Clinging By The Skin Of Our Teeth – Succeeding By The Thickness Of Our Skin

By Ginger | August 15, 2004

(or: An exercise in name dropping) – Summer Sonic 2004 · Words by Ginger · transcribed by Kris Coverdale

Tuesday, 7:00 pm. and I’d had an awful day. Decided not to take a holiday to the Philippines, but have instead sat at the computer and wondered what to do with the coming weekend.

The phone rings, and it’s our agent asking me if I have any plans this weekend and if The Wildhearts would like to jump on a plane and step in for The Darkness at the Summer Sonic festival, in Japan. It seems that Justin’s ‘acid reflux’ is playing up again. I hate to take advantage of his predicament. And I have yet another reason to thank those guys.

God closes a door and opens up a window.

Since touring the world with the Hawkins Bros. I have been scratching my head as to why we aren’t playing Japan. The one place that we traditionally visit at least once a year. Ironically, I will find out in less than a week that we were to be dropped in Japan and this visit would buy us back our reputation as a live band, as well as remind people that we have great songs, the merits of which can easily get forgotten in a market saturated with dreary, whining nonsense. ‘Songs’, it would seem, are of greater significance than they have been in a long, long time.

Ever put on an old album by, say, Bowie, Sabbath, Ramones, The Stones (or ‘insert classic band here’), and forgotten how much better it is than the stuff you’ve been listening to for a while? As good as you remember it, it’s just that somewhere along the line you stopped needing things to be so good. Ever gotten someone into a band you used to like as a kid and have them show that exact same childlike excitement on hearing the music for the first time?

I watched The Dead Zone recently, one of Christopher Walken’s best performances, and realised that not everything ‘ages’. That movie could have been made this year. It crams in as many twists and turns as The Wildhearts career.

The Wildhearts get better with age. People age. People in this business, however, live in a semi-suspended state of denial when working in a genre predominantly infested with youth, on both sides of the screen.

Here is where our secret weapon seems to lie. We appear to be able to erase the line between the last generation and the current one, delighting the (shall we say) ‘older’ people and surprising the shit out of the young.

A strange choice of replacement, we initially think, what with the plethora of pre-facially-follicled groups currently swarming about the planet, but hey, what the fuck, eh?

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I couldn’t give a fuck about age by the way. Young or old, you still deserve a break if you’re good. You still deserve to make a living. And I detest, with a fucking passion, the obsession that this business has towards the young. Wake up you stupid, stupid fuckers.

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Anyway, it’s nice to visit Japan. It’ll be good to see old friends (got to stop using the ‘O’ word) and it’s always a pleasure to play to a new, younger audience in the hope that they will have their blinkered ideas of ‘shelf life’ in music shattered.

And CJ lives in Japan, which is handy, otherwise we couldn’t turn over this feat in time. I mean, come on, how many bands could get word of a visit to Japan and pull the whole shebang together within 24 hours, be on a plane in less than 48 and play to a sold out Tokyo Summer Sonic audience within three days of receiving the call?

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When your band pulls out, and there’s no-one about, who you gonna call? The Wildhearts! (sung to the tune of Ghostbusters)

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To many, this band is a lifeline. Right now, we feel the same love for this indestructible ball of confusion and sonic majesty as anyone ever has. Against the odds, yet still the most reliable bet in the running? Well, think about it. Year in, year out… new faces coming and going… money employed and success stories destroyed… and still we stand.

You can’t kill us. You can’t even stop liking us. Admit it.

Even the huge cockroaches of Tokyo are dying in the streets. No-one knows why. In hot, humid conditions these fuckers fuck and flourish, and as The Wildhearts walk the streets of Roppongi we try to avoid treading on those ‘other’ things that you supposedly cannot kill, as they squirm pitifully on their backs.

In Chiba, Tokyo, crammed between Pennywise and Sum 41, we shakily churn out our set to an audience mostly too young to know who we are, and definitely too punk to have all of our records in their collection.

Surprise, then, when they acknowledge the older tunes like a distant memory from an older brothers/sisters stereo. Relief, then, when they embrace the new songs with polite, but honest enthusiasm. Elation, then, when we finally get to the final song and escape with merely out of tune guitars and hastily rendered versions of the songs that a month off-stage guarantees.

And I had another guitar strap snap right in the fucking middle of the leather. How come I keep getting lumbered with thin skinned cows?

Today will not go down as one of the better days, performance wise, but will go down as one of the most delightfully bizarre as regards after-show.

We have a dressing room next door to MC5, but don’t have the nerve to talk to them!

A stumbling, pencil thin, sun bleached guy trips into our dressing room and reveals himself as Evan Dando, Lemonheads singer/guitarist and current frontman with MC5, along with Mudhoney’s Mark Arm.

Evan is married to a Geordie model, and is attracted by the familiar lilt of the voices coming from our porta-cabin. Plus, he isn’t allowed to smoke in his room. Evan is a marvel. You only ‘hear’ of survivors like Evan, or they crop up in American movies set in the ’70’s and speak like they were fed narcotics since birth. He’s gentle, funny and immensely likeable. And he introduces us to the band!

On walking to meet our guys and grab a quick bite, I happen on a Brides Of Destruction riff being played solely by a bass player and a drummer, up on the ‘Rock’ stage, one of the five erected. I run to see if it’s someone messing about or if this is actually the soundcheck for The Brides Of Destruction, and on reaching the side of the stage I see Nikki Sixx soundchecking for their show later today.

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Now I don’t know who’s the coolest of the cool for you, but Nikki Sixx rewrote the rule book for cool as far as I’m concerned. When I was younger (got to stop using the ‘Y’ word) I could never get my hair to look as cool as his (check out this months Classic Rock, I will say no more), I wanted my entire band to look and dress like him. Fuck, I even lost my first girlfriend to the singer of Motley Crue at a show of theirs, yet still managed to find another girlfriend by the end of the night. Motley WERE the guys that the girls wanted and the guys wanted to be. And Nikki Sixx was the coolest member of Motley. Which means that when I was young Nikki Sixx was the coolest guy on the planet.

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Fortunately, for me, their A&R guy is our A&R guy (Hi Nobby!) and agrees to bring Nikki to meet us in the catering room, post soundcheck. Unfortunately, for me, I have never met Nikki in the flesh. We are cyber-buddies, and the closest we have ever got is via telephone and mentions in the press.

What if he’s an ass? A bighead? Or worse still, stupid.

Seconds later a mountain, dressed in black, sits next to me, and we both say, in unison “YOU’RE REAL!!!”

It is with great relief, and even greater pride to report that Nikki Sixx is the fucking man, the shit, the bomb, the tits and the dogs bollocks all rolled up.

He’s a massively warm, and generously affectionate man who immediately makes you feel at home in his presence. He has the kind of eyes that shine from seeing so much. They remind me of Lemmy. And anyone out there thinking words like “arse” “kissing” and “motherfucker” can motherfucking kiss my arse all the way to Memphis, baby. I love having dreams come true.

When legends turn out to be much cooler than most of the people inspired by their effect then you know there’s a God, and he loves Rock n Roll.

After catching a few scorching selections from The Damned’s set (opening with ‘Melody Lee’… woah, fuck), quickly talk some crap to MTV in a studio so hot that a sauna afterwards would have been a relief, and say a quick “HI” (“people are talkin”) to NiteBob, who is the tour managing soundman for Silvertide (really sweet guys), it’s all I can do to grab a bottle of red wine and head out to watch ‘The Brides…’, before we are hastily gathered and flown to Osaka this evening, in readiness for tomorrow’s show.

Drink a couple of shots with Tracii Guns, pre show, only to find out that he’s the nicer than you could ever imagine. A sweetheart as well a fucking blinding guitar player, as I will find out during the ‘Brides..’ set. He does things with his guitar that my guitar would just flatly refuse to partake in. I swear. Like bending the headstock so far forward that the note drops about eight semitones. He makes the fucking thing talk. If I tried any of that stuff you would hear a guitar talk alright, but it would simply say “nope”.

And then, all too briefly, we are onboard a tiny aircraft bound for Osaka. We are armed with wine and we are sitting in front of ‘Peaches’. We continue to get progressively drunker. Talking too loud. Annoying the other passengers, including, presumably the Peaches band, who seem decidedly less friendly towards us as we gather to collect our luggage at the other end. They will forgive us by tomorrow, but for now Stidi and CJ have managed to fall out over a bag being dropped on the foot on one of Peaches dancers.

The evening is rapidly spiraling out of order.

Still, we have managed to commandeer a video of today’s performance. On the bus from the airport to the hotel we gather around the screen to see just how bad the guitar tuning was today. And it was reasonably awful, but in a good way.

Like old Aerosmith.

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An industry insider tells me that Aerosmith have split up, today. Just when they were starting to Rock again too? I pray for it to be the work of a bored rumour mill.

Aerosmith, allegedly, R.I.P.

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I can’t sleep, a mixture of jet-lag and excitement forcing my eyes open until morning. Thoughts like, “I wonder if I can get every major star on the entire bill to appear on camera tomorrow” keep my head spinning in amphetamine-like torment. Imagine having Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry next to someone like Belinda Carlisle talking about your band? You wouldn’t give a shit if they liked you or not, right?

The best thing about having crazy thoughts, ones that border on the impossible, is that once they have been mentally churned over then they have been ‘born’. They are technically real. They are, therefore, possible.

Imagine a world where you always acted upon the after-drive of impulse?

Fuck it, I got nothing to lose, I’m going in…

The dressing room set-up in Osaka is vastly different and much more communal than Tokyo. The bands and artists are forced to mingle with each other. The breakfast servings are hamster friendly portions, which I guess goes toward keeping everyone thin for the MTV cameras present at the show. The infamous Rock Rock bar (hey Seji, hey Yoko!) have a set up in the hospitality area, and bands are drinking all day. It’s nice to see who is on the bill by actually seeing them walking around.

No one receives special treatment, or rather everyone does.

Our performance is measured, well paced and fucking marvellous! I give one of my guitars to the audience, as a means of thanks for being so gracious. Seconds later, as I attempt to climb the 10 foot stage, I am shocked back into thinking that surely a fight will ensue for the guitar, the victor being the last man down.

As I turn around in panic, ready to settle the argument I see the two guys holding my BC Rich with one hand while playing “Paper, Scissors, Rock” with the other. I am amazed to see a fair settlement made, amid the oppressive Osaka heat.

At this very moment the rest of the world seem to be barbarians compared to the new breed of Japanese youth.

We leave the stage bemused and happy. It’s a great feeling to ‘know’ that you just kicked major arse, and all that is left to do is climb up the long hill of drunkenness, fighting off adrenaline with every mouthful.

Later I will get on-stage with ‘The Brides…’ and play “Shout At The Devil”, while looking Nikki Sixx straight in the eye and feeling like I just became 16 again. He will then smash his bass AND both monitors to tiny pieces. I will later receive advice from this same man, as he slowly turns from animal into agony uncle.

We will watch as Sum 41 actually look 41 with all energy lost as they bake and melt in the heat.

We will gather later at the Rock Rock bar, where memory and eyesight will slowly fade and nothing will be left but a smile.

We will wake up drunk, and in the airport, on our return to Tokyo, we will see Random’s skeleton as he puts himself through the X-ray machine. Surely the most dangerous thing you could do to yourself in an airport? I have no idea, I never met anyone crazy enough to do it before. Even ‘Jackass’ don’t go that far.

We will continue to drink for the remainder of the day, in celebration of the victory of this weekend. Blissfully unaware of HOW important this was to our future in Japan. And we will find out that we are likely to be returning in December, such is the turnaround of attitude toward the band, and of our past mishaps in Japan.

The final incident will come in the shape of a phone call to Willy, our tour manager, as we once more find ourselves stepping over dying cockroaches.

We have been asked to headline the Bulldog Bash in two days time. It seems that Chuck Berry has pulled out and we are top of the list to replace him, making this our 4th (or is it 5th…) consecutive appearance in a row at the Bash. We won’t even have time to unpack our bags. And CJ just happens to be in the country at that time too.

For a band that constantly seem down on our luck, we certainly seem to get a helluva lot of luck!

This story isn’t at the end and it would be naive to expect anyone to believe that it has just begun. It is, however, at that great part of a movie where you can’t figure out how it’s gonna go, and instead are going to give up trying to second guess the director and just clutch onto your popcorn and enjoy the ride.

Hope you enjoyed the Bulldog Bash. Go and rent “The Dead Zone” from your local video store. We will definitely be seeing you around… soon. And I am delighted to say that I have no idea when, or where, or even how that will be.

I just know that we outlive cockroaches, so I don’t see any reason why we won’t be around for a fucking long time yet.

Arigato, Matane

Ginger

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