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Thursday, 11 June 2009

Rock gods? Not all that.

Ambling across the stage like a directionless bluebottle unable to escape from a room, Bobby Gillespie is a very odd rock god.

He limply shakes the mic like it’s irksomely stuck to his hand and it’s a wonder he remains on his feet. His hair whips his eyes and he stumbles about like the stage is balancing on a giant ball.

He is a truly, strangely mesmeric front man, though not for having anything approaching a fantastic voice.

Rock gods sit astride the planet, stepping from one continent to another in a single step. Larger than life, skinny as their wife, the hair of a pride of taut lions and in thrall to no man.

So you don’t expect to see him coyly stepping up the stairs of the Gower Street branch of Waterstone’s, looking nervously around as though they are half expecting someone to come up behind them and tickle their 12” waist.

But there he was, the singer who got his rocks off and got loaded was attending an hour-long discussion with the author, nee music journalist, Jon Savage.

Savage was already milling around the art history books where the chairs had been set up on the first floor. There were only around twenty-five of us there to hear his thoughts about journalism, music and specifically Punk, following the publication of the transcripts to the universally acclaimed book on that scene’s music and culture England’s Dreaming.

Savage is a very well-dressed middle-aged man with tiny circular black rimmed specs perched permanently atop the tip of his nose. A trendy black jacket and buttoned-to-the-top white shirt reminds me of a Vivienne Westwood collection I had seen, and he carries it off better than a younger man ever could. His grey and white hair stands erect in a flat top and finishes off the twenty-first century upper- middle class punk.

His interviewer for the evening is another revered author Michael Bracewell, who has written extensively on matters music with a particular passion for Roxy Music.

They converse like the old friends they are and cover Savage’s love of Punk, his undying, almost still unrequited love of Punk and the gap in the market when he wrote it in just 6 months in 1991.

Since then Punk has exploded into the public sphere once more with other histories and coffee table books, photography books and films and biopics and documentaries. Does Savage think he spawned a monster? On the contrary, the book did what he wanted, it opened the floodgates and brought his scene back to life.

The Sex Pistols reform, Lydon and Iggy Pop do commercials, four films featuring Joy Division are unleashed, the Clash release long awaited live albums. You only need hang around Camden Town tube station or even shop in Urban Outfitters to see the influence Punk still has on fashion. If it’s not the tartan trousers it’s the timeless Pistols image of the Queen adorning the fronts of t-shirts.

Savage is, however, quite modest and accepts the praise heaped upon his influence and writing with a nod of the head. It’s very hard to disagree, his writing is staggeringly, truly vivid. He cites Burroughs and Rechy as influences and his hefty tomes reflect this.

You can smell the sweat, the puke, the filth and the fury.

At the end I look across to Gillespie who is humble in his presence. I wonder how the tides have turned, the writer more respected than the subject. Savage said at one point he never wanted to meet his idols. I can see his point.

The mystique is lost forever.


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