Great Western

On the advice of an old friend, an old, old friend, I’ve finally decided to start keeping a blog again. I was still in my early twenties when I first met him. He still had hair and I looked like a Motley Crue roadie. It was an undignified look at best. But, as is often the case when I use this platform, I digress. The last time I blogged I think I was still waiting on Cross Country Murder Song to be published, I was almost certainly still in London with my then girlfriend and my dog. None of those things are true of me now. The book was published, certainly, and very well received too, I even took a meeting with a real film star’s production partner who bought me coffee and eggs (which I was too nervous to eat, though I did neck the coffee the way men who come out of the desert go at water) and I even got to go to the theatre to see said film star perform on a minute stage. Even though they passed on my book, I have to say that the film star was tremendous. I went in determined not to like him or the production (petty professional jealousy, it’s what I do best) and left with my jaw properly dropped. He was immense and had the torso of a young Tarzan, no wonder the critics cooed.

Anyway, that moment’s passed, as has the relationship and, for the foreseeable, my life in London. That’s more of an occasional thing now where I appear to work and attend meetings and tell my agent (she’s something new in my life too) that the new book’s going very well, which is almost true. I still pull out of there on the train at night and feel something that might be the rub of regret as I leave, but I can’t be sure. It’s early still and a new city alone is a lot to take in. So, for the handful of you who are interested, I’ll be scratching my head in wonder here a lot more. The book’s over halfway done and the agent thinks it’s ‘brilliant’, but then she is my agent, plus she’s just had a baby and might just be feeling kind or woozy or struggling mentally as I understand a mewling child takes it right out of you.

On a happier note (not to detract from the joy of childhood and the beauty it brings, etc.), I’m busy, which stops me sitting at my desk and wondering how often I can fuck up my life before someone turns up at the door and hands me a revolver (that’s right, I’m living in Sweden. I am not). But as much as this is a release, I’ll try not to make it all about wounded introspection. Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent time talking to Kiss (all of them), Soundgarden (ditto, Chris Cornell resisted for a while, but he too soon gave in to my Welsh charms) and an admirable young man called Winston McCall who sings (I say sings, he admits that he can’t) with a band called Parkway Drive. Before their new album, Atlas, was sent to me, I didn’t feel one way or the other about them, but there’s something magical about that record and about their approach to life that had me totally entranced.

For those of you closer to my age who are now appalled that I like a band they’ve never heard of, the good news is that the new Kiss record, Monster, is vibrant and exciting and packed with songs. Paul Stanley will tell you that it’s the one of the best things they’ve ever done, as usual, but this time you might want to take that on board. Admittedly, there’s one song on there about cunnilingus that is as blunt as a ball peen hammer, but the rest of the record simply flies. I’m still taken aback by it. And on that happy note, I’ll get back to filing copy and wondering how the hero of my latest book will make it out of this alive. Though, as readers of CCMS will know, I’m always happy to leave my leading men dead in the wash, bloody corpses floating way out to sea. But then we all have days like that, I’m sure.

Summer, Highland Falls

It’s strange that a song written by a New Yorker about a place I’ve never been can cause such a reverie. The above title was written by Billy Joel, I think it was from Turnstiles, forgive me if I’m wrong, and whenever I hear it, as I just did, then I’m back in a classroom in Wales studying A level English with Mr. Millington. For those of you who’ve read my book – Cross Country Murder Song, Vintage imprint coming soon! – you might have noticed his name in the dedication. He and The Boy (more of whom another time), got both barrels of my love, I managed to catch up and reacquaint myself with The Boy before he died, but I never got to say goodbye to Millington and I’m sorry about that as he truly turned my life around.

It was the mid-80s or thereabouts, Ted was originally from Birmingham and how he ended up in our small, Welsh valley is still something of a mystery. Everyone has their Dead Poets Society moment I suppose and he was mine. All the girls were infatuated by this short man in a duffle coat with a bowl haircut, the boys in the class either loved or loathed him. I wavered between both. He was astute, sharp and funny and seemed to care, which was unnerving at best, my home life was a lesson in abandonment; three individuals trying to hold on the ever brittle strands of family. We were doomed from the minute my father walked out on us. Ted had issues of his own, a son he loved and doted on and what looked like a long dead marriage. A few years later, he and another teacher (she taught Home Economics and made the boys in the sixth form pant like tired bloodhounds) pretty much ran away together. He never did things lightly so it must have crushed him to give up on his family unit, no matter how badly they were listing.

But I’m getting away from how he taught us; with verve and style and, mostly, with heart. He taught us The Great Gatsby at a time when I was at war with the world. I didn’t want to hear about America’s Jazz Age or its most glittering participants, I wanted the land leveled, I wanted someone to pay for the pain I was feeling. Ted wouldn’t give up on us though, he drove Fitzgerald’s brilliant text into our consciousness, taught us the spare beauty of his dazzling prose, he taught us that knowledge is power, freeing too. Mostly he taught me that I didn’t have to stay in that place, both geographically and mentally, he set me free and I don’t think he did it unwittingly. He saw something in me that I must have missed. He saw past the anger and the hurt, reigniting my love of writing and reading, he kicked open a long closed door. It was no surprise that when I got my first tattoo some years later it was the last paragraph of The Great Gatsby around my thigh and it was as much about my love of the written word as it was a man who pulled me from my own infernal wreckage.

He became gravely ill in the same Welsh hospital as The Boy, both beginning their long descent into oblivion from beneath those same sheets. Old school friends tried to contact me for the funeral – an event literally filled with hundreds and hundreds of pupils, present and past – but I was in London then, travelling abroad for magazine work, moving homes, trying to gain some purchase on the world, trying to make my mark. By the time news reached me, he was set resting on a Welsh hillside at the end of his far too short journey. I’m working on my second novel now and had sat down today to write, but not about him or this, I’d almost forgotten a lot of it. But there wouldn’t have been a Cross Country Murder Song without him, hell, there wouldn’t have been magazine articles, memoirs, TV scripts, radio work, I’d have been rotting in my own personal hell, thinking about what might have been, still blaming the world, railing against the picturesque landscape outside, self-contained and always, always confined. Thank you, Ted Millington, my words of appreciation are long overdue.

Working Man

Somehow I let the summer go by without writing anything down. Actually, that’s not true, I spent a few months working absurdly long hours ghosting a memoir. It’s a strange if lucrative gig. You spend hours with your subject, pore over the very bones of their being, make their voice come to life on the page and then nothing. It’s like the longest one night stand ever. The book comes out, you hardly recognise huge swathes of it – but then you did think the editor was a tosser all along – and you’ve already made one enemy for life and realised how lucky you are to have a human being for an agent. The money was good though, I spent it on making my debts look less ugly and teaching the dog to love ice cream. Shortly afterwards the vet told me Ralph was overweight, I held up my hands in a display of horrified shock, but you could tell she wasn’t buying it especially as I was feeding the mutt a tub of Ben & Jerry’s at the time.

Otherwise, I’ve been to New York, The Green Man festival (which was terribly wet even by soggy Welsh standards), I got stuck in Philadelphia and Columbus (sadly, they aren’t the names of two strippers I met) and went to LA on the hottest day on record. It was the kind of weather that killed Tarantino’s editor, it caused me to lay on the floor of my hotel room with the AC on full doing my best not to move too much. I’ve been to court too for all the good that did. I saw men beating up another man, then I went to court and told the judge that and they let them off because of lack of evidence. It made me feel rather ineffectual, like so much smoke being shooed out of an open window. Much more happily, I did a live Q&A with Rush’s Geddy Lee last night at a cinema in London. He was good value, he’s always good value, as were the incredibly keen audience. Though they did swarm all over Geddy like a scene from The Walking Dead once we were done. I could hardly push past them to get to the bar. One short man with a red face asked my name and then told me I was annoying, I was tempted to push him down the stairs and stand on his neck until he turned puce, but I let him have his moment and let his little legs carry him home to his undoubtedly ugly and frumpy wife and his two kids who hate him, I imagine. I hope he’s been hit by a car today. More good news; I interviewed Gail Zappa on Friday and we got along famously, so much so that she invited me up to the family house to see where Frank worked the ‘next time I was in LA’. I’m currently checking my air miles… Oh, and I fell out with Nicky Wire and then made it up again. Sorry, I’m dropping names and condensing timelines with a flagrant disregard for convention, but fuck it, no, fuck you. Which is what I said to Wire. I didn’t.

We have a live Perfect 10 in Manchester on Saturday, as usual Phill and I have done next to nothing in terms of preparation yet, there’ll be a flurry of activity and panic on Thursday when we’ll actually pick up the phone to each other and debate what we’re going to do. The last one in London went over pretty well so I suspect that one of us will fall off the stage at the very least this time. If it’s Phill and you’re in the front row then I apologise in advance, but it’s your own fault for being so keen. At least you’ll make the papers, even if it is just the Manchester Evening News.

Ralph the Bastard

To his eternal credit the dog really does look like an Ewok, but as I’ve got a life and very little time on my hands (and George Lucas brandishes lawyers like Darth swings a lightsabre) I’ve resisted dressing him up in a cowl and taking pictures of him. There are enough of those images on the web as it is. Anyway, he’s called Ralph and he’s hit our house the way a tornado fucked up Kansas in a Wizard Of Oz. I have a cage pretty much next to my side of the bed now, an actual cage, Katie Price’s latest husband could fight for a title belt in there and I think there’d be enough room. Ralph sits in its corner and snores. At first we assumed he was having an asthma attack as he sleeps sitting upright and with his eyes open. It’s like we’ve adopted Damon from The Omen. He’s snoring as I write, but with his face pressed hard against his favourite towel. Oh yes, he has a favourite towel, he has lots of things, the entire run of the house and our hearts being just two of them. I still feel guilt and shame when I look at a photo of my cat and finding out that Ralph was born around the time Sylvain died did nothing but reduce me to quiet tears (not because I imagined a transfer of souls, I have about as much faith in the idea of a god as I do my agent), but because it seemed to compound the idea that I was cheating on her bones and had abandoned her somehow. I sound like a Catholic.

Not that I’m going to get mawkish about her or him. It’s hard to fall hard for a hound whose pee you’ve stepped in at 3am and realised that given the right combination of low lighting and no socks you can actually scream like a little girl. I woke the dog too. And Nuala. She gave me the skunk eye and rolled over muttering about having to get up early for work so I pulled the quilt off her and dumped her on the bedroom floor. She made a noise like air leaving a deflating balloon. Ralph was her idea. I walked him in the rain the next morning and felt hopelessly romantic though, I imagined a black and white shot of me and him leaning into the hail and wind and passers-by taking that image with them to the tube and saying how heroic we both looked and then going out at lunchtime to buy my book and praise me in whispering tones. Novelist, humanist, vegetarian, dog-walker… That sort of thing. As it was we both looked defeated by the drizzle and I took two plastic bags in case Ralph felt the urge to answer the call of nature in Kentish Town. He didn’t. He waited until we got home, which meant I probably didn’t need to go out in the rain after all. Best not dwell on that last point.

In other news (and thank the good lord for that), the Laugharne Weekend is almost upon us, I travel down Saturday in hope of catching Julian Cope doing his irrepressible thing and then get to share a billet with Kevin Allan, uncle to Lily. The full bill’s quite tremendous and I make up a very small part of it on the Sunday at 2pm with Nicky Wire and then at 5.30pm with his brother, the poet Patrick Jones. If you happen to be in the town Dylan Thomas based Under Milk Wood on then come by and buy a copy of my book, I’ll almost certainly chat to you then. Before then we record a new Perfect Ten, we’ve already slid back on our promise to make them fortnightly, and I’ve been enjoying new music from the Stone Temple Pilots (yes, I was surprised too) and Taylor Hawkins (ditto) and former Kyuss man Brant Bjork. That made me want to smoke a doobie and I mean that in the good way even though I pretty much detest dope as it slows me down. I once snorted vodka and had to smoke dope to stop me throwing up or my head exploding, I forget which. I’ve also rediscovered the A Boy Named Goo record and the debut Chris Cornell album, Euphoria Morning, both gems and for very different, very valid reasons. Anyway, I need to pick some CCMS passages to read this weekend, wish me luck, I’ll almost certainly snort with derision at your good wishes. The window’s open and the dog’s barking at something unseen and unheard outside, best get used to that I suppose…

Wheels

I can’t remember the last time I was interviewed, I think it must have been when Phill and I were at 6 Music, someone came in to ask us why we were both Apple devotees or when we did an outside broadcast at a student radio station somewhere. It’s fuzzy and I imagine we did our usual thing; made seventeen different in-jokes until the interviewer got glassy eyed and sort of gave up on us. Quite rightly too. We’ll never be half as funny as we think we are when we’re showing off and we used to show off a lot. Anyway, the Booktrust gave the novel a very nice review (http://www.booktrust.org.uk/show/book/search/Cross-Country-Murder-Song) and then they asked if they could interview me. I said yes. Very nice it was too and they bought me a Marmite (I haven’t eaten Marmite since my cat died, long story) bagel and numerous coffees and asked me some pretty engaging questions, including what music I listened to when I wrote. I wasn’t even sure myself, but it’s Bill Evans in the main, some Herbie Hancock too, I can’t listen to lyrics when I write fiction, though I can when I’m working on my journalism, weirdly. I can’t read fiction when I’m writing fiction either (I’m inbred, what can I tell you?) so I’m currently reading The Journals Of John Cheever. His home life can best be described as complex. Like a Gordian Knot is complex. Its good though, what a brilliant voice he was.

Post-interview I had a date with Random House and booksellers from all over the country who were sizing up the autumn release schedules like a stag party appraising a stripper. I’m not on the schedule, the Vintage edition of CCMS will be with you in February 2011 – like you care. It was good to see everyone though, I scared Tom the editorial assistant by telling him that I’d had a dream about him, I think he actually took a step backwards at the news and all the authors present sized each other up with sideways glances and barely concealed contempt. I took solace in the fact that the wine was free and that if we all ended up in prison I would almost certainly be the Daddy in a roomful of men who looked like substitute teachers. Hell, some of them might even be substitute teachers. It’s such a solitary existence writing that you think we’d make more of a night out on Random House’s coin, but I left early and I certainly wasn’t the first out of the door. It was good to see Dan, Vicki and Clara though (Team Wilding as I call them in my head, if I said it out loud they’d lynch me), the last time we were in a room together was at my launch party and the less said about that the better.

Otherwise, it’s been the usual mix of interviews (me doing the interviews not the other way around), a birthday and a very boozy weekend in Brighton where we took on the whiskey list at the Great Eastern pub and lost quite convincingly. Musically, I’ve rediscovered Chris Cornell’s excellent Euphoria Morning album  – I’ve been writing about him – and tipping my hat to Big Star after the sad news of Alex Chilton’s untimely death. Hell, when is death ever timely? The new Jesse Malins album has a lot of heart (and some very good songs too) as does the Coheed album. And we’re thinking about buying a dog, I’ll need the company when Book 2 breaks my heart like a cheap vase. I want to call him Thursday, Nuala’s less keen… More on that sooner than I’d probably like.

Snow globes, one for every time he’d killed

After three missed calls, about eighteen e-mails and any number of exasperated sighs I finally tied up the interviews with two parts of ELP this week. Greg Lake on Tuesday and Keith Emerson last night. For the teenagers among you this won’t mean much, but for men of a certain age ELP once strode the earth like a classically-trained behemoth. The keyboard player used to stab his organ (Hammond, this was before public self-harming was popular) and they once took an orchestra on tour, it cost them £6 million all told. This was in 1977 and caused what you might refer to as a rift in the band, they broke up two years later and said mean things about each other publicly. They’re now as close to being firm friends as they’ll ever be and due to play a one-off show (which might evolve into a few dates) at the High Voltage Festival at Victoria Park in London this summer. I’m actually excited. I know some of you look at me and think, Wilding, misanthrope, never dances alone at home or tells knock-knock jokes to inanimate objects or gets excited at the prospect of anything, but I do. Rarely, but it happens. Roxy Music and ELP both playing the same grassy knoll a week apart, I’m almost punching the air right here at my desk. You should come, we’ll drink pear cider and forget where we parked the car and then remember that we don’t have a car and that I can’t drive. That’s a good Sunday by any standards. Anyway, the interviews were great, Greg fell over in rehearsal and Keith’s condo flooded (not while we were chatting, that would mean I was bad luck), but they were still both relatively chipper. Roll on July.

Elsewhere, CCMS came out in Canada this week or it was meant to. My Canuck friends (Moose, Mountie and Geddy as I call them) couldn’t find it for love nor money. It doesn’t come out in Australia next week either. I’m hoping you’ll prove me wrong, Australia! On a book tip, I actually drafted the first chapter of the new novel earlier this week, all 5300 words of it. I think it’s good. The agent thinks it’s great, I thought he’d had a stroke or been given three months to live when I got that email (and if he has that won’t be a quarter as funny). I’ve decided that I’ve got to get it done before the Vintage paperback of CCMS comes out in February 2011. Imagine beards, tears and a lot of shouting – a bit like touring with ZZ Top in the Seventies I’d imagine – until then, poor Nuala, she has to listen to me tell jokes to the fridge as it is. I feel good about it though, I feel like it can be done. I wasn’t sure the magic hadn’t run out of me after book 1 (as it’s now known) was done. It’s the Laugharne Festival with Nicky Wire next month and then the Litro stage as part of the Camden Crawl (whenever that is) and then, delightfully, I’m doing Green Man as are the Flaming Lips and Billy Bragg! I sort of know Billy (he once wrote a song for me and Phill) so I’m going to stand by him and ask him to dedicate Levi Stubbs’ Tears to me when he plays and then drink pear cider with him and ask him if he wants to arm wrestle. It’s good to have a plan in place before you set out on these things. One more book thing; a friend of mine saw a girl reading Cross Country Murder Song on the Northern Line, I hope she’s alright.

ELP aside, I’m also writing my second Soundgarden article in a matter of months (it’s handy having toured with all these bands who are now making a comeback – I’m looking at my Faith No More gold disc as I write) and interviewing Train at some point. Their new album’s rather pretty. As is The Pineapple Thief CD, I’d tell you what it’s called if I could remember, but it’s out in May and could make them rich enough that they’ll all have racehorses by the end of the year. Oh and my pen came back, my righteous, ludicrously expensive fountain pen is fixed. Thankfully, I have some books to sign. Apropos of nothing, I’m forty-four next week, I really should get a haircut. Have a weekend.

Old friends, bookends, etc.

A wet Thursday night on the Archway Road acted as the backdrop to what would turn out to be a fairly difficult (breach) birth to my first novel, Cross Country Murder Song. There were around a hundred people there in all at the very fetching Boogaloo, which put me in mind of some of the old rock and roll bars I used to frequent/haunt on tour. Great jukebox, nice bar, two cats pretty much running the room. They’d set up a small stage for us on which Dan Franklin (greatest editor ever, Napalm Death fan and one of the few people with the balls to take a punt on my book) stood and told the gathering that there was something wrong with me, which he liked very much indeed. Some days I feel exactly the same way.

I got up and wore the crowd down and over the next hour or so (interspersed with some excellent tunes by Mules and Ewing – my favourite law firm), I read three parts from the book, Porn, Fallen and Holiday, though not in that order. I was accompanied by Grant Moon (made infamous by The Perfect Ten, sorry Moon) who belied first night nerves with a brilliant telling of one of the book’s many Choruses and brought the passage where the driver’s paranoia keeps him locked in his car pissing in a variety of containers to vivid life. He got the biggest laugh of the night too and reminded that the book was funny and that was something that the critics had missed.

Willie Dowling (Jackdaw 4, check out their site especially the song Rosebud which was partly inspired by CCMS) was up next, he chose Box (Reprise), but had come more to tell the world what was wrong with popular culture and why a book like mine might be important. I’m not sure it’s important at all (it’s not), but I couldn’t have written it at all without Willie helping along the way. He was fired and a little angry and he caught the damage and danger of CCMS in the breaking ire of his words. Jupitus had picked Plastic, he reckoned that months of playing a woman on stage in Hairspray had given him some sort of affinity with the female lead in that chapter. He was tremendous, a comic he may be, but he can act, really act. I first realised that when we recorded an ad for the Beeb years ago, but that’s another lifetime. Anyway, he brought his performing game to bear and made the character addicted to plastic surgery really come to life. I felt sorry for her all over again, I still wanted her to win, but she didn’t.

Al three were kind/good enough to credit my words, but they gave them colour on the night. It was good to feel them come off the page. They were vivid and lively, funny and cruel, it sounded like a book I might have wanted to write. There was a little disarray later on when someone who should have known better got as drunk as a character in a Tom Waits’ song and decided to tell me what exactly was wrong with my book and me as a human being. I couldn’t have cared less, but it upset some people I care about very much. That aside, the book’s out now, I went and stared at it in Waterstones and Foyles and it made me feel as warm as I might have hoped. It appears to be selling pretty well for a debut too. We’ll see.

On a different tip, people keep asking me if BBC 6 Music is closing down, I really don’t know. Phill wrote a very good piece about it for the Guardian website on Friday, accompanied by a very old picture of us. I saw the editor at my launch and I’m not sure he knew either. The Kaki King album is great as is the Kick-Ass movie. This week I’m interviewing Killing Joke, reviewing Dan Reed at the Union Chapel, going to see the Rush documentary and then  John Waite at the Underworld in Camden. Like Jethro Tull, I’m currently living in the past.