Several years ago when the Jesus and Mary Chain announced their Psychocandy anniversary tour, I wrote a blog post entitled Psychocandy and Me. In a nutshell, it describes how their 1985 debut album saved my life at a time when it desperately needed saving. If you want to read a mostly true, occasionally embellished take, I highly recommend my first novel Wivenhoe Park.
When I was 18, I thought I had it all figured out. I was about to start my studies at the University of Michigan and run for their nationally ranked cross country team. Things started well. I finished 11th in our pre-season time trial, missing making the travel squad by just one spot. Disappointing but the future looked bright. With so many seniors on the team, I was a lock to get my varsity letter the next year. Within a month my performances started slipping badly as I experienced severe stomach issues. I was hospitalized for pancreatitis and later diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Over the next year I tried to make a few half-hearted attempts to get back into shape, but the desire was gone. I was struggling with depression, so much so that I started seeing a shrink who put me on Valium to keep me sane. Being a stupid 19 year old I was also drinking heavily, so while the combo made for some ‘interesting’ experiences, I wasn’t exactly a role model for healthy living.
My second year at university was horrible. Not being on the team, I stopped hanging out with my old friends and became a bit of a loner. Though I was studying history, I lost myself in fiction and rock ‘n’ roll. As a kid I always listened to the Detroit rock ‘n’ roll radio stations and when my parents got MTV in 1981, I started to get into all of the cool new wave bands like the Psychedelic Furs, U2, Echo and the Bunnymen, and the Lords of the New Church. During the Christmas Holiday in 1984, I decided out of the blue that I wanted to move to England. My university had exchange programs with several universities in the UK and I asked my parents if I could apply. Applications were due in early January so I only had a few days to get them completes. I didn’t have any huge preference other than the closer to London the better, so I could see a lot of gigs. I didn’t have the grades to make it into the London School of Economics, but I was accepted at the University of Essex in Colchester, just an hour and change away from Liverpool Street Station by train.
I arrived in England the first week of October 1985 and immediately tried to soak in as much of the rock ‘n’ roll scene as I could, buying magazines, going to gigs and indie discos sponsored by the university’s entertainment society and taking the odd trip to London. I was lucky enough to live in a flat with some fantastic people, a few who I am still in touch with today. I have fond memories of watching music television shows like Top of the Pops and The Tube, the latter, which was my introduction to the Jesus and Mary Chain. I remember watching their October 11 performance and being blown away. My first impressions were that they were punk like the Sex Pistols but also timelessly cool like the Velvet Underground. When Psychocandy was released in November I rushed out to Andy’s Records in Colchester to buy it on cassette and played it to death on my cheap boombox in my room.
In addition to blowing me away musically, I started to copy the Mary Chain’s look. I started dressing head to toe in black and used lots of hairspray and gel to try to get Jim and William’s hairstyles down.
Fast forward to 2015. My wife and I saw the Mary Chain in Detroit and they were better than ever. The shows I saw in the ’80s and ’90s all had their fantastic moments but this time, they seemed to up it a notch. I think something about celebrating the 30th anniversary of Psychocandy must have kicked the band into overdrive. At this time rumors of a new album were afloat. The next year while the band was recording what would become Damage and Joy, I experienced a life-threatening health scare. On a routine physical it was discovered that I had a heart condition called mitral valve regurgitation, which in layman’s terms meant that my heart was leaking (badly) in two places. I had successful surgery in June 2016, which turned out to be more complicated than initially thought. When I was out of the woods, I was told that if I hadn’t had the surgery I would have died in a year or two.
In October I was hospitalized again after collapsing on a treadmill. I started having severe panic attacks after that and was put on anti-depressants. I also stopped drinking to combat the depression and have remained sober as I type this. That part hasn’t been easy. I have struggled with alcohol throughout my adult life. My second novel Heartworm is a pretty honest account of my struggles with addiction in the mid-’90s. Thing is I have always been pretty good at being functional and holding down jobs even when drinking heavily on work nights. Enough so that I never thought I had a problem until a year or two before my heart surgery when I started to notice that drinking was making me severely depressed. Writing Heartworm and reliving those experiences drained me so much that I have only begun to write again, which finally brings us to the Jesus and Mary Chain and their stunning new album Damage and Joy.
I was lucky enough to secure a digital advance to review for The Big Takeover a few months before the official date and played it to death while waiting for the autographed vinyl I pre-ordered to arrive.
Unlike most ‘comeback’ albums, this one doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it’s my hands down favorite record of the year. I tried listening to some of the new Ride songs and they sounded too smooth and ‘adult’ to me. Likewise, I was disappointed in the new Stone Roses songs, which were released last year.
There is nothing adult about Damage and Joy. In fact, that’s why it resonates so much with me. IMHO the magic of rock ‘n’ roll is about staying forever young, forever cool, and not selling out to the man. It’s very easy to get lost along the way. On the opening track “Amputation,” which has a similar sleazy vibe to the Honey’s Dead masterpiece “Reverence,” Jim Reid describes himself as a rock ‘n’ roll amputation. In recent interviews I have read, Jim appears to feel out of place with today’s rock ‘n’ roll scene, a relic from the past if you will, a feeling that I have been experiencing for most of this century. The song itself is a reworking of a 2006 solo single by Jim Reid entitled “Dead End Kids,” which in turn had its origins in Jim’s post-JAMC group Freeheat. There’s a great live version from 2003 on the Planting Seeds Records Freeheat album Back On The Water.
Elsewhere, the album brings to mind highlights from all periods of the group’s illustrious career. Perhaps the one that resonates with me most is “The Two of Us,” which also has its origins with Freeheat and was later re-worked on their sister Linda Fox’s 2007 Sister Vanilla album. It begins with a Modern Lovers “Roadrunner”-like riff and is a flat out love song. Though initially released on an EP entitled Retox, whose cover features the band sitting at a bar surrounded with pints and cigarettes, the lyric that jumps out at me the most is, “the two of us are getting high. We don’t need drugs because we know how to fly.” Elsewhere, Jim proclaims, “I was born on the day I met you.”
My first date with my wife Arabella was a Freeheat concert in Los Angeles in July 2000 and we were married less than a year later. For that reason alone, the song will always have a special place in my heart. In an ideal world, true love should be enough, but all of us have our demons.
I was extremely shaken by Chris Cornell’s recent death because he had been struggling with alcohol and taking anti-depressants to cope, while at the same time being happily married with kids. Depression is a bitch and over the past year I have been fighting it more than ever. Not drinking helps but as cliched as it sounds I really do have to take things one day at a time and not push myself. I write when I feel like writing and try not to force things.
While reading about Damage and Joy I learned that Jim had gone sober in October as well and the lyrics on some of the songs capture how I’ve been feeling lately. On “All Things Pass,” Jim sings, “each drug I take it’s going to be my last. I hope I don’t fry. I hope I don’t die.” On “Mood Rider,” he tries to convince himself, “I think I’m gonna be fine. I got enough stoned food and wine. I think I’m gonna be fine. I’m happy all the time.”
Words I can relate to but ultimately what makes Damage and Joy so great is that it’s a killer rock ‘n’ roll record. The aforementioned “Mood Rider” merges the ‘raw power’ of the Stooges with some “Gimmie Shelter” oohs and aahs, while “Facing Up To The Facts” revisits the T.Rex crunch of the group’s stellar 1988 single “Sidewalking.”
When I sign my novels at book readings, I always include the inscription “Rock ‘n’ Roll saves lives.” It’s saved mine but not without it’s fair share of struggles. For that reason alone Damage and Joy is a lifesaver for me.