“The Young Vibrate at a Different Frequency”:
Mick Harvey, Serge Gainsbourg and going to gigs alone in your 40s. Or “Mick Harvey live at Under the Bridge London 25th March 2017.”
“My loves that have passed on, are blown away like autumn leaves..” – The Pervert’s Song.
I have been feeling old. How? Why?
Let me count the ways and break it down by the numbers.
1- I am 45 years old and I feel the 5 more than the 40. 40 is a landmark, the extra 5 is just an indication that the ageing process never stops, the months and years just keep on adding up.
2- I love combat sports and the best and worst thing about combat sports is that they deal in brutal truth.
When you are trying as hard as you can to bring someone to the point where they must submit to avoid being choked unconscious or having a limb snapped and that person is trying just as hard to do the same to you, you cannot fool yourself about the outcome. You achieve your goal or you don’t.
That is a profound sort of truth. One aspect of that truth is the fact that being 20 is different from being 40. Being 20 is better. Say what you like, dress it up as you will- 20 is better.
After a training session recently I was chatting to a warrior and wise man (same person) about the difficulties of sparring with younger guys- the sharpness of their movement and the speed of their decision-making. It’s hard and frustrating to contend with that when you are also contending with a stiffening body and diminishing hormones of your own; when all you have on your side is some guile and a mysterious thing called ‘old man strength’ – a type of dogged isometric strength that is closely related to stiffness.
“The young vibrate at a different frequency.”
My friend and teacher remarked.
That says it. The young vibrate at a different frequency. Watch them, it’s obvious… and it’s annoying.
3- Lemmy died, Leonard Cohen died! This is not ok. This should not happen.
This is the reason I decided to go to gigs this year after years of listening to music mostly recorded (if it isn’t the band I write the lyrics for), staying comfortably at home with my own things around me, with none of the hassle and expense of getting to and from gigs and dealing with large groups of people. I decided to see and listen to the artists and musicians I love live and in person while both they and I still can.
That means dragging my home-loving ass up to London from my home in the middle-of-nowhere Dorset, staying in little hotels of varying quality and hygiene, spending too much money for food that isn’t worth it and dealing with the frightening realities of the Tube.
It’s a lot to ask of an old man who could be at home with his records and CDs and itunes and Spotify.
4- The damn, dreaded drip.
When I have absolutely definitely finished peeing and then about a dessert spoon more appears from nowhere and goes where it shouldn’t.
God I hate that. It makes me feel as if the death of my libido is approaching. I can hear it dripping in the darkest, most insecure places in my mind, like Poe’s ‘Tell Tale Heart’. It says I have a limited time left as a man. It says the juices; sexual and creative, don’t last forever. It says the day is coming when I will be no more than a burden to the pack.
5- Missing friends. You get to my age you’ve probably lost at least one friend and by that I mean they have died. But you will also have friends living all over the place. You will have real friends who you never get to see. People you care about spread across the country or the world through work and family commitments.
You realise that the time you get to spend with them is ticking away too.
I could maybe combine going to a gig or two with meeting a friend or two.
So, partly as an antidote to all this ageing I decided to do stuff. You know; say yes to things, compete in grappling competitions, go to gigs and see the people who make the music I love before they or I die. Also try to meet up with old friends.
That’s the background to the long trip to London to see Mick Harvey.
(I was planning to meet one of those old friends before the gig but circumstances took him away. That’s what life does when you’re a real grown-up adult, it makes demands that have to be met.
It’s also why you have to keep trying; making and taking opportunities.)
A little background on Mr. Harvey: I first saw him in the picture on the back of the album “Tender Prey” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds that was released in 1988 I think. He was one of the original members of the Bad Seeds and indeed one of the original members of The Birthday Party and even The Boys Next Door, the two bands Nick Cave was previously in. He and Nick Cave have worked together since they were in school. I use Nick Cave as a reference point; as I possibly do too often in life, because he is more well known, more famous and it should, I hope, position Mick Harvey for readers.
He has worked with Crime and the City Solution, Einstürzende Neubauten, P J Harvey; more people than I can name.
In short, Mick Harvey has been played a crucial role in the production of many of the best and most influential ‘alt-rock’ music made in the last thirty years, working with bands across the borders of geography and language.
He is a multi-instrumentalist, producer, musician and song-writer.
Recently Mr. Harvey has produced four records (Pink Elephants; Intoxicated Man; Delirium Tremens and Intoxicated Women) of songs by the late French singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg.
So when I found out that he was playing a gig featuring the songs from those four albums at a venue called Under the Bridge in London I decided this was just the sort of thing I should be going to.
So, the 25th of March found me rocking up at Poole train station with my smallest backpack in tow.
I visited the public toilet and saw a syringe in one of the cubicles. That is something I have been seeing more and more of lately in the Bournemouth/ Poole area and there would seem to be a real increase in the number of people using heroin here.
The area around Poole rail station is filled with a number of large abandoned buildings which are clearly being used by homeless people and ‘chaotic drug users’ as squats and the whole place has a bit of a George A. Romero zombie feel about it. The situation doesn’t effect me like it did when I was young because I don’t have to live around it but I know the misery it causes and it makes me sad. This is the kind of thing that makes me want to run back to the Dorset woods and hide.
The train, of course, was diverted half way to Brighton and back again to cover for ‘planned engineering works’; a phrase only slightly less dreaded than ‘replacement bus service’
Still, I had a book to read, an audio book to listen to and my notebook to write in. The book is set in the ruins of Hamburg in 1947, the audio book, is largely set in the ruins of Ramadi in Syria and the book I am writing is about a child assassin so I was setting up the perfect state of mind for travelling to the great metropolis. Maybe I should have brought something sunnier.
A little background on London and me: London kicks my ass. It amuses London to do so. I never seem to get in and out of London without some minor trouble or disaster. I expect it now. I get off the train in Waterloo thinking ‘Ok London, what’s it to be this time?’ It’s a game we play, London and I, a game that London always wins.
This time London surprised me- everything went basically smoothly. The journey to Waterloo was long but steady; I got something to eat near the station that was nice and not too expensive (although I got grumpy about the fact that the price was printed on the menu with no ‘£’ and no pence, just numbers like 5. Five what? Five beans?); the tube form Embankment to West Brompton was not too crowded, easy to follow and the stations were pleasant- with flowers and everything.
I left the station anxious about finding my hotel. I was getting my A-Z out of my pocket and taking a deep breath as he walked though the door and… there was the hotel right in front of me.
It was a sixties, brutalist building looking a bit the worse for wear but then those buildings looked tired on the day after they were built so you shouldn’t judge.
It seemed to me to be a family run hotel. Things were done in a somewhat old-fashioned way. There are quite a few of these establishments around London, where things are a little more individual and idiosyncratic than your average Travelodge or Holiday Inn.
The good thing about these hotels is that I like to pretend to be in a 70s German New Wave film (whenever I can really) and they really lend themselves to that. The old-fashioned décor, the process of registering at the desk with passport details etc, the slightly scary lifts that are just about big enough for two and have that inner and outer door combination like a crocodile’s double eyelid.
I checked in and got to my little room, and it was a very little room but a clean one so that would do fine.
Ten minutes later I was on my way out again, on a scouting mission to make sure I could find the venue (and continuing to pretend I am a detective in a 1970s German movie, pounding the black and white streets of Hamburg or Berlin). I did fine going down North End Road but then went right where I should have gone left and ended up nearly at the King’s Road.
I took a deep breath, looked around, assessed the situation and make a decision. Turn back to the left and look for Stamford Bridge. Five minutes later I was in front of Chelsea’s football stadium. I asked a security guard, who was keen to ask me what I was doing wandering gormlessly about, where Under the Bridge might be.
“You mean that,” he said, not unkindly, pointing to large neon sign that said ‘Under the Bridge’.
“Yep,” I replied, “I’ll be back later.” ..and I departed mysteriously.
On the way back to the hotel I bought some pasta, a veggie samosa and two beers in an M & S foodhall and took them back to my hotel. Nothing if not classy me!
By six o’clock I was back out on the road and heading to a pub half way to the venue for some chips and a pint. I took my time and pushed off for the gig just after seven.
The venue is friendly. The door staff are really polite and genuinely pleasant to chat to. In fact they probably wished I was less friendly but I hadn’t spoken to anyone all day. Downstairs there are photo prints on the walls that you should take some time to look over if you are ever there. I was particularly taken by a series prints of Sadé (Ah, memories). And this one of The Buzzcocks.
I get myself a comforting pint of Guinness although I am starting to feel a bit tired and am wondering if I have already had too much to drink.
I sit myself down at a booth and have a good look around. The place is filling up.
It quickly becomes clear that none of us here is young, except for the support act who sings his own songs and works well with the crowd. His name is Josh Savage and I find it particularly endearing that he was selling raw honey as well as his own album after his set.
Here is a video for one of his singles. He told a good story about making it, I’ll let you hear it from him if you go see him some time-
Looking around there is no way to deny that we are an older crowd for sure. There are an awful lot of bad postures, even outright orthopaedic disasters limping around the venue. I don’t say that to be cruel. In my proper job I am a Physical Therapist and I have feelings of real concern looking about me. I feel like lining some people up and getting to work.
Time is ticking on am I’m on my second Guinness and beginning to feel like it’s getting to my bedtime. Then the band start to take the stage. There’s James Johnston from Gallon Drunk. Now I’m getting excited and waking up again. Mick Harvey comes on stage and the music gets going with that song about the ticket-puncher in the Paris Metro losing his mind and obsessively taking about holes until he starts to consider putting another little hole in his head with a rifle. That’s the territory we are inhabiting here.
Mick Harvey’s approach to performance is tactical. Much like Brian Eno he sings like a producer, like a scientist. His performance as a singer is not showy (nor are the performances of the two other singers on stage) He builds an emotionally affecting whole by layering all the sounds available to him, the voice (his own and others) being only one part of that.
Like the crowd he is also getting on in years and in between being impossibly cool he has some trouble with his specs.
Gainsbourgh himself, as a lyricist was clearly concerned about ageing and the death of desire. He was constantly engaged with questions of desire, often personal and pressing but a great deal of his songs take place at a distance from his own person also- either in the past or in the notional.
Through it all the lyrics reveal a character determined to keep living, to hang on to the core of life long past youth, long past good form and decorum, past the point where desire becomes disgust (and for Serge it always turns to disgust or absurdity) for its own sake. There is always this conflict, this attraction and repulsion: and ageing brings it closer and closer to you. Flavours get more complex even if palates don’t.
I think this was the first evening of a tour and the band loosens up and gets better and better as the set progresses through songs like “Bonnie and Clyde” and “New York USA”. By the encores the band is blazing, sounding like a combination of The Velvet Underground and The Dirty Three.
After the gig I walk back to my hotel in the cool air enjoying a feeling I haven’t had it along time; surfing the wave of energy that you take from watching a fine band live. It’s hard work getting through the extras, the ‘everything around’ art, travel and living as we get older but that doesn’t kill the passion and the love of what is really important in art and life.
So the (slightly clichéd) advantages of age are there: experience, sophistication, best of all wit (Harvey and Gainsbourg have a genuinely pleasing grown-up wit about them); but there’s more than that, there’s old man strength, that dogged ability to hold on.
And maybe us older folks vibrate at a deeper frequency…
..No? Well, it was worth a try.
Next morning things are quiet and London is at its best, just waking as if from the river bank up; from history as much as from Saturday night. Before I get the train for the long, diverted journey back to Poole I take a stroll down the Southbank and happen to spot a reason why I might just be making another trip soon…
Jamie Lynch is an Irishman living in England. He is the author of numerous short stories, poems, child’s stories and a novel entitled “Opinion Pieces”. He has been published online and in print. He also writes the lyrics for the band “The Two Man Travelling Medicine Show”, who play at the crossroads where David Cronenberg and Merle Haggard meet. He maintains a blog at www.thestoriesihaveinme.wordpress.com.
Read for free: “Bodies” https://thefictionpool.com/2017/01/15/bodies-by-jamie-lynch/; “The Night I got lost on the way home from China” http://www.litro.co.uk/2015/02/the-night-i-got-lost-on-the-way-home-from-china/; “The Pleasures of Reading Short Stories” http://www.litro.co.uk/2014/12/the-pleasures-of-reading-short-stories/
& any- and every- single thing on http://www.thestoriesihaveinme.wordpress.com
The Two Man Travelling Medicine Show on soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/medicine-show-136232208
Children’s Stories on Kindle: ”The True Story of how Plopinton got its name” https://www.amazon.co.uk/true-story-how-Plopington-name-ebook/dp/B00DY8S2XM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1485361666&sr=8-1&keywords=The+True+story+of+how+plopington+got+its+name
“Small tales of little creatures” https://www.amazon.co.uk/Small-tales-little-creatures-James-ebook/dp/B008NALXTG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1485361727&sr=8-1&keywords=Small+tales+of+little+creatures