LOVE SONGS #16 / Freak Scene

“Just don`t let me fuck up will you, `cos when I need a friend it`s still you”.

The room is around two metres wide and maybe twice as long. Against the far wall is a wreck of a couch that may have once been off-white with raised red flock flowers. But is now a uniform deep filthy brown. The flock merely odd tufts of yesterdays that stoned fingers might play with. Behind the door is a portable TV on an upturned milk crate. The floor is bare save a video recorder, old  newspapers, pizza boxes, torn cigarettes and crushed, empty beer cans. A cupboard for a living room. Reduced to a dustbin. Packed into the room are seven young men. All but one over six feet tall. There`d been the usual battle for a place on the couch. The race from their individual rooms. But that`s long since over. Steven Segal is on the TV and no one has said anything for at least an hour.

Some nights there`ll be cards in the kitchen. Elvis impressions. Or betting on televised Sumo. But they spend most evenings this way. In silence. Knees up by their chins. Elbows in tight. Everything they might need for the night jammed in their pockets. If you have a place on the couch, the last thing you want to do is get up. The vigil occasionally broken as drunken acquaintances, passing on their way home, throw open the door and shout obscenities. Getting nary a reaction. 

The house that contained the room was never locked. Keys lost or forgotten too many times. And nothing worth stealing. Usually one of the household would be home. More often than not Howard and Alan in front of daytime telly. We joked that they were, “More couch now than man.” Someone did once walk off with the vacuum cleaner and the telephone during a party. I saw them do it. Two guys. I was lying in the front garden too ripped on Acid to move. Watching malevolent clouds rush a furious sky. The perpetrators saw me, smiled and waved. New arrivals would squeeze a space amongst the dirt for a while. But, eventually, bored, would leave the regulars to their communion. Young men lost in time and space. The only worry the inevitable round of “Scissors, Rock, Stone” to determine who does the snack run. Or even worse, the run to the Video shop. An eternity of indecision always greeted by complaints and derision.

Steve Segal gets told to keep it in this pants one last time, and one young man attempts to leave for bed. He fails and falls face down in the doorway. Head in the hall. Holes in the soles of his shoes staring back. He will be stepped over and stay there until morning. Beer can still in hand. Another young man, looks across the couch, smiles the biggest smile you`ll ever see, and breaks the silence.

“I`m having such a good time now”.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I was taping John Peel. I taped the show every night. I`d sit in my room studying and listening to the DJ. Noting the tunes that stood out. When the show finished I`d edit it down to the bits I liked on Al`s twin-cassette deck “boom box”. Which I`d borrowed indefinitely. Hey, he didn`t really care for music anyway. There was no money for things like records. But once a month, when my grant came in, I`d go to Jumbo in the Merrion Centre, Crash on the Headrow, armed with a list of songs that Peel had played. I`d pick up a single. Go without food for a day. A 7” would only be a sandwich. A lunch. An E.P. two. Aside from Peel, the bulk of my musical education came from the Student Union record library. A gift heaven sent. The library was open weekdays for an hour between twelve and one. Enrolment allowed you to borrow one album. But I visited obsessively. Every day. Taking something home and recording it. Then returning it the following day and picking up something else. Current releases were always out, and there`d be a waiting list for them, but I wasn`t interested in the new releases. What the library let me to do was to go back and listen to old stuff. Stuff that the writers in the NME would cite in thier reviews. I`d catch up on artist back catalogues. I had cassettes of everything by Tom Waits. 

Between Peel`s selection of Half Man Half Biscuit DIY Agit-Pop, quality Dubwise, The Pixies, debasers, and incomprehensible short bursts of Hardcore – jarring, disturbing intercepted transmissions from Hell – came Dinosaur Jr.`s cover of The Cure`s Just Like Heaven. Robert Smith`s song of dancing on Beachy Head`s dizzy edge, in love. 

“Show me, show me, show me, how you do that trick, the one that makes me laugh”, she said. “The one that makes me scream”, she said.”

The lead sounded like it was being played underwater. Mimicking the tremble in Smith`s lip. The bass line pointed a finger at the original`s New Order / Peter Hook plagiarism. Napalm Death appeared to join in for the chorus. Demons bellowing. At first I thought it was a piss-take. A joke. The Cure, seemed to be easy targets. But then the cover threw every guitar hero it could think of / I could name into a thirty-second solo. And then it just stopped. Mid-chorus. Mid-bellow. Leaving me wanting more, but knowing that more would be too much. I hate records that fade. A rush of cathartic noise was a definite theme in the music I enjoyed then. From The Jesus And Mary Chain`s Never Understand (summing up teen angst in two words) to Public Enemy`s You`re Gonna Get Yours. Both of which I`d hear side by side at Down Beat on a Saturday night. 

J. Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph created Dinosaur, then Dinosaur Jr., out of high school Hardcore band, Deep Wound. They took their loves of Speed Metal and melodic psychedelic Pop. Combining the jangle of The Dream Syndicate with the `70s feedback and distortion of Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath. The Beach Boys` harmonies with The Birthday Party`s racket. The resulting juxtapositions Mascis` described as “ear-bleeding Country”. Songs that would start quiet, shout, fall quiet, then shout again. Louder. A dynamic they popularised. Inspiring U.K. Shoegaze, in My Bloody Valentine. The Pop Punk of Seattle`s Grunge, in Nirvana. They got signed to Blast First after Kim Gordon left their demo tape under the label founder`s pillow. 

J.`s guitar screaming and wailing. Lou`s bass Ramones thrumming. Murph`s Freak Scene drums hitting almost a Motown swing. I had a cartoonish, caricature rollercoaster of rad skater dudes, surfing dry pools, playing in my head. Lank, greasy hair kept in place by reversed baseball caps. The inarticulate geek noise, the “fuck-you”, of, spotty adolescence. 

When J. sang 

“Daylight licked me into shape. I must have been asleep for days.”


“So fucked I can`t believe it.”

I could sympathise. 

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