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Love love love love love.
When did I start using this world like some guppy-eyed gullible old hippy?
I guess it's that there's a love I imagine, which is more like a frayed tightrope, or a guerilla campaign, or a revolution, or a feral adventure, or a smile in the street ... than "love" qua mills & swoon {not that I don't enjoy the odd swoon now and then, as you know, comes down to it ...}

But just thinking about how all these different strands seem to tangle up purposefully at some {imagined?, but hopefully, not vanishing} point....

One of the books I've been reading [Rouse Up O Young Men of The New Age! by Kenzaburo Oe] and one of the records I've been listening to most [the finally-issued-on-CD On The Beach by Neil Young] ... there seems to me this sub-vox note of hope, here and there, I think: of hope and care and reaching out to others and ... and Love.
Love as a tiny speck at first, to be sure, but a love that turns out to be supremely timely, a welcoming fire in the forest, burning away the dead wood of imagined or ingrained solitude, to reveal a welcoming fire for to banish your darkest loneliest nights in loving smoke and spectral ash and glowing brisance.

Marcello has already touched upon this; but ... how odd that these two 'events' should coincide: the final second coming of Young's {and thereby also MacDonald's, as Marcello and I'm sure not Marcello alone sees it} masterpiece, and IMac's decision to, as they say, end it all.

But ... end what? End what "all"? End ... whose all?

* ---- *

I never knew IMac, tho' I knew people who knew him {and I thereby know too much already, to tell the truth}, and we had close brushes near misses as it were at the NME circa early 80s; he hadn't meant anything much to me as a writer in those Golden mid 70s, because rather than the Kent IMac CSM gang, I was more of a Street Life and Let It Rock boy. {Idris Walters was my Hero: my GOD, I can still virtually recite from memory, nearly 30 years on, bits of his pieces on Tim Buckley and Keith Hudson ... } I can remember just a couple of lines from IMac - briliant lines, studded in the memory like silver currency in some cloyingly bland cakemix - one from a singles review of The Wailers [live] 45 "No Woman No Cry" - he described, I think, the moment when the organ comes in as like a Boeing taking off - and a line from, I think, a Henry Cow review, where he described the collective improvisation, the intensity and oddity of it, as being something like a huge flailing naked octopus, stranded on dry land, under glaring megawatt stadium lights. Something like that.

My other memories aren't, in truth, so good.

No one ever told you anything at the NME: they didn't say, oh, by the way, douse any of those young-kid pant-pant preconceptions you may have before they come in today, those superstars of yesteryear, because Pete Erskine is now a puffy down-at-cowboy-heel junkie who downs Carlsberg Special Brews for breakfast*; and IMac is a terminal clinical depressive who now hates the young and their Music and all it stands for with a spiteful solipsistic venom {and, we now find out, had apparently already tried to kill himself twice at this point}.
With the result that:

a) Someone I Know, who DID worship IMac as a teen, went all excited to lunch with IMac and the paper's editor {who must, surely, have been aware of the potential conflagration/sadness up ahead, but was either himself too dopily solipsistic or blithely out to lunch to care either way or actually say beforehand to either of the parties in question ...}. And this IMAc Fan, this friend of mine, who I loved and love still like a brother, with whom I was at that time having the TIME OF MY LIFE, we excited each other to new heights daily, the way that young lovers do, or should do, anyhow, this IMac Fan was forced to cut short his benedictory lunch and came back to the office in tears, after IMac had spitefully, venomously, hatefully, soil-ipsistically, deliberately/offhandedly disproportionately DAMNED everything this person was currently so excited about in our nineTEEN eighty something world.

Which relates also to ...

b) This MASSIVE {threeweeks times FOUR full pages of text: well, you can imagine how some of us felt, who had lately had to battle for every inch for our polymorphic enthusiasms} IMac piece - called, I think, 1984 - and OH, what a DREARY portent that title seemed, and OH how right we were to suspect the most conservative with a small 'c' sort of "political" diatribe, politics as if detached from life, politics as if you were being Lectured To, from a Great Height, Orwellian in the worst way, dry, fact based, flat earth socialism, Orwellian in the keep it simple & uncluttered prose style, sure, that has its benefits too, yes, but not truly Orwellian, in that it was so dryly, pathologically, in-humanly FATALISTIC ....

I still remember one line in it: it still rankles.
I brought this line up at an Editorial Meeting.
I rose to my full puffed up amphetamine'd mini me guerilla height, and QUOTED this line out loud.
The piece as a whole was, you know, doom doom doom, Thatcher, surveillance, we're all fucked, we're all automata, unthinking, unfeeling {it was IMac's LOW review without the diversion of music or an Other mind to do argumentative battle with; it was IMac's ON THE BEACH piece, without the warmth & humanity provided by Young}, and YES, probably impeccably researched and accurate, but, BUT ... I don't remember a word of it, now, any of its postulations or predictions (which is surely a sign of something, anyway, to start with), except this ONE LINE, I do remember this line and how it crystallised something for me, in my young unknowingness (unknowing about IMac's personal situ, his STATE of mind, not what his mind thought about the State or "our" state, but certainly not unknowing about intensity or vision or politics or writing persausively and seductively and subversively, about love, perhaps even at that young age, light years ahead in my knowledge of some of those things), so I said what I was thinking, to wit:

It may be all very well, all this - waves hands airily - late blooming political conscience stuff but listen to this...
Then I read the line which - again, this is only from memory - but this IS how it went:
'We're all doomed, we're all fucked, [because] we sit alone, in dark little rooms, unable to touch or reach out and communicate with each other, lost in miasmas of Me Generation mirror reflection and navel gazing and...'
What the fuck IS this? {I was fiery then, you know: I was!}
This has nothing to do with me or my life! This does not describe the lives of anyone I know! I would hazard that it describes even less the lives of a good majority of our readers, young, older, male, female, gay, straight, intellectual, hedonist, whatever. What the fuck is this guy on about? Except, OBVIOUSLY, himself? His OWN situation? This is SO OBVIOUSLY {and you have to remember, I knew nothing, no one said anything, no one EVER said anything, these cool dope smoking men to a man said nothing} just about this guy and his own fucked-up situation ... sitting in a room unable to ... FUCK off! WE are all out on marches! or at clubs! having the time of our fucking life! Even - or especially - when arguing politics! We're fighting back! We're reading new books! We're discovering NEW perspectives! We're DANCING to a new mutant strain!

{IMac, like Certain Other Members in the older NME remnants bin, had suddenly found a Political Conscience / Consciousness. I remember one, who started to humorlessly, patronisingly RANT at us about it, day in day out, in prolier and PC-ier than thou terms ... when, er, excuse me, but FUCK RIGHT OFF. I've read the entire works of Gramsci and you've just read a few columns by Paul Foot and John Pilger. I tried to interest you in all this "boring political stuff" stuff TWO YEARS AGO and you said, no, you were happy in your "autistic little Ramones universe" and that politics had no business being in "rock and roll": ... OK? Remember? So don't start fucking lecturing ME on how politics works, matey: we've been there, done that, and are onto the next, rather more subversive project. So, back off to your leather jacket corner and ostenatiously displayed CRANKS bag and go bore the passion out of someone who gives a holy rollin' Other-patronisin' shite ...}

- ++++ -

But seriously, I get the {wider} feeling this relates also to the line, repeated in all of the Ian MacDonald obituaries, that he had been deeply depressed for three years now "over the state of the world."
Now, again - not to speak ill of the dead, and dignified silence for a minute, yes, and for all you or I know, this "state of the world" thing was a front, a mask, a blind, and the real reason was FAR more personal, or, if this was actual clinical depression then indexing it to the political state of the world is like blaming your diabetes on Downing Street in-fighting: i.e., there IS no connection. There is certainly no CAUSAL connection; i.e., immersing yourself in the unrelenting horror and lies and stink of World News 24/7 will certainly not help you climb OUT of a depression {and which, that is certainly one of the reasons I find it impossible to maintain this [b]log as a 24/7 World News vigil}, but it didn't "cause" it to begin with.

And to me, that rankles. Once again.
I'm sorry; and please tell me if you think I'm out of line here {and I actually wrote a far more vehement take on all this last night but shelved it, out of some vestigial sense of proper time and place and so forth ... but} BUT it's what I FEEL, in my gut.
That "state of the world" thing is like a final finger wag from IMac at all us poor fools who CAN'T see the world in its true awful colors, we aren't supra sensitive or politcally acute enough or something ...

Perhaps this "explanation" was even left by him in a note, he seems to have planned [t]his last Act meticulously down to the last detail, ticking off each detail, a bit like some of the pieces in The Peoples Music: tick tick tick, yes, but ... where's the spirit, where's the membraneous "I" that links the writer's mind to the warm hummmm and glorious battle of the music to the reader's intimately distant "you"? Where's IAN in all this? Where's his REAL voice? Why didn't or couldn't he reach out and touch? No one, I'm sorry, but NO ONE commits suicide at his age over the state of the world. That's a teenager's sallow, shallow notion; and a cruel one at that. Suicide can be the cruellest act {or acte apparently gratuite} at the "best" of times, for those it leaves behind, on the farther shore of unknowingness, even not so close friends may be torn in two by such quiet exits in the night ... and here was a man who was in pain, and I sympathise and empathise with that pain, such unendurable last-mile pain, I have brushed against it myself, but I keep coming back to that "state of the world" thing and it leaves a sour or unpleasant taste with me.
As, perhaps, for other people, does the "timing" (and as this was a meticulously dispatched act, why not include the timing of it?), i.e., to chime in with the chorus of praise he had just that moment received for The People's Music. Overwhelming praise? For something he knew in his heart wasn't that necessary or that good {compared to ...}? Certainly not INARGUABLY so: there is MUCH to argue with in those pages, certainly when it morphs from being just a compilation of proficient 300-word Uncut reviews into its sub rosa central "thesis", which basically springs from a quite explicitly stated nostalgie de la boue, or, MY boue, that Bowie-knife-edge boho ho ho BOUE life that was mine, and my mates, BACK THEN: bascially: Our Time was the Golden Time, our music was the golden song, everything since has been downfall, especially since COMPUTERS entered the sonic picture ...

Well, golden and great as it surely must have been to be alive in those crazy NME days pre punk, which WEREN'T dead wood years, contra received opinion, FAR from it, with Can followed by Exile on Main Street followed by Blood On The Tracks followed by a new Wyatt album followed by a shedload of new reggae followed by On The Beach e.g.... as Danny Baker once said to me, every generation thinks IT'S NME was the best, and every generation loses its HEART to ITS strange new music. And I really don't think it was beyond the capability of such a ruthlessly intelligent man as IMac to see this: I think he rather flat out REFUSED to see it, admit its truth, a healing truth not a drowning truth, because he didn't want to see it, because it suited his isolate high eyrie position {like some Cambridge don of music crit} not to acknowledge the HEART-felt truth of something like: a stray track on an Underworld lp may touch some young kid today with as much devastating tenderness and strangeness and truth as a Dylan track did for him back in 1966 ...

I nearly did the unthinkable, in fact, I can't remember - I may even have done it - but I got so riled by IMac's [again] OFFHAND old fogeyish - 'PAH! mere computers: why bother listening any further?' - review of an Underworld cd in UNCUT that I ranted down a response onto this I-Mac, and was going to e mail it in to the Letters page. This was pre BLOG {for me), obviously. And also pre- my first writing for then being peremptorily cut out from Uncut.
{In itself a cowardly act, an inhuman dispatch, done without a word, without an explanation, by COWARDS, by MANAGERS who don't even have the grace to admit they have become MANAGERS, well, that's OK, we Johnsons know who our friends are and don't worry we have looooong memories fer this type of backstab thing ...}

But the relative conditions do invite a speculation Marcello has already touched on. Like:
1970s: IMac as part of this funhouse crew {Tylers x2, CSM, Kent, Erskine, Bell et al), who live in each others denim pockets, live and booze and smoke and speed and dope and play INCREDIBLE music and - tho they may not have admitted it in such terms at the time - LOVE each other, or provide an unspoken net of love and care and support {or at least, one would hope that was the case ...}
CUT to
Uncut: IMac, filing from home, out in the sticks, by email then like all of us do, filing his tiny little drops of pro (forma) reviewing, back to the dreaded IPC monolith building, the Castle of old, but where once he wrote two page psychological analyses of On The Beach and Low, now he files 100 word "reviews" of Crusaders and Janis Ian reisuses. The vinyl has gone; the thinking writing fighting for thought space has gone; the buddies have gone; the air is thick with ghosts; the ... ah, but this is where it gets sticky. Becoz to IMac, he made it clear, the MUSIC had gone, too.

And I think everyone here would take issue with that: stake our lives on it.

Which brings me back, again, to that insinuation: if you kept your eyes open to the state of the world you would do this {suicide} too....

And I reject that 1000%, and more and more.
It rankles with me the more I think about it. It really rankles.
But ... I also hear the sound of a lost and lonely man, lonely most of all perhaps, and maybe that was in truth truly what he couldn't take, the state of his own world, the fact that he could react in his head to a 1000 things but knew, in his heart, that the heart knows better, and that somewhere back along the road, years or decades ago, he had cut off a piece of himself from the world, and it had withered and died. You just can't live - ALONE - in your head. You can't cerebrate your world out of existence. You can't think {teenager like} you are the only person feeling these aches, this pain. You can't live without love. You can't put music over here, in a tiny little epoch sized box, and HOARD it in your brittle head like some cyberfied Miss Haversham, behind layers of dust, like your youth's epiphany was the only one the world has ever seen, and let the world go on - a way way over there, out the cobwebbed porthole window, as if IT wasn't you and YOU weren't it. You can't really think that no one else feels the pain, the rotten unrelenting rotteness of the state of the world, that other people too don't wake, shocked, sobbing, crying, lost, in the night, just wanting to be HELD, like big old babies, reeling from something they just read about Rwanda and which returns, returns, like the down stroke of a machete, returns and won't let you REST, rest there in your comfortable estate, your cats uncomprehending eyes, even they know something is up with you {what's that Rilke line? Even the watching beasts know ... ? "And even the noticing beasts are aware / that we don't feel very securely at home / in this interpreted world." Oh god, yes, and... "And so I repress myself, and swallow the call-note / of depth-dark sobbing."**}, or just sobbing, uncontrollably, with no real idea of any "cause", finally, just a scimitar cut of pure LOSS, of such shocking brutal suddenness and bottomless hollow cosmic sadness, and a sadness that is bluer than more mere blues, a dark, dark - ...I'm reminded here, suddenly, of a letter, a letter Tim Buckley wrote to his friend Lee Underwood, one of those letters that come out of the blue, or nearer the black, revealing this other side to a friend, someone - OK, you knew they were maybe going through a bumpy patch, but ... but not this ...:

"You are what you are, you know what you know, and there are no words for loneliness, black, bitter, aching loneliness, that gnaws the roots of silence in the night [. . . .] and our fame is lost, our names forgotten, our powers are wasting from us like mined earth while we lie here at evening and the river flows . . . . and dark time is feeding like a vulture on our entrails, and we know that we are lost, and cannot stir."

* ---- *

But there was a time whe IMac still believed, functioned as a head and a heart, as one, just, but that just is the salve that maybe heals our wounds and may save the last breath of love from extinction, that just isn't "just" as in "just one more so-so record" but something someone said to you JUST in time, and it is also the "just... wait" of eventual justice and just HOW THINGS SHOULD BE, and how you can make them if you hang onto the friends you have, and honour that friendship as maybe the last sacred thing we have left, and honor the things they make you feel, whoever it is makes you feel whatever {whether it's a line in a Lester Bangs review, or some anonymous smile, or an odd quiet song, or an unexpected email}, and that JUST is a 1000 million times more vital and important than who played which fucking tambourine on "All You Need Is Love", and well, maybe finally sadly all he did need was love, like we all do, but just couldn't bring himself to nakedly admit such, and maybe finally all he needed was to switch off his chattering oh-too-cerebral brain, sink down to his knees, tears in his eyes, and SURRENDER, accept the need for love ... and see that not ALL the world is the grey you paint it during the very worst times.

Once when he projected onto things, and painted them in his own sharp hues, it was good. The piece he wrote about On The Beach will stand, because it is that rare thing - an actual RE-view, or rather, to escape the typically specular langauge we have all inherited, a RE-hear. He heard past the cliches and quick draw judgements; heard that - ironically - far from being a depressed or depressing piece of work, this was a glorious howl AGAINST hopelessness. That, almost by definition like any true work of soul or art, its very existence is a protest against vacuity and second best and shirked responsibility and numbed response and callow silence and professional cowardice and slinking away into the protective shallows or shadows ... and which, this is exactly what RE viewing should be {and which very few writers actually manage, and it is of an entirely different tone and resonance from OTT first-call judgements full of hype and clever cleverness and signifying little in the longer term; someone like Marcello has it, indeed seems blessed - or cursed - with a facility for it that seems near supernatural at times in its slow calm patient hearing, even if as writers we know every piece is hard fought and won, every difficult emotion hard owned}, and IMac was still capable of it, the beginning and end pieces of The Peoples Music - not coincidentally? - were longer pieces, one on Dylan {marred only by a bizarre dismissal of Blood On The Tracks which could only have been made by someone who knew very little of affairs of the heart and loins, of someone cut off from men and women and the things - good and bad - they do to one another, so that the resonance of those bloody raw tender Tracks just didn't fall around him natural as a suit made of clouds the way it does 99% of people who hear it} and one on Nick Drake.

The Drake piece (as Marcello has already noted) has something of a vivid Proustian catch in its written {smitten} voice: those golden days, that halcyon time, when guitars were strummed and all the chords were open as our hearts and the chicks wore chick like summery dresses as soft as summer itself and the meadows of hope and calm and friendship stretched out for ever and dope was all you needed, no crack or viruses or cluster bombs back then, no, no damned soul-less computer beeps & beats {altho there again, IMac was one of those ex-60s kidz who damned computer muzik in public but in private held an almost boundless enthusiasm for ... yes, computer use} and the piece as a whole (or glowingly candle lit Alice hole} can be seen as a disguised attempt not merely to assess why Drake's song has this spell that keeps catching new generations - just a voice and a guitar and some strings after all - but far more a vexed attempt to work out WHERE THE SADNESS CAME FROM. It's like someone mourning a lover - but also the times that produced that love. Here was IMac's contemporary, golden boy, Nick Drake, who was young, gifted, abundantly ludicrously gifted, he had women falling around him, he had friends who would have done ANYTHING for him, given any form of help, he had LOVE and family and friends and ... and ... none of it finally helped or mattered.
Black eyed dog knows my name.
Inescapable curse.
Depression: it has no "cause" indexable to any world, dark or light.
It's the dog only you hear slavering in the night.
Its the worm only you can feel feasting on your brain.
Its the weight only you can feel hanging from an eyelash.
It's a Ganges flood of, Christ, risble tears only you can feel about to sting and fall and burst and pool, simply because you just saw a pigeon in the street with one injured wing. {A pigeon! A fucking rat! And you suddenly feel like you're going to cry fit to collapse. like, who was it, Nietzsche, yes, in tears, his final breakdown, his arms around that poor, old, tired, whipped & beaten work horse ...}
Like Nietzsche then; like Nietzsche and Sisyphus and NO.
Like nothing. No other THING. For absence admits the momentary comfort of no simile.
Absence ...
Absence is: what is NOT.
And depression ... depression is the feeling of that NOT, elongated out and etched in to your soul, 24/7.
It's that nakedly simple.
No other "reason" should either be forwarded or accepted.

+ ---- +

I've been listening to ON THE BEACH this last week or so; and just like other works which know-nothing jerks call "depressing " - Young's own Tonights The Night, Cale's Music For A New Society, Wyatt's Rock Bottom, much of Scott Walker, much of David Sylvian, There's A Riot Goin' On, even PIL's Metal Box - it's actually the opposite: its a HOWL - even when whispered - of LIFE: a HOWL of protest against dejection, impotence, giving up the ghost, the game, giving in.

I've got the Revolution Blues ...

Never give up ... the will to love.

Walk on, walk on ...

And our love sometimes has to be as much a howling wolf as it is a cuddled kitten, it has to have sharper teeth for nights like these and the days up ahead. Which is not to say such sharper teeth are not deployed precisely to bite off a larger chunk of sustenance, from the world of love and concern and others, near and far, a sustenance of defiance and self defence and reconciliation and reverberation, of delicate negotiations, of marking dates, of checking in, of reaching out.


+ + + ++ +

{* : fatally, perhaps spookily, I warmed immensely to Erskine, even (or especially) in his obvious decline. He was the one writer from that 70s super team I had often checked out on by-line alone. He came in that day - and days, and days, and weeks subsequently - to write {sigh ...} an Obituary on Lowell George, who had just died. I can't remember if he even ever completed it, but he certainly missed the first week's deadline ... maybe even the second week's, on an obituary, yet. Dead lines, indeed. Erskine himself was dead a few short years later, a casualty of the Kent/Keef lifestyle; and I remember reading about it, a short para in the NME news section, I was distanced myself from the NME by this point, I remember it clearly, I was in a cab, going through Kensington, with some [non-music, non-NME] friends, and I went pale as a ghost, just like they say, speechless, stunned {though hardly by the surprise of it, obviously} and was stunned and hurt and sad - way out of proportion to any relationship I had {or rather, didn't have} with the man in question, who did well to last that long, truth be tolled. Odd how these things affect you ... even odder, spookier, in retrospect perhaps: as if some warning phantom was trailing a spectral finger down my spine ... the Ghost of fixes up ahead, the ghost of Junkyard Futures, as it were. {?}.

"You speech, where speeches
end. You time,
vertically poised on the courses of vanishing hearts."
Rilke: TO MUSIC.

And I could quote so much Rilke here, it has HELD and helped me when I had terrible stricken empty nights, and Emily Dickinson, and others, strange unlikely others, some of whom haven't even been published, some of whom {you know who you are} rest in folders in my e-mail Inbox alone ...

posted by Ian 9/07/2003 02:10:00 PM

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