Sunday, July 17, 2016

Adrian Mack on Rude Boy, the Clash, and England

Adrian Mack was one of the first editors I ever worked with as a music journalist, back when I interviewed Terry Riley, around 2005, for the Nerve Magazine.  Besides being one of the most sensitive editors I've encountered, and a very talented and witty writer himself, Mack has always fascinated me as a person. He has a style that is both intensely appealing and charismatic - I mean, he drums for Rich Hope, fergodsake, you gotta have some self-confidence to do that - and yet somehow self-deprecating, self-mocking, and slightly edgy, like someone who probably shouldn't drink too much coffee. And while his tastes in film and music don't always overlap with mine, I take pretty much anything he has to say into consideration (which is something, because I very seldom even notice what the people around me are talking about).  He can run circles around me in discussing country and roots music, and doubtlessly other forms I only feel like I have a passing knowledge of; his top ten lists, year end at the Straight, always offer fascinating discoveries in all manner of genres (I'd never even heard of the Sleaford Mods, say, before Mack). Further, he's generally my go-to person to have relaxed, between-friends conversations about any number of topics that you just don't get to talk about very often, from dissociative identity disorder to alien abduction to Satanic ritual abuse to anything involving the work of people like Mike Ruppert, Gary Webb, or... well, you get the idea. He follows an interesting pattern of speaking up for, or at least extending sympathy towards, the underdog, socially, which sort of correlates nicely, if you think about it, with his finding a wealth of knowledge and inspiration in somewhat unusual and sometimes disreputable cultural corners. I hadn't seen a Jean Rollin film until Mack pointed me that way (and this only a few years ago); I hadn't even considered watching a Jess Franco, and I had no interest whatsoever in Ed Wood. Actually, my interest in Ed Wood is still pretty precarious, but I totally respect Mack's enthusiasm about him.

Anyhow, I had been aware of the possibility of Adrian doing a Cinema Salon for some time, but was kind of shocked when he picked Rude Boy as his film. The more I read about it - including Mack's own interview with co-director Jack Hazan - the more I think it's a brilliant choice for a screening, and the more excited I get to go to it. Suddenly I'm really, really glad not to have even tried to watch the DVD I own of Rude Boy (which has sat on my shelf for some five years or more; I haven't attempted the film since I saw it on VHS in the 1980's, when my finger may well have lingered near the fast forward button to get to concert scenes). I'm very, very curious to see this film again.

Adrian Mack presents Rude Boy at the Vancity Theatre on Tuesday, July 19th, at 7:30 PM. An interview follows!

Allan: What's your history with the Clash? (Their records/ their live shows/ encounters with members of the band/ interesting anecdotes?). 

Adrian: First I heard of the Clash was when “Tommy Gun” came out just after my family moved back to the UK in 1978. Bands like the Buzzcocks were making it into the top 20. It was mindblowing. This is what you listened to over breakfast on Radio 1 as you got ready for school, programmed in with all the 10cc and John Travolta/Olivia Newton John. I saw Sham 69 on Top of the Pops probably within hours of arriving in Britain and X Ray Spex on a show called Revolver about a day later. Imagine how that felt to an 11-year-old whose diet prior to this was Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, and Dan Hill. The Clash were very special, and my friends and I knew it. Time went on and I lost my religion about a lot punk bands, but the Clash mystique continued to grow, even if (or maybe because) I was often baffled by them. I’ll always remember wondering what the hell I was listening to when “Magnificent 7” debuted on Radio 1. Joe was heroically strange, which definitely counted for something. We thought they were very funny. They had unbelievable style, but also depth. They could outrun everyone else. In the Combat Rock period I was sophisticated enough to think that “Straight to Hell” was their greatest ever moment and “Should I Stay or Should I Go” was their lowest (I had the double A-side single). I saw the fake Clash that toured the album we pretend they never made, I saw Big Audio Dynamite at the PNE in Vancouver—like I can put those two shows together and say “I saw the Clash” or something—and I prefer not to mention the time my friend Simon begged me to skip school for a day to see the Clash in Birmingham on the Combat Rock tour and I wimped out.

What are your peak Clash-related moments?

It’s maybe not the answer you’re expecting, but playing Clash covers a couple of Halloweens ago was fantastic for enhancing my already enormous appreciation of that band. They were very clever songwriters and musicians, which is glaringly obvious if you give “Rudie Can’t Fail” one pass with a close reading of the arrangement. We didn’t do that one, by the way, and thank God. I should give a shout out to my bandmates Billy Bones, Rich Hope, Steve Matheson, and Darryl Havers (our Mickey Gallagher).

Rude Boy in any way speak to your time and experiences in England? Would you be picking it if you hadn't lived there? 

Yes, it speaks to my experiences in England. On one level, I was asked to choose a favourite or meaningful film, and I have warm memories of finally seeing Rude Boy on VHS one summer in the ‘80s with a bunch of friends. But that could have happened in Canada, and I might not have ever cared about it again. Back then, in England, everybody had to get their politics in order. It didn’t matter that we were 14. We lived in a seaside resort town, so it was hardly Brixton, but it was still absolutely obvious that the UK was run by a bunch of evil maniacs who were vicious in their loathing of the poor. The lines were drawn very clearly back then, but the working class was also in terrible turmoil. Rude Boy takes me right back.

What shows do you most cherish having seen from your time in England? 

I love to tell people that my first ever gig was SLF at the Tower Theatre in Hull, in (I think) 1982. Again, maybe not the answer you’re expecting, but the shows that really stand out for me include the Lyres opening for REM at the Lyceum (at the time of On Fyre), the Long Ryders at the Warehouse in Leeds—that was the night Sid Griffin was kind of a dick to me—Bobby Womack at the Hammersmith Odeon, the Cramps in Birmingham, the Smiths in Nottingham before their first album was released, Richard Thompson in an empty pub in Cleethorpes, the Pogues when they were still Pogue Mahone, Waylon Jennings at Wembley… I could go on. We could all go on! True story: at Wembley, I talked my way backstage at a Buck Owens show and ended up sitting with him in his limo pretending to be a journalist. This would be more of a testament to the confidence-boosting powers of very good Ecstasy than it is to my talents as a con-man.

What do you kick yourself for missing? (I saw Haino Keiji in Japan but wasted a billion opportunities to see Fushitsusha... I had a chance to see a concert in Tokyo by 3/4s of Can, including Michael Karoli, who died soon thereafter... had a chance to see John Fahey, too, who also died soon thereafter. Seeing the Mecaleros twice in Tokyo was pretty great, though...

Jesus, I kick myself for missing everything. I lived in London for five years; you can’t imagine what I didn’t see. I’ll just narrow it down to Towns Van Zandt at Dingwalls (I think it was Dingwalls.)

So is
Rude Boy actually a good movie? Did you feel that way from the outset? I haven't seen it in years, and my dim memory was boredom-boredom-boredom-boredom-THE CLASH!!!-boredom-boredom-THE CLASH!!!-boredom-boredom. But I thought Dennis Hopper's Out of the Blue was a self-indulgent, dull mess back then, too, and I sure was wrong about that, so...

No, I don’t think it’s a particularly good movie, whatever that means. It’s technically a mess, a lot of it really doesn’t work. But I think maybe what was boring to a kid in Maple Ridge was pretty riveting to a kid in the North of England, so I forgive it for the attempts at social realism or whatever the hell they were trying to do.

Is there anything interesting from the interview you did with Jack Hazan that you couldn't work into the Straight article?

Yes, he told me a great story about Vanessa Redgrave visiting his office in Soho in the late 70s or early 80s and trying to sell him a copy of the Socialist Workers Party paper. He said she walked back downstairs and left in a chauffeur driven Rolls. I wish I could have found a way to include a quote about Julien Temple. “He’s in love with his subject and it’s a bit cloying, isn’t it?” It was also hard and a bit painful for me to choose from all the variations on “Joe wasn’t real.” I think Rude Boy was largely an unhappy experience for Jack.
I am under the impression that, contrary to myth, your son Topper is NOT actually named after Topper Headon, but based on an inspired choice of Sadie's. Is there truth in this or is it not a matter of either/or? 

It’s true: she just blurted it out while we were talking about names for her unborn brother. She had no idea on Earth that there was a Topper Headon at that point, but the education began immediately.

Is Sadie a big Clash fan now? Has Topper heard them?

So, yes. Sadie loves the Clash, with special emphasis on “Bankrobber”, “London Calling”, and “I Fought the Law”—which she reworked into “I fought my mom and my mom won” on one particularly inspired occasion. Topper thinks it’s great that he shares his name with the drummer in the Clash, and he likes the Clash, but Topper is a six-year-old boy so he likes everything.

What exactly is a Rude Boy, man? I've never really known what "Rudie Can't Fail" is about, can you decode it for me?

Rude boys were a subculture of sharply dressed and often very naughty youths in Kingston in the 60s. The style was exported to the UK where it had a big influence on skinheads and Mods. Marcus Gray does a wonderful job of unpacking “Rudie” in Route 19 Revisited, but it’s been a while since I read it. I think in general you can understand it as an appreciation of the Jamaican culture all around the Clash at the time, which I’m sure must have been unspeakably exciting and attractive as a model of resistance, and endlessly fertile as a source of inspiration. The famous line about “drinking brew for breakfast” refers to Carlsberg Special Brew, which tasted like vomit and would get you absolutely plastered after one can. There’s some dispute about who was drinking Special Brew for breakfast at the time. Some insist that it was Rude Boy “star” Ray Gange. I experimented with Special Brew as a breakfast item towards the end of the 80s, like they programmed it into me.

How did you get approached for Cinema Salon? Did they ask you to present a shortlist of films you'd be interested in showing, for instance? 

Melanie Friesen sent me a very nice email and I did a spit take as I flashed on the kind of people she usually asks to do Cinema Salon. I gave her a shortlist. I think she asked for three at first, but I sent a whole bunch of goofy suggestions. The less goofy ones were Stalker, Phantom of the Paradise, Wise Blood, Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May. I’m pretty sure I put Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To in there.

Anything else to say about the screening? Details about the print? 

It just so happens that Melanie is great friends with Jack Hazan and was planning a trip to London as we began our discussions. We actually went after the Mike Leigh film first, and then tracked down a print of Wise Blood when that didn’t pan out. But between the trip to London and the way my heart was leaning—not to mention the notion that we might bring a decent crowd to the Vancity—we decided on Rude Boy. Amazingly, Jack handed a hard drive to Melanie containing a pristine version of the film. “Better than the Blu-ray,” he promises me.

Adrian Mack will present Rude Boy at the Vancity Theatre this Tuesday, 7:30pm. 


Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Mack doesn't go for Anne Murray like an outfielder chases a line drive down the line? Good enough for Elvis, she was. Good enough to get played first at my sister's wedding reception. Good enough to have her smiling face plastered on Canadian currency if it were up to me.

Allan MacInnis said...

Well... "Snowbird" was on one of the mixes I made for my parents, to play when we were Scrabbling... But I can't speak for Mack...