HELEN COLLETT almost succumbs to the elements hitching a ride to the Simple Minds 1982 gig in Auckland and Jim Kerr writes in her diary.
Editor’s note: There are those of us who consider Helen Collett one of the few truly great rock writers to have emerged from NZ, and more specifically, the post-punk scene in Wellington. With a wit as sharp as a Japanese usuba knife and attitude to spare, her work and words were sometimes contentious but impossible to ignore. Unfortunately, much of her work is lost to time, and she gave up music writing too early, so Witchdoctor is joyfully digging up and republishing some of the features and reviews she wrote for Gary Steel’s In Touch and TOM magazines, with her permission. This piece appeared in IT mag, Christmas 1982.
Jim Kerr stares morosely at a pile of SM LPs – all fab, but they didn’t exactly make a million.
“Life’s an illusion, love is a dream” – no, that’s been said. “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” (there’s a pot of gold)… “There’s a place for us, a time and a place for us”… Old songs, old films.
‘Someone Somewhere In Summertime’, ‘Big Sleep’ – millions of brilliant images for shiny silly yellow Morleys to roll and tumble their merry anti-mediocratic money-making metaphors around! Oh, and one last bitch before I reform – if ever we should meet again, keep a switchblade in your pocket, Kerr. You said I was talking to you for purely ‘commercial’ reasons. Hah! In future, make your lies of convenience both larger and more plausible, you cracked actor you!
Nah, that’s cheap and petty. I love the LP and have rave-reviewed it elsewhere, so there’s no need to distort things by dwelling on them for too long. Make up your own minds about the album, I’m not a video machine.
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BUT – New Gold Dream is a happy accident, though not so much a leap of faith that didn’t fail as a logical (if unforeseen) step forward. Many of the album’s lovelier moments were apparently experiments, quite uncontrived. Herbie Hancock’s contribution to ‘Hunter And The Hunted’ started life as a collection of studio cut-ups; keyboard segments joined together just to see what would happen. Jim Kerr says he didn’t really expect everything to fit together but it did, and he’s glad.
Keyboards player Mick McNeill says that the last thing Simple Minds wanted for New Gold Dream was a big name/predictable producer and sound. So the relatively unknown Mike Walsh was chosen, not because of any discontent with Steve Hillage’s production work on the last couple of LPs, but simply because the band felt like a change. That worked too.
McNeill says that sometimes Jim comes in with lyrics/words for the band to play around with, creating songs through jamming together. At times, Jim writes his words in the studio, using images sparked off by the others’ musical ideas. Kerr doesn’t play an instrument himself, being one. Punctuate my last sentence differently, if you like.
“When you hear me screaming/I’ll be seeing through the eyes of love/Tell me can you hear me/Tell me can you see me.”
Play around with Jim’s words too, they’re his thoughts and thus totally open and closed to personal interpretation. He-heh! All band members contribute equally, in their different ways, to the music. Simple minds are not Jim Kerr, he’s the front man and (literally) mouthpiece.
Kerr’s a compulsive writer, like me, so carries notebooks to record the bits and pieces of Life In A Daze around with him everywhere.
“And how do I feel living in the eighties/And how do I get to see the light of day.”
It does make things clearer in the end, I guess.
In photos, Jim Kerr resembles a fish – all googly-eyed and gloomy. In person – very young and intense, dressed in black (‘Don’t look back’ – a fellow T Rex fan). Also large quantities of brilliantine and mascara, which suit him.
I ask Jim whether he still carries the toy crane, bought at a service station in Germany, around with him on tour. Security blanket, huh?
“I haven’t got it here, but I’ve got some new toys”, he says. “I’ve got little dolls and badges, certain badges. Maybe it’s the child in me, or something.
“It’s amazing how you say things in interviews and they get picked up, like a fetish. I bought the crane because my father works on building sites and it reminded me of him. I’m proud of him.”
Tell me about the way you write.
Jim: “Well, I dunno… I just write down a lot of the things that I see, a lot of it’s subconscious. I’ve been writing things down since I was eight years old. And I don’t know why. I didn’t tell anyone about them until I was about 16, and I showed them to some teachers at school. Oh, we’ve got a lot in common.”
What did you think of my New Gold Dream review, then? Reasonably accurate?
Jim: “Of all the reviews this album’s had… Lenny (tour manager) phoned me at four in the morning and said ‘you should see this review’. And you’re fucking right, that’s how it is. Because a lot of the time when I write, I don’t really analyse it at the time.”
Well, yippee. Jim’s exhausted and it’s noisy, so I ask him to write about his writing in my notebook, for a change. Also, not to worry about the inadequacy of impromptu notes, under the circumstances, so:
[Jim, writing in Helen’s notebook]
“Most of the things I do I just can’t explain – it’s like things are coming through me – things I feel but not always understand – yet totally believe in.
“New Gold Dream for me shines bright – I believe in it. And I feel it – I swear by it – and I love it.
“Sometimes I feel it is not all-important to analyse it – It comes through me – the rest is confusing.
“I have no clue where I go from here. I feel we have achieved – but I feel still so young and inadequate.
“Nonetheless – you understand what I’m doing and I’m grateful of your translation. Stay with me throughout – these are special times.
“You write and I’m also a writer. Therefore it’s important to reflect – it’s always important to show the next step – Turn the dream real.’
“Gold – the power from the earth – old yet so new – shines above all – it’s so hard and brittle – everything else is superficial – It deserves respect – It is above all – part of the earth.
“Burning dreams and flames of desire – The Cross – so old and Celtic and its past and important – is in it.”
Jim’s too tired to talk properly now. He says it’s all written there. Anyway, my tape recorder chooses this moment to crap out. Anybody wnt to buy a usually trustworthy Sanyo into which the POP STARS have jabbered nonsense?
“And I can’t see the road for the tears”, for all the things I didn’t get to talk about. Like, ‘The Light Pours Out Of Me’ was a parody on Devoto’s part, satirizing those slightly up themselves. Ah, that’s obvious and probably irrelevant in Simple Minds’ case, anyway.
But don’t take it all too seriously, NGD is just the next step for restless Simple Minds, not a Giant Leap for Maaankind. Music is a mirror, a cool motivator at best – not a bomb. That was another Great Truth from JP Nasty. Beam me up now, Spotty.
PS, Bassist Derek Forbes says Simple Minds would like to play Sweetwaters. “Promises, promises… Everything is possible… Oh no.”
18-10-82 – OUR TRIP TO SIMPLE MINDS
Dear Aunty Bat,
Where should I begin?
Although the weather forecast was bad, intrepid photographer Charles and myself packed up tape recorder and camera and headed towards Auckland on 900cc Honda. Neat, eh?
I noticed the raging gale around the time we hit the Ngauranga Gorge, so shut my eyes to stop the contact lenses escaping. They stayed shut until Levin, where we stopped to buy baby powder – an essential of life.
The first effects of dreaded exposure displayed themselves when I collapsed upon removal of my backpack. Never mind! I get back on the bike, ignoring ominously aching back and numb fingers.
HUNTERVILLE, HUNTERVILLE WITH PIES SO LARGE AND GLUTINOUS
The road’s a blur till Hunterville, remembered chiefly for a sign that read: “These are not public toilets!”
Next stage of the journey was one long nightmare. It was snowing on the Desert Road. Despite smart yellow rubber one-piece suit (de rigeur sur le route), my face and bones turned to ice, and my hands to ossified claws capable only of clutching Charles. Which was just as well, as I kept passing out. Ta, Buddha!
We reach Turangi, and it’s pissing with rain. I fall down on the floor of the local garage/store shaking uncontnrollably, and we decide to call it quites re. travel for the day. End up at Turangi Holiday Camp, where the cafeteria closes at six, but the showers never stop. I took two just for the hell of it. We decide that Turangi is one big boring holiday home and retreat to the pub. End of Day 1.
Day 2 – We hit Auckland, in time to catch the end of Simple Minds’ press conference. They say I am Brilliant (Jim) and Honest (Charlie) with regard to the New Gold Dream review. Perspicocious boys.
The concert fab; ghastly old Mainstreet packed to the gills with sweaty, slick-wriggling kids in total ecstacy. Yeah, it was just like being in a can of eels, especially when someone started throwing water around. The trip back to Wellington relatively OK-OK. No near-fatalities or natural disasters this time. The chips at Bulls are nice, and they have a good jukebox. Bulls has balls!