Read Educating Peter Online

Authors: Tom Cox

Educating Peter (10 page)

Very familiar.

Darian had already talked about the possibility of ‘meeting Brian', and I'd had mixed feelings about the issue. On the one hand, he was Brian Wilson. On
the other hand, you had to take into account The Jonathan Richman Factor. The Jonathan Richman Factor was my term for the fundamental disappointment that goes with meeting your musical heroes. I call it The Jonathan Richman Factor in memory of the time that I'd met Jonathan Richman, the acoustic punk mooncalf, and, instead of wanting to talk about all the songs he'd written that I loved, he'd wanted to talk about his fascination with the construction trade. Wilson wasn't close to my heart in quite the way that Richman was – I'd discovered The Beach Boys too late in life – but he was still slightly unreal to me, and I wasn't sure I wanted him to be anything more tangible.

Now I was stuck in a lift with him, and it was decision time. As the lift descended, Sue, Steve, Peter, Edie and I silently began to psych each other out with a series of starey eye and twitchy mouth movements. Even without sounds, the dialogue taking place here – a series of ‘That's . . .?', ‘I
', ‘Well . . . go on then' and ‘No, why don't you, if you're so brave?', and ‘Piss off, coward' type comments – was obvious to all involved. Everyone knew that the one who made the first move would be held fully responsible for his or her actions. No-one seemed quite able to take that step.

After what seemed like at least three eternities, the lift rumbled to a halt, ejecting our hero into a bright white corridor. Peter was the first to speak, confusion painted all over his face.

‘Why didn't you talk to him? I thought you thought he was brilliant.'

‘I'm not sure I would have known what to say,' I said.

‘You could have at least told him you enjoyed the show,' said Peter.

‘But what if that was all I got to say to him – “great show”? I'm not sure I could have lived with that.'

‘Uh,' said Peter. ‘Yeah.'

We found ourselves in a dimly lit, orangey underground bar. Brian had disappeared – possibly to brush up on his pretend jogging – but several of his most eminent spiritual apprentices were keeping the barman busy in his absence. It seemed everyone in the UK who was in a band who sounded even the tiniest bit like The Beach Boys was in this room, along with at least half of their American contemporaries. Picking up a Coke for Peter and beers for the rest of us, I joined the others in an inconspicuous corner and began the surveillance process.

This, generally, was what I did at aftershow parties, on the few occasions I still went to them: I watched. Every now and again, I would get involved in a lengthy and embarrassingly anally retentive conversation about early Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers albums with a guitarist from an American power-pop band. But on the whole I took a silent, back-seat role in proceedings. Tonight was no different, apart from the fact that with Peter there I felt slightly more self-conscious about it. He seemed unusually quiet, and I couldn't tell whether this was because he was bored, intimidated, tired, or just waiting for me to do something interesting. I put myself in his shoes and decided that if I was fourteen, I, too, might have expected something slightly more exciting to happen at a backstage party.

‘That's thingy, isn't it?' he said, nodding towards a helmet-haired man surrounded by women in leather jackets.

‘I think so, yeah,' I said.

‘And isn't that that guy?' he said.

‘What? Him? Yeah. Looks a bit smaller in real life, doesn't he?' I said.

It was heartening to know that Peter was familiar with some of the celebrities here. Shortly after we'd arrived, I'd had a five-minute conversation with Ray Davies from The Kinks – five minutes, because of all the Americans wanting to come up and tell him just how much ‘Waterloo Sunset' had enhanced their life – whom I'd interviewed for a music magazine a couple of years ago. Davies had been friendly and, to my immense surprise, actually remembered me, and I'd hoped Peter might be impressed – even if you hadn't heard of Davies, his thick mane of hair and proud posture would have told you he was someone important – but when I'd returned to my seat he'd merely smiled vaguely and shrugged. But now Peter had his eyes on Richard Ashcroft, the former lead singer of The Verve.

‘I can't believe he's here!' said Peter.

‘Why not?' I said.

‘Well, he's . . . Some of
mates like his music.'

‘Well, yeah. There are a lot of young people who like The Beach Boys, you know. But I'm not going to go and speak to him, if that's what you're thinking.'

‘I wasn't.'

The party was breaking up, and Ashcroft, shielded by a forcefield of cagoule-wearing men with Seventies
footballer haircuts slightly less expensive than his own, was leaving. You knew he was leaving because he was obviously the kind of person who wouldn't have been able to leave a room inconspicuously if he'd tried. He probably couldn't clean his teeth without swaggering slightly in the process. We watched as he and his reserve haircuts strutted their way towards the swing door at the end of the corridor. There was a pause. Then we watched again as, realising that they had entered the kitchen, they turned around and made their way back. Then, finally, we watched some more as they called the lift and tried manfully to adopt an aura of insouciance while waiting for it to creak down to the right floor.

Shortly afterwards, we, too, made our way to the exit. The five of us had our differing views on Brian Wilson and the exact degree of his genius, but we were all agreed on one point: the night had reached its peak.


it then?'

‘I wouldn't say “enjoyed”. It was . . . interesting.'

‘“Interesting”? That's normally what people say as a put-down, isn't it?'

‘No, no, it was cool. It was just, I thought they could have made more of their guitars. I mean that guy – the one with the silly hat – he was using a Danelectro Twelve. You can get really cool sustain with those. Or maybe it was a Fender Jazzmaster.'

‘Oh. Can't say I noticed. But you liked the songs, yeah? The harmonies and stuff?'

‘I suppose. Mmmm. Er. Yeah. They were pretty nice.'

‘And what about the backstage party?'

‘Mmm. It was good. I thought there would be more . . . going on.'

‘What do you think you'll tell your mates about it?'

‘I'll tell them about Richard Ashcroft, definitely.'

‘You'd have to really, wouldn't you? It kind of
reminded me of
Spinal Tap
– y'know, what happened with the lift.'

Spinal Tap
? I think I've heard of it. I'm not sure.'

‘Oh, wow, you've never seen
Spinal Tap
? You
to see
Spinal Tap
. I'll lend it to you. It's the funniest film ever. It's all about this heavy metal band who go on tour in America but I won't go on any more because I'll just end up talking about it for hours and reciting loads of catchphrases that you've never heard of. But the thing is, that thing with Ashcroft, it really reminded me of a scene in the film where the band get lost backstage and can't find their way to the stage.'

‘Uh. Sounds cool.'

‘So what's next for Goat Hero?'

‘I dunno. We're rehearsing next Wednesday.'

‘I'd love to hear some stuff.'

‘I'm not sure you'd like it.'

‘I might. I like some of the stuff you like. We both like AC/DC.'

‘Yeah. But not many of my friends like AC/DC.'

‘What about the girl whose dad's a TV chef? Whatshername? Does she like them?'

‘Sally? Don't talk about her. She thought, like, Darius was cool until about two and a half minutes ago, when she suddenly decided to like nu-metal.'

‘Is that because of you?'

‘I dunno. Don't care.'

‘Why? Is she not attractive?'

‘She's just kind of immature. There was this girl she used to hang around with, Hannah? And they just used to go round poking people in the ribs at breaktime. I mean, she was in year eight at the time.'

‘Year eight? So what's that in old-fashioned terms. Second year? Used to—'

‘Not sure.'

‘—be different when I was at school.'

‘Oh, right.'

‘So – poking people? What was that all about? Was that a flirting thing?'

‘No. I dunno. It was just, like, really sad. Just poking people! They used to wear their hair in pigtails, too.'

‘Not very goth?'


‘And now she likes Staind?'

‘Says she does, yeah. And anyway, they're just sooo not the best nu-metal band. Raf and me hate them. They're kind of seriously fake.'

‘So there are different degrees of quality in nu-metal? I never realised that. I thought all those bands sounded phoney and corporate.'

‘No. No way.'

‘Oh, right.'

‘What's psychedelia?'


‘I just wondered. What's the definition of it? 'Cos you're always going on about it. And all your mates and everyone seemed to be talking about it tonight.'


: ‘
rock music, six years represents an evolutionary microsecond: enough time for Elastica, My Bloody Valentine and The Stereo MCs to record an album (if they all formed one supergroup, put in overtime and cut down on fag breaks). But by 1972, 1966 – the bloom year of America's garage punk movement – was a period rendered indistinct by at least a couple of aeons' worth of musical revolutions. If you even remembered it, you were a card-carrying historian.

‘Lenny Kaye, a rock critic who moonlighted as a guitarist for Patti Smith, was such a historian. Disenchanted with rock's tendency for pomposity in the early Seventies, Kaye masterminded the original
album from his own singles collection – picking twenty-seven low-budget fleeting classics recorded in the suburban garages and cheapo recording studios of America between 1965 and 1968. Was he aware that he was sewing the seeds of punk? Doubtful. But trace a line back from the King's Road in 1977, via the
East Village in 1974, and you'll end up here, cradling the genre's raw, overenthusiastic genesis.

‘By 1972, most of
' DIY John Townshends and Pete Lennons had long since swallowed their dreams of stardom for jobs at post offices and insurance companies; only the odd few grew into internationally famous pop innovators (Nazz's Todd Rundgren) and squirrel-shooting metal maniacs (The Amboy Dukes' Ted Nugent). On
, though, they sound like two-bit crooks who'd kidnap your mother, joyride her around the neighbourhood, and give her the best time she'd ever had.

‘Kaye secured their place in the Sixties canon and recognised that they weren't just derivative trash, but some of the greatest singles bands in history. Most of them had only one single in them, but it was invariably more than the sum of its parts, a scuzz-caked, phlegm-baked blast of attitude over aptitude concocted on the cheapest out-of-tune guitar in Pisswolf, Idaho, or Candlelicker, Illinois.
– justifiably extended on this box set to a 118-track marathon – is one of those rare albums that seems on the verge of bursting into flames from beginning to end. Those volts of excitement you can hear are the waves of electricity that the British invasion left behind: the mind-altering radiation that escaped when a million American teenagers heard the thrilling, squalid central riff of The Kinks' “You Really Got Me”. Some Nuggeteers made carbon copies of their heroes' music (play the Knickerbockers' “Lies” to a Beatlemaniac and watch them squirm), but most simply didn't have the talent or the patience. Through their boundless gusto and frantic inelegance, they made another form of equally cool, world-changing music by accident. Ever wondered what The Doors would have sounded like if
they'd been sneering small-time hooligans without girlfriends? Check out The Seeds' “Pushin' Too Hard”.

‘Groups like The Standells and The Sonics were inhabiting a pretend macho world where they looked like Mick Jagger, played guitar like Jimmy Page and were the bedtime fantasy of every girl on their street. When you were a disenfranchised, possibly virgin, male bursting with testosterone, it must have been a great place to live. To hear Minneapolians The Litter howling “Hey Miss High And Mighty/Walking Right Awn By Me/That's Your Last Mistake” then attempting to make a two-dollar guitar sound like a sitar through a broken amplifier on “Action Woman” is to hear the essence of
: pseudo-sexual prowess plus playground sexism plus angst plus pseudo-satanic howling plus souped-up minimalist brilliance.
is the story of the psychedelic movement from the perspective of the people who couldn't afford drugs, replacing LSD with snot, fuzz and bile. It's the tale of the freaks and the outcasts who took over the garages and high school dances of Middle America. The sound of teenagers doing the exact thing they were invented for, doing it quickly, and doing it well.'

: ‘I can't believe a lot of these bands are teenagers. They sound so old, but maybe that's just 'cos the music's old. I like some of it. There's one song with a kind of duh, duh, duh, duh rhythm that's from that old film with those guys at the college with the togas. You know: the one with all the food fights and stuff. I don't know what the lyrics say – it sounds like the bloke's got false teeth, so it's hard to tell. All these bands sound like they've got something stuck in their mouth. But, yeah, that's a good song. And then there's another one, something about going to the centre of
your mind, which has some nice FX on it – almost metal in a way. But a lot of it reminds me of people dancing in that way they do in
Austin Powers
films, with their arms flapping. It's probably kind of okay in a film and stuff, but I'm not sure I'd listen to it, like, at home. It's a bit buzzy-sounding, and I don't really . . . relate to it. At least I know what psychedelia is now. I thought this was it, but I wasn't sure. I thought there'd be more lyrics about heroin and stuff.'

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