Dabbler Diary – The Son of a Superman

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.

Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.
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About Author Profile: Brit

'Brit' is the blogging name of Andrew Nixon, a writer and publisher who lives in Bristol. He is the editor and co-founder of The Dabbler.

18 thoughts on “Dabbler Diary – The Son of a Superman

  1. bensix@live.co.uk'
    November 4, 2013 at 11:42

    In my less than humble opinion, Suede and Pulp were the only bands of note that the Britpop phenomenon produced. This makes it all the more galling that the many BBC4 retrospectives next year will be devoted to that Northern karaoke band.

    • Brit
      November 5, 2013 at 23:27

      I think Suede produced the Britpop phenomenon rather than vice versa, they were slightly pre- it. I know this because the years 1993-1998 are very clear in my mind – everything post 2000 kind of blends together.

      One Britpop band I still really like is Supergrass. One of their gigs was the loudest I’ve ever experienced, ear-bleeding.

  2. henrygjeffreys@gmail.com'
    November 4, 2013 at 15:44

    I remember singing ‘she sells hearts, she sells meat, oh Dad she’s driving me mad. Come see’ whilst high on Merrydown.

  3. Worm
    November 4, 2013 at 17:15

    yeesh,I couldn’t stand Suede – mostly because of brett anderson’s incredibly high and screechy voice (which is why I also couldn’t stand Placebo), and the way the music press at the time hyped him up as some kind of new David Bowie. Since then I have come to like their music a lot better though, likewise Pulp

  4. annahawkswell@gmail.com'
    sam
    November 4, 2013 at 18:12

    How much do you need to earn to be in the top 5%?, 60 grand? And how much to be in the top 1%, millions? It seems no point using a statistic that lumps them all together. We need to tax the super rich for there own sanity and safety.

    • Brit
      November 4, 2013 at 19:15

      As per the link I gave you, the top 1% earn 13.7% of the total income but contribute 29.8% of the income tax – an increase of 3 percentage points (or £6bn) since last year, when the top rate was 50% – 5 points higher than it is now. This is the cruel logic of the Laffer Curve, as M Hollande has found out.

      However, the consoling thing about capitalism is that rich bastards are free to do what they want to help the poor via charitable means with whatever the state permits them to keep of their earnings.

      Bill Gates, for example, a ruthless capitalist corporate bastard, is currently off saving Africa. Whereas Russell Brand – whose money is of course purer than Gates’ because it comes from art rather than business – takes the other approach to helping the poor: he goes on telly to argue that people like him should be taxed more and the money given to the poor (adding the important proviso that this state of affairs should be brought about via some kind of violent revolution rather than voting).

      Thank goodness there are so many more Russell Brands around than Bill Gateses, eh?

      • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
        malty
        November 5, 2013 at 10:18

        If Robert Timmins lived in the real world rather than a hovel in Lark Rise and he had access to the internet he may well argue that it is not the fact that there is income disparity but the sheer scale of the difference and that this is the elephant in the room. Throughout history this has often been the trigger for revolt, the size of the pay gap, the red meat thrown into the bear pit. In the early days of the new millenium there appears to be a gap so large it borders on the obscene. If common sense does not prevail then resentment will build tumbrels.

        Although a pram will do for Bernie Ecclestone.

        • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
          November 5, 2013 at 13:10

          I’m not sure I’d agree with Timmins. People resent rigged systems or wealth they view as unearned (bankers) but not great wealth inequality per se. Are Richard Branson or Paul McCartney hated? Do Indians resent Sachin Tendulkar? Lottery winners are not resented because it’s felt that everyone who bought a ticket had an equal crack.

          • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
            malty
            November 5, 2013 at 13:37

            You are right of course, generally the average citizen wishes well the popular personality, regardless of how the coffers are filled (Ken Dodd fr’instance). Even Napoleon, who, once in charge of the show, rapidly gave himself an enormous raise, was forever idolised by the citizens. This does not however alter the fact that there is an ever widening and arguably unhealthy gap that will, human nature being what human nature is, be the cause of much discontent.

            Personally, being an ex filthy capitalist pig, I sleep easy with the situation, for me anyone who is prepared to use the home as collateral is deserving of a cracking differential.

  5. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    malty
    November 4, 2013 at 19:31

    Uhhhhhh…yeah, Uhhhhhh…yeah

    I walk like Jayne Mansfield, by the 5,6,7,8s.

    Uhhhhhh… yeah…
    Uhhhhhh… yeah…

    Ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya…

    Uhhhhhh….

    Ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya…

    I walk like Jayne Mansfield.
    I talk like Jayne Mansfield!
    Hey daddy, you, cool daddy, ah!
    Ah, ah, ah, uh, baby c’mon now!

    WOW!

    Uhhhhhhhh…
    Ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya…

    Uhhhhhhhh….

    Ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya-ya…

    Uhhhhhh… yeah…
    Uhhhhhh… yeah…
    Uhhhhhh… yeah…
    Uhhhhhh… yeah…
    Uhhhhhh… yeah…
    Yeah!

    Minimalist or what.

  6. annahawkswell@gmail.com'
    sam
    November 4, 2013 at 20:47

    I’ve been self employed since I was fifteen, I have no problem with people putting the best carrots at the top of the sack. I was unaware of Gates saving Africa, I take it all back, as you were, one pound one vote. Sincere apologies for not following the link, I find them dificult.

  7. wormstir@gmail.com'
    November 4, 2013 at 21:20

    Ideally tax should be left approximately as is, but there should be some kind of resurgence of noblesse oblige, and some kind of social stigma reattached to being a horrible flashy oik

    • annahawkwell@gmail.com'
      sam
      November 4, 2013 at 22:14

      Laffer curves, and flashy oiks, this Dabbler site really is a broad church, long may it continue, I suppose…

    • youandpi@aol.com'
      Michael Smith
      November 4, 2013 at 23:32

      I agree Worm, but noblesse oblige is out of favour for a reason — the Left don’t like noblesse because it smacks of hierarchy outside the control of the State, and the Right don’t like oblige because it costs them money.

      The way to do hierarchy coupled with cohesion is the military model, where there’s huge inequality of power but lots of solidarity — officers set an example because they eat last, sleep least and lead from the front.

  8. george.jansen55@gmail.com'
    George
    November 5, 2013 at 00:45

    No sense of geography: Eudora Welty took charge of Henry Miller when he visited Jackson, Mississippi, many years ago. Since there was then only one good restaurant in Jackson then, she and her friends took him there each night of his stay. At the end of the third and final dinner, he expressed his surprise that a city so small should have three good restaurants.

    I suppose one should give Miller credit for making from New York to Jackson, which must be about a thousand miles, but perhaps somebody drove him.

    • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
      November 5, 2013 at 13:13

      Excellent stuff, George. I wonder if that place-blindness casts any light on his literary work?

      • george.jansen55@gmail.com'
        George
        November 5, 2013 at 23:29

        Can’t say, for I’ve read little–I do remember that he disliked Belgium. But he has place names in his titles: the Tropics, Clichy, Big Sur. No doubt there are dissertations on this.

  9. annahawkswell@gmail.com'
    sam
    November 5, 2013 at 12:09

    Agree with Malty. I get the feeling its the people who are actually in the top 5% who are starting to revolt, what with the school fees,the cost of tasteful holidays,actually paying tax, and while these hardworking people, who after all keep this country functioning, they have to watch some feckless billionaire digging a bunker on their street. Its all going to kick off, and being a kulak as I am it will be me who in the end gets it in the neck

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