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February 2010
February 15th, 2009
Sun, Feb. 15th, 2009 04:39 am

Quite a few people asked me this week whether I'd made a trip to London to see the Magazine reunion. The answer is no. I have nothing against Devoto doing it -- I'm glad he has -- and if I'd been in the UK I might have attended. But these things are always something of a let-down. Technically I've "seen" the Sex Pistols and the Velvet Underground live, but I haven't really seen those legendary bands; what I saw were 1990s reunion tours put together to squeeze cash from kudos.

In Magazine's case I did see them at their peak. I saw them at Aberdeen University Student Union in 1979, touring their Secondhand Daylight album, and even reviewed the show for Gaudie, the student paper, describing Devoto as a "deer trapped in headlights". Then I saw them playing at a club in Edinburgh called The Moon (with Josef K supporting) during their Correct Use of Soap period. I remember being particularly impressed, that night, by the way the mid-section of I'm A Party broke off into a completely different time signature. It was dizzying. And Devoto was still a deer in headlights.

Much later I saw Luxuria at the Forum, the legendary 1988 gig where Morrissey came out and read some Proust. When Devoto and Noko (who's playing guitar in the 2009 shows -- spookily note-perfect reproductions of the late John McGeogh's licks) were featured on Snub TV in 1990 they asked specifically that I should interview them, which I did. Later, I was lucky enough to go for dinner several times with Devoto. Sitting across the table from me he was... a deer in headlights. I remember quizzing him about the line about drugging and fucking someone on the permafrost (he said it was a love song), about why the first line of Philadelphia doesn't turn into a short story ("I write songs differently than you do, Nick"), and I remember how Devoto quoted Eliot's Prufrock as we left the restaurant.

I wouldn't have missed dinner with Devoto for the world, but I missed the "cash from kudos" reunion tour with equanimity. Because it's part of the kind of Retro Necro culture I abhor (as I said in my tribute song, "I wouldn't want to put you in any Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame -- I assume you view such things with uproarious disdain"). Because I saw them when they were young. Because I saw them while McGeogh was still alive. And because cash from kudos is an exchange subject -- like the human body -- to the second law of thermodynamics; entropy. Energy has a tendency to diminish over time. Even the most brilliant brilliance sags. In the entertainment world's own version of the laws of physics, kudos can be converted to cash, but afterwards kudos is diminished. I'm interested to watch the YouTube videos that have appeared over the last few days of Magazine's latest shows, of course I am. But I also note that, whereas Magazine videos used to be few but intense (like the Cut-Out Shapes video above), now they're plentiful and... less intense. Some of the kudos has become cash. Not as much cash as the most important man alive deserves, but cash anyway.

I measure the important man's importance today by the searing traces he's left in me. The teenaged me could never have dreamed that an article in The Financial Times on Devoto's re-emergence would mention me, but I'm delighted that his impact on me has become part of the story of his impact on everyone. At my 1979 concert last night Devoto was invisibly there as I sang a song I wrote at 19 which begins: "Time crawls slowly round the room when you, you make your entrance / Eyes like headlights switch on you then I, I seek my vengeance". It was pure pastiche Devoto, one part The Light Pours Out Of Me, one part Give Me Everything. In fact my entire first album (The Happy Family album) is Devoto pastiche: the title track interjects evocative micro-narratives just as Magazine's Come Alive does ("At Leonardo Da Vinci Intercontinental Airport a Swiss pathologist missed his connecting flight").

And I'm still doing it today. Here's an exclusive: the first draft of the song Ichabod Crane from the Joemus album. It's called The Accident, and it's one part Because You're Frightened, one part Spiral Scratch:

The Accident

Drudgery and buggery and someone else's lover
Sent me on a journey with your idiot brother
Well he's shallow and he's callous and I'm green about the gills
With a book of filthy pictures and a bunch of daffodils

Well I get a little nervous at the summit of the mountain
You are nowhere to be seen and there are thunderstorms gathering
I try to work out just exactly where you put the synth
But your brother's got no manners and the cliff's a labyrinth

Then it happened
The argument
That's when we had
The accident

Like a spiral in a record I am spinning round and round
With a stupid needle in me, screaming stupid sounds
And my stupid friends are far away, smoking cigarettes
And indulging in occasionally gratifying sex

Then it happened
The argument
That's when we had
The accident

To escape your fucking mother and her yellow telephone
This endless fucking mountain was the only place to go
But the last thing I expected was that she'd be here to get me
With a loaded gun, a croissant and a book by Dostoyevsky

Then it happened
The argument
That's when we had
The accident

Thank you, Mr Devoto, deer in headlights, most important man alive. Kudos to you, and may the cash keep flowing.