They thought the 90’s were their beginning. Now there was no doubt that the 90’s had been their heyday. Would it have been better, after all, to never have had a heyday, than to realise when you’re still in your thirties that your heyday is gone?
The band been together for three years before anything even started to happen, but those three years were the making of them. Pouring heart and soul into songs in front of three people in a dodgy pub who probably didn’t even notice they were there, baring everything they were and dreamed of being through their melodies until they were exhausted and spent, and waiting at the end for applause that never came. Shivering outside clubs waiting to get paid as the exhilarating black of night faded into dull grey of a hungover morning.
Those three years had broken them, and yet been the making of them. Were they optimistic? He didn’t remember feeling optimistic, only desperate, but he must have had some hope to keep going. The last year of their birth, as he thought of it, was different. It was the time that everything went to shit. Arrears built up and he got evicted. His mother had disowned him but because he had a financially solvent mother the dole office wouldn’t give him any help. The very occasional fifty pounds he’d get from a gig would be all he had to feed himself for weeks sometimes. He slept and showered in bus and train stations, alternating them so he never got noticed and got moved on. He pretended to have an awesome place out of town, and lived in mortal fear of the mortification that would engulf him if anybody ever found out the truth. Funny to think that now, when he finally had more money than he knew what to do with, his former homelessness was something that inspired envy amongst the trust-fund set. It lent him an edge. They were jealous of his “real world experience.” No one who had any idea what it’s like to have nowhere to rest and to have to spend months surviving on cream crackers, like he had, would be jealous. The only reason he had survived that time was that he still had his guitar. He started busking, largely because it gave him somewhere to be during the day time, and he kept up the gigs, and he felt himself getting better, his lyrics tighter, his melodies more honest, his voice richer. His life had outwardly gone to pieces but somehow he knew that they were on their way up, and he woke energised every day, no matter how bad his accommodation the night before had been. They started playing in the better pubs, places they wouldn’t get beaten up outside, places that paid them as promised. They started to notice businessmen at their gigs, men who sat alone or in twos off to the side, quiet and serious, suits out of place in rocker pubs, and dollar signs in their eyes. Then the suits started coming to talk to them. Hands were shaken, empty promises made. Possibilities opened and closed, but the band played on.
It had taken years of hard graft to get them ready, but the change happened overnight. A man with a forgettable grey suit, forgettable grey hair and a forgettable grey personality came to talk to them and his promises came true. Suddenly they were signed, and the rush began. They were pulled out of their hand-to-mouth struggle and pushed into a luxurious, hedonistic bubble where all their needs were taken care of. The first album was exhilarating. The whole band was uprooted and put into a flat in Dublin less than a week after being signed, thrown into a studio and told to record. They recorded all day and wrote all night, not sleeping because the adrenaline pumping through their veins wouldn’t let them, still not believing that tomorrow someone wouldn’t turn around to tell them that there had been some terrible mistake and they had to get out of the studio and go home now. They frantically recorded and wrote and recorded all they could, so caught up in the creative process that they barely noticed the machinery of the record company’s production and marketing cogs grinding into action around them. The interviews and photoshoots were novelties, and fun in themselves in the days before they realised how much a stupid remark would cost them. But really they were just chores that had to be done as quickly as possible so they could rush back to the studio. Their debut album’s commercial success took everyone by surprise, especially them.
Looking back, if they’d known that the album would become as widely known as it came to be, they would have put a lot more thought into the naming of it. Something erudite, and mysterious, or even just an eponymous debut. Many of the best bands of the 90’s had eponymous debuts, and Role Reversal wouldn’t have been a bad album title. But the name they chose in a drunken, stoned-out stupor was the one that had stuck, and Never Mind the Sex Pistols, We’re the Bollocks marked the birth of their career and the death of their life in reality, and that was how they had lived for the last fifteen years. No wonder the critics said their songs were no longer relevant.