What is the worst opening line to a song ever written? I’ll submit this from Suede’s Savoir Faire (1999):
She live in a house, she stupid as a mouse.
That epigram was penned by the band’s frontman Brett Anderson, and it pains me to mention it because, aside from Mervyn Peake and Paul Simon (I’d love to say Shakespeare and, oooh, Yeats here, but it just wouldn’t be true) nobody has contributed more to my literary sensibility, to my love of ring-a-ding-dong linguistic nonsense, than Brett Anderson. Suede’s eponymous debut is a record to which I listened so frequently and intently as a repulsive youth that it is embedded in my DNA. Two decades on the line We shake shake shake to the trumpet, and through the slippery city we ride will pop into my head at all sorts of unlikely moments, as will this fine couplet from an early B-side: On the high-wire, dressed in a leotard, There wobbles one hell of a retard. That ‘wobbles’ still never fails to make me chuckle, and the next line is On the escalator, you shit paracetamol.
Brett Anderson: hero to the sixth-form centre’s fringe element; icon of the arts faculty. One of my university contemporaries – now a moderately successful comic and radio presenter – modelled his look so closely on Anderson’s anaemic floppiness that he was essentially a walking tribute act. Suede were like the Smiths but louder, less bloody northern and much sleazier (Morrissey couldn’t get laid; Anderson could and didn’t much discriminate, was the suggestion). We’ll never never play the harp, and we’ll stick like sick on the stars. Brilliant, and as Enderby always said, don’t worry too much about meaning, the words are what matter. I was conned by a circus hand, Tragic as the son of a superman. How good is that? What could, in fact, be more tragic than the son of a superman?
Alas, Anderson’s spark of linguistic genius sputtered out too soon and within a few years he completely ran out of poetry. She live in a house, she stupid as a mouse. But anyway, I enjoyed the Johnny Marr gig so much that when I saw on posters that the reformed Suede were playing the Bristol O2 Academy the following week, I thought what the hell and bought a ticket.
Russell Brand spouted some twaddle on the telly and in the New Statesman, for which he has been roundly taken to task, and he even gets the full Nick Cohen treatment here, which seems a bit de trop, like George Orwell taking on George Formby.
If I were Paxman I would have taken a different line and quoted, as I often do to nearly everyone’s irritation, the most underrated stat in political discourse, which is that the top 5% of earners in the UK contribute 48.3% of the income tax (up nearly 3% from last year), despite only earning 25% of the total income. This is used to pay for our schools, hospitals and welfare. Therefore we already have a system of ‘massive redistribution of wealth’ (the bottom 50% of earners bring in a quarter of the total income but contribute only 9% of the tax).
For some while now Chancellors have seen it as their role to operate as close to the peak of the Laffer Curve as practicality and political expediency will allow. The rest is tinkering and this, I’m afraid, is as close as we are ever going to get to a socialist Utopia. So here we are, socialists, look around you. This is what Utopia looks like: disappointing.
Standing around drinking German lager in the lull between the support acts, waiting for Suede, I got chatting to a lady and her friends about various gigs we’d attended. She mentioned a curious one-off charity show a couple of years ago featuring Pete Doherty and Roger Daltry. “It was at a place very like this, sort of smallish and dark” said the lady, peering around her. I looked for a signal that is was a little joke, but couldn’t detect one. “Yes, I was at that gig too,” I said truthfully. “And yes, it was definitely here: at the Academy.”
“Oh it was here, was it? Yes I did wonder,” she said. At that moment I realised that I was speaking to one of those interesting people with absolutely no sense of geography whatsoever; without any ability to internally map space or retain information about place. My grandma was the same: she lived the best part of a century on these isles without gaining any clear notion of where anything was in relation to anything else. If she travelled a reasonable distance – as, for example, when I drove her from Devon to a family wedding in Nottinghamshire – she would have no idea about the direction or distance of travel. Rather, she would climb into a car at one place, remain in it until it stopped, and then emerge at her destination. It must have all seemed quite magical.
The second support act, a band called Teleman, came on. They were pretty decent, though it’s a standard trick to give support bands an enfeebled, tinny PA system and a titchy drum kit, so that when the main act strides on the combination of dramatically increased volume and familiar music has a thrilling, visceral effect.
Having Kindled up at last I have read Bryan Appleyard’s Bedford Park and must say that I fully concur with Nige’s assessment. I was trepidatious about reading the Yard’s fiction after all his non-fiction – the idea seemed obscurely embarrassing, like when a sportsman has a go at acting. But I rattled through the novel with much enjoyment. Like all Bryan’s stuff it’s crammed to bursting – with ideas or in this case with character sketches delivered with the concise insight honed by years of celeb interviews and journalism. It’s also very good on London (“a maze without a centre”) and very witty about people. Oscar Wilde “exuded an air of massive bonelessness.” A matriarch wears “an ancient black ball gown trimmed with torn fragments of black lace that projected in all directions like dark sparks. The effect was that of a bomb caught in the act of exploding.” Definitely recommended.
Suede came onstage and went straight into Pantomime Horse, one of my repulsive youthful self’s favourite songs, and it was very loud and the effect was thrilling and visceral. I was astonished at Brett Anderson’s frontmanning, he gave it some welly all right, the full Mercury. In recent years we’ve had to drastically rethink our ideas about rock stars and age, thanks to the Jagger, Weller, Springsteen etc. Johnny Marr is a skinny leaping mod and knocking on fifty, which must now be considered relatively young for a rock musician. Anderson is a mere 46. When Suede first appeared he was a scrawny indie-pop racing-snake and so was I. Now I’m a bulky father of two who drives a Vauxhall Zafira but he’s still a scrawny indie-pop racing-snake. I realised I had nothing whatsoever in common with this man and his lifestyle.
But only much later, because about five songs in Animal Nitrate started and I was carried to the edge of the stage in the surge of two and half thousand fellow 30 and 40-somethings who’d also left their wives or husbands at home with the kids to come and crush their thickened bodies together in that rare communal spirit that comes from being a bit drunk on a schoolnight and knowing all the words to all the same pop songs, and just as I reached the edge of the stage Brett Anderson leapt from it onto us, screaming words long embedded in my DNA and stripping away the many layered skins of cynicism that have grown over me in two decades of life. I sang. I moshed. I drank good quality lagers. I waved. I clapped. I high-fived strangers. I sweated profusely. I experienced euphoria. I went home in a deafened daze. I took some headache pills and drank a pint of water. I got into bed next to my wife. I fell asleep. I was woken a few hours later by the violent collision of my daughter’s knee with my skull as she jumped onto our bed. I got up unsteadily and went to the bathroom to shit paracetamol. I looked in the mirror at puffy red eyes swaddled in black rings. I showered and got dressed. I felt deeply and profoundly happy. I drove to work.