let me be misunderstood
lyricist's poignant plea at graveyard of rats.
McNeill, NME, 1977)
is the place where the rats come to die' lisps the skeletal
blue-haired giant onstage at Paris's Bataclan club, and right
now it feels like it.
We've come virtually direct from the airport, feeling flight-shocked
and hungry, to enter the portals of this stark, dayglo psychedelic
cavern, featuring nothing to drink, nowhere to sit and a hideous
Mutant tones resound from a tape machine to introduce the Doctors
of Madness one by one - Urban Blitz, Peter DiLemma, Stoner,
Kid Strange - and then...
then the Doctors start their set on 'Mainlines', the slowest,
most desolate dirge in their whole gruesome repertoire, rats
dying in the very first line. Well, it's a ludicrous spectacle.
Smoke bombs explode - and the awful lighting seems deliberately
to serve the exact opposite purpose to most lightshows, uglifying
rather than prettifiying.... I try to make sense of this aural
and visual sado/masochism, but it's no use. All I can see is
a bunch of pantomime characters onstage seemingly striving to
induce neurosis in an audience which seems oblivious to the
band's intention, but which responds as it would to a heavy
metal group, banging heads on walls and the more noise and smoke
sensory bombardment escalates until by the end of the set the
hall is strewn with debris and strafed with strobes, stenched
with cordite and steeped in feedback, until the roadies have
wheeled on an exploding dummy and trundled the remains off again,
until the Doctors have turned in the bleakest rendition even
'Waiting For the Man' has ever received... and I realise, soberingly,
that The Doctors of Madness have begun to take themselves seriously.
suppose they always have done.
Strange, songwriter/spokesman/sleevenoter/etc/etc, is a peerless
punster - he once told me a certain line had '14 different interpretations'
and I'd lay money he could enumerate them all for you.
It's not just in speech and lyrics that this operates. Just
as he can apply any of his songs to, say 1977's significance
in the history of mankind, or, say to what he had for breakfast,
so he applies a song to his relationship to his audience. The
bewildered spectator listens.
'I hope that the ambiguity is always there,' he says, after
I've explained to my surprise at seeing what I'd always considered
a kind of cartoon suddenly, several days after the Paris gig
while idly perusing a Doctors album pic, stand up as a viable
reality. Not only were they taking themselves seriously, but
for a split second the image assumed life for me too; the turmoil
the group strove so hard to impose on the Paris gig glimmered
briefly at me.
'We survive on a tension between heaviness and lightness' Strange
continues. 'On a tension between seriousness and humour, or
wit, or whatever'. Comedy is probably the word he's avoiding.
'And y'know, Where the two are one, that's where we have
our fun, those microscopic spaces' he recites, doing the
apt quotation trick. 'That song
"In Camera" is really about us, the artists, and the
people who the artists are supplying the art for.'
And what has the blue hair to do with art?
'That was to get people talking' Kid assures me blithely, having
just shaved it to a convict length which, if anything, makes
him look even more lurid.
'It never caused me any consternation whether the music was
strong enough, because I knew that the mucis was intellectually
and musically stronger than a very large proportion of anything
else that's happening - and I donŐt say that in conceit or bravado,
I just know it to be so.
are very few people trying to make the connection on the level
we're trying - which is very multi-storeyed, starting from a
visual stimulus and going, I hope, all the way through to some
sort of didacticism. It is, at the death, an attempt at education.'
Isn't that a bit....
Absolutely. But I dont have a lot of time for false modesty'.
Kid, a lot of what you write is so cliched, particularly the
imagary you use: razors, suicide, rats, guns, a plethora of
cliches and melodrama (the first of which I hate, the second
of which I tend to like). Don't you think this hinders communications
on the very emotional level you work on when at your best?
You have to find a level to talk to people on,' Strange explains
- not that he and I seem to have found our mutual level.
Even playing back the tape, I'm floundering around trying to
sift the bullshit; as Kid would point out, that's all of it
and none of it.
of the words you've mentioned are very strongly emotive. I'd
rather use things like that than something which wouldn't necessarily
be called cliched because it it so cliched - things like
the occult, that whole chunk of nonsense from your Yesses to
your Black Sabbaths.
at what you are and read newspapers and try and use that
sort of language, and if those come over as cliches it's
probably because we do live a cliche; which is a cliche.
'The question then is, does an artist transcend cliche? Is an
original statement necessarily devoid of cliche?'
Strange thinks not: 'I don't know if you devalue something or
put it slightly downmarket to make it more accessible by doing
what I'm doing. I know I could write a much higher art were
I to so choose, and I could get involved with something much
less image orientated and much more intellect orientated if
Ii so wished. But I'm not that much more of a purist and an
as I am certain they can, Kid Strange and his band can reach
through those 'Microscopic spaces' and touch your heart, why
do they smother it in so much bombast? And why is that boring
old cool rocker image, that most thoughtless barrier, being
allowed to assert itself?
why I always want to give out clues', Strange says, mentioning
that lyrics are proved on 'Figments of Emancipation' along with
obtuse sleevenotes pointing out meanings to the songs.
' I don't aspire to the the Greatest Misunderstood Artist of
Our Time. I want to make that connection. Rock'n'Roll
and films are the greatest image banks of our time. You gotta
do it - and I'll go into it with as much vigour as anyone. I
know you can never get rid of the stage and the audience and
the performers, but it can be a very useful device to have.
if you consider what you do to be in some way an attempt to....'
(entertain?) 'To teach.'
a twerp, you're thinking. It's not what his manager thinks.
Morrison is fuming. The customs have just confiscated his wristwatch,
and as we power into London from Heathrow in his black Rolls
Royce, he champs on his cigar and vows he's going to sue them.
He seems to mean it.
our way to the West End we stop at what looks from the outside
like a studio or even a warehouse, a slightly scruffy building
in West London. However, on venturing inside, I discover it's
Morisson's house, virtually an art gallery, wall-to-wall originals,
deep pile black carpets, sunken bath in the corner of the bedroom,
a dome ceilinged living room which, Morrisson gleefully tells
me, the decorator compared to the Royal Albert Hall.
man is by far the most ostentatious rich man I've ever met.
It might as well be decorated with ten pound notes.
immensely likeable guy who made his millions for himself, Morrison
started out as the Pretty Things' manager after he booked them
for a tenner at his London art school, dropping out to do it,
and finally threw in the towel as a rock entrepreneur for health
and boredom reasons just before the Pink Floyd, who he'd managed
from scratch, cut 'Dark Side of the Moon.' He also managed Free,
T Rex, and many others.
Doctors of Madness rekindled his interest. He believes in them
- and with his bread, it's got tobe a fascinating band to get
Morrison back in the biz.
a world of music that plays safe, he recognises the Doctors
as unique; they may not be totally original, but they are absolutely
isolated. As Paul Morley said, 'the most unfashionable band
of all time.'
the gig, there's 16 of us round a table in a restaurant. Rene,
who designed the florid 'Figments of Emancipation' cover, chucks
some insult Brian's way.
yells Morrison, 'That's the last Doctors cover you do!'
no', groans Kid Strange, 'That means the end of our psychedelic
period. Better practise gobbing, lads.'
I caught the Doctors again at the Marquee during their Route
'77 tour. With a rearranged set, they were back to their beautiful
best - I loved every instant of it. The place was packed, the
sound, lights and performance were great. Dave Vanion (sic)
of the Damned joined in on 'Waiting for the Man'. - They wuz
fantastic. Just thought you ought to know.
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