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Interwiev from "NME" [1989] NME Print E-mail
Sunday, 13 August 2006
For its second pop summit of the year, NME lent SEAN O'HAGAN and JAMES BROWN 10 pound each to buy SHANE MACGOWAN, MARK E SMITH and NICK CAVE a drink, and discover what motivates and aggravates rock's three wise men.

"So the NME thinks we're the last three heroes of rock'n'roll, do they?"
laughs Nick Cave.
"Smarmy fuckers," adds Shane McGowan, "what they actually mean is that we're the three biggest braindamaged cases in rock'n'roll."
"Apart from Nick", jabs Mark Smith, "Nick's cleaned up."
"yeah", drawls Cave, "my brains restored itself."

A bottle's throw from Millwall FC, The Montague Arms, a mock Gothic fun
pub for morbid tourists, plays host to a bizarre summit meeting. Amidst
stuffed horses' heads, skeletons on bicycles and mocked up corpses, three
of contemporary music's most infamous individuals are gathered at the NME's request.

Shane MacGowan of the Pogues, Mark Smith of the Fall and Nick Cave all
share an outsider's attitude that informs their respective musical
output. Both championed and castigated for their obsessiveness and
extremism, this unholy trio are dogged by reputations that precede them.

That they agreed to such a meeting is surprising. What ensues is inspired
and insane by turns. The fractured and, often fractious, conversation
sprawls between the amiable and the aggressive- Presley to Nietzsche,
songwriting to psychology, football to fanatics.

In an afternoon of sheer psychotic hellishness, Cave plays the diplomat
to Smith's bursts of contentious rhetoric whilst MacGowan transmits his
thoughts from his own singular, rarified wavelength.


NME Do you think it's accurate to describe the three of you as outsiders?

NC "I think we have all tended to create some kind of area where we can
work without particularly having to worry about what's fashionable."
MES "Yes, fair enough. But I think there's a lot of differences in this
trio here. Nick was very rock'n'roll to me but he's turned his back on it
which was cool. Shane's more, I dunno. To me the Pogues are the good bits
from the Irish showband scene, like the Indians. You had that feel,
probably lst that now. Your work's good though."
SM "Fuck it man. Who wants to work in a place where there's all these
people looking at you ?"
MES "Are you talking about your gigs ? You should stop doing them, then."
SM "Can't afford to."
MES "Fuck it, you could fight not to if you don't like it."
SM "...and leave the rest of them in the lurch ?"
MES "Nah, the rest of your band will always complain about not working.
If you're paying them a wage tell them to stay at home and behave
SM "It's a democracy our band."
MES "Why aren't they here with you then ?"
SM "Cos the NME didn't want to interview them."
MES 'Cos nobody'd recognise them."
SM "That's it ! They want to interview us because we've got distinctive
characteristics. They just want to interview three high-brow
MES "In that case you should have brought your mate Joe Strummer along."
SM "I said high-brow loonies."


NME You must be aware that, consciously or otherwise, you've each created
a particular myth that has arisen, in part, from your songs.

SM "Nobody created my mythology, I certainly didn't."
NC "No, you (the press) created it."
SM "The media has a lot to answer for, you're all a bunch of bastards
however friendly you are."
NC "Let's not talk about the media. Why the hell are you talking about
mythologies ? That tends to suggest it's somehow unreal."
SM "It seems to me that in your songs, Nick, you're doing a Jung-style
trip of examining your shadow, all the dark things you don't want to be.
A lot of your songs are like trips into the subconscious and are
therefore nightmarish."
NC "Possibly."
SM "You're exploring the world through the subconscious. I've done that
on occasions for various reasons, whether it be illness or self abuse,
or whatever. Once things start to look grotesque I don't write them or
sing them. I couldn't write them the way you do, I couldn't-making
nightmares into living daylight..."
NC "I think you do a pretty good job of it in some of your songs."
SM "The minute it gets dark I shoot back, retreat. I haven;'t always but
I do now 'cos..."
MES "Don't give too much away Shane, don't tell them. Hold a bit back."
SM "I haven't told them anything yet."

NME "How do each of you approach the actual mechanics of songwriting ?"

MES "When you ask that you induce fear in a songwriter. I just go blank."
NC "It's not a cut and dried process."
SM "For a start I've got to be out of my head to write. For a lot of the
time it's automatic writing. 'Rainy day in Soho' was automatic."
MES "Its gotta be subconscious and off the wall. He says he's got to be
out of his head, and a lot of the time I have too. Sometimes, I just wake
up and do it. It's one of the hardest questions you ever get asked. For
instance, you sometimes hear things that would make a great idea for a
song but you never carry them out."
SM "I do. Like the "Turkish Song of the Damned" was a Kraut trying to
tell me something and I misheard him. He said, "Have you heard 'The
Turkish Song' by the Damned". Then I woke up.
MES "My German song's better than your yours, I bet. This is like one of
those night-time discussions on Channel 4."
NC "I writesongs in batches then record them and then can't write again
for ages. I try and build one song upon another, they may not look
obviously inter-related but often one song acts as a springboard into
SM "You haven't been back to the swamps for a while, have you ?"
NC "The swamps ? Heh,heh. I've written a novel about that."
MES "Nick thinks a novel's two pages long. Very novel, heh, heh."
NC "What's it called ?"
MES "It's called 'It'll Be Ready in Another Five Years'. You should write
more aggressive songs, Nick, you're getting too slow."
NC "I haven't sat down and thought about the mood befoe I wrote them."
MES "I find your work almost English Lit oriented, like Beckett, things
crop up again and again."
NC "And your songs are very deceptive Mark, in the way they're sung. They
might appear at times like streams of consciousness but that's deceptive."
MES "One thing that eally annoys me is that stream of consciousness
thing. I wouldn't let on to it normally, but it annoys the shit out of
me. I put a lot of hard sweat into them, I think about them. They have an
inner logic to me so I don't really care who understands them or not. I
see writing and singing as two very different things. My attitude is if
you can't deliver it like a garage band, fuck it. That's one thing that's
never been explored, delivering complex things in a very straightforward
rock'n'roll way. My old excuse is if I'd wanted to be a poet, I'd have
been a poet."
SM "And starved."
MES "I can write, boy, I can write. That's what I do. People like you sit
around moaning about the state of pop music...The trouble is it's too
bloody easy for people, that's why music is in the sorry state it is. Any
idiot, actors mainly, can go in there, sing a chord, bang on a
machine...I'm not objecting to that but when people get at me for trying
to say something in a rock'n'roll mode it's as if I'm a freak."
SM "All this talk about the state of music, rock'n'roll, Irish music,
soul, funk."
MES "Salsa."
SM "Its been proved by Acid House that anyone can make a record."
MES "We're not thick, we all know that."
SM "Look, I'm talking about the implications of Acid House"
MES "There's nothing new in Acid House for me, pal. I've been using that
process for years. Bloody years. It might be new for you but don't assume
it's new for anyone else, because you're fucking wrong, pal.
SM "What the fuck are you talking about ? Have you made an Acid House
record ?
MES "It's the same process, right. Have you had some sort of bloody
revelation about Acid House ?"
SM "Hah ! It's obvious if you listen they put Eastern melodies over it,
bits of this nad that..."
MES "That's what music should always have been like."
SM "It always was."
MES "Why haven't you been doing it for years then pal ?"
NC "I think they have been doing it. I've heard zithers and so on.
Eastern stuff and Turkish stuff."
MES "We had jazz arrangements in '82 when the rest of those tossers were
playing cocktail lounge music and fucking pseudo new wave, so don't talk
to me about it because I know what I'm talking about pal."
SM "Fucking hell, what's he on about ?"


MES "The trouble with the music biz is that its become so bourgeoise. A
middle class executive business like the police force."
SM "A middle class executive police force ? You must be mad ! They're
stormtroopers nowadays, thicker than they ever were."
MES "Can we drop twe cop talk ? It's the same with everything else, like
Sm "Lurries ? What are lurries ?"
MES "Lurries. Containers that deliver your fucking food to your fucking
house, alright ?"
SM "Lorries ! Yeah right."
MES "The drivers are paid the lowest wages because everyone wants to sit
in the office and be a ponce. You can't just go into a hotel and write
your name, you've got to fuck around on a bloody computer. Nobody wants
to work anymore."
SM "Oh God ! You make me wanna puke sometimes, you do. Of course nobody
wants to work. Who in their right mind wants to work ?"
MES "Alright, alright, that's obvious, the sky's fucking blue. Soccer's
the same. None of the fuckers want to hit the ball in the back of the net.
They're all too fucking muscley. And thick. Running up and down the field
like bloody morons. The England team are all bloody minor executives who
can't kick the ball in the back of the net, can't do the bloody job
they're hired to do. I do loads of gigs, that's my job to play loads of
gigs, I'm not an executive, I don't mind playing in front of a load of
sweaty people."

NME "Do you two still enjoy playing live ?"

NC "I don't know if I do. The first Kilburn show was a nightmare."
MES "What's new with The Bad Seeds ?"
NC "I used to hate playing live totally, just the whole physical
exhaustion wass too much for me."
MES "Bleeding workshy Australian. Australians never do any work."
NC "The last tour, going on stage was a release."
MES "Sexually ?"
NC "As my life gets more constipated and cramped going on stage I'm able to
purge myself in some way."
MES "A bowel release."
NC "I feel more relaxed."
MES "With Mick Harvey behnd you with the vaseline."
NC "Put a muzzle on this guy."
SM "The gigs I enjoy are the ones where I am so angry and paranoid, and I
hate the audience so much, that I put everything into it to feed off the
aggressive side of it. I don't actually hate the fans but when I'm
feeling angry, pissed off and full of hate, it's a good gig for me."
NC "An audience is the perfect thing to unleash that hate and venom on.
It doesn't necessarily mean that you hate everyone in the audience but
when you've got a so-called adoring mass in front of you, it's a perfect
target for that kind of disgust. Sometimes you find yourself in a
position where you're venting your disgust on an audience and a lot of
them keep coming back because they actually like that aspect. In a way
that diffuses the feeling and you don't get the same release."
MES "You gotta reassess your audience, make sure they aren't just coming
to throw ashtrays at your head for fun. Shane says he goes on full of
twist, you've got to. If you don't you're fucking fucked, that's whats
wrong with a lot of acts these days, they do fucking yoga before and go
on all fucking relaxed. I've been with Fad Gadget and he was doing
incense and headstands. The English soccer players could do with a lot of
twist, they should be put in a room and made to go round in circles, and
told "if you don't do a good gig tonight then you're not getting paid."

NME "Shane, you obviously don't enjoy playing live anymore, is that
through being on the road too much ?"

SM "I feel like I've spent the last five years of my life on the road. It
hasn't affected my songs but it has probably affected everything else
about me. Obviously, the more you travel, the wilder the things that keep
happening to you, the more likely it is that complete strangers will
knock on your hotel room door."
MES "Nick and I don't related to that 'cos the people who come up to us
either hate our guts or wouldn't really want to be alone in a room with
us. You're a very amiable guy, Shane."
NC "I'm not sure what you're talking about here but the way people
related to me in the dressing rooms and so on was incredibly aggressive.
They know every record and they seem to think they should nudge me or
bump into me as they go past.It was this incredible performance that used
to amuse me. I think we share something in common on that level 'cos,
like, in the early days, people were drawn towards us like they'd be drawn
towards a car smash..."
SM "I read about the fan mail that Freddie Krueger from the Nightmare on
Elm Street movies gets-real sicko stuff, loads of letters from genuine
corpse freaks and child killer types. It frightens him shitless. That
sorta thing freaks me out."
NC "There is a definite relationship between that fanaticism and the fact
that, as a performer, you expose more of yourself, of the undercurrents
of your personality. Most rock personalities subdue that or chose not to
explore it."

"It's rare when a group comes along that has any real soul to them." (Cave)


NME "Mark, of the three of you, would you admit to being the professional
cynic ?"
MES "No, cynicism and defensiveness are two things constantly levelled at
me. Look, I've got time for people, I'm good mannered. I usually find
that when you are down, nobody has a bloody minute for you. If I was a
nobody, you wouldn't even talk to me."
SM "You are nobody."
MES "Fuck off. It's bloody true. Neither would you, Nick."
NC "Bullshit! That's bullshit I take offence at that."
MES "I'm not levelling anything at you. People, in general, don't like
being upfront and civil. They hate you for it. They label you a cynic
'cos you're reasonable."
SM "You're no reasonable though. You're a rude bastard. That's fair enough."
MES "Ok I'm cynical. But I'm not defensive. I'm slightly paranoid which
is healthy."
SOH "Slightly?"
MES "Listen, Sean, do you walk around London embracing everybody? If I
was in the bleeding gutter you wouldn't piss on me.
SOH "I would."
NC "Your reaction is becoming very defensive, Mark."
MES "You're a failed psychiatrist."
NC "I've analysed you, alright-defensive paranoid with delusions of
MES "I've had discussions like this all the time in pubs. I end up beaten
half to death on the floor. I try to be civil and people assume I'm
attacking them."
SM "You attack people all the time. In the press."
MES "I used to. It became too routine so I gave it up. Nietzsche said
'Embrace your enemies'. You two aren't my enemies so I won't embrace you.
SM "Read a lot of Nietzsche, have you?"
MES "All his stuff. I can't quote him. I'm not into him anymore, gave up
three years ago. He taught me a lot, though. We're not all born public
school boys like you."
SM "I'm not a born public school boy."
MES "Do you like Brendan Behan, he's good."
SM "Yeah, he's not a fascist maniac posing as a philosopher."
MES "If we're gonna talk philosophy, that's a load of crap ! The Nazis
adopted his creed and distorted it, they misquoted him all the time."
SM "'The Will to Power'? Try re-interpreting that statement. You can't.
It says what it says."
MES "He wasn't a Nazi-you're only saying that because some polytechnic
fucking lecturer told you he was."
SM "I'm saying it 'cos I read two of his books where he dismissed the
weak, the ugly, the radically impure, Christianity, Socrates, Plato. He
was anti anyone who hadn't a strong body, perfect features..."
MES "That's the coffee table analysis. He was the most anti-German
pro-Semitic person..."
SM "His books were full of hate."
MES "You've just said you're full of hate when you go onstage."
SM "I don't go around saying Socrates was a cunt, Jesus Christ was an
idiot, do I ?"
MES "Jesus Christ was the biggest blight on the human race, he was. And
all of them Socialists and Communists- second rate Christianity. It's
alright for you Catholics. I was brought up with Irish Catholics. Some
of my best friends are Irish Catholics."
SM "listen to him."
MES "Hitler was a Catholic vegetarian, non-smoker, non-drinker. The way
you're talking about Nietzsche is that anyone who's a non-smoker,
non-drinker is a Nazi. That's the level of your debate, pal. You don't
know fuck all about Nietzsche, pal."
SM "You're anti-socialist, too, aren't you ?"
MES "Yeah. I'm an extreme anti-socialist. You don't live on a housing
estate where there's been socialism for thirty years and they keep saying
it's gonna get better all the time and it never does. Thirty fucking
years of it getting worse and worse. You obviously haven't experienced
that, living in London."
SM "What's the alternative ?"
MES "I don't have to worry about that. I'm an adult. I'm working class,
me. I come from a generation that fucking created this nation pal. You
lot, you just sit around and talk about socialism, you're the bloody
Eighty percent of this country are white trash, working class. How come
they don't vote Labour? 'Cos the Labour Party are a fucking disgrace,
that's why. Engels- he was a factory owner in Manchester exploiting 13
year old girls. Learn your history, pal, learn your history.
I suppose you blame all Ireland's problems on the British. All the
problems of the world are down to Britain. That's what you think, why
don't you say it? You can't tell me anything about oppression 'cos, I'll
tell you something pal, if you'd been part of Germany, you'd have been
liquidated. If you were part of Russia, you wouldn't even exist.
Don't tell me about oppression, my parents and grand-parents were
exploited to the hilt. Sent to wars, they had gangrene in their teeth. My
grandfather was at Dunkirk and all you can see is Margaret Thatcher on my
face when, actually, She's on Nick's face. Isn't she Nick ? Come on Nick,
help me out.
Basically, I like to discuss things right down the line and I don't agree
with anybody..."


NME "This is getting a bit out of order, can we talk about something less
acrimonious. Heroes ?

SM "You're into Presley, Nick."
MES "A lot of Presley's good stuff was overlooked. LIke. the NME
viewpoint that he died when he came out of the army. I think the
opposite, his best stuff came after the army."
SM "That figures. He was a pile of shit when he came out of the army
compared to before he went in. His mother died when he was in the army.
That was one of the causes.
Anyway, he did some good stuff in the late '60's after the army-
'Kentucky Rain', 'Suspicious Minds', 'In the Ghetto' as opposed to
'Heartbreak Hotel', 'Blue Moon of Kentucky', 'That's alright Mama'. I
suppose that's all shit to you , is it ?"
MES "I'm not saying that but everybody writes the later stuff off..."
SM "Who ever writes off Elvis ?"
MES "Look, pal, Elvis was the king, right? To me, Elvis were king. He
was only the king 'cos he sustained it. You probably think he's somekind
of criminal 'cos he went in the army for a few years. You're insinuating
that I'm pro-army and if you have anything to say on that score, say it
now, pal and I'll fucking argue right through you !"
SM "What ! He's off again."
MES "I'm into Merseybeat at the minute- The Searchers. I respect Dylan.
The only good thing I've heard of his is that LP he did with George
Harrison and Roy Orbison."

NME "You seem to prefer older music, is there nothing contemporary that
appeals ?"

NC "It's rare when a group comes along that has any real soul to them.
Rock'n'Roll history isn't long enough. There's three or four blues people
that I like after filtering through loads of blues. There's about three
gospel bands, a handful of country ones. I have to draw on the....what
are you laughing at, Mark ?"
MES "Oh nothing, heh heh, I'm really into John Lee Hooker myself. He's
great solo without a band. His bands are crap. I was always into more
experimental bands- Can, Faust. I won't say German 'cos Shane'll have an
epileptic fit.
I think Nick's more traditional and I espect that but, I'm into things
like Stockhausen, The United States of America and Gene Vincent and
rockabilly. That's my influences. And I always prefered Lou Reed to the
Velvet Underground."

NME "What do you think of the blanket critical approval of Morrissey ?"

MES "Morrissey's another Paddy! A South Manchester Paddy. Shane's got
more to say than Morrissey."
SM "I think you guys are encouraging Mark to be like this. You
journalists love it."
MES "Of course they do. That's the NME policy, they love a good argument.
Don't you lads ?"

Things fall apart. The unholy trinity climb on the pubstage. MacGowan on
drums, Smith on guitar and Cave on the organ. A jam of sorts ensues- The
Velvets meets Hammer Horror with a hint of Acid House. Totally wired.
Summit mental.

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