From the Bradle To The Lathe
"People just ask for it", jabs Clint Surname, the latest pugilist of rock. He should know.
I told Clint that his last album had been a definitive canticle of rock's commercial deliquescence, and he smiled the puzzled smile of a man driven by the erratic lethargy of a neosocialist.
"S'funny," he coughed into a piece of shirt, "I ain't made one."
That's the way it is with Clint Surname, new pop-prince, squire of syllabic passion, the hope-merchant dreaming in monochrome. In the long train ride from London passing cows and I think pigs, the white ones, I'd realised that the countryside would always be close to this writer's heart. And it's the countryside with its vast sweeps of green flowers and brown trees that spills across the tortured pallet of this, the latest Messiah of Misnomer.
The station guard in the tumbledown British Rail shack at the end of the line knew, too, the significance of this visit. "You'll be one of them music paper reporters, then," he grimaced, with eyes that mined the texture of my soul. "You can f... off, for a start."
Clint Surname, darling of the nationals, the rough, tough boy who played the pop brokers' game and won, flaunting a wild sexuality across the covers of a thousand magazines, yet keeping his thoughts to the insides of his eyelids. I'd spoken to Clint only once before, a distracted but elemental phone call from a psyche crying for deliverance.
Millenti Ennals: "Er... hello... Mr Surname?"
Clint Surname: "You the plumber?"
CS: "The plumber what I asked for, for the lavvy. I's comin' out like er bleedin' fountain."
ME: "No, it's Millenti Ennals, from The Groove Pop."
CS: "Groove Plop, tha's a funny name for a plumber. W'at is it, you do gutters as well, or somethin'. I didn't ask for no roof man, the roof's fine. I's the cistern w'ats the trouble."
ME: "I was thinking about coming down to see you, maybe on Friday."
CS: "Come down, course you'll have to come down. You can't fix the cistern on the other end of a phone, not unless you got a very long plunger, har, har. What d'you want me ter do, drop the phone in the bog? No, get down 'ere quick, 'fore we 'ave the council in and they spot the still."
ME: "Do you... er... do you Coke, Mr Surname?"
CS: "Coke, yer, yer we got a back boiler, heats the whole house, tha's no problem. We got plenty if tha's what you want, though I can't see how i's gonna 'elp you stop the No 1s from leaking into the kitchen."
So, No 1 has been there already, and a cooking feature by the sound of things.
During the five mile walk from the station to the Surname country home, that call and his celebrated lyrics to "Wetback Waltz" played on my cortex. Was this what Clint had been trying to say... the mind that produced such lines as "Just like a/leg of pork/baby.../I'm cured of your/love..." was merely the receptive porcelain of a nation's waste, now bursting under the strain?
A heavy lidded eye and two bad teeth appeared through the crack in the door I had knocked. Clint had opened. The sliver of his angelic face was immediately recognisable in the dim twilight, identical to all his glowering publicity shots yet somehow sadder, softer, darker, wiser, longer, a bit fatter, with larger lobes on his ears, and two small scars I hadn't noticed before, plus a patch over one eye, and a flowery dress.
"'Es in the loft, seeing to the pigeons."
I thanked the burly cleaning lady and stumbled up the scarey sta(i)res coming at last, face to face with the Surname phenomenon.
So, Clint, this year has seen a lot of changes for you; recognition, understanding, the tail wind of rock's death rattle blowing you loose: when did it all start happening?
"Well, er, I suppose I first noticed something was going on at the beginning of the year, there was something in the air, a strange whirr."
You mean a buzz?
"No, definitely a whirr with a sort of 'clonngg' behind it. I traced it as far as the tank in the attic, but then the overflow pipe disappeared into the wall and I couldn't go further."
It is two hours later and we have finally talked out Clint's plumber problem. He knows who I am now, and why. Together we've broken the back of this waterwork fixation. Who can tell, in years to come this could be recognised as his 'Cesstank Period', the start of a brilliant new phase in his career. But for now, the rest of our conversation is so vital, so rare and close, I leave the tape recorder running and report it all, untouched.
"Isn' it about time you buggered off back to London. I've been listening to your stupid prattling for the last two hours, and I 'aven't finished milking the sheep yet."
Clint, just a few more questions. At the peak of your popularity, you decided to retire to the country and think things through. Why was that?
"Oh, that. That was because the brutal commerciality of market force versus pop pride was an inimical threat to my burgeoning creativity."
Yeah, right; that sounds like a quote.
"It is. It's what you said about 'arf an 'our ago. Isn't that the idea? You come up with all the clever stuff then make it seem as if I said it so you don't 'ave to change the feature w'at you wrote on the train coming down.
"Tha's what my manager said anyway. 'If you're ever alone with a music hack for more than minutes, agree with everything they say, then ask if they've got any Joy Division tapes.' Works every time, he reckons.
"Course I can't really tell. The only time I've ever been interviewed before was by the Sun and all they wanted to know was whether I'd ever slept with a Page Three girl. Seems there's someone in Kent who hasn't and they're trying to find 'im."
How has fame affected you?
"Well it's ruined my social life. Thursday always used to be nookie night for me and the Mrs, but tha's been knocked right on the 'ead."
She can't take the competition?
"No, she can't take 'er eyes off the tele. Soon as Top of the Pops is over, on it comes, 'alf a dozen poofy yanks with curly hair prancin' around while some white haired git moans about them not taking Schoobert seriously. I's the worse thing the BBC 'ave ever done, but she loves it."
So you're married, then?
"Yeah for 13 years... ridiculous... you only get 15 for murder."
Getting back to the music for a moment, what do you think of the singles you've recorded so far?
"Well, of course, they're amazin', fantastic, got no complaints there whatsoever. What they can do with technology these days, I's unbelievable. I never knew them computers had come so far, to get all that on one of them paper recorders."
Er, sorry. I'm not sure how they work?
"I reckon my manager invented it because when they gave me the contract thing to do, I was a bit worried... I said, shouldn't I be doing some songs or music or somethin' and 'e said, no, no, all you got to do is sing over the top of this piece of paper and then sign at the bottom and my voice was, like, encoded and they could make the records from that. Amazin'. When I 'eard the records it was incredible, honest, you wouldn't a thought it was me."
You mean they did a lot of work in the studio?
"Studio... w'as that, a studio? Is that where they make the paper."
No, a recording studio?
"Eh, oh well, I probably didn't need one of them because I'm already pretty tall."
Er... yeah. You are renowned for your size and strength, the Bruno of Pop, the street boy. And you've had quite a few fights that have made the front pages. Why is that?
"Well people just ask for it."
You mean they provoke you, push you too far?
"No they come up and ask for it. They say 'can you 'it me for a photograph, otherwise my editor will sack me'. So I do. I 'ad to 'it one bloke three times once, because the photographer couldn't get his flash going. He was grateful, though."
How much longer do you think rock can maintain its integrity in the face of the pseudo passion/fashion that passes off for getting on?
"Well, tha's like what they call a question isn't it, what you said just then, all them words. Because my manager has talked to me a lot about this particular subject and we've really tried to y'know, get into it and work out the best possible solution. And after a lot of thought we came up with an answer. But I can't remember what it was."
Clint, you've just put a chisel through my tape recorder.
"Oh yeah, that's the one, I remember it now."
"No problem. You got any Joy Division tapes?"
Feature by Millenti Ennals
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