Possibly the best description of Luke Haines’ music I’ve ever heard came from a John Rain (from culturedeluxe.com): “Listening to a Haines record is like being kidnapped by a masked hostile fiend only to find out they are taking you to the seaside for ice cream and tea”. It is not surprising then that the man’s memoir (the first part; the second, I understand, is currently a work in progress) turned out to be brutal, bile, bitter, but also incredibly engaging, funny, and wickedly amusing.
Luke Haines has always been adamant in his opinions, and, quite predictably, he was not going to hold anything back when writing about Britpop. Luke’s relationship with the scene has always seemed intriguing. On the one hand, he was a distinctly British artist on the cusp of it all; the emerging phenomenon did boost his career to a certain great extent. On the other hand, bands like Luke’s very own The Auteurs or, say, Denim, were a lot more intelligent and simply better than those who came to define that troubled, cool British culture of the 90’s. And Luke Haines deals with the situation quite fine: by being brutally honest as well as reasonably cynical about all that (modest) success, hypocrisy, and the sickening hangover that came next.
Of course, in a Luke Haines book about Britpop everybody gets a slap in the face. Yes, his underground heroes do get mentioned (Robert Forster, Grant McLennan, a few others), but of all those people who enjoyed some great success in the midst of the whole Britpop thing, only Jarvis Cocker walks out unscathed (but this is the man, remember, who called Haines the greatest songwriter of the 90’s). Also, for one reason or another Luke is nice to Suede’s “sweet” drummer, but that’s about it. Over the length of this decidedly vitriolic book Luke Haines is not nice: Blur are called “bandwagon jumpers”, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke is dubbed “most heinous of all creatures”, and those poor Gallagher brothers are literally murdered. But it is not as if Luke Haines himself remains clean; no, like I said, the man is brutally honest. Not every artist would want to describe the kind of tour in America he had to endure (even though there’s nothing wrong with a British artist who gets flunked overseas).
For me, one of the strongest points of the book is the conspicuous lack of any personal information. The man truly is all about art. After a relatively brief account of Luke’s pre-Auteurs life/struggle/spleen, we enter the spiteful mind of someone who did want success but who was at the same time very uneasy about getting it. Hilarious, merciless wit shines through all those stories dealing with narrow-minded music bosses, crooked record labels, edgy relationship inside the group (edge courtesy of Haines himself, obviously), frustratingly successful or unsuccessful tours, etc. And Luke Haines doesn’t mind presenting himself as this evil, almost Mark E. Smith-like character. Though in the end he does come off as a morbid, slightly awkward person who’s very well aware of his own genius. But in his case – I’m willing to accept anything (I do consider him a near-genius as far as songwriters go). This unabashed self-confidence doesn’t sound annoying – it’s a part of Luke Haines’ charisma and, dare I say it, charm. He sounds extremely amusing, even irresistible, when he calls New Wave his first masterpiece, After Murder Park his second masterpiece, his left-field record about Baader Meinhof his third masterpiece. And he would go on, of course, but we stop in 1999, with the beginning of Black Box Recorder, the greatest of pop cynics.
Oddly, there is no excessive hatred towards Britpop in Bad Vibes (he mostly targets personalities). Yes, so the whole thing did engender a great deal of silly enthusiasm and faceless mediocrity (Haines does get to mention a number of those names), but a flawed scene is still better than no scene at all. Yes, so Luke Haines resents the inevitable association with Britpop he has to suffer, but those still were the days that had some colour, character to them. Even though Haines would hate to admit that. Did he play any part in Britpop’s downfall? I guess that’s a yes, simply because he got caught up in all that silly excitement that once seemed so tempting.
I have to admit I’m not too keen on a couple of self-consciously surreal, artsy parts (like his lengthy dream about stealing his contract with the record company, for instance). But I am still hugely impressed by that beautifully symbolic, almost poetic ending. Noel Gallagher eating ice-cream and waving him from some distance. Does Luke Haines wave back? Well, it’s a revelation, and you’ll have to read the book to find out.
I would like to note, and the cover I included here indicates the fact, that I only managed to get the audio variant of the book. Luke Haines reads it all himself, and I would say that the experience is probably even fuller. Those sinister whisperings and intonations, and particularly the way he pronounces “THE VERRRVE”. I almost suffocated chuckling.
And to finish it off, a short list of my favourite moments in Bad Vibes. Read on.
The MOST SURPRISING moment: when L.H. mentions that he has a soft spot for Modern Life Is Rubbish. God, I still can’t believe it.
The FUNNIEST moment: that bit when amid the Baader Meinhof self-appraisal L.H. can’t resist and plays the riff of the title track. Brilliant!
The CRUELEST moment: the part when after a concert in Japan L.H. shows The Auteurs’ second guitarist a fan letter. The letter advises L.H. to dump the second guitarist.
The MOST MOVING moment: when L.H. suddenly understands (after the dissolution of The Auteurs) that the Cellist (that’s the way James Banbury is called throughout the book) did care about the band, and was not all about getting money for the job done.
Finally, the GREATEST moment of the book: L.H. briefly talks to Iggy Pop after a concert of The Auteurs. Pop tells him he liked the electric violin. L.H. is clearly distressed. He wants to tell Iggy Pop it’s all about songs, not the Cellist; that every British band has an electric bloody violin. That he is such a fan, that he has all Iggy Pop’s records, even Party. Very bitter, but frank and fascinating – like the whole book.