And so yesterday marked the passing of another year, the nineteenth, since Philip Parris Lynott slid off the mortal coil. Nineteen years since the last great black rock star (No M. Kravitz, you do not compare to Hendrix, Lee or Lynott) finally gave in completely to the addictions that had blighted his life for ten years. A classy lady lost her beloved only child, two little girls lost their dad and the rest of us got our hearts broken by another selfish git who felt the need to live the rock lifestyle more than to live at all.
Or maybe that last one is just me. Maybe I’ve been hardened and made cynical by a long list of the inglorious dead. I’ve long believed that Rock and Roll is a bitch who takes her greatest worshippers and destroys them. They also destroy themselves. I do not know what drove Jim Morrison to a bottle of whisky, be it genetics or a disease or a wish to get to the elusive ‘edge’ or simply a desire to die. I don’t know why Philip Lynott felt the need to take heroin, but I know the end of the story. The story always ends the same way.
A boy (very rarely a girl- this is a sexist world) grows up feeling like an outsider, for whatever reason. Maybe he reads a lot and is moved around the country a lot (Jim), maybe he feels the world around him is holding him back from the greatness he feels inside himself (John), maybe he’s marked as an outsider by his skin and by his mother’s lack of wedding ring (Philip). The greatest of our rock and roll boys were outsiders.
Then through hard work and luck and a little dash of genius, somehow they ‘make it’ and become the toast of the town. They still feel like outsiders and even rail against their new life, either by eating lots (John) or refusing to sing the ‘big hit’ (Jim) or by living the life while
subconsciously conspiring to cock everything up one way or another (Philip). For a while, they live practically charmed lives and everyone loves them.
They create work of such awe-inspiring, emotion-drenching genius that it will never be forgotten, be it defining the psychedelic hippie movement for the world (John) or painting a vision of Los Angeles so dark it shocks decades later (Jim) or creating a hard rock song so perfect it means everything to everyone, even people who don’t know the name of the band (Philip).
Then comes the downturn, almost always self-inflicted but their fall from grace is always helped along by the press/fans/Establishment turning against them. Almost always drug-influenced, the fall comes from a change in their minds/souls that leaves them a different person. Perhaps it’s unfashionable politics (John) or incoherent attempts at bringing art and poetry to the masses (Jim) or a determination to carry on the rock life when it ceases to be relevant (Philip). These things always get symbolised by one or two moments- love-ins and FBI files (John), dubious arrests for a dubious offence (Jim) or the death of the band (Philip).
These outsiders don’t recover from these. The time scale varies, but they never recover. They take complete self-imposed exile from the world they know (John) or move away from it (Jim) or it’s taken from them (Philip). They are left changed men in ways they don’t want and they don’t recover. Their spirits broken, they fall ever more into the dark shadows that have lurked around them since they got their first hit record. A man with a broken spirit doesn’t fight the shadows as he once did, cannot resist the shadows as once he did. Where once he flirted with the shadows, now they take him entirely.
For some, the end comes quickly, before perhaps even they know it or can help themselves (Jim). For some, the end comes when they least expect it, and it is not self-inflicted (John). For some the end comes slowly, very slowly, and they have turned down the chance to turn it around and finally, the shadows take over entirely (Philip).
The story, no matter the journey taken, always ends the same. The story, no matter when it happens, always ends the same.
And no matter when or where or how or why the story happens, I am left a
little sadder than before.
I have always understood that this is how the world works. I have never
thought them angels or martyrs to a cause. For John it is tragic because he
did not want to die. For my other boys, it is less so because it was, after
all, self-inflicted. The tragedy comes in thinking of what they missed, what
we missed, whether they wanted to die and if things could have been done
With Jim, I once dreamed that I was trying to save him. I loved him and so I
locked him in a flat and stayed with him as he ranted and raved and threw
things and worked out his problems and his addictions. That\’s how it felt,
and the press and the rest of the world were outside the door and I knew I
couldn\’t let them in because then Jim would lose: Jim would die. I woke up
without knowing whether it worked or not, even in my dream. I died a little
that day, knowing as I did that I could not help him, could not save him and
that he was lost to me before I was even conscious. Perhaps that is why when
the subject of reincarnation comes up I say I\’d like to have been Jim in one
of my previous lives. I don\’t believe in reincarnation myself, but if it is
real, if it is true, then I hope I carry a little of Jim with me, that I\’m
building on his mistakes and weaknesses. Even if reincarnation is not real,
I\’m trying to learn from his mistakes and weaknesses, and if I don\’t carry a
little of him with me in my soul, a slice of my heart is given over to him,
and probably always has been. He has always been lost to me, but I think I
have always been meant to find him. He has always been lost, always been
dead, and so I have lived with it.
Then, there is Philip. Not as big a star or a legend as the others I have
loved, his name and face are barely recognisable to the youth of Britain,
and unknown to most of America. He wrote the everyman rock anthem \’The Boys
And no matter when or where or how or why the story happens, I am left a little sadder than before.
I have always understood that this is how the world works. I have never thought them angels or martyrs to a cause. For John it is tragic because he did not want to die. For my other boys, it is less so because it was, after all, self-inflicted. The tragedy comes in thinking of what they missed, what we missed, whether they wanted to die and if things could have been done differently.
With Jim, I once dreamed that I was trying to save him. I loved him and so I locked him in a flat and stayed with him as he ranted and raved and threw things and worked out his problems and his addictions. That’s how it felt, and the press and the rest of the world were outside the door and I knew I couldn’t let them in because then Jim would lose: Jim would die. I woke up without knowing whether it worked or not, even in my dream. I died a little that day, knowing as I did that I could not help him, could not save him and that he was lost to me before I was even conscious. Perhaps that is why when the subject of reincarnation comes up I say I’d like to have been Jim in one of my previous lives. I don’t believe in reincarnation myself, but if it is real, if it is true, then I hope I carry a little of Jim with me, that I’m building on his mistakes and weaknesses. Even if reincarnation is not real, I’m trying to learn from his mistakes and weaknesses, and if I don’t carry a little of him with me in my soul, a slice of my heart is given over to him, and probably always has been. He has always been lost to me, but I think I have always been meant to find him. He has always been lost, always been dead, and so I have lived with it.
Then, there is Philip. Not as big a star or a legend as the others I have loved, his name and face are barely recognisable to the youth of Britain, and unknown to most of America. He wrote the everyman rock anthem ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ which means anything to anyone and so means everything to everyone. People know his voice whether they know it or not, but his name has been forgotten to the wider world that isn’t as concerned with rock music as some of us.
You see, Philip died out of fashion. His decline was slow and long and those around him knew it- so Midge Ure and Bob Geldof (both his pals) didn’t bother to ask him to join in Band Aid or Live Aid. Either of these could have resuscitated Philip’s career and so saved his life, but they considered him unfashionable by then- despite his song ‘Yellow Pearl’ (written alongside name du jour Midge) being the theme tune for Top of the Pops. When he died his tortured death by lifestyle, that lifestyle was out of fashion. 1986 was a time of ‘Just Say No’ thanks to Grange Hill and Nancy Reagan. Drugs were out of fashion (so we were told, but people were still taking them) so when he died, Philip was lambasted and pilloried and destroyed in his media post mortem. Since dead men cannot speak, he remained out of fashion.
Things are changing now. The new 2-disc Greatest Hits did wonderfully in the charts for a record released with hardly any publicity by a band who ended in 1983. The hellraiser lifestyle is back in vogue thanks to the boorish Russell Crowe and the impish Colin Farrell. ROCK and roll as opposed to dreary indie or grunge and goth is back in fashion and so are its greatest practioners, the ones who loved her best. Jim has made his way onto yet more student bedroom walls and Philip, beautiful and charming Philip, is back on the lips of those who matter- Dan Hawkins of the Darkness spreads the Thin Lizzy word every time he dresses to go on stage.
I have loved Lizzy for a long time now. This is not like my Led Zeppelin moment, which flared quickly without much warning and then the flames flickered lower as quickly. It was less pronounced than my time in the Doors’ sun, which resulted in a dissertation and a healthy feeling of being driven insane by Jim. It started with buying Jailbreak because it’s a well-known ‘classic’ and because it had ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’. Then much later, randomly, a Best Of. Then downloading ‘Roisin Dubh’ because it had an Irish title. Falling so much in love with the seven minute epic lovesong to Ireland that I went off and bought the titular album the next day.
My love for Lizzy grew slowly, as some of the greatest loves do. And although Led Zeppelin lasted far beyond one summer, the white hot flames died down with the coming of the cold winter sun. For Philip and his Lizzy, the flames grew slowly until they became a furnace I couldn’t ignore them at all. The change from ‘band I liked’ to ‘band I couldn’t live without’ likely came with the relatively random purchase of Vagabonds of the Western World. That will forever be the sound of Sunderland for me, the sound of walking
through the city centre or to class. When I left my walkman in the library, I was less concerned about the walkman than the new CD inside it. The Slow Blues were, it turns out, calling me.
Then it came: A dream. Philip was not there. There was a festival and Thin Lizzy or a Thin Lizzy tribute. The Philip looked and sounded exactly like Philip and I loved him. But I did not love the Philip-a-like, I loved the Philip. The world changed that day, just as it changed on that long ago day that I let Jim Morrison grab my heart (probably sometime during the first listen of The Ghost Song, or Peace Frog). It changed the day I loved Dean and it was turned upside down the day I loved the Beatles. It was always different each time, and with Philip it came with a deep desire to go back in time and change things. For some reason, I needed to feel like I could’ve helped… that if I’d been pals with him long enough, early enough, things would be different. I had crystal clear visions of me standing up to Parisian drug dealers and telling them to fuck off, visions of an America-conquering, world-beating Lizzy as they would’ve been without their demons. Pretty Scott Gorham becoming the pin-up for all the girls, Philip being a genuine Irish hero, being called home in honour and celebration. Philip being able to see his two daughters grow up, Philip reaching his fortieth birthday, his fiftieth birthday.
The truth is, none of it could’ve happened. I’m a pretty arrogant person, but even I don’t believe I could have prevented this thing from happening. People tried to help Philip, far more than tried to help Jim. By the 80s, the world knew heroin was a problem, knew it could kill young, healthy, strong men like Philip. In 1971, most people didn’t realise 27-year-olds could be alcoholics, let alone die from it all. Nobody genuinely tried to help/stop Jim, but I believe quite a few people did try to help Philip. Ultimately, Philip has no excuse beyond his own addictions, demons and weaknesses, and perhaps that is why I wished I could have helped him more than the others. Maybe that’s why I wish I could have the chance to try.
I dreamed once I tried to help Jim, but never since. With Philip, it was a genuine desire to go back and try, even if it failed.
Perhaps, just perhaps, Philip taught me that even strong people can become heroin addicts. That even beautiful people with everything to live for, can become heroin addicts. That this drug is one of the greatest evils in our world. That it destroys people- but first it destroys their lives, it destroys the people who love them and then it destroys them. That even good people can fall prey to it. That nobody is safe from it. Heroin isn’t just for poor young people or for homeless people. It gets tramps and rock stars and everyone in between. No amount of willpower can keep a person from it, and no amount of ‘oh, it won’t happen to me’ will save you from it. Basically, the only way is to keep away from it entirely. To somehow get past whatever it is that sucks people in to begin with.
Because if heroin can kill Philip, and if it can (as some rumours suggest) kill Jim in one go, then it can certainly kill me. And it can kill you. And if it can kill me and you, then it can also destroy the lives of the people we love and who love us.
Cocaine won’t kill you directly, but it will destroy you and turn you into a paranoid wanker. It will destroy the lives of the people that you love and who love you. And yes, cocaine can and often does lead to heroin. Marijuana can lead to cocaine and heroin. And there’s not a one of you great enough to withstand these things when they take a hold of you. I don’t personally know the way it feels, good or bad, but I know my rock stars. These were people so strong they could travel the world, play rock and roll for three hours every night and still have the energy and strength to party even before drugs. If they can’t take it, neither can you. If you think you’re so strong or your will so iron that this doesn’t apply to you, think again- it probably applies to you most of all.
Because Philip’s death nineteen years ago broke my heart and I don’t want it to happen to any more people. Losing one person is too many and nineteen years too long to be without them.