Child of the building
On a futuristic dub-reggae track called Stuka from Primal Scream’s fifth studio album, Vanishing Point, Bobby Gillespie ominously trills through a vocoder, “If you play with fire, you’re going to burn yourself.” Some of my friends are going to die young. Unfortunately, he was right.
Robert Young, aka Throb, passed away at the age of 49 in 2006. Andrew Weatherall, the idiosyncratic sound alchemist who produced their groundbreaking album, Screamadelica, passed away suddenly last year, at the age of 56. . Gillespie’s highly anticipated memoir, Tenement Kid is dedicated to their memories. A quote attributed to Throb opens the book: âWhen we go on stage, man, it’s a war between us and the audience.
There has been an avalanche of books recently by musicians, including SinÃ©ad O’Connor, Baxter Dury, Will Sergeant, Stevie Van Zandt, Carl Cox, Shaun Ryder and Dave Grohl, to name a few. In addition to seasoned veterans, even 19-year-old Billie Eilish is getting into the act.
As the old saying goes, originally applied to Woodstock, if you remember the ’90s, you weren’t really there. Tony Wilson claimed the ’90s started on November 30, 1989, when Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses appeared on the same episode of Top of the Pops. For many people, the decade began to gain momentum on Monday, September 23, 1991, when two groundbreaking and youth-defining albums were released on the same day. Primal Scream unveiled the kaleidoscopic Screamadelica, while an underground Seattle trio called Nirvana unleashed a historic marriage of noise and melody on Nevermind.
Domestic tension between his parents led to Bobby being chased by a deep sense of shame
Musicians tend more and more to extend their story over a few volumes. Stephen Morris of New Order and Brett Anderson of Sweden both took this approach. Bunnyman: A Memoir, recently published by Will Sergeant, barely mentions Echo and the Bunnymen, focusing mainly on his working-class childhood Liverpudlian. Gillespie leaves the door open for another episode, as Tenement Kid ends with the release of Screamadelica. It focuses on the singer’s childhood, getting into music, becoming a roadie for Altered Images, playing bass for a post-punk band called The Wake, playing drums for The Jesus and Mary Chain, and ultimately become the shamanic leader of Primal Scream.
Bobby was born in 1961, the year the Berlin Wall was built, and Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. âLater in life, with the help of psychotropic drugs, I would become an inner space cosmonaut,â he writes. The domestic tension between his parents led Bobby to be chased by a deep sense of shame. “If you’re like me, you’ve got to recognize this pit of poison we carry, isolate why we’re always ready to spring like a cobra and bite anytime, anywhere, anyone,” wrote Gillespie. âUnless you deal with it, you will keep repeating the same disastrous mistakes. You have to face your demons. Those painful childhood memories that we bury, that some of us try to drown out with sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, all the usual crutches and distractions.
By recounting concerts and formative experiences, Gillespie shows a great gift for the narration, description and deployment of a comparison.
Glasgow in the 1960s and 1970s was an extremely violent place. Gillespie argues that this caused him to become defensive, suspicious and cautious of others. “Anger at home, anger in the streets, anger in the classroom, anger on the football terraces, anger at work, anger at teen clubs, anger, anger, anger,” writes -he. âThe anger in me. Anger is an energy, as John Lydon puts it.
John Lydon gave him a punk-rock revelation. In recounting concerts and formative experiences, Gillespie shows a great gift for storytelling, describing and unfolding a comparison, writing in a manner evocative of an audience at a Clash concert: a insane asylum from the 70s. At Lizzy’s concert, everyone dressed more or less like me, I fitted in perfectly. Here, I established myself as a Celtic fan on the side of the Rangers.
Gillespie was inspired to participate. (âDon’t be a spectator, be a creator – that’s what punk’s message was, and, to me, it’s also the legacy of acid house.â) Obviously, drugs has become part of the equation. It is sad to read the beginning of Throb’s gradual descent into addiction. âIt went from everyone buying a gram to buying ounces of the stuff,â Gillespie recalls. “At one point Throb was traveling to London to buy ounces of coke to bring back to Brighton and sell them on.”
Like their collaboration with The Orb, Primal Scream flew higher than the sun. They too fell like Icarus. Perhaps Gillespie will tell this story one day. At the moment, Tenement Kid is an enthralling read interspersed with many moments of laughter aloud. This is a fascinating tale of how a Cold War-era kid and his friends created a soundtrack for the hopes and dreams of a generation.