.
The continual process of hi and goodbye.
I’ve done more Fringe Festivals than anyone else of earth, except perhaps my mate Alex Dallas, actor/ comedienne from Pinner, now in Toronto.
And i’ve done seventeen summer tours across the Canadian Fringe Circuit, Montreal to Vancouver. And that’s seventeen jaunts across the glorious Prairies, which have the best fests of them all, Winnipeg and Edmonton.
But then, friends have always told me, “Jem, you really are the best at creating superlatives about yourself.”.
Thanks, i say, too modest to agree.
And when i say “seventeen tours”, people respond, “how are you still alive?”
And every September for years you could find me joking, “I’m only 28, it’s been a long summer”. Which is not quite so plausible any more, I’m 57. So it’s now “I’m only 33, it’s been a long summer”.
Yet each of these summer tours has been a monster. An epic in itself. Like running a poetry club in London was. Like Edinburgh was.
While every summer itself is a new gang, a temporary tribe… some same faces, some new faces … is a continual process of saying hi then, all too soon, bye to Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, the Peg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Victoria, Vancouver, etc, etc.
And where, come every September, in Vancouver, the gang the tribe the family breaks up and, often, you never see some people ever again.
Where you’ve gone through ups and downs together, rollercoasters and doldrums together. Have had surging performance ecstasies, while they’ve been crushed by emptiness and unsuccess: have had miserable flatlining anticlimaxes while they’ve bounced high to sellouts,
Have had the SOSO and the so-sos: the Sell-Out Standing-Ovation and the shit-on-shit-on-shit.
Always and every year.
Most people do this a bit. Move on. Leave. Yet i’ve done it more than most. Hi and Goodbye. Departure and Arrival. Emotional bond made and emotional bond broken. Faces fading in time, laughs fading in time: joys and glooms, successes and fuckups, all fading in time.
So much passing joy, transient fun, so much loss. So many faces to come. So many faces never to be seen again.
Cos me, i didn’t get out and up. But i did get out.
Of the British dark. And into the light of an annual May-June dawn with the mighty Canadian Summer ahead.
The first rule of the Canadian Fringe Tour? THE ARTIST KEEPS ONE HUNDRED PER CENT OF THE DOOR. Seriously. It’s the early ’80s idea of a guy from Edmonton called Brian Paisley.
And the idea of having consecutive festivals westward over the vast country? Also Brian.
There’s no historical necessity that the unique Canadian tour ever happened. It’s one guy making classy choices way back when: Brian Paisley. HooFuckingRay for Brian. You won’t be surprised to learn he’s a pretty popular guy.
No-one i can think of had ever got famous by the very act of dismantling themselves. Until Peter did.
Many have legendarily dismantled themselves after becoming famous, like the Twenty-Seven Club. And some are chiefly remembered for it.
Yet no-one ever got famous through it. Until Peter. Who got very famous by dismantling himself.
I once read a good book on Boy George, which told how he was an addict from the first fame. Yet he managed to conceal it from the world.
Peter, with jail, addiction and other notorieties, was in no condition to conceal it. While, of course, it was accelerating a national fame and firmly placing him in a zillion teenage hearts.
Maybe me and Peter shared a self-destructiveness. There is certainly a self-destruct in much rebellion. Though we went about it in very different ways.
Me through the choice of poverty, never getting a job, allergy to institutions, a fierce oppositionality to all set ways, a refusal to publish, an embracing of the medium that barely existed.
While Peter rebelled through rejecting the job world and avoiding institutions, through doing it his own way. And through white powders.
So if this thing you’re reading is comparing our lives, it certainly can’t compare success. That would be ludicrous. For i’ve never been sure my career hasn’t been toytown, hasn’t been practising for a success that never happened.
But whatever, i’ve made a living out of poetry for twenty years, and reinvented myself a few times.
And now seem to have accidentally got respectable with age and, even more accidentally, transmogrified into a historical storyteller performing true in-depth hour-long stories about Jewish Nuclear Physicists no-one has ever heard of. In which rich seam of rare metal, there would seem to be a living. Honest.
Not that i’ve ever done this for the cash: i’ve done it for the crack.
What happened, folks, is that i thought, Hmm, i’m making too much money off poetry. I know, i’ll do shows about Jewish Nuclear Physicists no-one else has heard of. That should fulfil the longstanding vow of poetry poverty.
But you know what? Even that has bloody failed. Unbroke@Stillnotskint.
So this might seem ironic, seeing his career, but Peter is the chief performer from back then who got out alive, kept performing.
He’s also one of those i’ve not seen again, yet have spent the most time thinking about. Creatively.
Him and Dave aka Mr Social Control, who i’ve spent even more time thinking about.
I always told a great story of Mr Social Control’s career at the Cambridge Footlights. Which lasted 90 seconds. Long enough for him to explain to the audience that, come the revolution, the working-class are going to have the ugly task of exterminating them, the rich, so wouldn’t it be better if they saved the working class the trouble by, perhaps, simply doing the job themselves for them, right now?
And long enough for them to turn the lights down.
I told this tale for a couple of years before Dave/ Control sat me down and carefully explained to me that he never told me this story, and it had no relationship with the truth.
I’m not sure i’ve ever spent enough time looking back. Have certainly not congratulated myself enough on what i’ve done. And have never once used the word “achieved”. Except for the amazing time i started, continued, maintained, and then finished, a conversation. Which was such a colossal achievement i bought myself another coffee.
Mind you, i have whole epic summers of success i can’t really remember in the skull-thumping throat-savaging blizzard-blitz-bash of gig gig gig, people people people, beer beer beer, city city city, gig gig gig, people people people.
When i started writing this i had no real idea where it would go, what i might end up writing about. Yet it’s ended up quite sentimental. But i hope its’ nostalgia is not maudlin.
And i thought it’d be two or so thousand words long. Hahaha. Its twenty-two.
And initially i saw it as being for Doherty/ Libertine completists: so i’d simply post it on some Doherty/ Libertine forum. Which i have: French Dog Writtles, who have been nice about it.
Reading this back makes me think of NARZISS AND GOLDMUND by Hermann Hesse. With Peter as Narziss and me as Goldmund.
[Anyone ever read KNULP by Hesse? Have i turned into Knulp? I met an old friend from college and he said, “Jezzer, you’ve turned into Knulp”. Blimey. Have i?]
And then there’s LOST ILLUSIONS, my favourite Balzac. With Peter as Lucien du Rubempre, and me as Daniel d’Arthez.
But no. Those comparisons don’t work. I’m too Narziss, for a start.
It’s me as the divvy, him as the waster.
So many faces, so many summers, so many drifters off to see the world. So many faces last seen from the door, the rear window, the hill above, the bridge above, the deck of a BC ferry, from the corner turned on Granville Island.
So much lost, so much gained, so many fabulous people, so many curving cheeks and sparkling eyes and shaking heads. So many ideas so many laughs so much talent so much warmth so much gained and lost, so many surprises so much jolting so many news and unknowns so much lost and gained.
In my life, i’ve loved you at all.
I was fighting battles few others were fighting: and just about survived. Peter was fighting rock’n’roll battles lots of people were fighting: and won. For a while.
I’m so lucky i got out of London. I don’t know if i sound lucky to you, seeing there’s no huge success in any of it. Yet that’s how i feel. Lucky.
To have kept going. Kept creating.
To have got out of London. Have found Edinburgh. Have found Canada.
It’s a great privilege to be an artist and i have relished it.
Me, i realised long ago i could only hope to make a living in grass roots culture. So, as i had no intention of monetising, of publishing anything, or doing CDs, it had to be shows. But unlike rock’n’roll and comedy, poetry had an establishment. Getting in the way. Sucking the energy out.
So i slowly got away from all the art-freezing institutions into unfunded culture.
While Peter got out. He had bags of talent. He found the best record label in the world. And they wanted him.
Some people hang around the high tables waiting for crumbs. Some people get on and do shit.
Some people are content to knock politely on the door of poetry and wait for it to open so they can politely ask if they can come in. Some people will wait five years or more for it to open, or for an answer, or to be allowed in. Some of those people doing the knocking were my friends, were acts i truly rated, and it got them nowhere
Well me, i’d met some of those people on the other side of the door. The gatekeepers. And you know what? They were really unspecial people. With no discernible signs of interestingness, or talent, or energy.
And whatever they were, i wanted to be somewhere else.
And so i went somewhere else. And somewhere else again.
Peter didn’t have to go elsewhere. He got mighty strong at what he did. And he went up into the blinding lights.
There’s something honest about rock’n’roll: quality counts. And luck, of course.
Quality wasn’t so important in lots of performance poetry.
While lots of people wanted to build bridges between poetry and performance poetry. And maybe those people sycophantically thrived, for a while.
Me, i thought proper, published, booky poetry was a land of shit. And you can’t build a bridge to a land of shit. The foundations won’t hold.
For a while, me and a few, we created a small island of our own. A tiny novalia, a new land, which even sprouted some seedlings. Before the tides came back.
By which time i was in Scotland.
While Peter seemed to be, to represent, for teenagers, for many of a generation, a possibility of the real, the for-real, the unfake. In an age where everything was/ is about money. Where truth and morality and justice and democracy were and are being actively degraded. And rendered ever more buyable. And they loved him for it
Yet the young man, disastered, did he just become a ghastly reflection of the sterile “goodness” of conservatism? A one-man cautionary tale: this is what happens to people who set out to else from the norms. A telling negative, the dread addict, for those who want everyone to accept, and accept, and accept, to conform comply and self-normalise, and to continue to accept. To shrink themselves down to it, the rattleless fit.
At one stage, when life was cranked up and motoring, and i was a caffeinated beerbomb ricocheting around the granite walls of the all-night Old Town, i had a fantasy of rescuing Peter. He was in-and-out of jail, the biggest press story since Princess Di [?], and the tabloids were all over him. So i conceived a fantasy of getting him up to Scotland and cleaning him up, and looking after him.
I never did of course. I probably had four or five gigs two weeks straight and my ricocheting cerebellum went elsewhere.
Might’ve worked: Jenny Lindsay thought it was a great idea. Probably wouldn’t.
Back in September 2002, down on the Cowgate after the Belle Angele gig, one-ish in the morning, the band and then he, Peter, got on the tour bus, and i never saw him again. And somehow knew i wouldn’t.
Peter. Off to rock’n’roll. Music, guitars, noise, success, addiction, smack, crack, fame, cool, NME, heroes, Kate Moss, bustups, busts, jail, fallouts.
Heroin addiction. Breaking into his best mate’s place and ripping off his stuff. Blowing gig after gig. Being incapable of playing. Rehab rehab rehab.
All of it.
I hope it was fun. But the drugs must have made it so much less than it could have been, than Carl wanted it to be, than it should have been.
Peter is the only one of my milieu who got genuine fame. So the surprising thing is that he didn’t do it by compromising. He did exactly the wild thing he wanted to do. Even if at horrible cost to his health, his youth and his creativity.
If you were offered the chance to have it all again, Peter, would you do the same again, mate? You might, you crazy fucker, you might, mightn’t you?
Yet its not impossible that Peter would turn to me and go, “Jem, what the hell are you on about? Its been a disaster. The addiction is a year on year nightmare.”
He might, mightn’t he?
And me? I WANT PETER’S VICTORY TO HAVE BEEN A VICTORY. Not a defeat
While didn’t i say? We were both well into no sellout. Of course. As a principle of life, of art. Of course. Artistic integrity. Of course. Aesthetic purity. Of course.
Cos me, i’ve made a God of Art: and i make constant sacrifices to that god.
While Peter he made a God of Art and Cool: and how much did he sacrifice to those gods?
Because, while writing this, i’ve realised that Peter truly did not sellout. While for some people, of course, he’s the epitome of NO SELLOUT. But for me, i think the retro-boho poseuring back in the day has coloured my judgement until now, writing this. So it now seems more true than i’ve previously thought: he never sold out.
[Excuse me, while i was writing that i felt something crawling down me back and it was a GIANT bloody CENTIPEDE. Must check me shirts before i put them on]
Like i say, i think i was way too judgemental.
While Peter? He did it his own way. He threw off the skins. The lugbaggage. The shackles.
The great shame is, he got some shackles put back on.
The drugs don’t work. They get you in the end. Peter they got pretty quickly.
Yet, i’ll say this, to finish this long overdue love letter of mine. Peter, i miss you. It’s been a long time.
How and where are you? Paris, yes? Margate? Marlborough? I hope you’re good wherever you are. Get in touch if you like.
While writing this has been good for me. I like him more from writing this. Bit late maybe.
Maybe i should have loved him at the time.
Perhaps you should too, love your friends, now.
In my life, i love you more.
Get pissed. Destroy.
written Gokarna, Karnataka, India. Jan-May 2020.
Christine Ranzinger in Gokarna/ Munich
Carole Bellon in Stoke Newington
Mithun M in Gokarna/ Bangalore
Bram E Gieben in Dumbarton
Bruce Macrae on Salt Spring
Paddu Gouda and all at the Shiva Ganga, Gokarna.
Gang Of Four
The Wedding Present