James’ flat, the flat of James. Well, of Tim, lead singer of James, who have been silent since they uttered “Stutter”. And Tim’s violent girlfriend, Martine. Next to the toilet, flung as carelessly as Andrex and twice as strong, this book: “Catastrophe Theory – A Revolutionary Way of Understanding How Things Change”. Myrrh oil in the bathroom cabinet. In the bedroom (yes, I have no shame), tarot cards on the wall, such as the Hanged Man and The Fool. In the main room, a slip of paper advising “3 heaped teaspoons, boil, simmer. Lie on the left side. Buy a good book. Three juices a day”.
The recipient of this thoughtful self-imposed dictate is a cloudy-haired type with the charisma of Irene Handl (yes, that much) and, despite himself, the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie. Tim is certainly a Venusian. He has that flavour, and blinking yellow skin (caused by liver trouble) too. But we shall skip past this tastelessness.
“According to quantum physics, it’s more than possible, in fact it’s probable, we have other lives, probably hundreds of them.” He pauses for me and Jim to stop blushing. “In parallel universes, we’re all on the boarder off insanity. We could discover other existences if only we went over.”
He gives me a pen because I ask for one, and tells me to read a lot of Robert Anton Wilson (“the weirdest books I ever…”) and about equal amounts of Milan Kundera. And you can see, I took the medicine. Yum.
James used to be like a goat (? – eh, Ed) with a broken femur, an awkward oddity, but happy as Mary Popping, or Larry. They made this one record, “Hymn From A Village”, and this brought them the fame of a minute. They toured with The Smiths, who loved them. They had rousing reviews for their first LP, “Stutter”. But oh dear me, so funny, all vegetarians, weren’t they, or didn’t drink, or don’t take drugs, is it? The gents of the press could get no handle on it, and nor could the record company. James have taken two years to resurface with the brilliant tightrope album “Strip Mine”. They’re taking more care of business now. James are like a fully-formed, million-dollar robo-goat, nearly free of scape. I’m very afraid they want me to think them normal. Me, who could hardly go in the house because there was a magpie near it.
Tim: “So how many have you seen today?”
Two, then one, but that makes it really three.
“No, it has to be all at the same time. You cheated. Still, all you have to do is blow them a kiss or take your hat off to them, and that way.
“Martine and I were sitting in a park. A magpie landed about a hundred yards away, and we both went, ‘Uh oh’. Well, it turned and looked at us as if it heard what we said. Then it took off, staring at us, and flew towards us, about two feet off the ground. It landed and hopped around us, pecking at my shoelaces, then round the back of me and pecked at my bum. It stayed for ten minutes. An utterly beautiful-looking bird. Its eyes closed like camera shutters, kind of chunk chunk.”
Jim, Alias James, Alias The one that got the band undemocratically named after him, has a weeny baby girl – hence potential genius – called Gemma. He says, “I’ve been told 13’s a bad year.”
What happens then? Jim bites his lip. “Don’t know.”
Then there’s the nature of rarefied genius, which brushes scapulae with James too much. When Jim was 11, he had this best friend, and at 18 they started the band. “Paul had a real fire. He was our motivation”. Paul’s not in James now, for one or two reasons that cause heartache.
“I’ve never seen anyone change like he did. Oh God! He was the most outward-going, full of life person… But he died. Not really, and I don’t know if it was drugs. I really don’t know. But the Paul I knew was no longer. And I miss him, I really do. I miss him. And I still see the guy in the street, but it’s not him.”
Because Jim’s choked and the wall could get damaged, Tim ice-skates across the frozen pool.
“At one time Paul was quite catatonic. He didn’t talk, he used to stand in the room at rehearsals and not play his instrument. At one gig he turned his guitar upside-down and played it left-handed, or tried to. It was our big break, our first gig with The Smiths, 1,500 people. We’d played to maybe two or three hundred before. Our first big gig, and he decided he wanted to play the whole concert with his guitar upside-down. He shaved his head the same day, and went on stage but didn’t play. He just stood there, the whole gig, trying. Making these noises.”
Paul was a pie-in-the-sky, sweet dream baby. They repeat his words now, like dazed pupils. “He said our set list must change every night. That we must take a lot of risks. Originality – if you hear any other’s influence in your song, dump it. No advertising. Everything shared. Everything.”
Jim laughs like it might be hurting him too. “And we were gonna be huge. With no advertising, no interviews, no publicity.”
Other people make it hard for those dilly dreamers.
“Uh-huh. Sometimes, I could say things to people which would kill ‘em, would core ‘em.”
“Glamour. Hooh. Glamour, eh?”
Silence. “It’s not a particularly pleasant word.”
It’s just that you used to say, “seduction has to be wrong”, but this new LP, with its talk of skin and bone, glows differently.
Tim: “Glamour in music today is a money thing. It’s revolting – there’s bugger-all in it. To me, Patti Smith is glamorous, but it didn’t cost her a lot of money, it wasn’t linked with wealth. She was a romantic poet, the artist, trying to push life to an extreme, to extract some drop of meaning out of it.”
Tim was at boarding-school (this was then) when his mum rang and said, “Your dad’s in hospital. He may not make it through the night. I’ll ring you tomorrow. You mustn’t come home, by the way.” What a Ma. So he crept about in the dark dorm, found some headphones and listened to anything that happened to be there. Into his hot, sad shell, Patti Smith sang, “His father died and left him alone on a New England farm.”
Tim is a Rupert Brooke himself, a house on fire, a misplaced Joan of Art.
Tim says obstinately, “Everyone has their own meaning for every damn word you use. So how on earth do you have any communication?” Levitate us, Tim. “Martine keeps telling me that words are only seven per cent of the human being’s communication. The rest is through gestures, smell, tone of voice, smile, eyes. Statistics show this.”
“I talk it out, I should it out, I put myself in a position where I’m gonna have a fight. Violence is something that – oh God – I do not morally condemn. Sometimes it is very necessary. Having been a pacifist, I’m now getting into boxing. I enjoy seeing Tyson knock people out, the blood, the mats on the canvas to cover where it’s splattered. I’m surprised at my own reactions. I know you cannot grab an idea of how the world should be and impose it. I just let myself feel my animal side, sexually as well as in violence. I blocked what I couldn’t control before”.
And love will save the world?
No reply. What, love won’t save it?
“Save the world. That’s a slogan.” Tim suddenly finds a lot about his shoe interesting. “Save it from who, save it from what, save it for what? You know, maybe this is how it’s bloody well meant to be.”
Eh? The man with a thousand possibilities and twice as many probable lives has gone me in a trick bag.
“Maybe we’ll never attain the knowledge everybody’s lookin’ for. We just ain’t got the capacity up here (Jim taps noddle). Not even just for an understanding of what the bleedin’ hell’s goin’ on.”
Jim, Gavan, Larry, Tim. Going round in frivolous, important circles. Assault and battery. Mad hattery. Celebration.