Brian: What?! Well, what sort of chance does that give me?! All right, I am the Messiah!
Crowd: He is! He is the Messiah!
Brian: Now, fuck off!
Arthur: How shall we fuck off, oh Lord?
Brian: Oh, just go away! Leave me alone!
--Monty Python’s The Life of Brian
That was basically Johnny Marr in the 80s. As one of the two leaders of a band so proudly anti-hero, it’s interesting (and even a bit fun) to see Marr step out, and into the role of front man in his solo years. Clearly healthy living does him well as he looks like he was frozen in time in 1996, and this song sounds like it was too. It’s a catchy little piece of Britpop with an appropriately vanity video to accompany it.
Jake has said that Johnny Marr needs a foil to really tap into his brilliance, and that’s probably true. So while you may not find anything revelatory in this new single, it is a nice little jam and maybe a slight reminder of a time before Brexit when England was proud, but not belligerent. Maybe Johnny Marr just needs a new messiah? Maybe we all do?
I’ve been attending big music festivals in Chicago every summer since 2005, but it’s been many many years since I arrived anywhere near early enough to see the opening wave of bands. There’s always bands I’d kinda like to see who play before 2:30pm but 3-day music festivals are work and you have to make sacrifices for your health and sanity.
Riot Fest scheduled Liz Phair to play at 2:10 on Friday this year. That’s early. Especially for a Friday. And even more so since I no longer live in Chicago. But I love Liz Phair, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen her in concert. In fact, I had tickets to see her in Detroit on Thursday but once the Riot Fest lineup was released, I decided to skip it. But that made it mandatory to arrive in Douglas Park in time.
I didn’t need to worry. Getting in to the park this year was easier than ever before. In fact, we made it inside with plenty of time to see festival opener Speedy Ortiz, who coincidentally is opening up for Liz Phair on her current tour. They were fun and cool. And their 30-minute set flew by.
The best thing about Riot Fest is that it’s got a small enough footprint that you can run around from stage to stage in no time. Five or ten minutes is all you need to get from one to the another. Unfortunately, this also means there’s soundbleed from other bands if you’re not standing directly in front of the stage. But it’s great to be able to skip around and get a sampler platter of everything that’s happening.
How great do Johnny Marr’s guitars sound on this song? Got a bit of that “Money Changes Everything”/”Draize Train” vibe going on. The instrumental track would have fit nicely on a b-side in 1986.
Johnny Marr has always worked best when he’s writing with a foil, and unfortunately a lot of his solo material comes across as the kind of second rate British indie that would’ve been included on a cassette given away with Vox magazine in 1991 between Chapterhouse and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Sure, you’d put the song on a couple of mixtapes, but a few years later you wouldn’t even remember the name of the band.
Oh well. I’m glad he’s still around. And he’s probably going to live forever because he’s vegan and he runs. There’s plenty of time for him to join or start a new band with a good lyricist and singer.
We open with Marr and mates driving around what could be “the edge of the world” referenced in the opening lines of the song.
They’re driving a Corsair, a car built by Ford in the UK between 1963 and 1970 and marketed with a tagline that could have been a Smiths lyric, “I’ve got a V in my bonnet,” a reference to an optional V6 engine.
Where are they going? It doesn’t matter as long as you look good getting there.
But the references to overlapping times and places throughout the song and video are made more interesting with the musical choices. There’s a very Stones-y “Woo Woo” tag punctuating the lyrics and some new wavey noise. Underlying the whole song is a drum beat that could have been lifted straight from “Queen is Dead,” which I have to imagine is some sort of intentional call back to the band that made him famous. But what do I know?
Recorded at Manchester’s Crazy Face Studios, where it just so happens The Smiths also spent some time in the earliest days. Marr told Rolling Stone that he’d spend a lot of time wandering the old, empty building just getting lost in his own thoughts as the world outside was falling further into chaos with Brexit and a Trump election coming into full swing.
“It was a very unusual and creative environment,” he said. “I often lost track of the outside world. I’m glad that I’ve come out of it now, to be honest. It was quite taxing.”
Taxing, indeed. But by the looks of this video, Marr isn’t fully out of it yet…and neither are we.
This is a cool spoken word piece about living on the streets of Edinburgh based on Joe Gallagher’s diaries that were published in The Big Issue under the pseudonym James Campbell.
“Arite there pal, what you doin’ here?”
“Tryin to sleep.”
“I’ve missed ma train n ma pals huv all fucked off n uv got naewhere tae kip… You homeless then?” he asks.
“You look oot ay it,” he says. “Are ye kitted up?”
“No, I am just very tired and it’s after two in the morning.”
“I hud a bit o’ coke earlier on.”
Oh for fuck’s sake. It’s gonna be a long night.
Johnny Marr provides the instrumentation, Maxine Peake narrates, and Molly Windsor stars in the video that was shot in Manchester. Johnny Marr’s third solo album is due in the spring.
I’ve been in bands my entire adult life. For most of that time, it was the most important element of my identity. Being in a band was not only a crucial creative outlet, but also a social space; it was how I met people beyond what is now the GLONO crew.
The first band I had--or at least the first group of guys who tried to get a functioning, performing band together--was The Silence. We were really only together for a summer, but we played a couple of shows, if you count basements as venues, and wrote and recorded eight songs. The best of these songs was a perfect little piece of electro pop called “Forever Summer,” written by Rick Grossenbacher.
Rick was our keyboardist and sequencer. He loved electronic dance music way before there was anything called EDM. His flavor was more in the vein of Camoflage, Front 242, New Order and Depeche Mode. Man, he loved Depeche Mode. He and Dan, our lead guitarist, would go on and on quoting videos, interviews and studio banter I can only assume came from outtakes and bootlegs.
“Start the tape, Mart.”
At least I think that quote is from Depeche Mode. I don’t really know because that wasn’t my scene. I came from the Brit Pop school and was specifically focused on the Madchester sound of The Stone Roses. Happy Mondays and The Charlatans. The most important Manchester influence for me though was Johnny Marr and he was then in his dance band project, Electronic, with New Order’s Bernard Sumner. So if keyboards, drum machines and sequencers were good enough for Johnny, they were good enough for me.
THE THE - We Can't Stop What's Coming - from the film The Inertia Variations
This song was released in the UK for Record Store Day as a 7″ single. It features Matt Johnson, Zeke Manyika, Johnny Marr, James Eller, Meja Kullersten, Chris Whitten and Iain Berryman.
The basic track was recorded live for one of Johnson’s “Radio Cineola” broadcasts a year ago. Overdubs by Johnny Marr and other former members of The The were added more recently.
Much of the video was filmed at the original broadcast session, and it will be included in the new documentary film The Inertia Variations, directed by Johanna St Michaels. I’m really hoping this is only the beginning of new material from The The.
Brudenell Social Club is a workingman’s club in Leeds with an old function room that was used previously for bingo and cabaret style acts – it still has brass fittings and seats and tables at the back on the elevated section – while the dance floor in front of the stage is all standing. It still has another room adjacent which is full of some interesting local “characters” that you would not normally find at a gig. In keeping with it being a working men’s club it still has dirt cheap drink prices.
It is a regular on the circuit for touring bands – I have seen Jesse Malin, Dan Sartain, Constellations Festival (headlined by Ariel Pink). At the end of the gig Johnny mentioned how much he loved the venue – I am guessing he would have played there with the Cribs as it is one of their favourite venues. The capacity is about 300. The audience last night was a mix of ages from diehard Smiths fans from way back in the day and new fans coming to see what they have missed.
He played a 70 minute set with mainly new songs and a few old songs (his description). Most of the set is here on video.
“It’s funny how, as we grow old we cling to the past as we cling to the air, and feel nostalgia for things that were maybe never there.”
I loved that song when I was 19. I worshiped the Smiths in high school and followed Johnny Marr’s career when he split the group. Pretenders, Talking Heads, Kirsty MacColl, even Andrew Berry and Stex. If I read about a Johnny Marr project in an imported copy of NME, I bought the 12″ at my local record store.
But The The’s Mind Bomb was something else. It lived up to its title. Mind Bomb blew my mind. My 7″ of the lead single, “The Beat(en) Generation,” had not prepared me for the heaviness of the album that followed. Matt Johnson’s lyrics expanded my idea of what subjects rock and roll could take on. From religion and terrorism to lustful, crippling possessiveness, Mind Bomb was unlike anything I had ever heard. And I became obsessed.
My best friend Phil and I drove across the state to see them at the Royal Oak Theatre on the “The The vs. the World” tour. We got there way too early and ended up in a guitar shop where I bought a vintage hollow-body Gibson. I thought if I had a really cool guitar then I would surely learn to play it. (Still hasn’t happened.) I bought a tour program and we waited outside by the tour bus after the show and I got Johnny Marr’s autograph as he left the venue. I was starstruck and delirious. Emboldened by my brush with a hero, on the way to the car I kissed a girl I had just met while waiting in line.
This night was clearly worthy of nostalgia.
Shortly after Mind Bomb, The The released “Jealous of Youth.” The chorus goes, “Now the autumn leaves are turning to the color of rust, I’m getting jealous for youth’s first yearnings for lust. I wanna live, but I ain’t a big enough man to do anything other than think.” Matt Johnson was 29 when this song was released.
I was 19, but I connected with those lyrics. Deeply. I truly wanted to live and have crazy experiences like my night in Royal Oak. But I was tied down by a feeling of awkwardness and a shyness that, looking back, really was rather vulgar. Not criminally so, but still.
My big problem was that I was preternaturally nostalgic, especially for my age. I joke that I had my first mid-life crisis at 15 after experiencing the shock of seeing what Davy Jones looked like in 1987 after months of practically falling in love with him via Monkees reruns. But it wasn’t funny. I feared the aging process.
In college lots of kids look back to the quirky pop culture of their childhood with innocent fondness. It’s why 80s bands covered the Sesame Street theme. Remember Ben Stiller’s plastic Hulk bank in Reality Bites? And his character wasn’t even the cool one!
Throughout my twenties and most of my thirties, I continued to worry about how old I was getting and how young I used to be.
But at some point I realized that in ten more years I’m going to look back at myself now and think I was young. So I might as well live it up. The past is fodder for fun stories, but I try to no longer waste any time dwelling on it. Or at least wishing for it. I’m happy now. I’m getting older every day. Which is a lot better than the alternative. Not to get all Bobby McFerrin on your ass, but life is good.
You see, I am not genetically predisposed to longevity. My dad died at 38 when I was 10 and my mom died twenty years later at 54. I’ve already had more time than my dad got and I try to appreciate every day.
So I try hard to fight nostalgia. It doesn’t come naturally to me, but it’s a goal.
There’s a line from a Mountain Goats song that serves as something of an antidote to my tendency toward nostalgia: “If we get our full threescore and ten, we won’t pass this way again. So kiss me with your mouth open.” You’ve gotta live your life right now, everybody, because you might not get as many tomorrows as you think.
My mom’s last words were “Down the hatch!” She was referring to her final dose of meds, but I’ve reclaimed it as a toast. And these days I’ll raise my glass to the future and maybe occasionally pour a little on the curb for the past.
My introduction to The the was when Jake and I drove across Michigan—from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo to Detroit—to see them. I went simply because Johnny Marr was in the band. I was heavy into all things Marr then and since he was in the band for The the Vs. The World Tour 1990 then I was willing to do it despite never having heard a word or note of the music. That’s what young musical obsessions are all about.
Memories of the show still stir my soul. When the whale songs that made for warm-up music faded out (yes, whale songs) the Royal Oak Theater began to shake as Matt Johnson called out from off stage, “This is a dance band!” As a dedicated fan of The Smiths I have to admit I was a bit horrified by that declaration. But his meaning soon became clear: you will NOT be seated for this show.