"It's easier to bone the President's wife than to get a movie made." Ray Charles.

How a cult music book became a cult music documentary, and it only took ten years.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Odd day, starting with my first complete listen-through in ages to Jim Dickinson’s Dixie Fried – a record I revere in the abstract but rarely play anymore. I’ve fallen prey to the iTunes thing. I load tracks into my laptop then let it play on random, forever. THat way I never have to be bored by the conventional running orders. Now that I’m living away from my usual modes, in somebody else’s flat, where I can’t seem to pipe my computer into their amp (there must be a way! There’s got to be a way! Like the Sweet said), I have had to fall back on old methods, hence the actual physical playing of CDs as opposed to MP3s. Dixie Fried still sounds great, even through a weedy soundsystem like the one I’m stuck with here, so I followed up with a blast of the first Big Star album and then I was ready to face the day. Ended up having a very different evening to what I’d expected, as I ended up going for coffee with an estranged ex, who seems to have forgiven me for my appalling behaviour and forgiven herself for her ferocious reaction to it. We went to the ICA to see art, a madly playful installation piece by some German called Bock, which pleased me as it incorporated Douglas Hickox’s Theatre of Blood and FW Murnau’s Nosferatu in it. It also included music by the Cure, though, so I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it.
We surprised ourselves by actually enjoying each other’s company enough to go for a drink afterwards, and it was then that I remembered that Johnny Dowd was on at the Spitz. I suggested going and she agreed immediately – we always tended to like the same music, and in fact our initial involvement pivoted on a shared love of Warren Zevon. We headed over to the old East End, passing Christ Church Spitalfields en route, which was portentous as she is currently reading Peter Ackroyd’s ‘Hawksmoor’ which centres on that very location. Arriving into the venue, the first person we see is Mr Dowd himself who, I am pleased to say, remembers me from our last brief meeting. The support band have had a meltdown and he’s about to go on. We find drinks and a place to hang and the show begins.
I never know what to expect from this man but it never fails to set the hairs on the back of my neck prickling. Tonight he announces that the theme is ‘It is better to marry than to burn.’ I’m trying to remember whether it was St Paul who said that as he piles into a weird rewrite of Blue Moon, a song concerning a priest who lies in bed alone at night, thinking “behind every wedding march there’s a funeral bell.” That set the tone. Separated by achingly sad home movie footage of the Dowd parent’s marrying, and the family’s Christmasses, we get a song-cycle about how a couple meets, weds, reproduces, fucks their kids up royally before splitting up, and starting the whole cycle again. Now my ex has a history with an abusive husband, who she ran away from finally with her two kids, so this was all too close to the bone. She left after four songs. I understood but had to stick it out to the finish. After a song about Christmas with your family, entitled Death Comes Knocking (the chorus twists the knife; just as you are thinking how glad you are not to be a member of the Dowd family, he sings “You think I’m talking ‘bout him, but I’m talking to you...”), he ended with a psychotically slow-burning Johnny B Goode, which he managed to turn into autobiography – the story of the last remaining Dowd, son of Jack who was the son of Jinx, tough hard Irishmen who escaped the Famine and beat the knowledge of the harshness of life into their respective sons. “Man hands on misery to man/It deepens like a coastal shelf.”
The audience of Hoxton hipsters with ironic tattoos and gimme caps seemed bemused by the intensity and the lack of redneck kitsch. This isn’t Jim White, God help us all. It was a completely theatrical show (there were even credits at the end, telling us which family member shot what bit of home movie) and had more in common with the selflacerating family histories of Patrick McCabe or Harry Crews than it did with rock’n’roll. I hope he goes back to playing rock’n’roll soon, but I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. Even though it took me more than an hour and a half to make my way back to the west side of London and home.
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