Jeff W. Bens
No One's Bothered...
London, June, 2015
We are up front against the red metal barrier that creates a few feet of safety dead space between stage and audience, beneath the security cameras, at the restored grand ballroom Koko Club in London, watching musician Vic Godard, once of the English punk scene, for over thirty years a working English postman, open for The Sleaford Mods. The crowd around us is loose, old fans and some new. We sink into Godard's guitar playing, watch him sing. He is right in front of us. Smiling. Telling stories. Shining.
The crowd, I notice, has grown across his set. To capacity. We are now pressed up against the metal banister in front of the stage surrounded by perhaps 1,267 men, 33 women. Godard says good-night and later we will buy his new compilation from his table in the lobby.
A sing-song groundswell builds: "Sleaford Mods. Sleaford Mods. Sleaford Sleaford Sleaford Mods." I say to M., you okay? She grins. We can't move even if we wanted to. A LARGE shaved head pub-weighted middle aged compatriot puts his wet ham hand onto my back as he, with the force of several tons behind him, presses in.
I first heard the Sleaford Mods on a listening wall at Rough Trade Records in London. For two summers, I was fortunate enough to participate in a Dylan Thomas summer school in Wales, with London on either end. My first Mods song was from the record that began the public noticing, 2013's Austerity Dogs.
The only phone on the road is chlamydia ridden
where the fuckers sell processed peas as weed
it's cold when I look out my window
another local pub burnt down to the ground
I fuckin' hate them Motown nights anyway
it's Jive Bunny meets Lucy fuckin' Pinder... on ice
I got a hoopla and I'm gonna fuckin' swing it at you
An' let's aim bombs at the licensee
let's aim bombs at the licensee...
The voice was enraged. Funny, furious. The beats were thunderous, dumb-smart to my ear.
I got a shaky start to Tuesday
sweat stains on bus windows
I don't wanna ruin my coat but
that's just the way it goes
"Cheer up you fuckin' bastard."
that's all I hear him say
St. George's flag on white van
this is the human race
This is the human race
UKIP and your disgrace
chopped heads on London streets
all you zombies tweet tweet tweet
About his writing, singer Jason Williamson told the Guardian, "It’s about the loneliness of life and the alienation. Concrete is becoming more and more drawn in. There’s not a lot of fresh air so to speak. There’s not a lot of blue skies is there? And the anger is evoked by whatever. Westminster. The bloke next door. The fact you’ve just bought a bag of chips and it’s not very nice. Do you know what I mean?"
Work for Amazon. Work for Apple. For Chase. For Subway. At the front desk of a doctor's office. Full time and we'll let you buy into our healthcare plan. No union. No security. You can't own a shop. There are no more shops. I work on an Apple. I buy from Amazon. I bank at Chase. And each one of these things deadens and burns. The tickets for Koko were thirty bucks. You had to be able to afford 30 bucks to get in there. But the rage is real.
Build a wall. Get a fucking job.
Don't ask me to carry that cage
stay long hours
it don't fit the wage
minimal work it fits the arrangement
well sod extra sweat and out of town placements
and spotlight kids
put the till away
shop got ram raid mate
small talk about nothing at all
while you got a suntan
and I got what?
A piss pot
... the wage don't fit
I didn't buy the record. It was too much hard words, too much hard fury. After three songs in the crowded Rough Trade, I was ready to clock, say, a bearded book editor in denim jeans that he sticks in the freezer, certainly any hedge fund millionaire, as well as, well, anyone who was part of this nameless rage that can be narrowed into class, race, sex. And rightly so. All of them are in there. But it's more.
When I got back to New York City where I live, I bought the record. Then the one before that. Then the one before that. There are no record shops in Manhattan north of 18th street. I bought one on I-Tunes. I hate I-Tunes. I want to start a band, The Upper West Side Mods. Some titles: "CCTV"; "Text Walker!"; "Park Slope Nanny." "Outsourced"; "Trigger Warning!"; "Chokehold."
The Sleaford Mods come onto the Koko stage. Both of them. One microphone. One laptop. One tight golf shirt. One baggy Simpsons t-shirt. Middle aged, like me, like much of the crowd. White, though being white I didn't think of that then. Jason Williamson, HR benefits advisor for Nottingham City Council, hard, muggy, ready to head-butt, clutching a bottle of water, and Andrew Fearn, former gym membership cold caller, skinny, bearded, sweatpants, ready to weed-dance, uncapping a bottle of beer.
"If there's a point to life," existentialist Paul Bowles said in an interview not too long before he passed, "it's to have fun."
Get a job. I've had one since I was 18. The churches won't let the homeless inside, where it's warm and empty, the cities won't house them-- there's no jobs anyway, these people are fucked up, there's few mental health services, the pay in that field blows, who wants to do it? Who can afford to do it? Build a "beautiful" wall, Donald Trump says on TV, let the banks wash the drug money snorted up the noses of those not making minimum wage. And let those who are crank out. Let the police deal with the crime. Condos in the new One57, on Central Park South, which blocks the park-goer's sun, run north of 100 million dollars. The city gave the real estate team a tax break. My taxes went up. Someone with three billion dollars could give one million dollars to one thousand strangers and still have two billion dollars. I think that's right-- the calculator on my Apple dashboard does not go that high. The CEO of Apple made, all in, roughly 100 million in 2014. The Chinese workers who put the products together average 3 bucks an hour. Phil Knight says Americans don't want to make shoes. He flies Andrew Young out from Georgia to prove it. Knight is worth 8 billion. Twenty percent of Georgians live in poverty.
Fearn presses play. Fearn grins, sips his beer, stands behind his computer playing beats once profound and cheesy. Williamson furiously circles the lone mic. He lifts his knit shirt and shows us his pub-gut. He'll bantam cock, chin birding in and out, circling to the beat. His hand will tic frantically around his temple. His veins swell. He belches. He jerks off his water bottle.
When he's ready, the mic something that compels attending, his vocals are remarkably enunciated, a fury of smarts, this is not yob rock, this is not platitude-state-smashing, liberal, leftist, categorizable; the whole thing -- the stupid laptop, the bizarre peacocking, the very absurdity of two middle-aged average looking dudes on stage, one gymed-up, splenetically raging, belching, jerking-off his water bottle, shooting thumbs-ups like a wants-to-be-loved junior high soccer coach, the other like us participating, watching, shaking his head, calling out choice lyrics, a sweetness to them both, and we do love him, them, they are of us, somehow he is speaking the unnamable rage,
[In posh accent, dripping with faux-sir] "So Mr. Williamson, what have you done in order to find gainful employment since your last signing on day?"
Can of Strongbow I'm a mess
desperately clutching onto a leaflet on depression
supplied to me by the NHS
It's anyone's guess how I got here
anyone's guess how I'll go
I suck on a roll-up, pull y'jeans up
Fuck off! I'm goin' home
The audience knows every word. The show is a physical beat. At the end, the bones of my forearms are black from the red metal rail. The bruiser behind me -- a bouncer, a railway man, an elementary school teacher, on the dole -- is their age, my age. To our left, a man in his late sixties, grinning. Between us, a kid, maybe twenty, a young Paul Weller, apologizing to M. when he smashes into her. Everyone that I can see in the crush at some point is screaming. Everyone that I can see at some point smiles.
I can't believe the rich still exist/let alone fuckin' rule the country, mate,
Williamson sings in Black Monday. In In Quiet Streets:
Since 2006 my login has been jasonwantstoknowwhyhecan'tfuckinloginkeith...
Williamson's lyrics are filled with tough laughs. We have to fight to let in love and fun: laughter a purpose of living; there's no point fighting for a humorless humanity. Williamson, yipping like a yappy dog, then, in a sing-song menace,
The corgi-- the Palace gets it right
The corgi-- it's always warm at night
The corgi-- the driveway and the range
I love my bruises. When the show ends, the basher behind me and I clasp hands, slap each other's backs. This is no bro-hug, no sports bar We won wannabe shit. He and I mean it. We can't name it, but we mean it.
Andrew Fearn steps down from the stage, crosses the safety zone -- is he mad?... someone could attack him!... the school kids go through metal detectors; when I went to an office building north of Times Square a thirty-something guard making, what?, ten bucks an hour in a blue blazer she had to pay for (from Wal-Mart? average US worker pay: 8 bucks an hour; CEO pay 36 million in 2014) wanted to take my picture for their computer data base and award me a pass to wear around my neck -- in his baggy clothes, in his ball cap, his laptop in his backpack. Williamson is gone. Fearn is surrounded. He's grinning, smiling, a shy man who finds himself the center of something angry, loving and real. He poses for photos. He gives hugs. He has time for anyone who wants a few minutes with him. This is the love behind the rage, a better fuel, the fuel of their fuel maybe. Let it be mine. Let it be ours. Williamson's songs establish in quick flashes his love for his wife, for his daughter. Hope is found in anger. He is clear in interviews, in The Quietus for instance, that his pissed-offness has no place, at least any longer, for misogyny or bling-life celebration. M. and I are holding hands.
The press release for an upcoming documentary about the Sleaford Mods, Invisible Britain, who have been able after a decade, now in their mid-forties, to quit their day jobs, quotes JG Ballard, "The future is just going to be a vast, conforming suburb of the soul."
This is what Jason Williamson writes and vocalizes about really. Working class rage, kitchen sink realism, that's in there. But he's not really working class and doesn't claim to be, I'm not really working class, working class implies unions and a living wage, strikes. It's all but been drowned. Get. A. Fucking. Job.
At McDonald's. Serving enviro-and-body-poisoning food. For 7 bucks an hour. That you can't live on. The NYC public subway costs 2.50 a ride-- and the cards expire. The Citibikes are brought to you, in bright blue, by Citibank. You can look up their history. Until the click-bait distracts. Schools have thirty-two kids in a bookless classroom. A shot of Vivitrol costs 1000 bucks.
"So Mr. Williamson, what have you done in order to find gainful employment since your last signing on day?"
"Fuck all. I sat around the house wanking... and I wanna know why you don't serve coffee here. My signin' on time's supposed to be ten past eleven -- it's now twelve o'clock -- and some of you strange bastards need executin'."
Sleaford Mods come to the US in early 2016. A book of Williamson's writing, Grammar Wanker, has just been beautifully published by a small English press, Bracketpress.
...you can't expect people to listen to your fucking
mouth just because you don't believe in it
thousands of Saturday lager bellies punching the air
denouncing the value of somebody else's flag
whilst viciously believing in theirs
fucking useless this well-trodden street
vague notions about the so-called elite
and that moulds spit Trent Bridge chaos
it's not really is it?
drones to the delusions of a never-never land
where the cross rings out the orders
don't let the mechanics of beer
trick you into thinking you are some kind of warrior
eating barbwire on the wave of violent disorder
Cage Wheel Hamster
'ere, here's a bit of cheese
-nibble the bastard
On Grammar Wanker's slipcover is the logo of the embattled National Rail. Take the cover off, and on the book cover itself, there's a quick drawing of an ejaculating penis, drawn by Williamson's wife.