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Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

by MARK CARTER


I thought the last Freewheelin’ was one of the best for a long while, not least because it featured some of that good old feedback that seems to have been missing for quite a while. Whether it’s that, or whether it’s the fact that we’re finally part of the computer age at home and typing this sort of thing is so much easier now that I don't have to haul out the old electric typewriter (and how suddenly my old typewritten contributions look very old fashioned), but I have, for the first time in years, been inspired to produce two articles for this issue. 

JRS’ (is that right? God, he’s gotten me paranoid about punctuation now! Let's start again) 

John Stokes’ (is that right? It looks right but... ...I’m not sure) (are there too many brackets in this?) (there probably are.. ...I think I’ll start again) 

Our collator’s comments about Lowestoft rock gods The Darkness cut deep and the mental scars will take years to heal, if they ever do. Seriously, though, I cannot quite see the Clive Dunn/Bon Jovi connection (Clive Dunn maybe, but Bon Jovi???) but I think they would be the first to admit that they don’t take it 100% seriously. Or rather, they do take it 100% seriously but they appear to be determined to have a laugh as they go. I guess, if you dress the way they do - the lead singer, especially - then you are immediately obliged to have your tongue at least partly in your cheek, but I think they are very serious about their success and that “difficult second album” is going to be a fair indicator of whether they are going to be something of a flash in the pan or whether they will be around for the long haul. 

The fact that their Christmas single was beaten to the Number One spot by that tuneless dirge by the guy who had obviously had a successful personality removal was nothing short of criminal. Sod the Hutton enquiry, I demand an in-depth investigation into the obvious chart-rigging that went on during December in order to keep Our Boys off the top spot. I know, John, that you favoured Mad World over a single full of children’s choirs and sleigh bells, but the fact of the matter is that the song and the video - especially the video - was deliberately loaded with every cliche that used to make British Christmas singles great. You may think, John, that every Christmas single since the year dot has contained choirs and bells but if you cast your mind back over the past couple of decades or more you’ll find that - Cliff Richard excepted - this simply hasn't been the case. What The Darkness wanted to do was create a single in the classic tradition of the 1970s when pomp and ceremony were the order of the day. Think Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day or, more importantly, Queen’s Thank God It’s Christmas and you’re getting there. 

Why I said they reminded me of 1975 - as opposed to, say, the classic Glam years of 1972 to partway through 1974 - is that I was thinking more of bands like Queen and American bands with such great names as Black Oak Arkansas who wore incredibly tight catsuits and posed and postured onstage whilst still managing to rawk n’ rawl. 

Why, even Jethro Tull’s lan Anderson spent 1975 and 1976 in tights and codpieces! Their natural successors - the poodle-permed 1980s crop such as Van Halen, Poison, Bon Jovi, etc, etc - were cartoons, a joke. And not a very good joke. Then there was Canadian band Rush - all flares and falsetto vocals - who began making waves during the mid-70s, though their peak (and only hit single, Spirit Of Radio) would not come until 1978/79 or thereabouts. Watching The Darkness Christmas video, I am reminded of Freddie Mercury circa Killer Queen, Seven Seas Of Rhye, Bohemian Rhapsody, rather than Mud or the Rubettes. As for the Bay City Rollers, they were strictly for the girls, and were, I guess, one reason why Punk had to happen the next year. 

You will be comforted to know, John, that no less a legend than Alice Cooper has also questioned whether The Darkness should be taken seriously or not, and if a godlike genius such as he cannot decide, then what chance have we mere mortals got? At the end of the day, they’re a good laugh and - for now - their music is enjoyable. Besides which, any band that can get into the charts with a single called Get Your Hands Off Of My Woman, Motherfucker has got to have their tongue firmly in their cheek and also deserve our respect for providing an island of hope in a sea of Pop Idol and Fame Academy winners. 

As I was putting the finishing touches to this, I happened to read an interview with Gary Joules in yesterday’s Sunday Mirror and, guess what - he loves The Darkness and said that, if they had beaten him to the top spot at Christmas, then he would have been happy, since they are a “real band who play real music and have made a great album”. Of course, the opinion of someone who has made one of the most depressing singles since Keith Harris and Orville last graced the charts should perhaps not be taken too seriously, but you have to respect him for realizing how lucky he was and how, during November and December, the UK singles charts are open to anyone and anything. I don’t think, however, that the traditional drunken chorus of; “So here it is, merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun, look to the future now, it’s only just begun!”, so beloved of office parties and pubs during every December is ever likely to be replaced by; “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I've ever had”. 

Finally, yes - you were right; The Darkness Christmas single was only the best one since The Pogue’s Fairytale Of New York back in 1987. After I had typed up my Top Ten and posted it off, the song came on the radio and I realised at once my mistake. How I could have forgotten it, I don’t know, since I’ve got the single somewhere, and because it’s probably one of the very best Christmas 45s ever. That didn't make Christmas number one either - The Darkness are in good company. 

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Patrick's article was, I thought, very funny indeed, even going so far as to make me laugh out loud. Images of Mr. Ricks having a Jodrel into a plastic cup back in 1973 and saving it for 30-odd years before producing it for all Dylanologists to examine and admire (mind you, if he did, some idiot would buy it) will stay with me for a long while - quite possibly a lot longer than I want them to, in fact. I would like to think that Patrick wrote it in good humour, making (possibly) a sly dig at how we can dissect even the most insignificant ramblings, but the paranoid within me worries that he was having a sly dig at me for writing Ricks' book off in six words, rather than six paragraphs or - better still - six chapters. Whatever, it gave me a chuckle and, if my original ‘review’ gave Patrick or anyone else a chuckle, then it was not a waste of time. 

Of course, it was not the most incisive or balanced review of a book – Ricks’ or otherwise - that you are ever going to read, nor was it intended to be, but I’ll wager that you understood my opinions of the book far quicker and more precisely than, say, a four-page review in Judas! or somewhere. 

Since writing my six-word summary (ideal for the busy Dylanologist who simply doesn’t have time to plough through a lengthy article), I have felt that I perhaps owed it to Ricks to at least try and get through a bit more of his book, and so I spent a week or so resolutely plodding on, determined to re-approach it with an open and unbiased mind. Now I’m almost 200 pages into the thing and, unfortunately, my opinion hasn’t changed. I wish - and you’ll have to take my word on this - that I could say otherwise, not least because I get the feeling that Ricks has laboured long and hard in order that I may finish his book with a greater love and understanding of art in general and Dylan's words in particular (and also because I have the sneaking suspicion that I have spent seventeen quid on something that will ultimately become a dust-catching shelf-filler), but I’m afraid I cannot. At least I tried. You can’t say I didn’t. 

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Finally, having been replaying (and rewatching) Dylan’s ‘Cross The Green Mountain’; is it just me, or is that song one of the very best things he’s committed to tape in the past 25 years? I loved it when I first heard it almost a year ago and I love it just as much now. Only Dylan could have hidden a gem like this on an obscure soundtrack that probably didn’t even sell that well in the USA. You’d think the least he could do is play it live every now and then. As for the wonderful promo video, what can I say? Easily his best performance in an ‘acted’ video (if you see what I mean), and how is it that a long wig and fake beard that could look so shite at Newport could suddenly look so stately and commanding once the cameras started to roll? 

One to ponder, methinks. 

Bye bye. 

 
 
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