Here’s a new one, inspired by watching Carl Barat getting heckled by a handful of festival wankers in Wales last month. It’s not about Barat, but he’s in there somewhere.
The Ballad of Carlos Cutting
You know the set-up, stately grounds,
half-clotted mud, pink flags,
ironic garb on gekko girls
and onesie-cladded stags,
falafel, shit and churros stench,
a clutch of sponsored stages -
a grim roulette of status
for rock stars through the ages.
Goes: New Band, Other, Main, Acoustic -
fame’s sad parabola
as boys who tacked your face to walls
now hunch through parks with strollers.
And there, half pissed and maudlin,
while hacking through grey mud
I heard a Proustian riff that felt
like bubbles in my blood
and wiped a decade off the table,
spun me back to school,
when Carlos Cutting’s strut
was the epitome of cool.
The cocaine cloud of Britpop cleared,
the industry gone pop,
the auto-tuned and clean-cut kids,
the teeth and tits, on top.
A breathless stage school cast of drips,
the sappy ones, the gaudy ones,
by contrast Carlos Cutting’s schtick
was practically Edwardian.
Flanked by pretty whippet boys
they called themselves The Hedge Priests,
they sounded like a gin house blade flight
guttural and edgy.
Their riffs as spindly as their legs
more Fagin’s gang than Lost Boys,
with a wont for quoting Tolstoy.
Misquoting if I’m honest
but who cares about the facts
with impetigo on your cheeks
In Camden-purloined naval jackets,
masking tape on denim,
each chord a declaration
each couplet laced with venom.
And if that sounds pretentious,
well better that than bland
synthetic square-jawed wimps in hemp
whose tunes are pension plans.
You wouldn’t catch The Hedge Priests
writing songs to save the trees
just hymns to London’s back streets
from the Common Book of Sleaze
for drunken boys at festivals,
with Cutting’s riffs stitched on their souls
on golden afternoons.
bathed themselves in songs
that serenaded deviance
and rhapsodised its wrongs.
And Carlos Cutting was the king
above the mosh-pit brawls,
his likeness in acrylic paint
on art department walls;
his dirty features snarling
in the breathy fantasies
of chubby, ginger indie girls
who read the NME;
his heartaches etched on army bags
and tipexed onto folders
a generation’s melodramas
weighing on his shoulders.
Till Mrs Brown came calling
and her perfume fug would hang
around the self-indulgent tracts
that Carlos Cutting sang;
until the riffs that came so easy
lost their lick and spit;
yes, all that counts for nothing
when your second album’s shit.
Your third goes uncompleted,
the circus leaves you there,
just fodder for the red-tops:
a washed-up Baudelaire.
But snap to now and spindly riffs
were spilling from a tent
and Christ they stirred my senses,
like a former lover’s scent.
Inside on stage was Carlos Cutting
scarlet Fender raised
beating out the fragile lines
that filled my teenage days.
And for a moment it was magic
rose-tints turned-up to ten,
unshackled from my adult angst,
I was a fan again.
But then I looked around the crowd,
sixty, maybe less:
skulking, giggling groups of five
in witty fancy dress.
Not one of them was listening,
these gelignite-eyed teens
just posed for lairy photographs
or tapped their glowing screens.
And when each song was finished
they barfed a sarky roar
until the burly backstage team
sent Carlos on for more.
Skin hanging from his cheek bones
a hint of mid-life belly
an unloved broken toy
for proto-Sloanes in Hunter wellies.
Who mis-remembered song requests,
who whooped and yawned and aped him
while Carlos shut his eyes and let them
nonchalantly rape him.
His deep eyes dead, I never saw
a man look so alone.
I couldn’t watch, I turned my back
and schlepped my way back home.
With images of Carlos Cutting
as he was and now
from strutting god whose fretboard
made the holiest of rows
to bored, embarrassed forty-something
playing ‘cause he must
his past another galaxy
his mojo turned to dust.
A prisoner in public
whose crime was growing older
bluntly recreated in the eyes
of his beholders.
We put him on an oily stage
and gazed at him like art
a thing of beauty, light of life,
we kept him in our hearts,
our young, naive and hopeful hearts
that played out comedies
but when our hearts grew black from life
he became our tragedy.