in a Strange Land
Dadomo, Sounds 'Route 77' tour special, February 1977)
TRUE: You have to climb something like ten flights of stairs
to get to the dressing room and the people in it. This done,
a slow pan of the tall, triangular locale reveals a familiar
congregation, ie a handful of press, four or five record company
representatives and, at the hub, the group and some close friends.
mistaking the group: first, the drummer, the one with the short
fair hair and the dampest stage gear; the bass player, he's
the hannaed gypsy boy with the golden earing; the one in khaki
and the blue-black crop, he packs away the violin with such
care it must be his.
centre, his back to a mirror, a glass of red wine in one enormous
hand is Kid Strange, unmistakeable even at rest, his huge frame
dwarfing the chair it's perched on into some misplaced item
of kindergarten furniture.
chatter of two and a half tongues: English, French, and broken
versions of both as the English journalists meet their Parisian
counterparts, the local record company execs and promoter congratulate
the management and group on what has so far been a very good
stuff eh? Not quite - me and Kid Strange, we've met before,
across page and table both. It's in commemoration of our first
confrontation (the one on paper), that he drops the coathangers
on my head. Bonk, bonk, bonk.
he mean it? Do I bleed? Neither - it's just an old feud become
I tell Kid, I enjoyed your show tonight. Oh, good. The audience
too (but he knows that already) were ecstatic at the end of
it all, prompting one to conclude that maybe France is a more
appropriate country for the Doctors of Madness than their homeland.
not better... different,' says Kid. 'Like playing somewhere
else.' the bluebird in his ear moves in time with his jaw. I
note that his roots look like they could do with retouching
- a tit for tat for those clotheshangers.
One morning in 3066 Brady Koobs, a computer maintenance supervisor
in the giant Euromond conglomerate wakes up in horror. Nothing
is quite as he remembers it; the automatic lighting has failed
and the hum of the Alphacomforter by his air bed is strangely
silent. He gets up and runs to the window to find himself looking
at another world. Or almost - what he sees looks like a scene
from a history book - the old city of London as it was before
the Great Fire.
apartment too is altered beyond all recognition: Where once
were smooth plasticglass walls, there's now cheap, peeling wallpaper;
the self-adjusting colours of the Moodceiling are replaced by
cracked plaster and an ancient light fixture suspended from
a worn length of flex. He looks for his clothes in vain- the
wardrobe is full of course, uncomfortable garments as worn in
the day progresses he discovers that he is indeed, to all intents
and purposes stranded almost a millenium in his planet's past.
Or is he dreaming? Passing time and the indifference and scorn
he meets from his fellow humans put paid to such fanciful notions.
a strong willed individual, Brady Koobs keeps insanity at bay
and begins to take stock of the situation. Until such a time
as a return to his own environment is possible - and he's realistic
enough to realise this might be never - Koobs decides to make
the best of this sordid little present.
what little there is left of it. It's late 1974 and Koobs is
the only person on the planet who knows that two, maybe three
years from now, the entire globe will be plunged into the first
Great Fire, a self-induced holocaust which the human race will
only just survive.
much thought, Koobs decides the best way to stave off the imminent
armagetddon is by means of rock'n'roll - he'll go straight to
the young people of this doomed world and meet them on their
own terms. Gradually this idea takes the form of a rock band:
Doctors of Madness, with Koobs taking on the persona of Kid
Strange, lead singer/guitarist.
message is a simple one: as ever the world is devided inot a
ruling elite and an enslaved mass, with all the refinements
of modern technology taking the place of the slavemasters and
centurions who had been used to enforce the status quo by previous
message is a simple one: 'Decondition/Hang Loose/Stay Close/You're
not many people listen and the future remains balanced on a
Sometimes they do listen. Read any French review of the Doctors
of Madness, be it live or on vinyl, and it's a very different
story from what you get on the English- speaking side of the
channel. For whereas in Britain it's rare to find one reviewer
in twenty who hasn't discovered at least one good reason for
hating the Docs (and, oddly enough, everyone seems to hate the
group for reasons of their own), French 'rock critics' fall
over themselves to sing their praises. And no, this isn't because
the French are starved of rock'n'roll which they aren't, or
because they don't understand English too well.
therefore that the Doc's show at the Bataclan, a Paris hall
with the capacity of the Marquee Club in London, should begin
with a tape of Kid Strange reading a DOM review clipped from
'Best', one of France's two principal rock organs.
you've seen the Docs in Britain, you'll probably be aware of
the fact that the show would normally kick off with a taped
extract from William Burroughs' 'The Naked Lunch'. Here Strange
retains the Burroughs effect by having the review gradually
turn into a cut up of itself - an easy thing to get across as
the language of the original is appropriately Burrovian.
meat of the spectacle is the Doctors themselves though, Kid
appearing from the shadows in the long frock coat from the British
'End of the World' tour, looking like a grave roober from some
neo-Victorian futureworld where everyone has blue hair and eyes
that glow in the dark.
others seem quite normal by comparison, even though Urban Blitz
is still kitted out like an air raid warden from world war three,
and Stoner has on his already mentioned gypsy outfit. Peter
DiLemma's harder to make out, hidden away behind his kit except
for occasional flashes of yellow hair, making his presence felt
principally through his rumbustuous percussion.
for the music, this is only the second time I've seen the group
live but they sound at least ten times stronger and more purposeful
than they did at the end of the last British tour. Part of this
is no doubt due to the fact that the audience is so much more
positive than what they've had (or not) so far at home. But
there's also a greater sense of emergency in the playing, with
the sets being based around the faster numbers in their repertoire,
resulting in an ultimately more dynamic whole.
rock out more than they did last time, in other words, so that
the tension created by the hell's breath 'Doctors of Madness'
is retained through the quieter 'Marie and Joe', ready to be
picked back up again for 'B-Movie Bedtime', another stomper,
this one with its near throwaway 'high as a kite' coda given
all the impact it needs by being zapped from speaker to speaker.
Next they do 'Billy Watch Out', complete with a preface from
Strange about the political and religious maniacs who run the
slides too: a Salvador Dali Christ looming down over Peter DiLemma
during 'Billy' repalced by a black and white shot of a photographer
(Henri-Cartier Bresson to them that knows) for the subsequent
I've made plain in print before now, my initial response to
the Docs was totally negative, culminating in a venomous review
of their second album. Much to my surprise the meeting with
Kid Strange that grew out of that diatribe left me liking the
man a lot and therefore deciding to give his music a second
chance. However much I listened to the records though, I retained
very large reservations - too much of the first album seemed
to wallow in its own sense of large-writ tragedy for example
- and even seeing the group live that first time, an uneven
affair, no doubt affected by the size (small) and warmth - about
half a Victory V lozenge - of the audience - hadn't done a lot
to change my mind onto the kind of super-positive track I reserve
for my, ahem, faves.
I was as surprised as could be when, around the time 'Brothers'
wheeled into 'Suicide City', I suddenly realised I was actually
enjoying what was going down almost as much as the French loony
leaping up and down beside me. And enjoying it not as some kind
of grotesque joke, but for what it was - a very creditable rock'n'roll
fire engine powered by a violin with as much to say for itself
as most of the guitars I'd been the target for in the last month
yes, even the encore of 'I'm Waiting For My Man', (once described
as the worst version ever, or some such by a nameless reporter
in an equally forgettable local rag) was as full and fine and
privy of punch-pulling as the most devout Velvets afficionado
could possibly require. How does it feel to have your head go
the full 360 degrees? Fine.
That night, in a secret hideout deep beneath the Paris sidewalks,
there's a meeting of The Giants, a secret order dedicated to
saving the world from itself. Bob Dylan and John Lennon sit
side by side with the French poets Paul Eluard and Jean Cocteau,
the singer Jacques Brel, Cartier-Besson with a camera at the
ready in his right hand. William Burroughs hidden behind huge
dark glasses, the Swedish film maker Ingar Bergman - other faces,
some familiar, some not so, some missing presumed dead, all
seated at this vast table returning reports. A tentative knock
at the door. A tall man with blue hair walks in. 'Ki Kid, how's
it going out there?' says Burroughs. Kid Strange smiles and
takes his place at the table.
Next morning a sleep-shocked Kid Strange takes coffee in the
foyer of his hotel. He has a Joni Mitchell badge pinned to his
chest bearing the legend 'Free Man In Paris.' And he doesn't
like being hated.
so much down to the first thing that ever appears,' says Kid,
recalling the first piece ever published about the band in Britain
was accompanied by a headline calling the Docs 'the most tasteless
band in the world'.
the point was, no-one had ever called us the most tasteless
band in the world before then. And ever since then we've been
'tacky' and 'crass' and 'gross' and all that other stuff - and
I think it's down to the initial response from people to that
I find that very interesting becuase that's just another aspect
of the whole thing that we're about, which is how easily people's
responses are conditioned by their stimulation.'
Late 1974. The renowned explorer Beauregard Chancer is unearthing
the remains of a Mayan burial ground. At the deepest part of
his excavations, he discovers a vast coffin-like object which
seems to glow from within. Analysis fails to detect the presence
of any known metal. Late one night, as the curator dreams about
the 'bunny' spread-eagled across his lap, the mysterious container
opens, freeling the only survivor of the atomic holocaust that
destroyed the civilisation of Atlantis. Improbably tall, gleaming
in the darkness, a five thousand year-old man steps into the
It's been said of the Doctors of Madness that their use of William
Burroughs as a starting point amounts to little more than elegant
name-dropping; same with the other 'literary' techniques - the
slides of Cartier-Besson and Ingmar Bergman's 'The Seventh Seal'
too. But then if it's cool for Patti Smith (like Kid, a Francophile)
to sing about Rimbaud...
Strange: 'I find it very satisfying to have someone from Darlington
come up and say 'I've just managed to get hold of a copy of
'Naked Lunch'... I don't know whether it's important or not
that someone from Darlington should read some Burroughs, but
I do find it satisfying that someone who might never have turned
on to that train of thought is there partly because of something
I may have said or done. The reason I find it satisfying is
because I think Burroughs is working for the liberators rather
than the jailers...'
Henry and Alice Hibbert, a retired Milwaukee couple, were driving
home from a friend's house one night in 1974 when Alice spotted
a long cigar-shaped object in the sky.
was moving at a fantastic rate' Alice said later. 'Suddenly,
the car stopped dead and we couldn't open the doors or anything'.
and Alice went on to realate how the vast 'airship' had stopped
above their automobile and seemingly drawn it up into itself
felt no fear', says Henry going on to relate how he and his
mate travelled to a planet 'Beyond the Stars', where they were
examined in the minutest detail by a race of telepathic beings
of obviously superhuman intelligence.
they were returned to the same stretch of road at precisely
five minutes after starting time, even though they'd experienced
what seemed like several weeks of subjective time.
to say the Hibbert's story was considered nothing more than
an elaborate, attention-grabbing fantasy. Especially the bit
about the gigantic 'aliens' with the blue hair.
Doctors of Madness, fortified and strengthened by the good vibes,
food and wine of France (Kid: 'It's always back to Paris'),
are about to set foot on native soil once more. There will be
no more blue hair says Kid - 'For you: an exclusive'. There
will be stimulation and conflict aplenty.
The above is entirely fictitious: there is no such group as
Doctors of Madness, no such individual as 'Kid Strange'.
All paragraphs prefaced by the word 'TRUE' are totally imaginary.
Loose/Come Close/You're Beautiful Slob Condition/Flat Clot/Hag/You/Decode/Cod/Utiful...'
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