December 26th, 2008


Punk rock!

I'm relieved to have come to the end of my Creation Years re-release schedule, because I'm the kind of person who dwells more happily on the present and the future than the past. But I wanted to end with this little postscript. I friended Alan McGee on Facebook on Christmas Day, and he friended me back. Neither of us sent a message, but I think in general we have good memories of our association.

I'm not going to bother drawing the re-release program to Alan's attention -- he retired from the music industry this September, he's not on the best of terms with Sony, our contracts weren't written on paper, the albums paid for themselves long ago and are without significant commercial value anyway. What interested me was something much more general: the question of outcomes.

Alan and I are the same age, both born in the West of Scotland in 1960. We're probably distantly related -- we have the same stubborn golf ball chin, the same petulant cherry lips, a mixture of Scottish and Irish blood, and somewhat hyperactive alpha-type personalities. There's a class gap, but it's not vast -- before he started Creation Records, Alan was at British Rail, which is exactly where my Grandpa Currie worked all his life. Alan now writes music columns for The Guardian, I write design journalism for the New York Times.

But obviously there's at least one huge difference in outcomes. Alan McGee discovered Oasis and is enormously rich. This means that his Facebook page is, in a sense, a glimpse into what life might be like for me had I become an enormously successful pop star. It makes an interesting -- sometimes surprising -- contrast to the life I'm actually having.

For a start, as an enormously wealthy person I'm not spending Christmas coughing painfully in a dark Berlin flat shared with a Japanese girl and a rabbit. I'm in the Maldives, a chain of tropical islands in the Indian Ocean, staying, probably, at the Hilton, whose subaquatic restaurant you see above. I'm very glad to be here, but I'm spending more time on my beach house patio watching Fleetwood Mac and Glasvegas videos on YouTube, or Twittering updates to my Facebook page, than exploring the Buddhist and Islamic heritage of this island, or its fish, flowers and fauna. In fact, you might say that I'm treating this more as a drug high than a travel experience; a soma half-holiday.

Although my failed Berlin self looks remarkably happy in his Facebook photos, prancing around dressed as a Japanese robber or leaping for joy in front of an art museum, my successful, enormously wealthy Maldives self looks rather glum, evasive and insecure in photos. I've bought a big white mansion in Wales "only because Led Zep have one down the road". My spelling and punctuation have gone entirely to pot, which is worrying, because I'm still writing for the newspapers (but copy editors will fix that). I appear to have lost all my hair (instead of just half of it), and I keep a peculiar trilby hat on at all times, even in bed.

Photographed alongside football and music world celebrities I look awkward, paranoid, nervous. I never smile. My cellphone, keys and personal organiser are beside me at all times. There's no sign of a significant other, but that's probably because she appreciates privacy. My successful self has approximately the same number of friends as my failed self, but they're -- in general -- older, more British, more supportive, less pretty, less articulate. They seem to be doing well, but the most important thing in their life is that they know me -- a very wealthy and successful person -- and that we might, you know, hang out one day. This bores me slightly. My life is full of unfulfilled promises to meet up with people abuzz with the idea that I'll transform their lives, and make them winners.

As a restless, risk-addicted entrepreneurial type, my tycoon self isn't enjoying being retired, living off art collecting ("upcoming artists like Howard Hodgkin") and property deals. On the Maldives beach my body is incongruously white. I'm a working class Glaswegian, and it's a fucking miracle I'm here at the Hilton, but somehow that miracle, thanks to the hedonic treadmill and my own restless personality, is not quite enough to guarantee the huge happiness that the world believes belongs to the successful, and the successful alone.

Anyway, thanks, Alan, for adding me -- and thank you for giving me the chance to make these six albums. You're probably happier than you look.

I want to end with a word about Harold Pinter. The man was a colossus, both artistically and as the conscience of a West that seemed, this decade, to have abandoned its moral compass. In his plays Pinter -- the missing link between Beckett and Steptoe and Son -- hinted at "the weasel beneath the cocktail cabinet". Later, in his poetry, activism and especially his excoriating Nobel Prize talk he turned his fire on the weasels in the Cabinet Office. 2005 was a time when many were thinking these things ("I haven't heard anything about the US population saying: 'We can't do this, we are Americans,'" Pinter told The Guardian) but lacked the daring or the literary skill to say them. Pinter had both in spades.

I tutored my sister through The Homecoming to get her into drama college, and it's my favourite play of his -- an extraordinary combination of Ionesco-esque (a much clumsier word than "Pinteresque") plot audacity, the kind of Cockney music hall echoes heard in Eliot's The Wasteland, Jewish vaudeville acts, Orton, Berkoff, Freud. Pinter's poetic ear was attuned to undertones of violence and sudden switches in power. Here's a scene from the best production of The Homecoming, Peter Hall's 1973 film starring Vivien Merchant, Pinter's first wife:

I used to listen to the box set vinyl version of this production of The Homecoming in the same listening bunker I'd play Birthday Party and PiL Records in. Nick Cave had taken the name of one of Pinter's plays for his band, John Lydon shared his taste for absurdist menace. Neither of them retained their fierceness or their fight the way Pinter did. "Punk rock!" as Alan McGee would probably say.