Sunday, 6 November 2011

Bad Vibes

Bad Vibes - Luke Haines

In which Luke Haines turns his life into Auteurian legend with himself cast as a misantrophic Merlin calling down destruction on the party. The acid tongued songwriter was always at the literate end of the music industry (not that that says much) and he carries off this bookwriting thing with some aplomb.

It helps, of course, that I share my year of birth with Mr Haines and so the cultural references are very familiar and the objects of his withering fury are ones I would largely share. (Also he praises Johnathan Richman, Go-Betweens, Momus and Vic Godard among others so is clearly therefore a man of exquisite taste.)

The book is written from the viewpoint of the young man in the centre of the storm, Haines being as prepared to lampoon his younger self as well as his peers. Not that he sees most of them as peers, although he starts each chapter with chart positions and obituaries, aghast that he isn't at the centre of it all. Pulp may celebrate a top fifty but Luke isn't going to celebrate 'failure'. He should be number one. (What would he think of celebrating the one person who came up to me one to tell you they like ONE of your songs.)

Starting with his relatively obscure pre-Auteurs band, the rather Go Betweeny The Servants, Haines leads us through the early days of The Auteurs when they were part of a burgeoning British guitar band revival (in the eyes of some journalists anyway: with Suede, amoung others)
 "'Malcolm Dunbar played me your demo. I manage a band called Suede. We'd really like you to support us on some dates in July ... Oh, and Steve Lamacq has given you a rave review in the NME.'
Fucking A. I call up Glenn.
'We're supporting Suede in July.'
'Fuck, I love Slade.'
'No, you cunt. Suede.'"

Once established on the ladder to fame cum music industry treadmill Haines' more contrarian streak comes to the fore. He revels in his success, and considers all who are not with him to be against him. This is not one of those books where the author treats all his peers with understanding. When he spends a lot of money on recording the follow up to Auteurs debut New Wave he comments - "Hut had to drop one of their bands to pay for it. They know we're worth it. I don't feel bad. The fewer groups out there making records the better."
Later when he feels the label  boss is on his side he offers him some advice "Now I suggest we get on with the serious business of dropping everyone on the label apart from me and signing Vic Goddard (sic)."

There is a lot of acid humour surrounding the whole business of music. One of the funniest episodes surrounds the appearance of The Auteurs on the pilot episode of TFI Friday. The host, Chris Evans was already an important gatekeeper in his role as a dj.  "Evans and his pet monkey are the types who think that TV and radio are, you know, like, really, really important, and talk about making 'great TV' and 'great radio' as if they are actually making great TV and great radio."

Haines is torn between doing what it takes to try and get the success he craves and tearing down the whole edifice. "The TFI pilot has been put to bed, and now we can relax on the bar aboard the ship of fools. It's been a relentlessly nasty little day. The kind of day where you would willingly lose a few limbs or indeed your own life, if only the IRA would bomb this TV studio in Hammersmith." Haines finishes the day mouthing expletives at Evans, therefore hobbling his chances of the sales bonanza of  an appearance on the soon to be successsful series.

The British guitar band revival went on to become the execrable Britpop and Evans its principal cheerleader. Haines does all he can to move away from it, with his side project Baader Meinhof embracing his liking for terrorist chic. "There's no way round it, the iconography and language of the urban guerilla is far superior to the iconography and language of rock. Patti Smith knew this..." (Patti Smith used Patti Hearst, kidnapped heiress turned terrorist, as a touchstone in her version of Hey Joe).

But amidst the smart comments and barbed asides it is possible to get a sense of a man who was at the very edge, a man who "first started hearing voices on the last American tour." Uncomfortable with success and the cheery bonhomie of careerist rockers Haines never ascended to the level of fame that could have surely been his had he played the game. In fact a very rapid descent from a wall leaves him with two broken ankles and lucky to walk again. This book ends with the genesis of the truly magnificent Black Box Recorder.

I look forward to reading more about them in the follow up - Post Everything.

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