Sunday, 28 November 2010

Sleazy Died Today

I saw his work in my teens, but I would not have known his name.  He was an anonymous craftsman, simply a worker on our lord’s estate; those pieces of plastic I so carefully placed on my cheap stereo.  How many people share this experience?  To millions he is invisible, but to a small minority he is a monument on their hometown’s hillside.  Will they gather there tonight; talk of the old days, and forget about why it all went wrong?  It was as a designer he made his money; it was his music that made his reputation; albeit limited to the crazies and the curious… It was also his money that allowed him to create his art. Technology’s freedom: studio sound from Aldi’s.

It is difficult to know how much he contributed to the uncanny nature of Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats, but contribute he did.  Genesis’ vocals are disturbing on Persuasion and Convincing People (I once left the latter on a friend’s answer machine - they've been wary of it since), but they need the sound environment to work: the screams and guitar in the former still unsettle those who hear it.  However, it is not so much individual tracks that stay in the memory, but the atmosphere of the whole record.  The sinister cover seeps through the sleeve and is absorbed into the plastic.  It’s a cold morning down on the coast; you’re walking in light mist, seagulls cry overhead and you feel the damp enter your bones.  You are on the way to a place you don’t want be.  It feels like a cemetery, with that smell of freshly dug earth, on a dull autumn day, late in the afternoon, when the sun rests behind the hills… It is damp and wet; as you walk through the long grass wet trousers flap against your ankles, you can feel the dew creeping into your shoes; and in the distance you hear the waves hammering the shore, while the seagulls come and go…  You don’t want to be here; but you have no choice; and those people now beside you, so odd but strangely normal….

For me his classic work is with John Balance in Coil, particularly Musick to Play in the Dark (volumes one and two).  Balance’s Gothic lyrics, thus both sinister and comic, are equally matched with the music: form and content are in bed together having fun.  At the end of Red Queen, a classic that should be in every teenager’s bedroom (are you listening you parents), Balance repeats one wonderful line:  What are you going to do, if they don’t believe you.  Over and over it goes, fading in and out, and doubled up: what are you going to do; what are you going to do, if they don’t believe you…  While in the background a steady beat, a percussion sound rolling like the inside of a steel drum, and a piano loop, slightly crooked and fragmented, goes on and on… if they don’t believe you; what are you going to do…

A last memory of Sleazy: an interview in the Wire.  So serious about the music, it has the self-importance of a school prefect.  But its weakness is its virtue, for it is a great magazine.  Anyway, he’s talking about his life; and two things stand out. 

He was lucky because he didn’t go to an ordinary public school, but an alternative one, that had a strong emphasis on the arts.  He found Stockhausen in the school library; and played it on its radio.  A lot of chance here, and one big question comes to mind.  Most of those who listen to Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and who spend hours looking at their enigmatic covers, don’t travel from there to Throbbing Gristle; or to the rest of the English underground.  Why is that?  How do we find the B roads that take us from the main highway?

He recalled an evening when him and his friends were barred from a club, I think because of their aftershave, and it was biggest disappointment of his life: they so wanted to follow some “hot” Puerto Ricans, who had just gone in before them.  I couldn’t stop laughing when I read that!

Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson (1955-2010) RIP.

1 comment:

  1. A very fitting tribute to Unkle Sleazy. Could I link articles from her onto my Facebook page?