Fortnightly Fiction | London is The Jesus and Mary Chain
Now Playing: Snakedriver
I wore a black dress with no knickers because I’d heard that the feedback and distortion from The Jesus and Mary Chain would make me micturate uncontrollably during their performance. My husband did the same. We’d have no say in the matter, no control over our own urine at all. Or so they said. We didn’t want to be caught out on the night of the gig, on the very day Augustus and I found out that we would never be pregnant.
They stopped. Mid-song. Actually started the first song of the evening all over again. No plodding on in the-show-must-go-on fashion for The Jesus and Mary Chain.
‘Start again, Will. Respect for the audience. From the top. Because that was all your fucking fault –’
However, Will Reid, their guitarist, drowned out the singer, Jim Reid’s voice, in a teeth-clenching splutter of feedback and distortion that made Jim and many others in the venue put their heads between their knees and dry retch. No urine yet from either me or my husband, thank God. The floor bone-dry like our future family line.
My Bloody Valentine, the band, impels one person in every five hundred at their gigs to shit themselves reflexively as a scientific fact, whereas, The Jesus and Mary Chain just take your urine. I’d read that somewhere. But they hadn’t played live in a very, very long time. Good-will was on their side in tall, fat Greek columns. Ionic. So knock yourself out folks, we intoned, start that song all over again if you must. Which they did. We love you still.
Head on; Far gone and out
The quintessence of alternative in our heads now reverberating – no escaping a single furbelow or arabesque. Exactly what we paid for when we bought our tickets until stop again. Sharply. Stop. And so soon after the first. In the second bloody song. Stop. They broke down, started and cranked it up again. Failing twice to get it right. And in the gap, the fermata, Jim Reid said to a man standing somewhere in the first row who was booing, good–naturedly it has to be said in his defence, ‘Mate, write down your favourite Jesus and Mary Chain song on a piece of paper, scrunch it up into a little ball and throw it over to me – I’ll stick it up my arse.’
But Will’s after-clap of feedback and distortion shattered most of the communication out of that John Reid snarkism that compelled me to put my hands up to my ears and close my eyes, hallucinating the porcelain rhino that smashed into a million pieces on our living-room wall earlier that evening. Just after we got home from the doctor’s definite prognosis: ninety nine per cent certain we would never conceive. Augustus had thrown the rhino for understandable reasons and it flew and cracked the glass in the Guernica print on the living-room wall it was thrown against and wept down onto the wooden floor in a million hailstone shards.
Everyone around us in the venue lapping this up. Sweaty hordes of men and women spanning the generations smiling heavily. Still hearing the first song in their heads despite the breakdowns. The goodwill still at respectable levels.
We’d purchased the miniature porcelain rhinoceros in Dresden years ago on our honeymoon. You can’t go to Dresden and not mind the porcelain they say. Like you can’t go to a Jesus and Mary Chain gig and not mind the urine. No sign of it yet though anywhere in Vicar Street. No knickers was our solution, you see, if it did flow then it would flow straight to the floor.
Their next piece strafed the four walls and ceilings like chainsaws. Don’t get me wrong. The sound was the sound was the sound was the sound and always will be the sound. Halleluiah. But it didn’t last long until the band walked off stage together pointing viciously amongst themselves and withering at the roadies coming on to try and mend matters somehow.
And still, still bloody still, their audience cheered them on and clapped in their pauses – bona fide pregnant – tormenting me to the quick. A few ironic boos here and there but, on the whole, cheering and clapping. Shiny and happy. Were these people unhinged? Was I? We could not conceive. Like the doctor had prognosticated earlier that day with impassive flare.
Between Planets; Blues from a gun; Teenage Lust
I wanted to kill Will Reid. Had they done any rehearsals at all for this show? I know it’s been a long time since they played but twenty-eight quid is twenty-eight quid that I’d never get back.
Consequently, Augustus had to prevent me from finger-flicking the noses of folk standing to my left and to my right and to the front and to the back and above on the balconies too. All chuckles and merrymaking and still fucking still into it in a big smoking way that was just incomprehensible. Good is bad. Bad is good. What was this, a Michael Jackson gig after the allegations?
If only I had had access to another Dresden rhino. I would have lifted it gladly by the horn and smashed everyone’s face in until it was nothing but porcelain smithereens on the urine-drenched floor. But there was no urine on the floor of Vicar Street. I’d read that in an interview with My Bloody Valentine’s guitarist, Kevin Shields, a few years back – the stuff about taking the shit and the urine during gigs. Almost like giving birth. The breaking of the waters. Kevin had also said in the same interview that Brit Pop was a conspiracy of the British government, like American abstract expressionism in its day, and had thus never really happened or even existed in real space if you looked at it properly with both eyes. Obviously, I can see now in hindsight that he was a bit hey-nonny-nonny and what was I ever thinking taking this load of Jackson Pollocks as possible pop-eyed actuality?
Cracking up; All things must pass; Some Candy talking.
The Chinese were the first to make porcelain and it took years and years of failed experimentation and persistence on the part of Johann Böttger to eventually give himself a flamboyant slap on the back when finally he succeeded, the first European, a porcelain rhinoceros.
This particular rhino was designed from a print by Albrecht Dürer, who based his drawing on a report from the city of Lisbon of all places without ever having clapped eyes on a rhino himself in the flesh. Exactly like The Jesus and Mary Chain tonight.
So I decided to do just that, as Will Reid broke down on stage once more to excoriating abuse from Jim, his brother. I’d have my own porcelain before the end of the show. Which wouldn’t be long now by the looks of it before people started rushing and ramming the stage in high dudgeon at this alternative band for not laying down their material in the required and syllabused fashion. Because surely this was about to happen at any minute now? It hadn’t as of yet. But this gratuitous joy just couldn’t be sustained? And still no urine.
‘We’re all Johann Böttger tonight, Augustus,’ I said.
Happy when it rains; Halfway to crazy
On stage, the wrath of Jim was thoroughly cogent because Will’s puffed-up, backcombed hair in counterpoint was exasperating to me like everything he did now was quite plainly exasperating to the nth degree. Breaking down. Starting up. Breaking down. Why couldn’t they just produce? Jim giving it buckets of verbal in constant dissonance with the heavy, heavy, Frankenstein-monster feedback and distortion ever coming from Will.
A few more good natured boos and whistling before the band started and stopped mid-way through another song, took deep breaths and walked off stage for the roadies to come on again to mess with monitors, knobs, wires, et cetera for at least three minutes which is a very long time in live gig terms. People could hear themselves speak. No one left the auditorium. Everyone shoulder to shoulder tinkling out the rest of the song on their own, not out loud, but in their heads’ grand pianos or Casio keyboards, communally, until eventually the roadies left and the band came on and started and stopped. Started and stopped all over again.
Nine million rainy days
And I understood the dilemma that Johann Böttger had had in his laboratory day after day after year after year in order to create his own porcelain and finally put it behind him and move on to the next level, the next problem, the next experiment, the next big idea, the next band from your past that you’ve never seen live and really want to now thirty years too late but are unable to connect with in any real shape or porcelain form live in Vicar Street.
Augustus, fisting his hands red-raw and grinding his teeth, said, ‘We’ll go home now Candy. We’ll go home.’
There. There. There. I could see porcelain pieces on the floor now in their splintered diffusion where my urine should have been pooled. Augustus bent low to pick up some fragments. He gave me a small handful. I couldn’t even produce tears at this stage of our existence, but by God’s wounds, I tried, because in the eighties this sort of behaviour – their shtick – The Jesus and Mary Chain shtick – made people riot – caused mayhem – provoked physical, mental and imaginative acts of all shapes and sizes whereas to their present audience it’s just as expected. What it said on the tin when they bought their tickets online from a multinational corporation based in London. Love London. Hate London. They knew the band would do this because they’d always done this on Wikipedia and YouTube. I was the one – and Augustus – who never knew – no, we never knew anything about this aspect to the band’s behaviour.
That’s what the woman next to me said when I asked her during one of the gaps.
‘Great setlist. I’ve no complaints with a setlist like that. What do you mean disappointing? They’re far from disappointing. Just look at their setlist for God’s sake.’
Then she shook her head and pulled one of those I-don’t-believe-this-woman-doesn’t-get-this-at-all-for-she-was-there-in-the-beginning-and-should-know-better sort of looks. Twice. For when I looked back over at her, she was pulling it again – badly – to three of her friends who had just come back from the toilet, pointing at me as she did so.
I promised Augustus we’d keep throwing our good-will over the evening until we made more porcelain. Sculpted it into another rhino to be smashed against that same living room wall all over again when we got home. We just had to remain persistent and focused despite our convinced doctor and our convinced Jesus and Mary Chain.
And it wasn’t that the two brothers hated each other so much that when the start of their first tour in years was approaching they said to each other – ‘We know the songs – we don’t need to rehearse – see you in Vicar Street bro.’
No, that wasn’t it at all. For they let two audience members up on stage to perform Taste of Candy with Jim and Will looking on.
Slathered in Will’s concomitant feedback and distortion, like a second skin, Jim said, ‘That was note for note perfect all the way through but absolutely catastrophic. You see? We have to do it. You see? We have to do it our way.’
He was talking to me and Augustus alone because at that moment I saw the band take the urine from quite a few people simultaneously live in the flesh.
‘This band kicks experimentation in the groin, mate, pokes convention in the eyes and drops ice-cubes down the neck of all common-sense. Or was that my mother? Hold on, I think it was. What was I talking about again?’
No mother appeared on stage.
Certainly not me.
Encore: Just like honey; In a hole; The hardest walk; Taste of Candy; Never understand
They made it through to the end of their set and walked off stage. Came back on again and played five encore songs to a fine finish. They actually gave us five extra songs with plenty of time left over to catch the last bus home afterwards, if we liked, because the gig on the whole was rather compact.
All the reviews in the media said that it was a bit ramshackle, but was probably the best gig of the year by far. So far.
I hoped Augustus would take another Dresden rhino out of his handbag before we left the venue, completely intact, and give it to me saying, ‘I’d forgotten I’d bought this all those years ago, Candy. On the same honeymoon day on which I purchased the other now dashed-to-pieces porcelain rhino. As a sort of a backup rhino. When you weren’t looking. For emergency purposes.’
But he didn’t.
So we put our knickers back on and left the venue.
Featured illustration by Elizabeth Burgess.