Art, autobiography, C.B.S., Catholicism, Comedy, Dublin, Dublin Stories, Einsturzende Neubauten, Film, Hovel Press, Humour, Iggy Pop, Leonard Cohen, Motorhead, Music, New Writing, Nick Cave, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Nick Ray, Stoneybatter, The Stooges
The year when the balance of power between the living and the dead shifted.
The year when the number of people in that mental category marked ‘those I feel I know but have never met’ who are dead outgrew the number of them still living.
The year when most of us wondered even more what it might be like to be dead and how much interaction might be possible between ‘them and us’. A year when we might have wondered if everybody else on the bus was alive and how would one know anyway.
A year when the old idea that your dead friends may be gathered just around the corner, just out of your vision got that little bit stronger. We might think of them the way William Burroughs wrote about the Western Lands, Will Self’s vision of Dulston (the London suburb of the dead) or the run down café (as I see it) where the dead gather in the spaces between the words and notes of the song “There’s a place around the corner where your dead friends meet” by the German band Einstürzende Neubauten.
Lemmy Kilminster from Mötorhead, Carrie Fisher, Prince, George Michael, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen.
It made me sad. Oh, they say that it’s all statistics and numbers. They say that mass popular culture blew up in the sixties and that created more celebrities which in turn means after forty years or so more of them are going to be dying. But it made me sad… and it made me worried. What about John Cale, what about Nick Cave (he’s not that young), what about Iggy Pop?
How to keep them safe. Would you find me appearing over Iggy’s shoulder as some sort of informal bodyguard/ stalker? Could I borrow Werner Herzog’s idea of walking from Germany to Paris to prolong the life of a near friend and mentor, Pauline Kael? Where would my walks start and finish. Dublin to Ann Arbor- it would be a long walk.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who made a New Year’s resolution to make sure I get to that Tom Waits concert or Barry Adamson gig if the chance arises. As I write this in January 2017 my ticket is bought for the Einstürzende Neubauten Greatest Hits concert in London. Also, it seemed the right time to celebrate the role that an artist can play in your life, the strange importance of someone you have never met, never spoken one word to, never exchanged a handshake or a meaningful glance with.
My life has been much enriched by these experiences and I am confident that those of you who live as much in the imagination as they you do in the actual, but not more real, world will share the feeling.
Nothing encapsulates my life in other people’s art like my relationship with one Jim Osterberg A.K.A. Iggy Pop. His work has been around me and influencing me for thirty years and THAT, in these troubled times, is something worth celebrating.
There are certain ways of viewing the world that sit at an individual’s core. They are not the same for everyone but they are not entirely unique either. We cannot erase these tendencies; they are fixed in a peapod deep within, something that roughly approximates to a soul; or the misunderstood movement in the dark seen from the corner of the eye and imagined into a nebulous idea labelled ‘the soul’. For better or worse; no for better AND worse, this is something I believe, and I don’t believe all that much.
The idea of ‘the peapod’ is one I first found formulated in that manner in Nicolas Ray’s segmented and fascinating autobiography “I was interrupted”. I especially admire Ray’s absolute refusal to indulge in the comforting myth of there being a linear narrative to a life.
Part of the reason for that admiration is that in my own personal peapod there is a certain inability, a resistance, to understanding and recording chronology. I cannot remember when events occurred in relation to one another. My world as if recedes behind me with the passage of time dissolves into a series of impressions and images that are categorized by emotional content and impression.
I really cannot remember which of two sad, lonely train journeys in unfriendly areas of foreign countries happened in 1989 and which in 1999 but I remember a tree seen in passing from the dirty window or a song I was listening to on a Sony mini disc player I thought represented the ultimate achievement of centuries of technological progress. And both those moments are in the peapod, decaying eternally and leaking influence, like a gangrenous appendix, constantly into the moods and actions of the present.
All this is a way of explaining that nothing I write here can be considered reliable. Please don’t expect it to be. This is a story based on real events, imperfectly remembered and even less well understood. Nothing I write here will be an outright lie; accept the lies. Don’t hope for exact details in these posts.
So, it was 11.17am on a Tuesday in early February in 1987 when I first heard Iggy Pop. Ok, that’ s a lie. It was definitely somewhere in the mid to late eighties of the last century (exciting to say). I was probably fourteen years old or so (I warned you). My sister; who is three or four years older than me depending on the time of year, had a boyfriend. That boyfriend had a record collection,.. and what a record collection! But before we get to the shiny Aladdin’s Cave that was the room containing this now legendary record collection let me provide a little more context.
I was approaching my mid-teens. Chicken, any kind, was my favourite food and I thought about it on the many days of liver and onions. I was an average sized and shaped male kid for the times that were in it. I lived at the edge of Stoneybatter where it met Arbour Hill in the North inner city of Dublin. It was a working class place, perhaps a little rough traditionally, which became a lot worse with the influx of Heroin in the late 70s and early 80s. At this time the runners (what people call trainers now) of hopelessness had been hanging from the power lines at the end of my cul-de-sac for long enough to have looked down on the ruin of a couple of generations of far too many local families.
On the corner where you could still hear the good, old-fashioned Friday night calls of the drunken monkey dance-
“Who’d you fuckin’ think you are?
Do ya want your go?” “
Kick his fuckin’ head in.”
“Ahhh, leave him, him him. Jesus God!” (…and on it would go; there’s a song in there I think)
…You could now also get smack at most times of the day and night. I was two minutes, maybe three if I was dragging my heels in classic teenage fashion and in dodgy fake suede Chelsea boots with heels that were way too tall for me, from the quays and Heuston, formerly Kingsbridge, Rail Station. I loved the Rail station for reasons I didn’t really care to understand at the time. I think now it was the scraps of sad Victorian architecture floating improbably above my head in there and also for the approach over Hueston Bridge that nearly always provided the striking contrast of the sight of gleaming white swans resting on the filthy, green, sinking waters of the Liffey under the blackening stone and metal of the bridge itself.
I could walk to the centre of town in twenty minutes at a leisurely pace and I often did but there wasn’t that much to go to town for. That walk up and down the Quays contributed a great deal to my education. It was a beautiful and messy example of the human zoo and I mean that in the kindest sense. There was a lot of life there. You might spy a naked ass working up and own franticly above the long grass of The Croppy’s Acre as the prostitutes from Benburb Street did their work. Strange characters would stop you for a chat and forget in the end to ask you for money; which was fine as you didn’t have any to give anyway. It was a hard place too.
Well, it was a hard place of course. I remember arriving on the quays one morning to find a complete building had fallen, overnight, into the street. Lucky it didn’t happen in the day time while people, like me, were walking by. Well, lucky in a way. Then you remembered that it was very likely that some of the homeless people you were used to seeing might well have been sleeping in there, trying to stay warm and you might never see them again.
Property developers just let these buildings go to ruin so that they would become dangerous enough to be demolished and they could build cheap rabbit hutches that they could claim would gentrify the area. Now there are some lies.
There was a lot of blood and other bodily fluids on those cracked and uneven pavements and it felt like you could piece them together into some kind of map of the darker side to the human heart.
And there was the question of the public bins. My politics began and may end with the moment I realised that from my house to the centre of town there was not one public bin. Surprise, surprise- there was a lot of litter in the street. That seemed to say it all for me. Why give those people bins; they won’t use them, they’ll probably only burn them. Then there was a lot of litter on the streets; proving the point of your vicious cycle of logic- we were just a gang of animals. As far as I was concerned there would be no justice until there were bins on my streets. No bins; No justice. I still feel that way. Last I looked, still no bins.
In lots of ways, however, Dublin has improved greatly since then. Dublin back then was not as it is now, it was monochrome. Today it is much more cosmopolitan. The movement of people into the country rather than out in a frantic stream has been very good for my native city. There are businesses and restaurants of all sorts. Just having restaurants is a big deal. Perhaps I am being a little unfair but I remember a toasted sandwich in a pub being about the only eating out experience available when I was growing up. It will perhaps be difficult for younger people to envision the strange mix of the modern and well, not-so, of Dublin in the 1980s. There were no ATMs, no mobile phones, we had just got a house phone and it wasn’t even our own, we ran a cable through the wall from by Grandmother’s phone, that’s right my Granny lived next door and became the operator for every phone call I made and received in my teens, it was as good as it sounds. We had not long owned a car.
This was the heyday of the Northside/ Southside divide. I understand that today the same somewhat imaginary boundary runs more East/ West but back then the River Liffey divided the city into two halves, the Southside being at least in my very limited schema, posh and rich, and we on the Northside being ‘salt-of-the-earth’ working class types by contrast. A fifteen minute walk over the river to St. Michael’s Estate or Fatima Mansions (the universal law that the posher the name the rougher the place is particularly strong in Dublin; be careful going for a stroll anywhere called Snowdrop Avenue or similar after dark) should have educated me but it didn’t. I was a Northside fundamentalist.
One way in which this was expressed was my allegiance to Tayto crisps. There were two popular crisps (pronounced ‘crips’ on the good auld Northside) in the Dublin of the day. Tayto and King. No one, as far as I was concerned, was entitled to be neutral as to which was the better crisp, it was most definitely Tayto. King, as the name suggested, née obviously stated, was for entitled, smug, self-important Southsiders. Decent, hard-working and working class Northsiders enjoyed the solid, flavoursome crisp with the stout, common (strange, I admit) potato man for a logo rather than the arrogant King. I would have fought you over this principle, God knows there’s a part of me that still might, which is even more ridiculous than it seems on its face as I discovered more than twenty years ago that the two brands were produced in the same factory and were in essence the very same thing.
Perhaps the best reason to go to town were the cinemas. This was still the time of the large city centre cinema. Nowadays so much has moved to the suburbs as so many have gone to live there but back then people came into town for entertainment. The Savoy and the Charlton faced each other across O’Connell Street, the city’s rundown main drag. Just around the corner there were the Adelphi and the Screen. Not far from that there was the Ormonde on the Quays. All that just on the Northside. These were genuine palaces of wonder and imagination even if many of them were getting rather shabby and sticky in the carpet area by the 1980s. I went to the movies about once a month with my father and sometimes with my sister. The films I saw than really were the most influential works on the formation of my general artist taste, along with a very narrow group of musicians and songwriters.
Much later I did some time (and that’s how it felt) in film school in Dun Laoghaire College of Art, Design, Technology, Design, Film, Photography, Design, the name has no end…, in the fabulous Deansgrange (to be pronounced channelling Mark E. Smith of the Fall please- hard and highly nasal emphasis on the first syllable) A lot of the students in the film courses had been inspired originally by “Star Wars”. I have nothing against Star Wars but the film that had inspired me was David Lynch’s “Dune”. I saw it in the Savoy 1 with my Dad and watched it through twice, something we often did to be fair.
I didn’t know who David Lynch was and in retrospect it probably isn’t one of his best but it took me by surprise as a kid and more than anything else made me think, in a great big flash of light- “You can do this, you can do THIS!” I wrote a poem about it.
It’s here- https://thestoriesihaveinme.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/a-tiny-poem/ (Don’t worry, it’s very short)
I attended (went to) St. Vincent’s C.B.S. in Glasnevin. The C.B.S. stands for Christian Brothers School. Having now lived the guts of twenty years outside Ireland I realise that going to a religious school suggests very different things to people from different countries, cultures and backgrounds. Here in England where I have lived now for over ten years I have come to understand that the mention of a religious school brings to mind images of privilege and a private education but then these are the people who happily call private schools public schools so what do they know?
In reality, due to the fact that the Catholic Church essentially bought the right to educate the nation after the foundation of the state in 1922, a Christian Brothers School basically meant a ‘normal’ comprehensive school except that it was single sex. Think of making a rough school even rougher by filtering the chromosomes. It was right across the road from a cemetery. The cemetery was a more upbeat sort of locale.
I hated school. It was a repressive force in a repressive world. I had recently done, or was about to do, an exam called the Intermediate Certificate, the Inter Cert. This was a largely meaningless exam. It has been replaced since with what I suspect is probably an equally meaningless exam. I bought into the lie that was being pushed from all around me that if I didn’t excel in this exam I would be doomed for life.
The economic situation was bad enough to reinforce this idea. Yes, it was true that our chances of getting a decent job without leaving the country were very small but it would turn out that I would be quite happy to leave the country for a while when the time came and the fact that I worked like hell to get high grades in the Inter Cert (and did so, God help me I still remember them) did nothing for me except to convince me that the whole thing was a fraud and that I was never going to put that much of myself into formal education again.
And I never did.
Since then I have heard about people who are about my age who attended St. Vincent’s at the same time or about the same time who very much enjoyed it so, again, much of my experience there was almost certainly more down to me than anything else.
Still, the worse days of my life.
The very thought of the place makes me shiver. I longed for the day when I could be someone else and I loathed everything around me because it bound me to the person I was. This is a universal condition of teenagerdom but it is no less real or serious for that.
I really wanted to be someone else and to be somewhere else. I was deeply ashamed of the guilt-ridden little Catholic boy who crossed himself passing churches I had been and suspected I still was somewhere deep down. I still feel that way today, just a little. It’s the essence of the phrase- “Once a Catholic.”
Nowadays I understand that if I run away and start again I unravel completely(I’ve tried it enough times); back then I was more romantic and less honest.
That’s it for today. I realise that I haven’t said that much about Iggy but that’s coming. Please look back in on this series in two weeks for the next part. That’s Friday the 24th of Feb. 2017
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