[Editors note - June 2013
A warning - this, to my eyes now, is bad writing. At times terrible writing. Not just the obvious fact that too many sentences start with the word 'And'. The thrust of it, the lack of tightness, the voice, the rambling, the nastiness, the repetition, the self-pity. It's all pretty horrible I think, or at least emerges from a not-very-nice person. I probably wasn't a very nice person when I wrote it, certainly wasn't happy. The supposed 'metal' columns I did for CTCL (which rapidly just became longwinded belly-aching on my part) were from a time when I was just getting used to how I'd never make a living out of this malarkey, and consequently I used them to write in a way I never had before, no wordcount, dim awareness of deadline, entirely freewheeling. In a big way I was 'practicing' the kind of writing that in a more substantive manner took over when writing 'Eastern Spring' so it all had a reason but mygod this is painful now. Man, I hated the noughties.]
I don’t know if you could call this writing or expectorating. I’m going to try and explain an extra crawl in my skin that seems to be tightening as time goes by. I’m sure most of you aren’t teenagers. So I’m sure most of you know that you never lose being a teenager. It comes back. It circles round, lets you get comfortable then comes crashing back through the door at the precise moment when you think you’ve got things sorted.
Fate conspires to reintroduce those red mists, that absolute conviction, that two-tone vision and dangerous intolerance that always seems to fill the void when the house of cards comes down, when shit luck pulls the rug from under your grown up ass.
It’s funny what you think about on stage, in-between songs. All the above occurs in about a millisecond of confusion as I push my glasses up my nose with a mic. It’s a degree of that red mist that I want to share with you, though. I’ve got to get things off my mind. Don’t know if this qualifies as a column, or an exorcism, or an arse-wipe. Whichever, I’m putting you through it because you’re the only ones who let me talk this way. Very little to do with metal I might as well warn you. Could patronisingly put in a quote from a metal band to legitimise my suppurating keyboard but all they’ve every told me is, “It’s the music that matters”. And that’s precisely the lie I need to skewer and barbecue and feed to my pigs.
We all know that music is a lie you’re asked to believe in, and that great music sells you the lie of transparent (i.e colourless) communication best of all. I suck on the lie’s dry bones this month when I’m in the pissing rain outside a pub, singing and playing guitar, my band behind me and a table full of townies laughing at me while I tell my truth. Laughing. Not like you’d laugh at an equal. The way you’d laugh at a medical curiosity, a pile up, a pool of sick that suddenly decided it was Mario Lanza, the way you’d laugh in school assembley when they announced that some sixth-form butane freak had topped himself over the weeked. That kind of laughter you can’t stop cos it’s your only response to horror, repulsion and fear. It’s the laughter that’s followed me all my life.
Yeah, boofuckin’ hoo. As the gorgeous Cov rain starts burning more apertures in my clothes and seeping through the already burned out soap-bar bomb-holes I recall that paranoia was and is a lifestyle choice you have to be committed to. You’ve got to be in it from the off and believe in no other worldview until you die. Even falling in love shouldn’t shake your conviction that everyone hates you. Not an active dislike, just a general lukewarm revulsion for your foul carcass. Compliments are the slime left by social slugs intent on eventually sucking you under. Don’t take them. Spit salt on their backs when they’re not looking. Tonight, I’m being glad handed by smirking skinheads in the audience and I can’t figure out if they want to fuck or kill me. And paranoi says that, when in doubt, retreat behind your own borders, go back to what you know, the totems that earmark your islation. And that’s when you realise how effectively estranged you’ve become from the gawd-bless-‘em human race because YOUR race will always matter to you. Your race will always matter in every relationship you’ll ever have, will always give people either a taste for being seen to help the underdog OR a handy extra weapon against you. Any ‘pride’ I might feel in who I am is effectively neutered by just how damn useful it is to both me and others in the games we play. White friends. What can you do with them? How will you ever know them? And when you realise that even white people can’t figure out their friends you realise just how fucked you are.
But it’s been my life for so long, this inward cramp. I don’t know what comfort feels like, suspect I never felt it since I sat in my school library (my home away from home) on the last day of school and closed my eyes and opened them again with a vision of the whole school in flames and a raging stiffy in my pants only to be cold-showered with the dick-shrinking reality of life going on without me, people getting their friends to write on their shirts and me going home unblemished and SURE. It’s the discomfort of being out’n’about and finger-buffeted by the mass ego that I associate with sociability, it’s the terror of being on a stage that I associate with being heard, the mild dislike that accompanies you in your closed-in walk turning in major hatred whenever you open up. Forever caught in that moment when you’re so shocked at people taking the piss out of you that you can’t come up with a snappy response, you just bite your lip and wait for the earth to swallow you whole.
I never wanted to be a lead singer. Our singer did a runner cos of alcoholism and impending marriage and I was crowbarred in. Said yes before I thought about it. And now, I’m trying to be a frontman with the physical grace of a Weeble, the look of livestock (my girlfriend thinks I look ‘docile’ on stage) and the tits of your granddad. And sin that don’t sit right with people, that makes people suspect my motives. S’tricky. Especially when you start thinking about how you must look. Like an interloper, or one of those pakis only into indie music so they can shag indie kids.
It’s been a problem for me since the off. I was the only Asian person in 30 floors of magazine house. You get a dual complex. You think you’re selling out your people (and ethnic group you quickly realise are a just as riven with race-hate as every other) by working for such a transparently unthreatening monolith of mainstream opinion (and every time you took the piss you’d get death threats in the postbag). And you wonder why you’re there. I liked thinking of myself as a token. It was a comfortable place to be. Being on stage is more like being a target for the hilarity of others simply because people STILL aren’t used to a paki with a guitar. Simply put, I don’t belong up here, the front row is laughing at me and I want to go home. I want to FIND home.
It goes further. As I start chopping the set list down in-between verses to just GET THIS TRAGEDY OVER WITH I recall that the obits for Nina last month showed nothing’s changed. Black musicians are still talked about in terms of “reality, “soul”, “honesty”, “spirituality”. All great things to bring to music but things that critics can handily STOP talking about, can just leave hanging in the air waiting for our nods of imagined empathy. The backhanded compliment of saying that Simone’s talent was “natural” is another way of saying that black musicians simply don’t (have to) THINK about their music as much as those furrow-browed honkie motherfuckers.
And even though in Billie Holliday, Curtis, Hathaway, Coleman, Simone, Prince, Timba you actually find the most driven day’n’night pop theorists, the most obsessive musical intellects engaged quite properly in the never-ending OVERTHINK about music that characterises all true soulful performers, it’d still seem that we haven’t progressed from from Mod’s mythic cornball view of black pop. That it’s simply magic that happens when the oppressed pick up instruments. And is not just as tortuous an intellectual/existential riddle as it is when someone from art-school gives it a go. And if that sort of #### goes down on black people (who most people like and fair few think are “cool”) what the hell can an Asian (the laughing stock of the Western World and whipping boy of all races) expect?
When that sort of hypocrisy, that denial of complexity and therefore HUMANITY, still infects so much thought about pop you start wondering about how you’re gonna get on with a wider world EVEN MORE intolerant than pop is about difference, outsiders, anyone sure enough to suggest that white aint might or right.
Such a hateful nation. Such a terrified continent. The acceptability of racism hasn’t been so total in my lifetime. Every newsstand makes you feel like a happy German in the mid-Thirties; buying your fags from the Co-Op with a bag of bent coppers, the sheer hatred in your peripherals, the pamphlets of spite lined up with Win-A-Millino neatly mast-headed over today’s bulletin of bigotry: you try and ignore it, like well meaning pre-WW2 German liberals must’ve ignored the hook-nosed caricatures and cartoons while flicking through to the sports section.
Growing up, you’ve realised that everyone is culpable: blacks hate pakis even more than whites hate pakis even more than pakis hate blacks even more than everyone hates asylum seekers and you realise that these crass generalisations are your own little bit of the prejudiced bloodstream, the way that you’ve been whispered to all your life by friends, family, received opinion and your own nasty little suspicious urges. And they all race through your head now you’ve decided to stick your head above the parapet and be visible. And people are laughing at you even faster and harder than your mind can come up with reasons why. And they’re like the kids who spit at you from passing bikes and call you paki bas6tard, and you quietly die behind your “seen it all before” smile. And maybe I should just think spit back, hit hard, be good, deny them the window of opportunity before they start throwing bricks through it. So this I do. Because my band rules. And on stage I can be god. But I’m holding off the inevitable.
This country is turning nastier than ever. It’s so damn scared of people, so damn scared of change, so damn venomous about protecting itself against the world. The Great British Public are intent on turning my every stroll into a walk of shame, just as every adjustment to their fixed notions is an “assault on our values” and everybody who dares to understand one person at a time is do-gooder. Call it paranoia. It’s a way of life. I want to hear what the Iraqis and Afghanis who’re coming to Coventry have to say. I want them to form bands. My city I’ve loved all my life wants to kick them out. And my conclusion is the last thought I have because nothing emerges from it, it is the lights going out and the switch being lost. SOMETIMES SUICIDES SOUND LIKE THE ONLY SUCCESS STORIES WE HAVE. Alone in a room. Or on a double-decker in Tel Aviv. Those are the options my race gives me.
We’ve finished the last song. Applause, vague embarrassment. Thanks for listening. Good night.