Memory Songs #5 “The Drowners” by Suede

drowners

It is May 15th 1991.

I am 17 years old…two months shy of my eighteenth birthday.

The only thing that really matters in my life is Morrissey.

I have a loving family, a faith, friends and, astonishingly, a girlfriend but none of that matters in the way that Morrissey matters.

I had been sixteen, clumsy and shy when I first discovered him and The Smiths but now it is two years later and everything has changed.  I am clumsier and even more shy.  I don’t really care though because I have Morrissey.  Not only do I have Morrissey but I have become Morrissey…the quiff, the clobber, the character; I am a walking, talking, nearly living replica of this charming man.

I have driven to Dundee from Kirkcaldy with my friend Colin.

Colin is the same age as me, he is also a bit clumsy and a bit shy…he also has a girlfriend called Mhairi.  I don’t mean that both of our girlfriends are called Mhairi, I mean that he, like me, has a girlfriend and that she is called Mhairi.  My girlfriend is called Zara.

I don’t care if you don’t believe me.

We have come here to worship and adore the Pope of Mope.

I am wearing a “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” t-shirt which my mother isn’t happy about because she thinks that Viv Nicholson looks disconcertingly like Moors Murderer Myra Hindley.

It is many hours before the doors are due to open but there are hundreds of similarly attired boys and girls milling around the streets of Dundee city centre.  Goodness only knows what the locals think of us all.

It is spring which, in Scotland, means the temperature has risen above freezing but is still cold enough to bring about a moderate case of hypothermia so Colin and I have taken refuge in the local McDonalds.  Not to eat anything of course because, like, meat IS murder yeah?  We just want to get warm.  Sure we may both munch on a cheeseburger or two while we are waiting but neither of us is enjoying it.

At the table next to us sit a boy and a girl.

I wish I had thought of that.

Actually bringing my girlfriend with me so that there would be witnesses to her existence.

Colin looks at me and I can tell he is thinking the same thing.

Too late now.

We get talking to this one step ahead of us boy and his girlfriend.  He is called Dave but everyone calls him Stan.  She is called Heather and everyone calls her Heather.  Stan is, just like Colin and I, a hopelessly devoted Morrissey obsessive.  He has travelled from East Grinstead in the South East of England to be here.  That piques my interest for two reasons; firstly because it elevates Stan into the arena of superfan and secondly because East Grinstead is home to the nominal headquarters of the Mormon Church in Britain.  Interestingly it is also the headquarters of the Scientologist movement in the UK.  I’ve been to East Grinstead and this creates a sort of link between Stan and I.  Within one or two more cheeseburgers we are all great friends.

A year later Stan and Heather are back in Scotland.

Maybe Morrissey is playing again?

I don’t remember.

What I remember is that Heather is spending a lot of time talking about a band who are not The Smiths and who do not feature Morrissey.

This is unusual.

She is filled with a sort of passion and fervour that suggests either madness or the genius of discovering something wonderful before anyone else.

Heather was, I think it is fair to say, an exotic presence in my life.

First of all she was American.

Secondly, she was very definitely possessed of goth leanings.

Thirdly, she is a little older than the rest of us…by how much I am unsure.

After she splits up with Stan he confides in me that she has, how to put this, “particular” interests in the bedroom.  He tries to explain but I think he can tell I’m uncomfortable and so he changes the subject to something a little less risque.  Here we are over a quarter of a century later though and I’m still thinking about whatever it was he was trying to explain to me.

Funny business sex.

I digress.

The band who have aroused Heather so are Suede.

Heather has a bootleg of a concert they have played somewhere in London and we all listen to it.

It is a very poor quality recording but what is undeniable is that this is a band I could love.

This could be MY band.

I was still wearing a navy blue double-breasted blazer, cream chinos and singing along to “Whenever You Need Somebody” in front of my bedroom mirror when The Smiths were a going concern…I had stumbled upon them after the fact.  They didn’t really belong to me.  I had got on just as the elevator reached the top floor…and almost immediately the cable had snapped.

But nobody knew who, or what, Suede were.

I was in at the beginning.

This was my chance to be one of those kids who makes snotty comments about other people’s taste in music and then drops in the name of a band nobody else knows about in order to ensure everyone knows how achingly cool they are.

I could be, at long last, that pretentious, insufferable arsehole.

Those hopes and dreams lasted about 36 hours at which point the Melody Maker popped them on the front cover despite their never having released a single note of recorded music and I was now just another Johnny come lately to the Suede party.

Bollocks.

When “The Drowners” was released I already knew all the words off by heart thanks to Heather’s bootleg concert tape.  I knew how good it was going to be.  What I couldn’t have known was how much better than that it actually was.

“The Drowners” was, I think it is fair to say, perfect.

It changed everything in popular culture.

The dreadful hair and even worse clothes of grunge were vanquished and, in their place, were delivered charity shop chic, an acknowledgement that Bowie was the source and the restoration of melody, sex and danger into popular music.

A finer debut release, a more complete calling card, it would be difficult to imagine.  To this day it sounds as fresh, as thrilling and as alien as it did in May 1992.  Few bands manage to capture their essence as brilliantly on their first release as this…I’m fairly confident that it may never have happened quite so brilliantly before, or indeed since.

 

One thought on “Memory Songs #5 “The Drowners” by Suede

  1. A superb write up of a very special (and great time) to be a young music fan!
    Sadly, nothing seems to be as precious in the post-internet age.
    I remember that Melody Maker cover well and the NME body paint cover.
    I don’t think we will see such times again.

    Like

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