Tag Archives: life

Boss Blogs #1: Meet Me in the City Tonight

For many people, seeing Bruce Springsteen live, especially with the E Street Band, is akin to a religious experience. His epic three-hour plus live shows are the stuff of legend. The vast majority of artists have their carefully arranged 16-song set consisting of a smattering of tracks from their latest sub-par album, closing the show with a few hits from when they were more popular to send the crowd home happy. They play the same songs, in the same order, every night. Even their salutations are hollow. “Thank you (INSERT NAME OF LATEST STOP ON THE TOUR)! This has been the greatest night of our lives!”

Of course it has, pal.

Springsteen doesn’t just go through the motions. Every show, every note of every song, is shot through with energy, emotion and intensity. Virtually every night the set list is different. Sometimes there are minor tweaks, sometimes there a radical overhaul. He usually does something special, making it unique for those lucky enough to be in attendance. He might dust off a rare deep cut, a non-album track, a new arrangement of an old classic, or an unexpected cover. He has an extensive repertoire to draw from, and nothing is off-limits. After Prince died last year he played Purple Rain as a tribute, in London he played the Clash song Clampdown in homage to Joe Strummer, and in Australia he played the relatively obscure INXS track Don’t Change as a nod to Michael Hutchence. It wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility to witness him tackle a George Michael or Motorhead standard at some point. The first time he ever played in Wales on the Magic tour in 2008 he started the show with From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come), in reference to the size and stature of the country.

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I’m not as fanatical as some Springsteen aficionados. I’ve met people who have seen him live literally hundreds of times, making my six gigs in four countries over twenty years seem pretty fucking weak. Still, I do have some good stories. Like the time I was on a coach coming back from Rotterdam and French border police decided to take us in a room one-by-one and strip search us all. I’d never had that treatment before, so that was an experience. As was travelling all the way from Wales to Philadelphia for the reunion tour in 1999 only to arrive at the venue to find the show had been cancelled because of a hurricane. After being shut in the hotel bar for the night, we eventually got to see another show later in the week so the trip wasn’t completely wasted. Unlike me that night in the hotel bar. At the actual gig, my then-girlfriend went out for a cigarette halfway through the show and security wouldn’t let her back in, so she had to stand in a car park by herself in downtown Philly for two hours. No, I didn’t go out to find her. A man has to get his priorities right. Besides, I didn’t know what had happened until later. There were no mobiles in 1999.

Thinking about it, my Boss gigging history has been dogged by drama. I was also at the infamous Hyde Park gig in 2012, when the council pulled the plug in the middle of a historic duet with Paul McCartney. Hilariously, the Boss started the next gig in Dublin in the middle of Twist & Shout and had a fake policeman drag him from the stage at the end. The first time I ever saw the him live was as a starry-eyed 18-year old at Wembley Arena in 1992. By some fluke, my friend and I had great seats, just a few rows from the front. But probably my favourite ever Boss gig was at the San Siro, Milan in the summer of 2003. I’ve always thought the music spoke to me on some weirdly personal level, and that show seemed to prove it. I still worked in a factory in Wales at the time. I had a car, a steady girlfriend and a PlayStation. All the things that are supposed to make you content. But man, I was so fucking miserable. I was beginning to realize it’s a big world out there, and I was frustrated at only being allowed to experience a tiny part of it. My first book had just been released and, I knew big changes were coming in my life. He sang ‘Follow That Dream,’ a song he doesn’t do often, and it almost sent me over the edge. It certainly put things in perspective. I decided to roll the dice and risk everything to pursue a career in writing. Within a few months, I’d split up with my girlfriend, sold my car, laid my PlayStation to rest (which I still think is the biggest loss) and moved to Southampton to study journalism. Strange how things turn out. I look back on that San Siro gig as some kind of tipping point.

When Bruce & the E Street Band began this latest tour, they were playing The River album in it’s entirety from start to finish, then a handful of oldies at the end. Everyone knew it wouldn’t last. It was too rigid, too predictable. The handful of oldies at the end soon stretched to a dozen, then 15 or 16, and by the time he got to Europe the ‘whole album’ format had been discarded altogether in favour of a career-spanning mash-up. What’s even better is EVERY show is being recorded and released via his website. I used to collect live bootlegs. Over the year I amassed hundreds of them. I’ve always been aware that the studio albums, even taking into account the 4-CD retrospective set Tracks, only tell half the story. But they were expensive and the sound quality was hit or miss. Normally miss, to be fair. These new releases are absolutely flawless, and at $9.95 (MP3 format) for four hours of music, reasonably priced. There’s a bit of polishing and mixing going on, but if it enhances the sound quality I’m not against it like some purists are. Incidentally, if you want my opinion, I don’t think you can go far wrong by investing in the Washington National Park show.

After a few months off following the last US leg, the River tour found it’s way to Australia last month. Because, bizarrely, it’s summer there. And winds up next week in New Zealand. I’m envious of all you Australasians who were lucky enough to get tickets but I’m not that put out. I’ll just get the MP3s.

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Little Virgin Boy Pee Eggs

Today is Chinese New Year! That means it’s time for another China story from the vault. I’ve posted quite a lot here about China, like the time I ate brains and the time I got to be Bad Santa. There was also the snake shop, and when I got pulled in Shanghai airport and some beefy security guards tried to take my cheese off me. No way, mister! Even the most mundane things, like getting a haircut, take on a whole new meaning in the Middle Kingdom.

In 2009-2010 I lived in an extremely inhospitable northern industrial city called Tianjin. I imagine it was a bit like a Chinese Middlesbrough. I only went there to be closer to a girl I was dating, who then promptly dumped me for another dude leaving me alone, miserable and stuck in a job I hated. Said job was teaching English in a primary school. It wasn’t the teaching I disliked. it was the kids. There, I said it. It’s probably hard enough trying to educate children that young when you speak the same language, but at least then you can reason with them. If you don’t speak the same language, forget it. It’s like fighting a war with no weapons. Every class was anarchy.

Eventually I hit on the bright idea of rewarding the good kids with lollipops, hoping the naughty ones would see what they were missing and fall in line. It didn’t quite work out like that. Instead, every kid who didn’t get a lollipop threw an epic temper tantrum. Mostly products of the one-child policy, they were a mass of Little Emperors. They broke me. Regularly. I would cave in and give them all lollipops just to shut them up, costing myself a small fortune in sugary bribes.

One of the few things I liked about this school was the little breakfast stall stationed outside, selling a selection of traditional local food, along with some more normal fare like boiled eggs and corn on the cob. I stopped by there most mornings. It was cheap, and saved me time.

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There was a lot I didn’t like about the school. But the worst thing were the toilets. Toilets in China are gruesome places at the best of times. But in the school there were no locks on the doors, because the little shits would shut themselves in. That meant whenever I used it, I had a swarm of kids around me pointing and laughing. It was enough to give anyone a complex.

I noticed the boys all peed in buckets, which struck me as a bit weird. But lots of things struck me as a bit weird in China, and the buckets of piss just blended in with all the other weirdness. People would come in sporadically, carry the full buckets out, and come back with empty ones. Presumably, they were emptying them down a drain somewhere. I didn’t know, and frankly, I didn’t care. I didn’t think much about it. Until one day, when I was talking to my teaching assistant and he told me something that first confused me, then horrified me to the core. The school was selling the pee. Those people who came in to take out the buckets of piss were actually paying the school for the privilege.

“What? Who would buy buckets of pee?”

“People.”

“What people?”

“Like the people at the breakfast stall where you go in the mornings.”

“Why?”

“Tong zi dan.”

“What’s that in English?”

“Not sure. Little virgin boy pee egg or something.”

He explained that in some regions of China, Tianjin included, urine from young boys, preferably under the age of ten is harvested. It is boiled, and eggs are soaked in it for a few hours. Then the shells are cracked, presumably to let the pissy goodness inside, and it is boiled some more. The practice has been going on for centuries, and is tied to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Eating little virgin boy piss eggs is said to reduce high blood pressure, stop you catching a cold, and relieve joint pain, and I’d been unwittingly eating them for months.

I’ve never been able to look at a boiled egg in quite the same way since.


Dear London

This isn’t an easy letter to write. I think you know, things haven’t been right between us for a while now. I’m not sure they ever were. Don’t get me wrong, we had a lot of fun together. Those early days, when there was so much to discover and indulge in, were very special. So new new and exciting. For a while, I really thought you might be ‘the one.’ I thought I’d finally be able to settle down. But those feelings didn’t last. After a couple of years, all the little annoyances I used to find so charming started getting on my nerves. These days, I find it difficult just to be around you. Everything’s such hard work, and I derive so little pleasure from what we do together. It comes down to balance, I suppose. This relationship is all take and no give.

I would give you that time-honoured “It’s not you, it’s me,” line.

But that wouldn’t be fair, because it’s mostly you.

I know the score, okay? I know how things are. You are this rich, powerful, older woman and I’m just A.N. Other guy. I have to work my balls off to impress you and stay in your good graces. Do you have any idea how exhausting that is?

Didn’t think so. You act like I should be happy just to be here. To have the opportunity. But my best was never good enough. You have ridiculously high standards, and even higher demands. I know if I let my guard down for just a few moments, there’ll be a line of would-be suitors queuing around the block. Like vultures. Half the guys in the world want to get with you. That’s a lot of pressure. Plus, you go through my money like it was piss in the rain.

God, you make me feel like such a failure sometimes. On the other hand, you make me proud just to be with you. That’s the paradox of love. Anyway, enough waffling. The bottom line is our relationship is turning destructive, and it’s probably best I leave before someone gets hurt.

There, I said it.

Sorry to be so abrupt, but you broke my heart, London. At least three times, you cold, heartless bitch.

I know you are fucking other people, okay? You always were, and you always will. It’s just what you do. You don’t care. And why should you? You don’t owe me anything. You’re thinking, “You came to me, remember? Feel free to leave at any time.”

I also want to thank you. You taught me how to be humble, how to be strong, and how to grow. Along the way you taught me a few hard life lessons. But someone had to teach me, and I’m glad I learned from the best.

I’m not bitter. It hurts to know that you’re so ruthless and callous, but I get it. It’s not personal. And don’t worry, even though I knew all along you were using me I have no regrets, because I was using you, too. We were just having fun. I always knew it wouldn’t be long term. How could it? We both value our freedom and independence too much to make any kind of lasting commitment. Many better men (and women) than me have tried to have a relationship with you and failed.

Thinking about it, I suppose we were only ever fuck buddies. At first, there was only passion and lust. I wanted to do everything with you. But then, the spark died. The dream ended and reality bit down on us hard. We stopped going out as much, most of our ‘friends’ slipped away, and our sex life went down the toilet. When we did manage it, which wasn’t often, it was functional and mechanical. Like we were just going through the motions. Yeah, we’d blame things like work and family and the weather and whatever else. But the truth is, we just drifted apart. I know that you never gave all of yourself to me. There was always that part of you that you kept hidden. And no matter what I did, you were never going to reveal it to me. I could spend a lifetime trying and still not discover ‘the secret of you.’

Maybe I was the same way.

I admit, I haven’t exactly been faithful. There’s this other girl called China. I don’t understand half the things she says or does and she has these really strict parents who make things difficult, but she’s just so beautiful and exotic. Then there’s my mental ex, Wales. She was my first love, so I guess she’ll always be in my life. We went through too much together for me to ever really forget her, but we are so volatile together we fight like mad.

Anyway, goodbye, London. I don’t know where this journey will take me next, but I do hope we can stay in touch and who knows, maybe we can hook up again further down the road. The future is a place where anything is possible.

Take care of yourself, and stay beautiful.

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2016 – The Greatest Year in Music for Three Decades?

No, this isn’t satire. This is some serious shit. Don’t mock. I know it’s a massive two-fisted claim, but when you think about it, 1986 was an outstanding year in music. Most of us just didn’t appreciate it at the time. Through no fault of their own, half the people who read this post probably weren’t even alive thirty years ago, which is a thought that absolutely terrifies me.

Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi, License to Ill by the Beastie Boys, The Queen is Dead by the Smiths, Invisible Touch by Genesis, Graceland by Paul Simon, A Kind of Magic by Queen, Master of Puppets by Metallica, So by Peter Gabriel, Liverpool by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Classics, one and all. Thirty-year old classics. Well, except that last one. Apart from Rage Hard Frankie’s long awaited follow-up to Welcome to the Pleasuredome was utter crap. But it was memorable crap.

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You might not think it, but look beneath the surface and you’ll see that three decades on, 2016 has been another stellar year in music for people of a certain persuasion. Not only did Blink 182 return revitalised and reinvigorated, but there were new albums from Bouncing Souls, Biffy Clyro, BabyMetal, Bayside, Bowling For Soup, and even a few bands that didn’t begin with ‘B,’ like Taking Back Sunday, Feeder, Good Charlotte, Yellowcard, Against Me! A Day to Remember, and the kings of modern punk rock (yes, I said it), Green Day. Still to come we have releases from Jimmy Eat World and Sum 41. Even the Ataris, who haven’t put out anything new since 2007, came to the party. Granted, October in the Railroad Earth is an EP made up of studio outtakes, so it’s neither a proper album nor new, but I’m including it here because I want to, and it’s fucking awesome.

You could say 2016 has been something of a pop punk renaissance, a fact further underlined by imminent new offerings from Billy Tallent, Tonight Alive, Set it Off, and the Starting Line. I think this speaks volumes about the state of the world we live in right now. People are fucked off and miserable. We want the happy back. Break out the fart jokes and beer, all is forgiven! ADTR, Blink and All Time Low even toured the US together in what is probably the greatest live bill I’ve never seen. Thanks for that. A slightly more unsettling alternative is that pop punk now qualifies as retro, and is benefiting from that warm, fuzzy nostalgia buzz that people yearn for when they hit their late-thirties. It’ll be popping up in Classic Rock mag next.

I realise all this might not mean much to some of you. But to get to the point, pretty much ALL my favourite bands of the past fifteen years or so are releasing new albums at roughly the same time. And not only that, but most of them are good! This is a truly unprecedented event of near-cataclysmic significance well worthy of a blog post. Like an inter-planetary alignment over Stonehenge or something. Now, if someone could get Funeral for a Friend to reform and knock out a new album by the end of the year, we’ll be golden. Ta.


Rolling the Dice, Man

I don’t know how many people reading this would be familiar with the now-defunct British magazine Loaded. For men of a certain age, it was something of a lifestyle bible, and told you everything you needed to know about, well, life and style.

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In a 1999 issue they named an obscure (to me, anyway) American writer by the name of Luke Rhinehart, ‘Novelist of the Century.’ He was awarded this accolade largely due to a book he wrote called The Dice Man, which carried the rather catchy tag (on some editions) ‘Few novels can change your life, this one will.’ Until that point, I’d thought Stephen King was ‘Novelist of the Century.’ Still do, actually. So this was news to me. Loaded were very rarely wrong about such important things, so I went out and found a copy of said book in HMV. Then I stuck it on my ever-expanding book shelf and promptly forgot about it. Fast forward a few years, and I’m a mature student with a lot of free time on my hands. Enter The Dice Man.

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In a nutshell, the book tells the story of a psychiatrist called Luke Rhinehart (which makes it kind of a mock autobiography) who, feeling bored and unsatisfied with life, decides to stop making decisions. Instead, he rolls a dice, and lets fate decide which path he should take. As far as I remember, the rule of the ‘game’ is that you give yourself six options, one for each number on the dice. Five reasonably attractive things that you wouldn’t mind doing, and one thing you don’t want to do. But you have to be prepared to do it.

On the surface, its a book about freedom, the search for adventure, and fucking the system. I’m sure many of the deeper psychological concepts and themes were lost on me at the time. You kind of grasp most of them, but not with much clarity. The result is that they linger in your subconscious for years after.

I was so taken with the book that one summer I bought a one-way ticket to Spain and decided to live by the dice for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t let the dice decide anything important. That would be stupid. I just let it dictate the little things like which places I should travel through and in what order (as it tuned out, it was Alicante, Benidorm, Murcia, Granada and Malaga, in that order), and when I got there which tapas bar I should I stop at, which hostel should I stay in, and whether or not I should hit on the cute American tourist with the flower in her hair. Nothing remotely negative happened, apart from the cute American tourist with the flower in her hair saying no. But even that wasn’t a total blow-out. The two of us got talking to a Spanish gypsy girl called Estrella (Star) and I took her home instead.

Playing the dice was a liberating experience, and I spent most of the time strolling through the sunshine wallowing in a carefree attitude sadly missing from my daily life. But at the same time, it was slightly unnerving. I wasn’t in control of my life anymore. Something else was, some higher force. Call it what you want; fate, destiny, the Cosmic Joker, God, whatever. After a while you begin to wonder what path you are on, and why. Is it really all random? Or is there some kind of plan involved? Interesting times, indeed. It’s also kind of dangerous, in the sense that the dice allow you an excuse to be reckless.

Why did you do that stupid thing? 

Because the dice told me to do it.

Ironically, it was Tim Southwell, writer and one-time editor of Loaded, who said:

“A man without responsibility is like Genghis Khan.”

Luke Rhinehart is the pseudonym of George Cockroft, who has written numerous books and essays, including several other ‘Dice’ books. The original, first published in 1971, has attained cult status, and been published in over 60 countries. In 2012 he pranked his own death, the mentalist, but in reality is still going strong at the age of 83. Throw a dice for him. You won’t regret it. Actually, you might. But that’s part of the fun.

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Gary Holton, RIP

Gary Holton  22 September 1952 -25 October 1985

Gary Holton
22 September 1952 -25 October 1985

His name might be unfamiliar, but today marks the 30th anniversary of Gary Holton’s death. The English entertainer’s list of achievements is considerable. He lived life to the fullest and did things most of us can only dream about. For starters, he once toured as lead singer with the Damned in place of Dave Vanian, he had a number one single in Norway where he was a massive star, appeared on Top of the Pops and the Tube, was the subject of articles in NME and Melody Maker, and fronted the glam rock band Heavy Metal Kids and later Casino Steel, who were signed to Polydor records. A year to the day after Bon Scott’s death, Holton auditioned to join AC/DC, turning up at the venue with a crate of whisky. Rumour has it that the sole reason he didn’t get the job was that the band didn’t want another alcoholic singer.

Despite his love of rock n’ roll, it was Holton’s acting endeavours that really made his name. He had minor roles in Quadrophenia, Minder and Shoestring, before finding fame as flash cockney carpenter Wayne in the classic comedy drama Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, about a group of British builders working abroad. His character displayed a penchant for wine, women and song, something which by all accounts mirrored his off-screen persona. At the peak of his career he was offered the part of ‘Nasty’ Nick Coton in Eastenders, but declined for reasons unknown.

Gary Holton died from an overdose of alcohol and morphine in his flat in London before finishing the second series of the show that made him famous, his parts being completed by use of body doubles and sound editing. The cast all went to his funeral and resisted offers to film a third season for 15 years. A recovering heroin addict, the inquest into his death revealed his blood contained almost twice the lethal level of morphine. Poignantly, the last single he released shortly before he died was a song called ‘Catch a Falling Star,’ and when the grim reaper came knocking he had been declared bankrupt twice. A tragic, sad end to a life that promised so much. Still, he probably packed more into his 33 years than most of us could in several lifetimes. His ashes were laid to rest next to his grandparents grave in Welshpool, Powys.

Since his death, Holton has achieved cult status. Hard-living, hard-loving rocker with a prodigious talent who loved the pub. When he wasn’t off being famous, he could often be found pulling pints at the establishments his parents ran, or playing dominoes with the regulars. I have it on good authority his records still outsell the Beatles in Norway. What a legend. RIP, Gary Holton. I hope you caught that falling star.


How to Have the Perfect Bank Holiday

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In Britain, we are lucky enough to be gifted the occasional Bank Holiday. When you are kid it’s like having two Sundays in a week, but when you grow up and start work you learn to really appreciate any extra down time. The big question is, how to spend it?

Time Management

As tempting as it may be, if you spend the whole day in bed (especially if you are alone) you will regret it later. Have a lie-in by all means. But set an alarm and get up at a reasonable hour. Make a list the day before of all the things you want to do, and be realistic about your goals.

Chores

Everyone has them, nobody wants them. Get used to it. Doing the laundry, popping to the corner shop for some milk, washing the dishes that have been festering in the sink since last weekend’s curry night, whatever little jobs need doing, get them out of the way early doors. Then we can all move on.

Fun Time

We all have our guilty pleasures in life. Something we truly enjoy, but rarely have time to indulge. If only there were more hours in a day, right? Well, today there is! Kind of. It might mean firing up the Xbox, going for a walk, having a kick about with your mates or masturbating furiously to repeats of Charmed. Whatever floats your boat. Just remember to lock the door if that last option appeals to you, and don’t let ‘fun time’ last too long.

Spread Your Wings

This part is key. It’s very simple. Do something you’ve never done before. It can be anything from visiting that museum you’ve always fancied, to taking up a new hobby. It’s your call. It will make this particular Bank Holiday memorable, and make you feel as if you’ve actually achieved something.

Chill

What you shouldn’t do is have a big night in the pub. That would equal a short week from hell. You should have done that on Friday. Or Saturday. Maybe both. In a recent survey, ‘watching a film at home’ topped a list of people’s favourite things to do on a Bank Holiday, coming in just above ‘doing chores’ and ‘relaxing.’ The chores should be done by now. At least, the important ones. So now you can relax and watch a film. Two birds, one stone. You’ve had a busy day. You deserve it.


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