Silencio, Paris, 22 February 2012
‘Rita! Rita, wake up.’
‘No, no …’
‘It’s OK, it’s OK.’
‘No, it’s not OK.’
‘Go with me somewhere.’
‘It’s 2 o’clock. It’s 2 o’clock in the morning.’
‘Go with me somewhere.’
— Mulholland Drive
I sit with my companion in Le Café Noir on the Rue de Montmartre, sipping continental lager and discussing the finer points of Being and Nothingness. It’s a tiny, shabby bar preserved from a bygone era — a better, more louche era, back when things like smoking bans did not exist — and the perfect location for this late afternoon Gallic rendez-vous. The walls are lined with mirrors that stretch to the ceiling, overhung with framed slogans and pictures. We’ve taken a table in front of a portrait of one of my idols, Serge Gainsbourg, a cigarette drooping from his big moody lips, and a quotation from Verlaine, ‘De la musique avant toute chose.’
Tonight we’re keeping it unreal, having headed over the Channel to watch Manchestaire enfants terribles MONEY step out at David Lynch’s ultra-chic new Paris nightclub, Silencio. The venue is named after that strange, regal theatre that emerges from Rita’s disturbed dreams in Mulholland Drive. A place where the music is born of desire and the band is all in your mind. No hay banda. No hay orquesta … The painted lady sings Orbison in Spanish and reduces us all to tears …
Having read about the nightclub and its exclusive door policy, we’re worried we might lower the tone.
‘Apparently,’ my companion says, ‘MONEY have been told that any of their guests have to dress “chic and elegant”. They got sent an email.’
‘Are we “chic and elegant”?’ I ask.
He splutters into his Leffe Brune.
The band’s elaborate rider is also said to have been given short shrift.
‘They told them there’s a shop round the corner,’ laments my companion.
After lingering over our first leisurely drinks, we head north to veteran rock bar Le Truskel, where MONEY have gathered with a small contingent of Manchestaire friends. Everyone is getting giddy on expectation and hazelnut vodka, which the kindly bar staff and affectionate locals press on us with relish.
It’s still early and the place is pretty empty, so when Fabrizio Moretti from the Strokes is beamed in from Planet Hollywood with his girlfriend, the actress and comedian Kristen Wiig of Bridesmaids and Saturday Night Live fame, we recognise them and somehow get chatting. They’re warm and approachable. We invite them to the MONEY gig but it turns out that we needn’t have asked. They’re already going. God knows what we talk about. We take lots of photos and embarrass ourselves, like proper rock tourists. They seem to like us though. I ask if they mind me writing about them in this review. This, apparently, makes me the epitome of journalistic integrity and discretion. The next day I find that, according to my notebook, Fabrizio had said of me, ‘It’s nice to know there are still some good people working in the media.’ I fear I might have exaggerated my literary standing, just a little.
When they wave goodbye my companion grabs me. ‘Hollywood and musical royalty just walked past us and they didn’t ignore us. They said, “See you in there!”’
‘Nobody’s going to believe us,’ I say.
‘Sometimes, the truth is stranger than fiction,’ he replies. ‘This is the best night of my life and it hasn’t even started yet.’
The door to Silencio is unmarked and unremarkable. A small queue of beautiful people has started to form. Two black-suited bouncers stand outside with a clipboard. They eye us suspiciously. My companion and I pass for chic and elegant by the skin of our teeth and head down a stylish wooden spiral staircase into the basement club.
It’s totally unlike the Silencio of the film. This is a labyrinth of low-ceilinged side rooms and cork walls that oozes, well, money, rather than fin de siècle faded glamour. Everything is black and gold. The stage itself is in a room at the back, with a bar running down one side where we’re already primed for the €10 beer prices. But by this point we don’t care. As my companion and I stand in the middle of the quickly-filling room and wait for the curtains to part we have a Stroke and an actress stood to our right, Now Wave and Jean Seberg from Breathless behind us and an incredible girl who looks exactly like Lana Del Rey stood on her own to our left. Surely not? Nobody’s talking to her but you can tell it’s not because they don’t want to … In fact, the room is full of Lana Del Reys. They’re everywhere. They’re so beautiful they don’t seem real. They look like they’ve just been copied from the pages of glossy fashion magazines and pasted into reality. Their hair is perfect. Their bodies are perfect. Their clothes are perfect. Their icy posture is sophisticated and alluring. They’re immaculate. They don’t seem to do a great deal in the way of talking. They’re here to look and be looked at.
‘Shall I touch one?’ I ask my companion.
‘Go on. I dares yer,’ he replies.
It’s almost as bad as the Pompidou Centre. My companion and I spent the afternoon ostensibly looking at modern art but mainly staring at girls, aghast, trying to hold our conversation together but lapsing into silence every time another beauty walked past.
‘I can’t cope,’ my companion complained at one point. ‘My brain’s just stopped working.’
The President is also putting in a rare public appearance. He stands at the bar in his leather jacket, sipping a cognac and looking non-plussed. A singular character, he owns one book and three records, although nobody knows what the book is. He’s not entirely of this world. The President is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost of SWAYS. Just as a priest is in constant contact with God, SWAYS is in constant contact with the President. Like God, people question his existence. But to understand such deities, it requires a leap of faith.
We tried to get him to come with us to the Pompidou Centre so he could have a taste of modern culture. However, this was dismissed when he satisfied himself that the collection was abstract, experimental and, essentially, the kind of art that I liked. For we do not see eye to eye, when it comes to questions of art. Or literature, for that matter. When I handed him my last review of the Führer Bunker gig his response was simply, ‘We always knew we might need some kind of writer but now all we get is this relentless stream of drivel.’ He’d also clocked the Pompidou Centre’s €13 entry fee. ‘I’d rather have a coffee and a baguette,’ he said. So he spent the day walking round the Marais and visiting Notre Dame. ‘I walked in and God was jealous,’ he’d later boast in one of his notorious cognac-fuelled rants.
The curtains slowly open and MONEY are revealed on the plush domed stage, bathed in deep red boudoir light. As seems to be the band’s preference, Billy Byron’s drum kit is set up at the front to the right, sideways on to the crowd and facing the bass and guitar duo of Scott Beaman and Charlie Cocksedge. Behind them, slightly aloft, stands the spectral figure of singer and guitarist Jamie Lee. They’re all dressed in white with slightly gone expressions, like a bunch of choirboys whose delinquent older brother has just got them into crystal meth.
This set is horizontal but MONEY songs are vertical — theirs is an art of ascension. Rising guitar riffs, rising vocals, rising samples and loops that seem particularly eerie and otherworldly in the reverential silence of this absorbed French crowd … Every time it seems as though Lee’s heart-rending voice or Cocksedge’s guitar might falter, Byron’s rumbling drums and Beaman’s warm bass stoop to catch them, like good Samaritans.
Tonight feels like the culmination of MONEY’s recent return to the public eye, the main difference from their Manchestaire appearances being that Fabrizio from the Strokes is whooping enthusiastically between each song. Gangly guitarist Cocksedge is perhaps more animated than usual too, rocking out to the heavier, cymbal-crashing climaxes of songs such as set-closer ‘Boredom’. And also, as they prepare to play this song, Jamie Lee says, ‘Thank you. This is our last song.’ I don’t think I’ve ever heard him speak during their set before and it takes me back a little. It doesn’t break the spell, exactly — it just makes me aware of quite what a spell has been cast. ‘I don’t wanna die, but it wouldn’t be so bad,’ he sings, penetrating my soul, his eyes closed, away with the perennial thought …
Silencio entertains quaint notions of exclusivity that went out of fashion several years ago in Manchestaire, with the notable exception of Deansgate. It’s quite odd that a place that aspires to be a refuge for artists employs austere image controllers whose main aim in life is to prevent people taking photographs or videos, suggesting a very un-Lynchian mindset: one that is radically closed. They patrol the dance floor in a strange game of cat and mouse in the age of the iPhone. Fortunately, my companion is, by nature, chillingly rebellious. He makes the members of the Baader-Meinhof gang look like pussies. He’s quite deranged. He’s also a perv with a heart of gold. He did this.*
When the set finishes to a rapturous ovation from the charmed audience I go to the bar, where a well-dressed but dishevelled young businessman — a slick-haired Patrick Bateman type — is shouting loudly into his mobile phone in an American accent, ‘If you’d been through the sort of shit that I’ve been through then you’d be getting fucked up in Paris too.’ At the end of the bar, the President is merrily chatting away to Kristen Wiig. This should be a disaster but, unbelievably, she’s laughing at the words he’s saying and tousling his curly grey hair. They keep giving each other high fives. I edge closer to find out what the hell is going on.
‘You know how snowmen don’t normally have legs?’ the gesticulating President asks the giggling actress. ‘Well, this one does. And he can fly. So he’s like walking in the air. You should watch it. Fuck Frosty the Snowman …’
I decide to leave them to it.
I find my way backstage to MONEY’s small dressing room where everyone is exuberant after the band’s performance. Lynch has even done a u-turn on the rider and there’s a bucket of beers and a bottle of vodka going round. I look for my companion, who’s been knocking back the Blue Velvets. Someone tells me he’s in the shower room at the back. I put my head round the door and find him with his top off, looking confused and uncomprehending, like a senile person who’s been told bad news. He’s being berated by Jamie Lee.
‘Why are you pissing on your shirt?’ he asks my companion.
‘Well, I’ll wash it, won’t I?’ says the infirm one.
He then proceeds to remove his shirt from the toilet bowl and dunk it under the shower. I stand in the corner with my notebook, writing it all down. Next thing I know, my companion is fully naked and wrestling with Jamie Lee on the wet room floor. My companion has the shower cable wrapped round his neck. I don’t intervene because it’s clearly an act of love.
There’s been a lot of nudity at SWAYS recently. We’ve learned much from it too. We’ve learned to love the poor human body in all its endless variety, vulnerability and imperfection. We’ve learned that full frontal nudity, hot wax and masks are not suitable for publication in the NME but firearms are absolutely fine.
At one point my soaking wet, tousled-haired companion goes out of the shower and into the dressing room in search of a towel. He soon scuttles back when he’s only greeted by howls of derision and French girl screams.
I wake the next morning in my small hotel room in the red light district alongside my companion and drummer-boy Billy Byron. We’re all three bedraggled, half-naked and sour-mouthed. I throw open the shutters and the bright Parisian morning light floods in from the Rue Saint Georges. I have cuts and bruises all down my left arm and there’s blood on the sheets.
‘I don’t know why I was pissing on my shirt,’ says my bare-chested companion, wiping the sleep from his eyes. I search in my opened notebook for clues but all I find is illegible scrawl and the words ‘Lana Del Rey came to watch MONEY because she was wet for Billy Byron’ in unfamiliar handwriting.
My companion and I spend the rest of the day recovering and getting disapproving looks from the Robert Mugabe lookalike behind the reception desk until eventually, seemingly on a whim, he cracks and decides to fine me €30 for last night’s ménage à trios. My protestations of innocence fall on deaf ears and it’s clear that my options are either to pay up or get chucked out. So eventually I relent, figuring that at €10 per body, it’s not such a bad deal.
Meanwhile, MONEY have gone off to do a photo shoot and record a session for French national radio — arriving just minutes before the programme goes on air and being sternly informed by a bespectacled mademoiselle that it’s the latest any performing band has arrived at the station, ever. When they casually ask how many listeners the show gets, they’re told it’s in the region of 8 million. They’re here to perform their masterful new song, ‘(SOLONG)GODISDEAD’, during a programme on current affairs where the topic of the day is the political situation in China. It’s a suitably surreal scene in which to unveil what is potentially their most significant work to date. The Nietzschean rhetoric of the title is weighted against the tone of fond familiarity locked away in parentheses; the utter beauty of the song is that it seems to lament the death of God like the passing away of an old friend. It must be watched, for it is fucking lovely.
We reconvene in the evening at a small bar near the notoriously sleazy Place Pigalle at the foot of Montmartre, where MONEY launch into a DJ set that begins sedately, as we test our bodies with the first beers of the day, and ends riotously, with the barmen throwing ice at drinkers and band alike, the whole place going crazy when they drop ‘Cassius’ by Foals.
The President is still talking of Kristen Wiig with misty eyes. Apparently, she loved MONEY, saying that ‘they sound quite quiet on the stage, but in your head they’re really loud’. No hay banda. No hay orquesta …
‘He definitely told her that,’ blusters the President, Clarkson-style. ‘There’s no way she thought of that. It’s the sort of thing you say to a girl when you’re trying to hit on her and you want to make yourself sound more profound than you actually are.’
I grow suspicious of the grinning Jamie Lee, who’s sitting with French people and showing them something on his mobile phone. They keep looking over at me and smirking. I suspect he might be showing them compromising images. I watch him out the corner of my eye as the President outlines his plan for SWAYS originals the Marder to embark on a tour of Iraq and other war-torn countries of the Middle East, adopting the lyrics to ‘If the West Apologised to the East’ so that they reference the main battle zones in each particular country. I ask him if his plan doesn’t somehow detract from the integrity of the original lyrics, perhaps even constituting another form of Western exploitation. He tells me to shut up and that I have no understanding of cash flow or the commercial realities of the music industry.
My stomach swells with beer, like seawater filling the hold of a sinking ship, and shots of some destructive spirit are going round too. Suddenly, I go wrong internally. I feel hot and dizzy and stagger out of the bar, finding my way to a deserted side street away from the takeaway and weed smells of the noisy, red-lit, sex show strip. There I fall into the gutter and am violently sick. Vomit flows from me in torrents, like a burst dam; it seems like it will never stop; but weirdly, I enjoy this moment of total degradation. To find myself down and out in the gutters of Paris feels kind of romantic. My companion can be heard somewhere in the spinning distance, laughing with the President. When I look up and the world finally comes into focus through my streaming eyes they’re standing above me, filming the moment. Aw …
‘Come on, you have to see this,’ says my companion, helping me up to my feet and then running back to the bar like a mad prince, the President and I scampering behind him. When we arrive we merge with MONEY and everyone else from the bar who are all hanging around on the pavement, the street teeming with the young French people whose imaginations and dreams we have captured and shared, and we find that we’re all running downhill together towards the Seine like a human tributary, a hysterical rampage of naked bodies, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night … Locals line the streets, pointing and laughing at us. We dash past beggars and elegant old ladies carrying pets in their handbags. We dodge fallen bodies and smashed up television sets that have been thrown from high buildings. We get cheered by drunks. Prostitutes come to their windows, waving at us. We beckon them and they join us, old and young, fat and thin, removing their tasseled gowns and their underwear and screaming for joy in this, their liberation, their bodies now completely and unreservedly returned unto them. Fabrizio and Kristen have joined us and so has Lana Del Rey, all of them naked and howling in the milky light of Paris at dawn as we press on to the river through the grand boulevards of Baron Haussmann.
My companion is by my side. ‘What if we forget about all this?’ I ask, without breaking stride. ‘What happens if we can’t remember it when we wake up?’
‘Memory is for girls,’ he replies.
After a few minutes or hours we find ourselves in the Jardin des Tuileries, wheeling round the fountain, winding our way between the skeletal metal chairs that lie scattered about the park’s tree-lined avenues. Classical white statues look on, smiling tenderly. The Eiffel tower and the Musée d’Orsay are visible over the river, the pale city now emerging in layers of whiteness, as though Paris is forever aghast at its own beauty. We don’t want to die but it wouldn’t be so bad …
What is happening to us? What is this knowledge? And after such knowledge, what more can life bring? Holy sparks burn in the husks of our being as we dance, sparks that seek to return to their primal source. We understand that the holy kingdom will be revealed only when the last spark is returned whence it came. Our bodies will become pure spirit and from the Throne of Glory new souls will descend. There will be no more eating and drinking. No more being fruitful or multiplying for us. Instead, we will unite in combinations of holy letters. Each day will last a year. Angels will sing and our delight will be boundless.
Tears fill my eyes. I wonder where all this beauty has come from, for it is too much.
‘This is from heaven,’ a disembodied voice replies.
My heart floods with thankfulness for this vision of completeness, this perfect moment. Neither dream nor reality, just a feeling — the sort of feeling that doesn’t come along too often in life. This city is not of this Earth. It makes me weak at the knees. Ghosts whisper in my ears. Poets chatter in the ether. Memory mixes with desire, stirring the sacred ache for things past. I could read Proust in the Jardin du Luxembourg forever … Oh Paris, je t’aime.
* WARNING: This video contains adult themes. Do not watch it at work or when your parents are in the room.
Photography © SWAYS records, Now Wave and Julien Bourgeois