Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Everett True speaks...

This man is one of my heroes and I was lucky enough to meet him. I'm pretty sure I messed it up though- I was nervous and very self-conscious, although he was very patient.

It took a long time to write up the following article, I kept thinking of what he would think if/when he read it.
I was worried about making it seem to similar to his own writing- what I definitely didn't want was to become a second-rate tribute to him, so instead this original article was stilted and with a lot more dialogue. Even at the best of times, I'm bad at expressing myself and how I feel about things. I'm even worse when I know someone I respect will judge it, and I managed to do what i had try and avoided which was to upset him in some way.

How it appears below is not how I first wrote it - the version which True read. It's a shame, as this copy below is probably most like how I wanted it to sound.

“IN INTERVIEWS you try and make people feel special. It’s a bit like flirting. You pay attention to them. You hold eye contact. You smile. And you’re like ‘Yeah you’re all right. You’re kind of interesting.’ And that kind of makes the other person feel all right.”

Everett True is sitting across from me and I’m literally lost for words. It is a funny feeling being told to flirt more by someone you’ve never met before, especially when that person is old enough to be my father. Music journalist, performer, ex-alcoholic, radio DJ, former editor of cult music magazine Careless Talk Costs Lives, the list of True’s achievements is endless, and here he is, next to me, handing out interview tips. It seems unreal.

“My only advice is to not care what other people say. When I started writing for NME I was a complete social retard. I was completely shy and couldn’t speak or relate to anyone, I was still a virgin at the age of 23.

“I can remember talking to David Stubbs [a former colleague], when I joined Melody Maker, and I was asking him what I should do about my insecurities. He said ‘you should just drink’ and it was like this massive awakening. I then noticed – you start drinking and everyone is bragging about how out of it they all are and how wasted they are. And then you meet these bands and they are bragging how rock and roll they are and I was like, ‘well, that doesn’t seem too hard’ so that’s what I did for seven years. Get fucked up.”

THROUGHOUT this monologue I am quiet, smiling nervously and nodding just a little too much. Giggling for no apparent reason, I can’t help it – True is a legend of mine. It was his name that first drew me to him- it seemed to speak volumes about the writer it portrayed. In my fifteen-year old mind the only people called Everett were rock stars. Or those who wrote about them. How right I was. Much has been made of his time with Nirvana, rumours still rumble about his, supposed, sexual dalliances with Courtney Love. Did he or didn’t he? Does it really matter? The fact is the rumour is there, only adds to his street-cred. Right?

I ‘discovered’ True the way you find out about anyone you love, by accident. I brought a copy of ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ – issue 11, if memory serves me well. Little did I realise then how important that magazine would become – how it would talk about the bands that, at the time, only I thought I’d heard of. How it was trying to change the music industry from the inside out, one issue at a time, starting at number 12. How this would fail, instead becoming an uphill struggle battled out through every beautifully crafted article and every carefully drawn illustration – the thick, rich paper binding my formative teenage years with a love for music. And, most importantly of all, how the magazine was thought of and created by True. Who else indeed.

It was his writing – bright, fluid pictures painted of bands and their members; how their music came alive with a few simple adjectives and an anecdote (the story of a time and a place that non of us, his readers, have ever experienced but yet share intimately with him) – it was his writing that made life seem more vivid. Real, even. And – for a brief second, a little less chaotic. His passion for music compelled him to write. A need to express his views on yet another pop group- except this one is different. It has girls in it. Or more notably one, and she has been in the charts (for a change). She’s pretty, and has a voice like nobody else…

“I INTERVIEWED Kate [Nash] and she had no idea who I was. Towards the end of the interview we were talking about weird live shows and I was saying how I once, before I did a gig, I stood next to Naomi Campbell in the VIP area, waiting to go on stage with Nirvana. At that point she did a double take because until then she had been like ‘your just some journalist’ and then she was like ‘You knew Nirvana!’ and she made damn sure she knew my name after that.”

It would be naïve to deny the fact that for many, True’s friendship with Nirvana is the reason for his notoriety, yet for me at least, I was oblivious to this fact until a year ago. The story goes a little like this: True was sent out to America by Melody Maker to cover the exploding grunge scene in Seattle. He became friends with the band, then, years later wrote a book,‘ Live Through This’ about what went on during these times.

Somehow I had managed to skip these constant Kurt references, the hints of this forthcoming ‘definitive’ biography on the band and its subsequent plugging, flagrantly advertised and alluded to at every opportune moment throughout the pages of Plan B. I only realised all of this after falling onto his Myspace, and reading the hundreds of comments littered across it from fans declaring him as their hero, simply because of his association with Kurt.

“I miss the fame sometimes if I’m honest. Although I suppose you can miss something without having it. When you meet up with people, especially as you grow older and your circle of friends widens the first conversation gap is filled by people you’ve got in common. Now, when a lot of people speak to me for the first time then they are going to touch on people that they know I will have heard of, such as Kurt - it’s a conversational gambit. I don’t necessarily like this though as you kind of feel like you’ve been relegated to a footnote of history and that people don’t want to speak to you because of who you are, but more because of someone they will have heard of.”

When he talks True strokes his beard and fails to catch my eye. His answers are smooth and well rehearsed. It is not the first time he’s spoken about his life, his story is well known. His writing is littered with anecdotes about himself and people he has hung out with. Countless websites are dedicated to him, not only because of Nirvana, but also in tribute to his work. They all describe how True became friends with Alan McGee, the head of Creation Records, after speaking to him at a Laughing Apple gig in 1982 (at the time, McGee was the lead singer of the band) and how True then started compering at clubs in London, under the name The Legend!, the same pseudonym he used for his articles in NME.

“I was the anti-legend, that’s how I got my name,” he explains. “But then I quickly discovered that if you got on stage and if you acted really arrogant and acted all funny – it’s a bit like being at school when the only way you can stop from being bullied is by being foolish the whole time and by making every one laugh, then, you can’t get out of it. My names used to have individual personalities, but they all pretty much amount to the same thing now. The Legend! was very naïve, or at least I always thought he was. He always had a heartfelt, unable-to-communicate side of him that was underneath his arrogant side.

I had to change my name when I stopped writing for NME but I found that I wanted to keep The Legend! for my live performances. Recently though, I’ve started using Everett True for performances so that people would know who I am. It’s a bit pointless otherwise.”

THE MAN sitting opposite me looks like the opposite of a legend. An old man in a beige fleece. A shock of grey hair, a grey beard, bushy grey eyebrows above horn-rimmed glasses (or am I making that up? I can’t remember). Nothing to distinguish him and the other grey haired men living in Brighton. But appearances are deceiving. When True speaks another world comes alive. Bands are name-dropped left right and centre, mental double takes are frequent and soon become ignored. I’ve heard most of these stories before, I do read his articles after all, but it’s still good to hear them spoken in person. In the flesh as it were. He becomes animated and his eyes shine, and the world around me becomes brighter than Technicolor.

We speak for hours. Literally. He cooks me lunch and then we speak some more. I’m still nervous, but less so. I’ve noticed my name on the fridge written out in magnetic poetry. I ask, and he says it’s for me. Only much later, do I realise that it may not be so. His wife is called Charlotte after all. It’s easy to get swept up in his nonchalant arrogance, the casual way he will pick up a subject and then drop it when he becomes bored. When True dismisses his whole career with a simple wave of his hand, it takes a few seconds for what he says to sink in.

“I’m not a happy person – if I was I wouldn’t be Everett True. I’m a failure. I don’t make a living from my job. 10-15 years ago, hundreds and thousands of people would read me every week and now they don’t. I guess strictly speaking that shouldn’t matter but it does.

“I know I’ve been instrumental in the change of several large musical movements but I still think I should have changed things more. I don’t feel I should have grasped all the opportunities I could have grasped. You don’t always recognise them and I don’t think I did that. I’ve always been very insecure - someone always has a better time than me but I thought ‘fuck that’ when I started writing for the NME. I thought, ‘I’m going to make every one jealous of me through my writing and if I have to exaggerate or lie then so be it.’ I didn’t see it like that at the time: I saw it as making my stories interesting.”

Sitting in his Brighton home, childrens’ toys littered around the room, it is hard to know if this is the real side of True talking or simply an extension of one of his personalities. Later he will tell me it was the truth – but who am I to tell. I’m just another fan after all. But, in a way it doesn’t matter. Who cares if it’s the ‘real’ Jerry Thackray talking or just one of his personalities? As long as there is still music, True will be there putting into words what musicians can only make you feel, in an attempt to make sense of his life and ours.