The internet seems to amplify tragedy to the point of vulgarity. Social media seems to have created — or at least enabled — a realm for grief junkies to network with other oddballs and Steve Jobs’s passing has instigated a predictable level of ghoulish hyperbole (shouts to Jenny Owen for that one) that seems to undermine the character they’re deifying in death. Mr. Jobs was a great man — his public speaking skills, vision, bluntness, absolute aversion to mediocrity and one-word way with emails to whining customers are all inspirational traits.
He never seemed like one for weeping in shop doorways.
Steve Jobs’s Stanford address and 1985 ‘Playboy’ interview are magnificent — hopefully the impending official biography will be equally as essential, but to pay homage to Steve, blogging about his taste in shoes seemed appropriate in its nerdiness. Other than some lapses into the mystery black shoes, the turtleneck and denim of Apple addresses were frequently set off with the grey New Balance 991 (I believe he also broke out the 992 and — when the 992 was superseded and deleted — the 993 in 2010) running shoes. Sure, Steve wore Nike Moires in 2006 for the Nike+ announcement and looked awkward in adidas over a decade prior, but he’ll be fondly remembered for prowling the stage, half Milk Tray Man, half casual dad in those New Balances.
For all the aesthete tendencies and focus on curves, it’s curious that Steve would opt for what’s arguably one of the ugliest shoes in the NB armoury. I’ve got a lot of love for the 991, but it’s the quality, the comfort of ABZORB and the shoe’s performance credibility rather than slick looks that make it appeal to me. The ‘USA’ panel is an awkward detail on a busy upper. Then it all makes sense — Steve had plenty on his mind and he didn’t need his shoes to cause any issues — the New Balance 991 is undisputedly trustworthy. Geniuses don’t want to deal with nonsense.
After taking some pictures of the New Balance 991 production line in the UK factory in Flimby earlier this year, my appreciation for the shoe increased significantly. I wasn’t sure where they should go, but it made sense to up them here in their entirety. I’m sure there are some like minded oddballs thinking differently who’ll enjoy geeking out over this kind of imagery. That afternoon we only caught the navy variation being put together but we saw the preparation for the greys that Steve favoured. Whether the big man preferred a Made in England or Made in the USA variant remains a mystery, but it’s long perplexed me that even UK-made versions of the 991 still have the ‘USA’ text on them. It’s unlikely that Apple would ever let anybody shoot inside their factories either, but that transparency is what gives New Balance its own rabid audience — one unlikely to switch brand allegiance and willing to cyber beef with critics too. Brand loyalty’s a powerful thing.
“We’re not grooving on the same vibes any more. We’re grooving on different vibes…ugly vibes.”
Magazine editors can be a real disappointment. You want intensity – wild-eyed maniacs hurling submissions into the air in a rage, phlegm flying in the faces of critics taking potshots at the publication, interns beaten to a pulp for ballsing up the coffee run and artists ordered out the premises with fists raised. The reality is duller. Most of them are normal people – too normal in fact to inject their own personality across the pages. As everyone decides that they can create a readable rag on the regular despite rudimentary writing skills and life experience in regards to the lofty subject matters faked via Google, editors will become even more tiresome.
The first time I ever paid attention to the running of a magazine was back when I was left alone one in front of the idiot box twenty years ago, back when terrestrial TV scheduling was significantly better post-11pm. Not only was I faintly disturbed but impressed by the underrated and deeply eerie ‘Little Girl That Lives Down The Lane,’ but I got to see Penelope Spheeris’s ‘The Decline Of Western Civilization’ parts one and two over two consecutive nights on BBC2. That’s where I was introduced to the genius of Claude Bessy, whose wild-eyed rants, rockabilly dress-sense and out-and-out intensity as one of the main characters behind ‘Slash’ gave me the notion that being an editor could be an occupation worth pursuing, seeing as my wonky-handed illustrations were gradually deading my dreams of being the next Frank Miller.
Best of all, Claude would loathe this blog entry. He appeared to hate mediocrity and sycophancy, and was deeply critical of the music industry, and notion of a ‘new wave’ – payola, ad-money and all that other profitable stuff mixed with a lack of any in-depth know-how means that most of y’all bloggers aren’t saying a damned thing, and magazines are wall-to-wall advertorial. That wasn’t the Bessy way.
As an exported luminary of the L.A. punk scene in the late ’70s, Claude’s legendary ad-libbed rant tops the most memorable quotes from my other favourite documentaries like ‘Salesman,’ ‘The Animals Film,’ ‘DOA,’ and ‘Style Wars’ –
“I have excellent news for the world. There is no such thing as new wave. It does not exist. It’s a figment of a lame cunt’s imagination. There was never any such thing as new wave. It was the polite thing to say when you were trying to explain you were not into the boring old rock ‘n’ roll but you didn’t dare to say punk because you were afraid to get kicked out of the fucking party and they wouldn’t give you coke anymore. There’s new music, there’s new underground sound, there’s noise, there’s punk, there’s power pop, there’s ska, there’s rockabilly. But new wave doesn’t mean shit.”
The bile, the turn-of-phrase and the sincerity blew me away then, and it still resonates today, applicable to any fly-by-night movement, and the inevitable mass exodus to be down with it. The best part of it is, he really, really meant it. Brendan Mullen, LA punk promoter and friend of Bessy’s passed away last October, ten years to the month since Bessy died of lung cancer, but after Bessy passed, in his eulogy he wrote,
“No one was sacred from his barbed wit, not even myself (and I liked to think of him as my favorite drinking crony), and certainly not the major record companies, who’d frequently find their full-page ads adjacent to an editorial review mercilessly trashing the record.”
That’s the spirit we still need. Relocating himself from Normandy to Los Angeles, Claude founded ‘Angeleno Dread’ – the county’s first reggae fanzine.That explains his choice to give himself the nom de plume, ‘Kickboy Face’ after Prince Jazzbo’s on wax attack on I-Roy; ‘Kick Boy Face,’ complete with a particularly bombastic face to foot interface on the record sleeve. Just in case that seemed too standard a career path, he also had a brief foray in acting, playing musician ‘Frenchie’ as ‘Claude Bessey’ in a 1977 Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew ‘…Meet Dracula’ crossover special. Yep, that is ‘Phantom Of The Paradise’s Paul Williams camping it up there – Claude is behind him, and that’s teen sensation Shaun Cassidy on the right. Elton’s boy Bernie Taupin is just out of shot. It’s a televisual oddity.
Entering the fray at ‘Slash’ he was a truly inspirational writer, unleashing elegant but brutal polemic like Rimbaud in a Seditionaries suit, lambasting the fly-by-night fakes and bullshit, and championing the Germs and X. The preoccupation with Lester Bangs is certainly justifiable, but while Bangs gets an affectionate portrayal in Cameron Crowe’s ‘Almost Famous,’ a dramatised depiction of Kickboy in the middling Darby Crash biopic ‘What We Do Is Secret’ is more of a sweary caricature. Both scribes are linked by a vitriol that’s the byproduct of the frequently disappointing quest to find the curious romanticism at the core of don’t-give-a-fuck rock’n’roll attitude. Finding true outlaw spirit is like hunting dodos, so you can allow the writer his frequent typewriter vents.
“And then there was Kickboy. Slash’s main writer was originally from France; he had the deep, melodic tone of his countrymen, a lopsided grin, and eyes that found humor in the most mundane of things. There was also a grizzled quality to his face…one that spoke of long nights spent with friends, debating the ironies and paradoxes of life. Kickboy clearly did not suffer fools well, so it’s likely that the waves of hero-worship wafting across the waiting room in his direction just irritated the hell out of him.” Aimee Cooper ‘Coloring Outside The Lines: A Memoir’
Kickboy fronted his own band, Catholic Discipline, who, despite ‘Slash’ ultimately founding its own record label post-paper (bear in mind the magazine only lasted from 1977-1980) that once housed Faith No More, never made it to wax. In 2004, a CD of compiled live recordings was released. Showcased in ‘The Decline…’ they’re actually pretty good. Disgusted by Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, Bessy left America and moved to the UK where he took a role at Rough Trade as a minister of propaganda, penning press releases. Inevitably he also crossed paths with the Factory crew and worked making scratch videos for the Hacienda and appearing underground in FACT 125 – a 1984 VHS giveaway, and the ‘TV Wipeout’ tape of the same year, repping for IKON – Factory’s US-based video division. He evidently had an instinct for tracking the zeitgeist. What went down with Rough Trade remains a mystery, but he’s the voice on Sonic Youth’s ‘C.B’ on ‘Walls Have Ears’ where he’s recorded introducing the band before a show on the 30th October 1985 with a lengthy rant condemning the label for attempting to censor the cover of ‘Bad Moon Rising’ which has a collaboration with Lydia Lunch, who also worked with Bessy in 1989.
“I’m the emcee, um… so I’m supposed to be saying “let’s hear it for Sonic Youth, all the way from the states”. Except uh… actually I’d like about two minutes of your attention. Shut your fucking face, I want just two minutes of your attention, I have a very interesting little story to tell you. Two minutes, not very long, right? And it’s a… it’s a very instructive little story. Um… Sonic Youth, um, are a band.. shh shh shh… Uh, they’re about to put out a record in this country except their record company has decided to put a no-no on the record. Because of, uh… the cover which is offending some people at Rough Trade. And now, it’s not.. I mean it’s not very offensive cover, it’s uh, it’s got a naked lady, a naked Puerto Rican lady, it’s not very obscene, she’s not doing anything weird. Uh… it has nothing to do with.. you know, in this day of AIDS, an uh.. and all that shit, uh, you would think the major alternative record company would have better things to do than worry about the shape of our bodies. So, I thought I’d let you know, uh, so… um… next time you go and buy a record, and you think you’re really alternative and groovy, and uh, everybody is in… is into the alternative charts, remember it’s just like the other side except it’s a bit, a bit stranger, you know… but just remember, it’s not uh… there’s no fucking culture there, you know. There’s just as much censorship among people our age, or you know.. than anyone else.”
It figures that he’d continue his work within the video medium with one William Burroughs – the beat influence was all over his work in the most positive way – taking the root cause and making his own mark across a number of disciplines rather than becoming mired in clone bohemian-lite pretension. Still, the nomadic spirit continued and England in 1987, at its yuppie peak must’ve been as repellent as Ronnie’s new world order at the turn of the decade, so he left for Spain, where his life ended twelve years later at his home in Barcelona. The role of Gitane puffing, louche bar philosopher might be a hefty Gallic stereotype (shit, I even assumed the cigarette brand on account of Claude’s nationality) but it’s a beautiful one.
“First we had no intention of sneaking out of the back door like adulterers in the night, we’re not done with the incomprehensible propaganda yet and there was such an overload of information to lay on your frail intellects, such a gorgeous display of terminal confusion and unexplained phenomena to report and inflict on your village sensibilities as well as much local cliquey foulness to deposit on your elegant rug and offend your world-conscious sophistication (we welcome all types – even the proxy thrill seekers who go slumming thru our X-rated binges), there was so much to give and share and communicate (oh what a sense of duty) that even Jah Jah the old tea head himself couldn’t have stopped this cultural apotheosis. A man with a mission delivers the goods, and when many are involved and they all come thru (take a bow boys and girls) watch out, timber, the impact might kill you. Potent stuff everywhere, droogies, a panoramic scope without equal even if it occasionally blurs out, stunning absence of manifestos and editorial unity (meaning respect in the reader and a stand still at the office), obscure beliefs exhumed from the tomb, cover symbolism (Indian land and punk music meet with…) that doubles as a fashion exclusive. No one asked for it but we can’t resist showing off, there was more but you can only take so much of a good thing. And you ought to know when to stop. Like now?” Kickboy Face editorial in ‘Slash’ Vol. 3, No. 5 (The final issue)