NOW YOU'RE OVER TWENTY-ONE
I've been devouring Dave Barnett's Love & Poison, the authorized biography of Suede. After some delay from Amazon, it's finally in my hands, and I can't get enough of it. I'll avoid ridiculous statements like "it's taking me over" and such.
It's amazing, though, reliving the time when this band entered my life. I'm actually just past their first American tour, including their performance on Jay Leno--elements of the story I was a part of. What a wild time in my life. I was just out of college when that all hit, twenty-one (though I didn't drink). I supposedly had a job at Dark Horse Comics, I was poised on the precipice of...something.
I had missed most musical movements in my youth. The Smiths had just broken apart when I discovered them, and though The Stone Roses would cause a revolution, I wasn't feeling it the same way as others did. It was amazing music, and songs like "Going Down" and "Made of Stone" mean a lot to me to this day, but it was a different kind of headspace. It didn't speak to me in overtly personal ways. I also couldn't have honestly given a shit about Ian Brown, and though I found John Squire interesting, he certainly wasn't a hero (and when I'd meet him years later, when he was with Seahorses, the sight of his Birkenstocked-feet would have destroyed my faith in guitar gods forever had I held him in higher esteem). There wasn't a sense of, "This is me. This is who I am now." The Trash Can Sinatras were close, but that was more of a private revolution. I was in Southern California, which may have been the place of their greatest fame, but there was no hysteria around it. I saw TCS gigs right around the same time I saw Suede, but there was something more personal about it. When I spoke to the band at the gigs, they were much more like guys that could be my buddies than icons.
Keep in mind, this is the tail end of 1992 and 1993. There was no internet for most people. The ease with which we get music and information now was not available then. So, initial rumblings of Suede seemed to be just that. Put your ear to the ground, and you could hear the whispers. Meaning, I had heard about them long before I had seen them or experienced a note of music. Q magazine was probably the first place I ever saw a picture of Brett Anderson. I was intrigued by him there on the cover, but it was Christmas break, and I had no money, I didn't buy the mag. But it started the need to find out. (According the book, while it was certainly a catalyst for the band and the changing face of Q, it was actually the worst selling issue of a magazine more associated with the old thing than the new thing. Go figure.)
My first magazine with Suede on the cover was Select. Another famous one. The one with Brett in all black, leather that didn't quite fit, exposing his midriff long before it was the norm for poptarts. He was posing in front of the Union Jack, and a new wave of British music was being touted. The book mentions this, too, and I honestly can't believe the line-up of "up and coming" Brit bands it apparently trumpeted (I still have this in storage somewhere, and I'd snag it now if I could)--The Auteurs, Pulp, and Saint Etienne. Shit, yeah, we were on the precipice of something. And Select would be my most beloved guide book for years to come.
The first time I heard Suede, it was a BBC version of "Moving" that came on a Melody Maker cassette. It was raw, it was different. The lyrics were strange. Belly, Ride, and Stereo MCs were on that tape, too. But Suede sounded nothing like them. Then we started to find stuff. My friend Ben had "Metal Mickey" on a tape someone sent him from Scotland--played, strangely, first at normal speed and then again sped up. Then I think Ben got the three-disc charity thing that had them covering "Brass In Pocket," which was lilting and lovely and so very different (Ben had bought it for the Aztec Camera track). A picture was forming. On one side it was guitars and warrrrhhhh, on the other this flowery thing, like smoke twisting in the air.
I was in my dorm one Sunday night and Rodney on the Roq on KROQ was debuting the new single "Animal Nitrate." I was able to get it on tape. He played the B-side, "Painted People," and then "The Drowners," too. Holy fuck, I was hooked. I was so excited, I was dancing while styling my hair, and the energy got a little out of control. I actually banged my head on the tiny mirror on my dorm closet door. I had a bump on my forehead for a couple of days. It was ludicrous, but it was also so right. I was being knocked around by this. I had found something, and it was mine. It was new, I was there as close to the beginning as one could possibly be, it felt like.
I hunted for all the singles, which was no mean feat in Long Beach, California. I think I found the European "Metal Mickey" first, the one with the b-sides for "The Drowners" instead, so I got "My Insatiable One" and "To The Birds." I bought it with "Certain People I Know," possibly the rarest Morrissey single. Your Arsenal was pretty fucking mega, too. And now that I think of it, I had heard Morrissey cover "My Insatiable One" before I had ever heard the name Suede. I would get "So Young" and I think the proper "Metal Mickey" a bit later, in Hollywood, along with a bootleg tape of a concert where Moz did "Insatiable," and I would use the credit card I had only for emergencies, because it was necessary. This wasn't the kind of emergency my dad had talked about, but it was an emergency to me. And that first "Metal Mickey" would be the thing I would carry with me to the first gigs to get the band to sign. It only made sense.
I'm not sure, why don't you show me?
The week Suede came to Hollywood was mad. Their Tonight Show appearance was first. I got down there at something like six a.m. and was one of the first five people in line for tickets. After getting the ticket, we had to go wait on another line, which was the line to get in. A ticket was no guarantee, really. So, we hiked over to the entrance and all took a seat. Me and these two kids who were brothers were first. A group was behind us. I would get to know all these people in the coming months. I had seen them before at gigs. It was always the same people down front, the fanatics who sat outside all day. I was kind of the oddball, the kid who lived out of town and drove in by himself. But I was always right there.
The brothers and I lucked out, because we were the perfect number to be in the front row, in the box over by Jay's couch. It was a prime seat. I was able to hit up the cue card man, for instance, and get the cards that introduced the band. And because we were right there, I was the guy who, in the commercial break after the raucous (but tinny) performance of "Metal Mickey," called over to Brett and actually got him to come talk to us. He got in trouble with the crew, but he promised he'd be back, and when he said it, he put his hand on mine and let it slowly brush off. I may have squealed. As promise, the band (minus Bernard) did come over after. Cue card signed! (I'd get Bernard days later in San Diego.)
(One myth that went through the Hollywood circle: as the band is being introduced by Leno, someone in the audience screamed "Brettttt!" You can hear it on the show. Somehow, it got out that it was me. It wasn't. I'd go to shows, and it was like, "You're the dude who screamed on Leno!")
After the taping, a group went out to the parking lot gates where we figured the band would exit. Sure enough, a white van came through, carrying the band. We rushed it, and I actually got my head through a window--it wasn't a roll-down window, but one of those that gets pushed out, and I squeezed my head through. Here was this pale California kid with a blonde quiff popping through their window, completely out of his mind...and the things that came out of my mouth! Brett actually reeled back, eyes wide. Everyone kept asking me what I said, and I wouldn't tell anyone. I never did. Perhaps because I never repeated it, I'm not entirely sure what it was now. I think it had something to do with the fact that now I could die happy.
The taping was on a Monday or Tuesday, and I am pretty sure the show wasn't until that Friday or something. It was at a non-venue on Hollywood Blvd., someplace no one had heard of. I drove my hour and a half into town, probably got there at 7:30, and was already like tenth in line. This line of kids sat there all day. You had to. If you wanted to get in the front row, you had to be through the doors first thing. You had to run and not pass Go, just get there. A year later when I'd get to Portland, I'd be shocked when I'd go to shows and there'd be no line. Blur would come to town, and no one would give a shit. I never forgave this town for claiming to care about music when it so clearly didn't. It didn't, no one worked for it. (Though, with the competition zero, I met all the bands I wanted to meet, was always front row.)
I think most of us didn't eat that day. We barely had anything to drink. Places in line were precious. You didn't want to lose them. You also couldn't spend money until you knew how much merchandise cost. You couldn't be caught short. And what if you missed something? The band walked by during soundcheck. Thank goodness I was there! All sorts of crazies came by, too. One woman in particular came up and informed us all that in the future, we would be turned into little dolls and displayed in shop windows. She used her fingers, held them about an inch apart, to show us just how little we would be. "You'll all be little dolllls." As she walked up the street, she'd stop, look back, point in a shop window, and then hold up the fingers, driving home that we would be little dolls, and we'd be in there.
It's funny, because all those times I camped out for stuff, by the time the shows start, everyone is fucking exhausted. We are starving and grouchy and miserable, but as soon as the doors open, all that disappears. The euphoria takes over. Ben had come down, and we ran like hell and we were front, just to the right of center, where Bernard was, and thankfully close enough that when Brett stepped out on the riser to grab hands, we could get in on it.
I had been to general admission shows before, but never ones this crazy. We were packed in, barely a centimeter to move. I had gotten lucky and a particularly attractive young lady had ended up behind me. I remember her long, dark blonde hair and her striped top. She actually spent most of the show on top of me, pressed on my back. And, really, if you're going to be crushed, that was the way to go. She was brilliant. She wore a candy necklace, the kind with the small round sugar pieces on an elastic band. This girl would take the necklace and place a sugar piece between her teeth, and nibble off just enough to loosen it from the band, and she'd fire the candy from her mouth like a sling shot, using the elastic. It would shoot all the way to the stage. I loved her. Had she asked me to run to Vegas and get hitched that night, no doubt I would have. If Brett Anderson had asked me to do filthy things, I would have, too. They could have shared me. (Part of my love for Suede and how they fit my life was a new attitude about my own sexuality that I came to that last year in college. I was still Morrissey-influenced celibate, but Brett's infamous "I'm a bisexual man whose never had a homosexual experience" quote was so how I felt, it made him my soulmate or something. I was the wife of the acrobat.)
Before the show, a photographer filed into that section between the barrier and the stage, and someone saw his NME pass and asked him who he was. "Kevin Cummins," he says, and the whole front row gasped. He couldn't believe it. Everyone knew he was. Of course we did! This guy took pictures of The Smiths! He was Kevin Cummins. He told us to keep our ears out for a little band called Verve (before they got the "The"). In fact, there was a general shock amongst the Suede crew about how much we knew. I remember a woman traveling with Suede being entirely amused that someone had asked her if she was Anick, Brett's girlfriend at the time. I heard her telling everyone, "They asked me if I'm Anick. How do they know about Anick?"
The show itself was amazing. It was everything that was promised. They sat down on amps for "She's Not Dead." Bernard was right in front of me, and he shushed everyone. The song was so beautiful, I honestly cried. I wept. I told Bernard afterwards, and he told me I was sweet. It was glorious. We chatted up the opening band, Suddenly, Tammy! and they put us on the guest list for the next night in San Diego, and we drove down for it. The brothers would later start a fanzine called Our Insatiable Ones and I would write for it and try to proofread. It was the start of something. Britpop was coming up around the corner, and it would be massive and exciting, but Suede were always the first, and they were always the best.
Suede, live 1993. This is what it looked like.
The amazing thing about Love & Poison is how much Barnett captures all that. He was there, too, though on the other side of the world. But it was the same all over. Southern California is not really representative of the rest of the nation, far too many of us Anglophilic weirdoes were in one place, but our hysteria was the exact same as the kids in London. We all had the sense that this was important, that it would mean something to us later on, and at least for me, we were right. And even though in the rock scheme, Suede may end up a side note, having never played the stadiums like so many lesser beings, that will be for the best. They weren't supposed to. They were coming from the outside and only looking in to give the finger.
Current Soundtrack: Sharkboy, The Valentine Tapes; Suede, Sci-Fi Lullabies disc 1