You know, it’s been asked of me more than once in my life how I can possibly claim to be ‘rock and roll’. I have never smoked. I have never taken illegal drugs. I have never been drunk, although I don’t claim to be tee-total. When I answer, I give a characteristically sharp ‘you humans are all fucking morons’ or sarcastic ‘I wouldn’t waste my time’ reply.
However, we all know me well enough to know that it doesn’t end there. It barely even starts there. I give those short replies because the real answer is far too long for people who only ever asked a flippant question, the answer to which they don’t really care about.
It doesn’t end with ‘Jim Morrison died for my sins’. It doesn’t even end with ‘they taught me a lesson’. I suspect that it doesn’t end at all.
January marked the twentieth anniversary of Philip Lynott’s death. On 3rd July this year, it will be thirty five years since Jim Morrison died. Last week, the fifteen anniversary of Steve Marriott’s death in a house fire passed. In November, it will be fifteen since Freddie Mercury died. I could list the various numbers and dates for the rest of the pantheon, but you and I know it already.
Besides, for once, I don’t think that’s even the point.
I don’t drink much and I don’t take drugs for one reason and one reason alone. It has nothing much really to do with Jimmy or Philo or any of the others. Are you paying attention?
I don’t take drugs and I hardly drink because I just don’t want to.
Sorry darlings, you may say it’s not ‘RAWK AND ROLL!!’ but I just don’t give a flying rat’s arse of a bollock what you think of me or my choices to die or not, to live or not.
The NME might want to deify the oikish lot like Pete Doherty because he walks in the footsteps of Keith Richards, but I think they’re all fucking sheep.
SHEEP, DO YOU HEAR ME?
Do you want to know what the oft-trumpeted ‘spirit of rock and roll’ really is? Do you? Are you ready? Really ready? Sitting comfortably?
It is not sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll. The sex is always there because most of the songs are written by boys to make girls want to shag them, no matter how flowery they make it sound.
Rock and roll is about doing your own thing and living by your own rules. Rock and roll is about standing up and saying “This is who I am, and I don’t give a fuck what you think of me.”
It’s about having the courage and determination to be comfortable in your own soul, or at least try to find the answer you want from yourself. It’s hard, of course, to live a life like that, when most of the world wants you to be obedient to the rules of society.
Actually, it’s a bitch of a life, rock and roll. Imagine being a green-haired punk in 1976, safety pins in your ears, torn fishnet tights, the lot. Now imagine walking down some suburban high street amongst housewives who still wore headscarves to keep their shampoo-and-set hairstyles in check. I don’t like a lot of the music, but you got to have some respect for the kids for finding something they cared about. Or didn’t care about, as nihilism takes it.
Rock and roll is about saying ‘fuck you, this is what I am’. It is not about copying your heroes. It’s not about trying to be someone else. It’s discovering what it is you love and sticking with it, whether The Man or The Establishment agree with you or not.
Which is why Dean Martin was ‘rock and roll’ but Robbie Williams is not, nor is he likely ever to be. It’s why I dislike Marilyn Manson’s music but respect the man.
Which is why I’ll only palm you off with a sharp reply if you accuse me of being ‘un-rock’ because I don’t conform to the rock stereotypes of substance abuse and promiscuity. It’s not that I can’t be bothered to give you the answer, it’s that I don’t really care whether you think me rock or not.
Rock and roll was about NOT CONFORMING and now it’s all about RULES and FASHION AND FUCK ME, I’M KATE MOSS!
Fuck that for a game of toy soldiers. Rock and roll used to be about rebellion because people were disillusioned about their world. The teddy boys didn’t want to be like their fathers. The mods didn’t want to be like their fathers. They had that in common, at least. The hippies hated the Establishment’s attempts to destroy the world and didn’t want to be like their fathers. The punks hated everyone and didn’t want to be like their fathers, or like Led Zeppelin. The new romantics didn’t want to be like their fathers but did want to dress like their great-great-great-grandfathers.
I can’t go on much further, because once you get to a certain point, Thatcher-Reaganism kicks in and heralds the Brave New World of Cowellonomics, where the business half of showbusiness finally kicks the show out completely. He’s not my musical cup of tea, but perhaps Kurt Cobain was the last of the half-decent rock and roll heroes who managed to both be himself and grab the attention of the world.
Fuck Cobain, back to me. I don’t take drugs for a number of reasons, chief amongst which might be this: I don’t really want to die just yet, and I certainly don’t want to destroy the people I love first. That’s the reality of drug addiction, as far as I can tell. Besides, I know another secret. Want to know? I’ll tell you. Come closer. Closer. There. It’s this: there’s no greater drug on God’s green and unpleasant earth than the music that touches your soul.
Ray Charles kicked heroin, but he never kicked music, after all. Same goes for Aerosmith, who are clean but still going. Eric Clapton too, although I wonder about him a lot- I think he’s been in it for the money for a long time.
Music is the thing, fools. It’s the greatest opiate in the world. Nothing can induce greater, longer lasting euphoria than the music you love. For me, it’s something like the windmilling guitar in ‘Pinball Wizard’, or anything by Thin Lizzy. It’s thundering basslines, cheeky-as-fuck, will-you-shag-me-now-i’m-in-a-band lyrics, a searing voice that can rip you apart and put you back together, rattling drums, wailing, screeching guitars.
Or it’s Julie London’s come-to-bed-voice, or my own Dean’s olive oil croon. Thing about music, it doesn’t just have to rock. It can roll too, it can sway, swing, bop, whatever you want it to do.
Rock and roll is about finding the thing you love best, independent of all the other mindless fools. If you can find the music you love, you’ll be all right. It might not be fashionable, but you’ll love it just the same. And you know, if for you, the music you love is Britney fucking Spears, then I can’t agree but I can respect you for it. The music chooses you, not the other way around.
It’s always been, will always be, about having the courage to have opinions, even if they’re unpopular. Fuck that, especially if they’re unpopular! It’s thinking for yourself, living by the rules that matter to you, living the life you want to live with the knowledge that we probably only get one go at this caper calling living.
Fuck society. Screw the establishment. Be brave, be strong, be yourself. That’s what rock and roll is about.
Which is the real answer to why I don’t take drugs and drink and shag everyone I meet: I just don’t want to.
A last thought for you, in the form of Jim Morrison’s current epitaph in Paris: KATA TON DAIMONA EAYTOY. There are many potential translations, but this is the likeliest: “True to his own spirit.”
There’s nothing more rock and roll than that, not even dying drugged-up and shagged-out at 27. Nothing.