"WHAT ARE GROUPS SUPPOSED TO BEHAVE LIKE? WHAT ARE WE supposed to be telling you? We're not confused about it. We're totally aware of where we're at. 'Course we're pleased about it y'know. 'Course we're excited about it. We put a record out in April and we were nowhere. Now we're playing to 7,000 people. It's not astonishing tho'. Not at all. If anything, it's righteous. We don't get any satisfaction out of proving we were right. We've always known we were right. We always knew we were special.
"The bubble is bound to burst tho' innit? It's not gonna last is it? Name me one band that's lasted. The Rolling Stones? Pile of shit, man! That's not lasting is it? That's hanging on, man. They should put it out of its misery. Give it all away. Get real, man. We don't want to make idiots of ourselves like that. The danger is not knowing when you do, innit? Maybe people make idiots of themselves and think they can redeem themselves with their next move. But they never do. Do they?
"Basically, if we come out of this with no self-respect, then we've failed, man. It wouldn't mean anything. Nothing. Whatever we did on the way, if we don't have our self-respect, then we've got nothing."
IN a Muswell Hill hotel lounge at midnight on a Friday, The Stone Roses are proving to be the dull boys made good that some of us imagined them to be. For three haggard hours, singer Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire stumble around on the verge of a collective thought. Every 20 minutes, I tell them I want to go home. They insist that I stay.
"The only reason we agreed to do this interview is that our press officer told us that you were a strange bloke and that you'd make things difficult for us. This is far more interesting than an easy ride. We don't want to walk away and go and sit in our rooms. Don't go home. Let's carry on. F*** that works shit off man! We're clocking in and clocking out here. Get the beers in, man. Let's talk about your life."
When The Stone Roses delivered their debut LP at the end of April, all hell was let loose. Hyperbole went dizzy. A small handful of half-decent tunes, a few naggingly insistent jangly guitar lines and the critics fell over each other in the rush to hail it as one of the most significant debut albums of the decade. To the unconvinced, it sounded, for the most part, like all the worst elements of Eighties independent rock rolled into some kind of shapely ball. A rather witless and unworldly artifice.
We could probably leave it there and catch the bus home in tome for the late Friday movie if The Stone Roses had only done the things that were expected of them. Driven to the top of the indie heap. Starred on "Snub TV". Became a Peel darling. Messed up a few music paper covers. That sort of thing.
Over the last six months, they have achieved rather more than that. The album has done what the music trade would call very serious business. Without the more established hype, The Stone Roses have built up an astonishing youth support, magnetizing the disaffected rock audience and the dance crowd. Their latest single has just crashed into the upper reaches of the chart. Two weeks back, they played to 7,000 people at London's Alexandra Palace, their biggest show to date. They have become a bona fide phenomenon. The hippest ticket in town.
Even more surprisingly, they have graduated without the support of a major label while maintaining an attitude of sullen detachment. They have become the first white independent guitar group since The Smiths to break right through to the big league. Where The Smiths seemed to stealthily sneak through the net curtains, The Stone Roses have simply booted their way through the door.
THE two glowering boys sharing my microphone on a Friday night hardly look like the door-kicking kind. Nor do they look like a part of any spanking new youth pop phenomenon. They just look like a couple of scruffy, uptight lads struggling with the notion that there is anything more to all this than selling a few songs, swilling a few pints, pulling a few girls, pulling a few faces, shaking hands with Jimmy Savile and walking straight ahead until something happens. If, like me, you find their records uncaptivating, you should spend three hours filling in their formidable silences sometime.
You look so f***ing bored.
"Well, we wouldn't be doing it if we were bored, would we?"
Can't you get excited about anything?
"Sex… being alive… being conscious…"
Oh very risky.
"We could have come along with prepared statements and snappy quotes. That would be false though and that's what we don't want to be. It's important to be sincere. Everything you do should come from your 'eart. We don't want to lie to ourselves."
You make it all sound so cheerless, so difficult.
"Well, we're not trying to make it difficult. We just haven't got the thread of anything. We don't really understand the reputation we've got for being difficult. We'll talk to anybody. You want us to revel in it for 'alf an 'our."
You might show off a little. It might get interesting.
"Maybe, at the end of the day, it is about showing off. There's a vanity in it, yeah. But you can't put a percentage on how much is showing off. Most bands would sit here and say, 'Our record's about this and that, we're up to this and that', ranting on for 20 minutes. Who's interested?
"We're not worried about coming over as pretentious or anything. We're not arsed what we come over like. So f***ing what? The only pressure we're under is the pressure we exert on ourselves. We've got our own standards to keep. The pressure is to make every record as good as the last one. To continually improve and to stop when we don't. To have the bottle to stop when we realise we've lost it. Not to end up pimping ourselves. That's really important. It 'appens to people without them realising it. That's why you have to stay conscious. You have to be conscious in your mind. Don't ride it, push it. Don't cater to an audience."
BACK in 1985, I would, from time to time, find myself pestered by a genial pop publicist from Manchester who would want to know if I had played The Stone Roses demo yet. Eventually the tape found its way onto the deck and I found myself wondering why any group would want to inflict such a grotesque goth-rock travesty on the world. The tapes kept coming and the noise gradually evolved, but The Stone Roses still sounded as unworthy as any other foolishly hopeful contender. Even by the time of their third Peter Hook-produced single, "Elephant Stone", at the start of 1988, The Stone Roses' case looked hopeless.
Somewhere between the summer of '88 and the beginning of 1989, The Stone Roses appeared to have magically evolved from a group that didn't have a clue to a group that didn't give a f***.
"I'm 'aving that one," Brown agrees. "But the bit about not giving a f*** is not strictly right. We just don't see the point in worrying about where we're going. Why bother? If it ends tomorrow, that's the way it's gonna be. Why gripe about it? Get on with something else. That's just realistic. Look, everyone burns out. We might wake up and decide to do something else."
"Pig farming is not on the agenda."
HOW have The Stone Roses earned their 15 minutes of applause? One per cent inspiration, 99 per cent determination?
"Oh bollocks!" Squire explodes. "The only reason it came on in a rush is that someone gave us the money to make a record. The thing about fame… it depends how much you want to rely on it. How much you're prepared to let yourself go. Whether you're prepared to put yourself in someone else's hands. Whatever it is, you're asking for it. It's gonna happen to you innit? You're going to lose your sense of reality. You can forget who you are. You have to be careful."
"So far for me nothing has changed," Brown adds. "This space here is the same. It hasn't made us feel any different. It hasn't boosted our egos. It hasn't made us any more special than when we were at 14. I know a lot more now. But I'd have learned things anyway as I went through life. That's a good thing. Hopefully, if we haven't been taken in by the bullshit now, we won't be taken in by it in five years' time."
Are you going to make idiots of yourselves?
"Well, it's a danger, innit? You 'ave to know when to stop. Bands go on and on cos they need the attention. That's why I know I can stop and go back to where I came from. I've realised that I don't need it. I don't need it to exist. I don't need it to continue what I'm doing. When you're nowhere and no one is coming to see your group, you need the attention right? When you get it, you realise you don't actually need it. It's like everything innit? When you haven't got it, you need it. When you get it, you don't want it. Seems to be the case so far. You just 'ave to hold on to your integrity…"
The three rules of pop stardom: you go mad, you find God, you go bad.
"Yeah, I'm 'aving that one," Brown agrees, "that's what happens. Has anyone ever combined all three? What if you're mad to start with? Does that help?"
"They all make idiots of themselves in the end," Squire adds. "Or they die. Name me one person who's kept his integrity."
Mark E Smith?
"Nah, no way," says Brown. "I 'eard he won't got to Japan cos 'is dad's mates were killed in the war. That's narrow-minded bullshit! That's racist. To dismiss a race of people on account of what happened 50 years ago is stupid. How can you respect that kind of attitude? There's no integrity in that."
So how are Stone Roses going to make a difference?
"How does anyone make a difference? You go on 'Top Of The Pops' and it's all the f***ing same innit?"
Take Marc Bolan on "Lift Off" quoting TS Eliot…
"Oh f*** off!" Brown laughs. "Marc Bolan? 'E wore ostrich feathers around his f***in' neck! He was a goon! I wouldn't reckon him in the same breath as TS Elliot man."
Presumably, you won't be acting like Leslie Crowther in six months' time?
"Don't intend to, no. We might go even more against the grain though, if we went on as four Leslie Crowthers, shiny suits and Grecian 2000. That would be a bit different.
"But we don't wanna make anything difficult for ourselves do we? At the same time, we've never done anything that's been necessary to 'elp the group. We've only done things if we've wanted to do them. I don't know if you can see if something is necessary to 'elp you up the ladder. You never know where something is coming from. So, from the very start, you do your own thing. You do that even before you join a group. We've refused things all the way down the line mate."
Earning yourself a difficult reputation?
"Yeah, but it's not being difficult," says Squire. "It's just that we've always been able to say no. It's just that we're particular. We've always been particular about what we did. We've had two managers since we started. Both of them have 'ave accused us of being self-destructive for turning things down. Things that they saw as golden opportunities. We've seen that it works and we're gonna stick to it, see. If it doesn't feel right, then we're not gonna wear it. Like the Stones thing. People told us that was a golden opportunity, but we don't hold them in that esteem."
"It was no big deal," Brown shrugs. "That was a nothing deal. That was a f***in' insult man. A f***in' bore.
"Look, we're not interested in perpetuating any rock or pop myth. Can't understand it. Can't relate to it. It's f***in' absurd to us. The idea of being a pop star. 'Aving a hit single makes us 'appy, sure it does. Going straight in the chart like that. Can't ask for much more. But we don't even think about that pop star thing. Most people grow up and fall in love with pop stars, but all their records and think, 'I wanna be like that'. Never 'ad that. I saw Gary Glitter when I was a kid. What did that do for me? F***in' nothing. We 'aven't had to deal with too much so far. We 'aven't lost our nerve yet. When things happen, we'll deal with them."
Shaking hands with Jimmy Savile?
"I wouldn't shake 'ands with him. I know a girl who's a researcher with Jimmy Savile. He was chasing 'er round the office saying, 'Come 'ere, I've got the body of a 35-year-old man!' I wouldn't shake his 'and."
"Basically," says Squire, "I think most people think that pop stars are pricks and I think they're right. Most groups think pop stars are pricks."
AT the Alexandra Palace "happening" two weeks back, I wandered into a conversation with a small gang of Manchester lads who had hitchhiked down for the night. I asked all of them what they saw in this group. The response was unanimous.
"It's the attitude, innit? More than the music. The attitude is right."
My efforts to find out what this attitude actually is drew a blank. Perhaps blank is the operative word. Perhaps The Stone Roses are a fitting conclusion to the entropic Eighties. Offish and jaundiced, they seem to stand apart from the rock-pop hubbub, as though mocking its cool uselessness. Yet for all their "vibe", are The Stone Roses any different? What does their brassy arrogance actually amount to? Isn't their sudden success easy to pass off as an excuse to rave up the dying months of an uneventful decade of music, a decade without serious insurrection, almost entirely devoid of subversive personalities? Are they merely a handy blank screen on which disaffected hordes can scrawl and doodle their own illusions?
There must be some legitimate reasons why such a mediocre group have been welcomed as this year's sole recruits to what my colleague Reynolds rather dubiously calls the "resurrection insurrection". When watching them crawl through the motions at the Alexandra Palace fiasco, it struck me that it could have been any number of late Eighties guitar bands up there, offering dumb, sappy nihilism as an excuse for something genuinely enervating.
The music, of course, was merely incidental. It was the being there that really mattered. How else could you explain the hundreds of paying punters who sat in the hall adjoining the gig, skinning up, neatly summarising the evening's sense of bored languor? At the gig itself, it was much the same story. The lost tribes of the Eighties huddled under one roof, desperate to be part of something, however spurious it might be. Having been too wet behind the ears to catch the point of punk rock (re-invent yourself, piss your parents off, celebrate yourself), they might just be excused for not guessing that this dingy show belonged firmly in 1975. Never mind the flares. The Stone Roses at the Ally Pally symbolized everything sluggish, stagnant, worn-out and obsolete. Everything, in fact, we were supposed to leave behind in 1979.
In many ways, the Roses epitomise the late Eighties rock malaise. They try to do everything and achieve next to nothing. Their obstinate noise attempts to blue the boundaries between rock and dance. Hardly original, right? But that's not the problem. Or it would not be such a problem if The Stone Roses were not so pitifully inarticulate. When Brown and Squire sit before me and promise that "Fools Gold" points the way forward for them musically, I have no alternative but to laugh contemptuously in their smugly bored faces.
When we come to understand this decade five years from now, The Stone Roses will be seen to have been of no significance whatsoever. At most, they will serve as a footnote, a reminder of how dire it got. Their success will seem as mysterious then as it is now. We will struggle to remember anything they said or anything they did. We might decide that Eighties rock ended with Big Black's "Songs About F***ing" or Lou Reed's "New York" or even Cowboy Junkies' "The Trinity Session". Wherever we choose to disconnect, The Stone Roses rightly will be judged as an unnecessary addendum. The Ally Pally "happening" will be seen as the Eighties' wake. Nobody will claim to have been there.
THIS version of the interview flatters Brown and Squire considerably, of course. Scraps of conversation have to be gathered up and strung together to form any coherent train of thought. It is fair to say that they are not a pair. Until I met them, I assumed that their evasiveness was the result of self-consciously working at a "difficult" stance. Or an over-exposure to Dylan's interview technique in "Don't Look Back", not realising that they didn't have the wit to carry off an imitation. The truth is more than that. In person, they merely reflect the anonymity of their music. After five minutes, you want to reach across the table and slap their vacant heads together. I tell them that they are the most uninspired group I've met in seven years of interviewing. They shrug and tell me that I'm patronising them. Eventually, they decide that I'm like a policeman, trying to force a confession out of them.
From time to time, when I switch off the tape and tell them I'm going home to watch the late film, they start to panic. Obviously, despite the façade of defiance, they care very much for some more good press.
"The best time to dream is when you're asleep innit? Day-dreaming gets you through school, dunnit? Chalk duster against your 'ead and all that. Sitting around in physics lessons, perfecting the art of looking as though you're paying attention when you're miles away…"
"The most difficult question we've been asked so far was in an interview we did with 'Popshop'. They asked us if we preferred organic vegetables to non-organic ones. We told 'em we wouldn't know the f***ing difference. You 'ave to take the piss. 'Course."
"The song 'Fools Gold' is about greed. Have you seen 'Treasure Of The Sierra Madre' with Humphrey Bogart? Three geezers who are skint and they put their money together to get equipment to go looking for gold. Then they all betray each other. They all end up dead, don't they? That's what the song is about. It's dead right man. But that song is history for us now."
"What are we gonna do with the money? We'll worry about that when we get it mate. Self-respect is more important than money. It's better to end up poor and happy than finish up as a rich idiot innit?
"There are no role models. You can't 'ave role models. Not in this life. You've got to live it for yourself. You can't try to be like someone else whose circumstances and situation are completely removed from your own. Having role models is dangerous. People want to believe them, don't they? That's the way of the human race innit? It's the weakness. People wanna follow other people's examples. Then they're let down and their world falls apart. You've just got to do what you think is right.
"Would we rather be considered arseholes or role models? That's a thin line, innit? As long as you remember you're an arsehole, you're safe aren't you? We're all arseholes."
"Some people say that we're a lads band. Some say we're a 16-year-old girl's band. They say a lot, don't they. But they say f*** all. We don't go to pubs. We don't even drink beer…."
"Being in a band is not like people think. I 'ad more girls before I was in a group. It's a myth, innit?"
"I wouldn't knock people in pop groups who end up finding God. Perhaps they're lost and they need something to hold 'em there man."
"Are style and commitment inseparable? Dunno. You're talkin' in riddles mate."
"The music press don't get us right but who can? We're fighting against artificial situations every time. You say that the press has adopted us like a pet and they'll throw us out when they're done with us. Whatever attention we're getting, we deserve it. We probably didn't warrant attention for the first three years. Maybe we thought we'd never get anywhere. Now we want to be the best at everything. To be all things to all people at all times. Aim for the stars and you're gonna hit the ceiling. Never put up with second best. Nothing less than the best. If you don't like where you are, try to get out."
"I think we can cut it live and cut it on record. We can do a lot better than we've done. That's why we're still doing it. Playing live is not a bigger challenge than making a record. You don't need people in front of you to do what you need to do. The two things are separate. At a show, you need to sustain an atmosphere if there's one there before you go on stage. You have to create one if there's nothing there. We're excited playing live. But it's irrelevant to The Stone Roses. We can get excited by just being. We don't have to play to a lot of people to get excited."
"Three years ago, we were nowhere. But it didn't feel like that at the time. You feel you're going somewhere and you stick to it. You believe in yourself and your own ability. You believe in the rest of the group. We've never been satisfied. We feel everything could be improved. Even the album. If we'd had more experience, the first LP would sound more like 'Fools Gold' than it does. Cos we see all those songs as being dance tracks. When we play them live, everyone is dancing to them. Not just bobbing up and down. Proper dancing. The production of the LP isn't really where we are at. But the songs are strong so they come through."
"We're not really aware of our audience. It would be pretty easy for us to do more pop songs like 'She Bangs The Drums'. It would be easy to milk that road. It's just not interesting for us."
"We're not arrogant. We believe in ourselves. If you can do it, then you go ahead and do it. That's nothing to do with arrogance. It's more important to us to be sincere. Everything you do should come from your 'eart. We don't want to lie to ourselves. Therefore, we're not going to lie to anyone else."
"This whole Manchester thing… Happy Mondays and us. It's patronising to both groups innit? We don't give a f***, but we do give a f***. Maybe they feel the same way about different things.
"Basically, for us, chance comes out of boredom."
IN a year's time, The Stone Roses will be forgotten. They will be buried in a pauper's grave along with The Sugarcubes, The Wonder Stuff, Pop Will Eat Itself, The Primitives, Transvision Vamp and all the other time-wasters of the age. Kevin Rowland had the right idea in 1980: "For God's sake burn it down… shut your f***ing mouth till you know the truth."
Too many big foolish newspaper words have been wasted on The Stone Roses already. But here's a few more to be going on with. Disingenuous. Unimaginative. Retrogressive. Barbarous. Anaemic. Rheumatic. Incontinent. Castrated.
In years to come, it will be revealed that The Stone Roses were The Mighty Lemon Drops after a bad drug experience.
Is there anything worse than a sincere rock group?
Flares are actually back. You were warned.
Warhol once said that the Sixties were clutter and the Seventies were empty. He died just in time.
All that quivers is not bold.
I asked The Stone Roses guitarist about art and he replied, "I trained in me bedroom."
That's about the size of it.
Manchester, still so much to answer for.
"It ain't where you come from, it's where you're at, right!"
Far out. Outasite. Right on.
Welcome to the Nineties.
Back To Media 1989
Back To Media 1989