Keeping On

By James Kennedy

Failed rock stars have all the best stories... and even better lessons

I know what you're thinking. 'Wow, another music book that opens with a hangover scene. Yawn.' But hear me out, this is not that story. And as far as hangovers go, it was a good one...

With my brain begrudgingly getting its shit together, my first visual clue was the ceiling - just two foot above me and smeared in red clay and boot prints. To my immediate left, the dashboard of our poor, rented Transit van, again entirely smothered in sticky moist clay as if it had been appropriated by a tribe of hairy, grunting pre-historic Neanderthals – which it had. My last memory was of us innocently having a 'few quiet ones'.

Full terrain scan. OK, so I slept in the front again. Gear stick in my back, I am fully clothed (sunglasses and boots still on) and the entire cabin, it seemed, is daubed in wet clay. Still; my stale, airless, cramped boudoir of despair and I have survived each other for another night.

There was no sign of movement from the back, the other animals had yet to rise, so it was time to figure out what the actual fuck was going on and where the actual fuck I was. I'd taken to Gaffer taping used towels and dirty t-shirts over the windows as curtains and now it was time to peel them back and face the fear. Today was going to hurt.

I emerged from my mobile cave, recoiling from the morning sunlight like a withering vampire, to see the entire contents of the van's cabin strewn all over the road; CD's, maps, clothes, technology, rubbish and empty beer cans. Ah, now I remember... France! We're in France! Now, the problem with living out of a van is that you have to do everything together. I couldn't explore the town and leave the other guys without a key, nor could I lock them in. And under NO circumstances could I wake them up! So I waited.

It looks nice here! The sun is shining. It's green and idyllic. Oh and there's the boat we're playing on tonight! As to what happened last night, I'm still drawing a blank. Another one of my increasingly standard black outs, although I have that familiar and uncomfortable feeling that it probably included making a complete wanker of myself and offending half of Lille. Nice people walking their dogs are now crossing the road to avoid the clay covered madman in his rubbish tip playground, but I'm past caring any more. To say this tour has been 'a tough one' would be the piss take of the century. It's been beyond slapstick in its scale of unrelenting, soul shaking injustice. And that manager of ours? I'm going to fucking kill him when I get back. Oh no, that's right; he was going to kill himself...

'I don't need this right now mate ok. I did something stupid and I'm in hospital OK?'

'I know man but we need the money.'

'Don't you hear what I'm saying?! I tried to kill myself! And I don't need this right now, OK!'

I knew he was bullshitting. I felt bad for thinking it but deep down I knew. That bloody American band would be on my arse again in a few hours nagging me for their 'fucking money bro', and they cared even less for our suicidal manager's sob story. I can't wait till it's all over. As soon as I leave the stage tonight, I'm going straight for Calais.

Sucking the warm dregs of someone's bottle of water I found in the van foot well, I hear groaning from the back. Yes, they're up! Bollocks, the moment of truth. The Fear gives me another good, solid yank and I am now bracing myself for yet more stories of my embarrassing drunken puerility. First out of the back – Glyn Bateman on drums.

Glyn was the 'new guy' in the band. Kind, fun, genuine, hilariously gullible, a massive believer in the most outlandish conspiracy theories, 110% enthusiastic about everything all of the time and an absolute animal behind the kit. When Glyn isn't taking pictures of everything, dropping things, banging on tables, ranting about underground tunnels 'where the aliens live', forgetting one of his myriad man bags, downing litres of milkshake or 'spanking skins' (playing drums), he's asleep. And when he sleeps his body is possessed by Demons.

There are people who snore and there is Glyn. The soundly sleeping drummer has no awareness of his person being used as a channel for Satan of an eve, but anyone who has slept in the same building as him (let alone a van) will testify to the torrent of twisted screams, deranged groaning and tormented wailing that comes from the boy as he slumbers peacefully. Frustratingly, this also means that he's way more super-charged than the rest of us every morning, having slept like a little demon baby while the rest of us toss, turn and cry all night. Which is why I now sleep in the front.

This morning, though, I swear he's avoiding my eye, talking under his breath and being evasive. Or maybe I'm being paranoid. I ask a leading question:

'Good night last night eh?'

'Uh yeah, I think. How are you feeling?'

Shit. I knew it.

'You were pretty upset last night, man', says Matt, climbing out of the back of the van and psyching himself up for an Evian shower. You've never had an Evian shower? Oh, it's where you strip down to your pants in a crowded public place and pour freezing cold drinking water over yourself with one hand whilst trying to lather up frantically with the other. It's preferable to showering at many service stations, believe me.

Matt Warr on bass. Where to begin? Not only my best friend and long time accomplice in all things alcoholic and loud; not only the best musician in the band who pulverises stages like Godzilla, but one of the nicest, most loyal, considerate, humble and hilarious people you will ever meet. A deeply devout disciple of the Church of Metallica and a practical prankster of professional calibre, Matt's other Top Trump powers include: a seeming inability to get drunk no matter what the poison; an encyclopaedic knowledge of irritating movie one liners; being the member of the band most popular with the ladies; and a curious ability to make Glyn Bateman believe literally anything he says.

'You were pretty upset last night, man.'

Of course I was pretty upset. I've been pretty upset for years! But last night the final thread of my final thread snapped. I could guess what had happened easy enough. I'd taken my broken heart, my exhausted reserves of morale, patience, hope, faith and attempts at good leadership; all my bottled up years of anger, disappointment, regret, resentment and frustration; I'd taken all of that - and hit the lovely town of Lille like an emotional Molotov Atom Bomb desperate to blow. I had then got colossally, unashamedly, disgustingly, nastily hammered. After getting kicked out of most late night bars, I'd crawled 'home' and done the Transit van equivalent of trashing my hotel room. If Donald Trump were tweeting this, he'd end it with 'SAD'.

These limp, hopeless displays were becoming too frequent now. I tried so hard to keep it all together but the last scraps of my human faculties had all completely burnt out now. I was less than 9 stone in weight, an insomniac, I'd been pissed every night for over a decade, I'd cut off my family, ruined a long term relationship, was being a dick to my band mates and even worse to myself. I was broke, I hated my life and I regretted the day I ever picked up that fucking guitar. I was angry, resentful, bitter, frustrated and saw my entire life as one consistent, failing, pointless, shameful, cringe-able fuck up. This was not the dream I was sold.

And yet only a few days ago I was the frontman of a kick-ass rock'n'roll band, jumping around a big outdoor stage, on a Beach, in the peak of summer, by the sea... in Italy.

I know.

Last night's impotent episode was just another warm up though, a mere rehearsal for the full scale meltdown soon to come. It was a long time coming but when it came, it came complete. The stark, crashing demolition of not only my dreams, but my personal identity, my life's work and my very sense of self and meaning. Everything I'd overcome, everything I'd achieved - disowned and discarded like a used carcass.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

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