Still Crazy After All These Years: Excerpts from any rockumentary, in four parts
I: How It All Began
I wasn’t too great in class — I was a friendly kid, but not so good at paying attention to what was going on. I guess you might call it ADHD these days, or something, but I’m not too sure about that. Just hyperactive, maybe.
However, one day my whole world was turned upside down — rock ’n’ roll. I used to sit in my dad’s car and tune the radio into the local station. That’s when I heard Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly. When I was 14, I got my first guitar — man, my parents/aunt/grandma must have busted their ass to get me that thing. Soon enough, I was learning all the licks from Howlin’ Wolf, Big Bill Broonzy, and a slightly less well known blues singer because I’m being a bit arch.
We started off playing local dances, frat parties, proms — anywhere that would have us basically! I say that, because we ended up really famous and I want you to imagine a time when people wouldn’t have us. It also makes it clear that I’ve paid my dues, because it still rankles that some people might think we’ve not. When you’ve been in a successful band, people imply you’re a sell-out, but I’m not having that — I’m too fragile to let something someone said in a now defunct rock magazine 40-odd years ago, go.
Here’s an anecdote I’ve told quite a lot — it’s about this small club we got a residency at, where we were too young to be playing there really — WE WERE JUST KIDS! — and we were playing music to dance to, for anyone who came in. Drunks, fist-fights — all the people from the wrong side of the tracks! We were a great little band though, and it was all about the music in those days. I’m implying that things aren’t like that now, and people who are a similar age to me who haven’t actually been for a proper night out in 30 years, will no doubt agree.
Here’s a promotional photograph of us, when we wore matching outfits.
At some point, we wanted to be more than just a covers band, so we started to write our own material. I remember playing a song for one of my bandmates (who, when I first met, had an instant connection with, and knew that we’d be together in some way, for the rest of our lives — we were like brothers — closer than brothers), and I was worried when he went quiet after I played it to him.
I nervously said: “So, whaddayathink?” And he replied: “Mike! You’ve just written our first hit!” Or he said something about ‘going to the top!’
I remember the promoter going crazy at us for playing original material! I still laugh thinking about it now, because we eventually got famous and I assume literally no other band in the world has a similar story to this.
We got our heads together, wrote a bunch of songs, and we hit the road with just our instruments and clothes on our backs, and went to whatever the nearest city is that’s known for its live music scene. Here’s my younger sister, with a reflection on how my mum and dad reacted after I left for the circus, because she had to deal with the fallout of me leaving, and ended up getting her dreams trampled on because of my recklessness.
II: Straight To The Top!
I’m sitting in front of a large music desk while I tell you all this, because all those knobs and EQ lights tell you that I’ve come a long, long way from playing ‘Tutti Frutti’ to a bunch of drunk people. It also serves to show my parents — now long dead of course — that they were wrong to doubt me when I wouldn’t become a lawyer, or dentist, or whatever I implied before. They were old-fashioned I guess. I loved them dearly, but we were part of a new generation.
Of course, times were very different back then — they were political times, and here’s some footage of Vietnam protest, and some stock footage of people smoking some grass, and an implication of nudity. I’m laughing because, initially, we didn’t have much money, but we always seemed to find ourselves in crazy situations!
I remember this one time, our bass player kept our shared house awake all night while he entertained three or four or five or six ladies, and our singer — who was very political at the time — yelling at them to keep the noise down! We were all up to mischief, of course.
Our lead guitarist, meanwhile, would spend days on end, just practising his licks. Over and over and over. We played a free-benefit — I reckon 30, 40, 50, 60, 70-thousand people must have shown up that day — and Jimi Hendrix was there and he told our guitarist that he was better than him.
Soon enough, we had our first hit — that song I told you about earlier — and we were signed to a record label and found ourselves on TV shows, and here’s some stock footage of some teenage girls screaming, and some young men with chin beards sat down, briskly clapping along to one of our performances.
They were crazy times. We got ourselves a manager too, who was every bit as crazy as us! He was a flamboyant guy. He knew how to get us through various doors of opportunity. I’ll mention that he was a Jew as well, so I can imply things about his hustle, but someone told me that it wasn’t politically correct to say things like that these days. It’s was a different world, back then.
Here’s a photo of him, because we don’t speak to him now, or he’s dead.
We had another hit with our debut album — we were all big fans of jazz and our guitarist was trying to incorporate people like Coltrane and Miles Davis into his solos, and through The Beatles, we’d found ourselves being drawn toward Eastern mysticism and religions — I still practice yoga to this very day — and the beat poets of the time definitely shaped what we said our lyrics were about.
We played some shows on a huge package tour with some pop-bands — I still chuckle when I think of us playing a raga influenced track to a load of teenyboppers! I’m pretty sure they got off on it though. People were open minded back then. They really were crazy times.
Our first crop of albums sold well, and as you can see from this old footage, we wore sunglasses A LOT and seemed to be always on private jets. We went from using weed, acid, and cocaine to loosening us up and get us feeling creative to something darker.
I’ll tell you that one member of the band really enjoyed ‘chemical enhancements’. It’s funny, but you’ll know that, like when the football highlights show someone getting a yellow card, you’ll know that it ends in an early bath, or we wouldn’t have mentioned it in the first place.
Anyway, that’s when the cracks started to show in our childhood dream.
III: Falling From The Podium
Even though we were taking fantastic amounts of cocaine, and some of us had got married, the strain was beginning to show. We had another huge hit, but we wanted to stretch our wings, artistically.
And of course, there were groupies and strained sexual relationships. We were a dysfunctional family! Nothing was ever ordinary in our own little universe!
We did an album with a very high concept, which had artwork to match. Double vinyl, with a track on each side. I suppose you couldn’t do things like that now. Albums meant something back then. They were pieces of art. At some point during these years, it became clear that the deal we’d signed all the way back at the beginning of this story, wasn’t great and we were being ripped off.
Our shows started to suffer thanks to our lifestyle, and for one member, the drugs were becoming a real problem. You’ll remember me laughing about it before, but he died and… sorry… I’m choking up because I still find it hard to talk about that situation on the countless documentaries I’ve been on over the years.
We tried to replace him a couple of times, but the first glut couldn’t cope with our crazy world. Eventually, we drafted in this guy who has very long, straight hair who had been in a band that weren’t as famous as ours. He was steady, and could keep up with the band politics, intrafighting, and of course, our crazy, crazy lifestyle.
Writing the hits became harder. We weren’t prepared to play the game anymore, and sadly, I started to drift away from my best friend in the band, and in-fighting over money and drug-use was making this thing that was supposed to be fun, a job. We were no longer a band — we were a machine. That’s not what we signed up for, so we decided to build our own studio, which would obviously free us from the machinery of the recording industry.
Our little independent island of creativity, where we could do things on our terms, would soon become a nightmare.
We built a studio in the worst possible place because we didn’t know what we were doing. The drugs were more readily available if anything, and of course, we wanted the best in everything, so we wildly overspent. Doing things in our own space, on our own time, meant we lacked the focus and drive we once had.
We had a surprise hit with a ballad, written by our bass player. It brought a whole new audience to us, which in itself, brought problems. Here’s him, talking about how he wrote it in a hotel room on a piano, and how it just came to him, and how he was nervous about showing it to the rest of the band.
I know it hit the quieter member of our band particularly hard, and at some point, arguing over something menial which I’ve now talked about for far too long because it’s not nearly as interesting as I think it is, someone punched him. I thought that was it for the band. I thought we were toast.
It was a difficult time for us all, but we pulled through. That’s what we do when times get tough. That’s the craziness of rock ’n’ roll I guess!
They say blood is thicker than water — when you’re in a successful group like ours, whatever we had is thicker than blood. We were closer than family.
IV: Decline and Rebirth
During the ’80s, things changed for us. We were still selling out huge arenas, but we’d all had a shave and made some incredibly dubious wardrobe decisions. As you can see from this montage, we’d started to wear waistcoats with nothing on underneath, and someone had clearly introduced the band to hair bleach and ear-piercings.
We were frustrated that the public had started listening to punk or disco or whatever correlates with the timescale. Although, I still maintain that I did some of my best work was during that period, but that’s the crazy world of rock ’n’ roll, eh?
Our singer went off and made a solo record, and had a big hit singing the theme tune for a Hollywood film. There was a lot of jealousy around at that point, and I had a health scare and decided to quit drugs, and start being a family man.
I started to cycle, stopped eating red meat, and really committed myself to yoga, with the help of my wife, who I met when she was 15 years old. And there’s nothing wrong that, because honestly, I didn’t do anything until she was old enough.
Here’s a photo of me and my family, all wearing matching white shirts.
In some ways, being a member of my family is more rewarding than everything I did in the band. I’ve even started painting, as this footage shows. Some people say it’s ADHD, but I think I’m just a crazy, creative guy. Always will be. Picasso was the Hendrix of the paint brush.
Obviously, during my time as a rockstar, I earned a lot of money and property prices were low enough that I basically live in permanent sunshine now, as you can see from this footage of me admiring the flowers in my spacious, dappled garden. It also indicates that I’m enjoying the simpler things in life too.
However, after being reunited at our rock ’n’ roll hall of fame induction, me and the boys decided to hit the road one more time. Even some of our dodgy ’80s work has been reappraised, and by now, the replacement band member has actually been in the band longer than the original member who died! He still has long, straight hair, but he’s started wearing fancy hats because he’s going thin on top. I don’t know why he doesn’t get hair-plugs like our singer, who declined to be interviewed for this whole documentary.
Here’s me and the boys at some enormo-dome. Rolling back the years and, if anything, we’re playing as good as, if not better, than we ever did! Some of our kids have joined the band too!
I’ve been touring solo too, and made an album with my son, who you can see nodding sagely at the same mixing desk you saw me sat at earlier. My kids — and grandkids! Imagine! Me, an old rocker with grandkids! — have kept me hip to a lot of modern bands. I’m a great fan of a lot of the modern bands. I’ll even mention a rapper or two, because they’re very angry, like we were, at the system.
I don’t know what they call all the genres now — it’s all rock ’n’ roll and the blues to me.
Speaking of which, I’ve done a couple of acoustic blues albums, which I’ve toured solo. Going back to where it all started is what we all do in the end. And it gives me the chance to say that life is funny, and cyclical. And isn’t it comforting that pretty much all stories of successful rock bands play out this way? Funny ol’ world isn’t it?
Still crazy after all these years.