Episode 1: The Die Hard Demos
For a long time during the early 90s I had wrestled with trying to understand how I could do anything again in music. I’d been in some great, extraordinary bands and had just spent 2 years making an album and touring with The Sisters of Mercy. This was a rather alien situation for me, just being the bass player in a band rather than being the instigator and songwriter, but hey, I really liked working with Andrew Eldritch, we’d been friends since the early eighties and it took me on a tour of the world traveling through a very different Universe to the ones I had invented myself. It was called Gothworld.
“Oh what fun we had!….” as Madness would say.
Now, years later I found myself in a very strange place. Half of me wanted it again, to be involved in my own creation, and half of me felt increasingly alienated from the whole world of Rock and Roll. I had just discovered the internet. I was dabbling in writing TV scripts, thinking about being a presenter, managed a band, got flown to L.A to have lunch with Mo Ostin (then head of Warner Bros) and generally doing anything actually except making music. The bass guitar was staying in its case. I wanted to do something new but more importantly something that was about the person I had become. It’s a funny thing to have to acknowledge that after all years of those teenage revolutions, you wake up one day and know you’ve grown up.
I was looking for a sign. something to tell me how to go forward and finally I got one.
One night in 1994 I was at a friends house and ended up watching again the Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman movie Die Hard. But this time when I watched it, I saw it differently. Not focusing on the jokey John McClaine character but this time on the Bad Guys. This time I saw cool smart guys in suits and roll neck sweaters walking along a corridor going to carry out the caper.
And Fuck, something stirred inside of me. They looked…. they looked like a band to me that night! But a band of grown ups. It set my brain whirring.
Next day I started writing again. All those months and months I’d been wrestling with the concepts of how you could be older and still be in in a Rock and Roll band. Of course there was The Stones still looking great and still out there but they were just continuing something they started as those sexy rebellious teenagers. How do you start again when you’ve already been involved in all these iconic bands. How do you start again when you look in the mirror and don’t know who you see. Now I could see it. It was different again than my old visions of how you needed to be and to look. Not my preconceived image of Rock and Roll, of The Dolls , the MC5, The Stones or The Pistols.
Maybe Experience could be edgy too.
A couple of weeks later I was talking to Mj about these ideas and we riffed away like we always did throwing in more and more mad ideas and scenarios laughing together and getting carried away as usual when we were on one. What if Jack Nicholson fronted a band. Well he’d still be cool. Jack could pull it off.
So at the end of that summer Mj would walk over to my house in Maida Vale from Notting Hill Gate and we’d sit in my garage that had become my studio and I’d hand him a set of lyrics. And he’d start singing straight away. Not trying out different ways or ideas. No, there was just one version in his head.
He always wrote like this. I have this vivid memory of being at Mj’s grans flat one day. You know the flat on the 18th floor, with the Westway traffic endlessly passing below that became part of Punk mythology. London seemed to be a city of continuous unending grey then and I was living at my grans flat as well, having to pile overcoats on the bed at night to get warm as she had no heating except for an old glowing gas fire that made that strange rushing sound but did little else. Remembering those times now feels like watching a faded 70s TV series. The days of Whatever Happened to the Likely lads. Anyway, that day at Mick’s gran’s Joe Strummer turned up clutching some freshly typed lyrics. Do you remember that great photo of Joe at an old black typewriter punching out streams of words on thin paper with Carbon copies? That day he was holding the words to a song he had called “White Man in Hammersmith Palais”. And in the time it took me to go and put the kettle on, I could already hear them singing the tune. It was already written. That was and is Mick’s gift – to look at lyrics and hear the song finished already, finished inside his head with the tune playing along in time to the rhythm of the words. He always says that the lyric defines the song, that it’s already written out there in the ether, you just have to find it and you’ll hear it, just like seeing a sculptured head inside a block of stone. I love that.
So back in my garage (very appropriate) me, Mick, an acoustic guitar and a drum machine would sit and make music, imagining Jack, just being cool and relaxed, singing in his shades and giving that knowing smile. It was the first time we’d written together since 1975.
And I would record us singing into my little tinny mono tape memo recorder, propped up on the desk, with the Linn 9000 beating away behind us. Writing a new song every time we met up. We had started with a song called, appropriately, “Rock and Roll with Jack”. There was one called “Expensive Habits” and one called “Age Up”. The lyrics fitting the imagined band about life and the knowledge that experience brings. Actually now I say that there was a song called “Experience” too. We didn’t really think about what we would do with the songs. The fun was just in the writing. One day Mick said he knew Val Kilmer and I should ask him to sing because after all he looked great in the Doors movie! We didn’t call him.
I think we wrote about 6 or 8 songs altogether, one a week. And then just like one of those drunken nights where you talk till dawn putting the world to right and seeing everything so clearly and being enthused with such energy only to find you wake up next day and can’t remember what you even talked about – the moment passed. One day we just stopped. I guess because Jack too was clearly not gonna be available. And the idea wasn’t fully formed, and more importantly looking back I wasn’t ready either because the idea was not yet from the heart, it was from the head because it was just a film and a cartoon, made up. Something I would learn to understand in the future. And Mick carried on with BAD2 and life carried on.
A tiny step. But I was having the most amazing time with Penelope and I had fallen deeply in love. It consumed all.
Somehow the tapes and that idea just stayed in the Garage.
Interior. Fade to black.
Then the deep documentary voice over says “….Until Now!”.
You see I found those tapes the other day in a shoebox under another massive pile of not properly marked cassettes. Digging through I saw in tiny scratchy pen the words “Rock and Roll with Jack” written over lots of crossed out writing. I always seemed to be reusing old cassettes in those days. Early recycling I suppose, but then an insurmountable snag. I now have finally got rid of every last cassette player in the house, the final one exiting with my old Mercedes. The cassette stared back at me. Useless old technology, “Home Taping is Killing music!” it goaded.
But there in the shoebox was the same tinny mono tape recorder that the songs were actually recorded on, looking very tired and dusty. Further miracle, there was life in the battery. Pressing play lit up its single red diode winking mischievously.
I tell you it took a Doctor Who type wiring up job to connect it to a modern Mac and convert its recalcitrant mono content to an MP3.
The Die Hard Demos. Imagine Jack on Vocals won’t you.
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