Sunday, February 21, 2016

Heroes For Ghosts

There was a period when I was a small kid where I watched the final scene from Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly every morning before school. The cemetery scene with Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood in a Mexican stand-off. I’d be sat there on the floor, in front of the fireplace with a bowl of cereal, still in my pajamas and I’d roll the tape from the moment Eli Wallach is thrown from his horse by the shot of Eastwood’s rifle and the rumbling piano at the beginning of Ennio Morricone’s score The Ecstasy of Gold starts up. The scene is about twenty minutes long and I’d watch it every single morning before heading to school. This lasted a good couple of months. I was about eight or nine I guess. And I idolised Clint Eastwood. Those Spaghetti Western’s are still three of my favourite films.

Alongside Eastwood, vying for the spot of idol numero uno to my young self was Kenny Dalglish. King Kenny. What a man. Not only the greatest player ever to pull on the red shirt of Liverpool, not only one of the greatest managers the club ever had, winning the league and cup double in his first season as player/manager, scoring the goal the sealed the league title himself no less, but a great human being. His actions in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster testament to that. He went to all ninety six of the funerals they say, the strain of it finally taking it’s toll on him, forcing him to step down as manager. How he hasn’t been knighted by that old boot at Buckingham Palace I’ll never know, although I’m sure the great man himself would acknowledge that there are millions of people doing real jobs that are far more deserving of recognition for services to humanity. Still, if Ferguson is a Sir then it’s a crime that Kenny isn’t.

The point is, these were my two childhood idols. I idolised them in a way that only a kid does. They weren’t your regular humans, they were superheroes, they were immortal. I haven’t really had any idols since Eastwood and Dalglish. Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye come close to it but they came along when I was closing in on adulthood and you don’t really idolise people in the same way then, it’s more about respect and appreciation by that point. And besides, when you start playing in bands and grafting yourself, and you start crossing paths with the odd “famous” person now and again, you soon realise everyone is the same. As Gordon Speedhorn put it so profoundly one time, “All these fucking stars are just cunts the same as us”.

This year has already seen the departure of a couple of giants from the world of the famous. Lemmy and David Bowie. Not to forget Terry Wogan. It’s easy to get all cynical and mock the outpouring of grief from people on social media, leaving messages of sadness to people they had never met, but I can relate to the fact that it’s not personal grief but rather a sadness that someone who stood for something they believed in, or made art that moved them, has left. I was never a huge Motörhead fan, I have the first five albums like any self respecting record collector would do, and if I’m being honest my favourite Bowie album is the Labyrinth soundtrack, but that’s more to do with nostalgia, but I still find it weird living in a world that Bowie and Lemmy no longer exist in. These people, like Keith Richards, like Kenny Dalglish and Clint Eastwood, you almost expect to live forever. Them fucking off to the great gig in the sky makes you aware of your own mortality I guess.

I saw Eastwood on tv at the Oscars a couple of years ago and I was shocked by how old he was looking. It made me feel a little sad. It was the same when I heard Lemmy on Marc Maron’s podcast a few weeks before he died and you could hear how weak he sounded. It didn’t sound like Lemmy anymore, it sounded like the voice of a broken old man who’s spent his life working in a factory. Or the voice of an old man who’s spent the majority of his life consuming booze and speed for that matter…The thing is, when you’re a kid, you just can’t imagine these people growing old and frail and then eventually dying. It doesn’t make sense, a world without Lemmy and Bowie. And not because I feel this great loss that they’re gone, but that I feel this great loss from my youth has gone.  And death is all the more real.  Change is innevitable.

I’ve been doing my best to ignore the thoughts of death for a few years now. Not that I spend my days consumed by a fear of the Reaper but it’s something that starts to pop into your mind now and again once you become a parent. All of a sudden you’ve gone from being a fearless twenty something to a thirty something with a daughter and it’s not just about you anymore. I asked my dad a while back, looking to him for parental support, about whether he ever worried about death when we were kids. To my surprise he told me that he distinctly remembers a huge feeling of relief when I made it to eighteen years old. He thought that if he was then to be hit by that bus he’s always going on about, then as much as we’d be shattered, we’d at least be old enough to get over it. I think that’s a lot of what spooks me now. But at least hearing that stuff from my dad made me realise it was a natural part of being a parent.

I also lost my mum to cancer a couple of years ago. It was a fucked up time since I was dealing with both the torment of seeing my mum really sick and the sheer wonder of having a baby girl growing by the day. By the time my mum passed it was a relief because as amazing a fight as she put up, the towel was thrown in and that scumbag disease had completely conquered her. I was by her side for her last days and when she passed it was like the storm had finally moved on and peace had returned to her. We sat with her by her bed for over an hour and it was almost tranquil. And right there and then I was completely fearless of death. As is often the case when someone you know passes, you’re filled with a great desire to live your life to the fullest and to do your utmost to enjoy every day. And for the most part I have been, but I’d be a lying bastard if I said that I didn’t worry about stuff now and again.

Isn’t that what parents do though? Worry? I worry about Polly hurting herself, or getting hurt by others when she’s older, even though you tell yourself that that’s something all kids go through, and just like yourself, she’ll also survive. I also find myself more suspicious of aches and pains than I used to be. But then you can’t let that stuff consume you, if you do then you may as well give up. A life consumed by fear is not a life worth living. I usually bat these lingering thoughts away relatively quickly and get on with things.

If there’s something that the likes of Lemmy and Bowie leaving the building makes me think about though, a part from my own mortality, it’s the body of work they’ve created and left behind. In all fairness I think Motörhead stopped making good records long ago but he didn’t stop being Lemmy, and unlike Metallica there was still much to respect in him. Whereas Bowie always felt culturally relevant. The fact that he made his own death a work of art was utterly mind blowing. But what they created meant a lot to a lot of people, and I understand the grief that people feel when that is over. Although the art they created will live on forever.

In Stephen Fry’s autobiography he describes the feeling of elation he felt after he’d written his first play at university. The feeling of having created something that didn’t exist before simply by stringing words together. I could relate to that. I feel the same when one of my bands finishes a new song. You’ve created something from nothing, put something into the world. No matter how few people ever hear it, it still exists and you created it. Whether a million people or just one hear it, you’ve still created something, and usually the buzz you get from creating it is at it’s absolute peak in the confined, private space that is the rehearsal room. I’ve played songs I’ve written in front of thousands of people and yet the biggest buzz I got from those songs was the first time we played the whole thing through from start to finish and it’s tight. That moment when you nail it for the first time is unbeatable.

I’m not a religious person. I believe that when you die you go back to the nothingness you came from. I’d obviously be happy to be proven wrong when the time comes but I’m not expecting anything. I think the most important thing is to affect the world you live in and to have added something positive to it before you fuck off. Whether that’s creating art in some way or simply having made a difference to someone, somehow. Bowie and Lemmy made a difference to a lot of people. So did my mum. Not as many as Bowie and Lemmy maybe, but just as important to those she did affect. I don’t know if Polly will grow up obsessed with music like her parents and like us, play in bands, but we’ll support her in whatever she does. All I hope for is that she’ll grow up inspired by someone or something and want to make a positive difference to the world. It would be nice if she held on to our record collection once we’ve gone though.

1 comment: