Copyright: Joe Jackson.
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Preface. Growing Up Near Bob Geldof.
I have a problem with Bob Geldof. It’s not a big problem and probably is unique to little old me. But if I didn’t, it is likely that Bob himself would never have described the nearly 10,000 word long Q & A interview we did in 2001 as a “tennis match of a fucking interview.” It also is likely that the same interview – published globally minus two thirds of its original material and which I present here in its entirety for the first time – would not have turned out to be, arguably, the most raw, revealing, and devastatingly honest interview ever given by Bob Geldof.
At least that’s how many readers described the article at the time. Similar praise, incidentally, albeit less laudatory, had been lavished upon the first interview I did with Geldof a decade earlier. So, do I rate those two interviews as highly as some do? Definitely not when it comes to the first, and absolutely in terms of the second, which still strikes me as a deliciously idiosyncratic mix of the “psychology” one Irish editor said I brought to his rock magazine, the “probing” The Irish Times claimed that magazine was “noted for” because of my interviews, and theatre.
Yes, you read that right. You see, by 2001, I had been a frustrated playwright for nearly a quarter of a century, written a Stage column for the latter 14 of those years and probably was the most pretentious print interviewer on the planet in the sense that I tended to structure Q & A interviews as if they were one act plays. But, crazy as this may seem, when I found the right interviewee at a particular point in their lives, the approach often worked and that certainly was the case with Bob in 2001.
In other words, I saw our exchange as a dramatic dialogue; Geldof saw it as a tennis match, which is much the same thing in so many ways. Sadly, he also subsequently complained to the editor of the magazine in which that 2001 interview was first published, and said I had been “a bit rough” on him. That made me smile. Imagine, me, being “rough” on that delicate daisy named Geldof who, maybe most famously, once bellowed at a global TV audience, no, not, “give me your fucking money,” which is what many people seem to think he said, but “fuck the address, go to the phone number” during the BBC coverage of Live Aid. Bob’s complaint also made my editor laugh and retort, “Joe only did with you the kind of interview you would have done back in the early 1970’s when you were a journalist!” Game, set, and match. Or should I say, “Curtain”?
But that isn’t my problem with Geldof. It’s more a matter of perception – my perception of the man. Look at it this way. I am fully aware of the biographical facts of Bob Geldof’s life, but while working on this preface, I checked to see how Wikipedia presents those facts. It tells us his full name is: “Robert Frederick Zenon ‘Bob’ Geldof,” he was “born 5 October 1951”, and is, “an Irish singer, songwriter, author, occasional actor and political activist.” We also are informed that Geldof “rose to prominence as the lead singer of the Irish rock band The Boomtown Rats in the late 1970’s alongside the punk rock movement, they had hits with his compositions, Rat Trap, and I Don’t Like Mondays,” and that he “co-wrote Do They Know It’s Christmas, one of the best-selling singles of all time.”
So far, so good, none of this is any problem to me. In fact, I love most of the Rats recordings and some of Bob’s solo cuts even more so. However, when Wikipedia goes on to say, “Geldof is widely recognised for his activism, especially anti-poverty efforts concerning Africa,” that, “in 1984 he and Midge Ure founded the charity super group Band Aid to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia” and that he organised “the charity super-concert Live Aid the following year” I begin to lose my bearings. Likewise, when I read: “Geldof has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was granted an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II, and is a recipient of the Man of Peace, which recognises individuals who have made ‘an outstanding contribution to international social justice and peace,’ among numerous other awards.” At that point, I tend to think, ‘time for a reality check!’
Why? Because even though this laundry list of accomplishments provides incontestable proof of Bob Geldof’s greatness, and of his status as a cultural icon, it’s not the guy I myself am most familiar with. The same thing happens whenever I interview Bob. In fact, in that setting I tend to think, ‘Geldof, don’t even try to feed me your usual media guff! We go too far back for that kind of crap.’
So, how far do we go back? We were conceived around the same time and for twenty years we lived within a mile of each other on the south side of Dublin. The difference is that Bob lived on the right side of the tracks and I lived on the other side. According to a socio-economic divide that actually is delineated by a railway line, that separates his family home in Dun Laoghaire from mine in Glasthule. Put more bluntly, he was posh and I was poor. But both states of being were more a flux than a set of fixed positions. For example, Bob’s family may have been posh but they were often poor. We were nearly always poor but I was called “posh” by some kids in our housing estate because my folks sent me to a Christian Brothers School, in Dun Laoghaire, which means that while growing up Geldof and I must have passed each other a hundred times on the “back roads” that link our homes.
However, our paths didn’t cross, literally, until we were seventeen. Although when it comes to this recollection, I must exercise caution. Let’s not forget that these days Geldof is not only a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, he also is a multi-millionaire entrepreneur and I am still, relatively speaking, a poor boy from the wrong side of the tracks and I don’t want my ass sued by the guy. That said, in his 1986 biography, Is That It, Sir Bob does acknowledge that back during the days of Murray’s Record Centre, its basement coffee bar, and the Bamboo Café, all the locales in Dun Laoghaire where we hip kids gathered circa 1970, he sometimes sold dope. It also happens to be true that my earliest memories of Geldof involve dope and that he may even have sold me the first, and only, stash of “grass” I ever purchased.
I certainly recall an incident, which will prove, conclusively, just how hip I was at seventeen. One Saturday around 6 pm, after Murray’s closed, gangs of us, as usual, ambled in various groups down to the People’s Park where, true to that social divide in Dun Laoghaire, Bob sat with his posh friends and I sat nearby with two fellow “plebs” from Sallynoggin. But then at one point, a member of Geldof’s gang – Peter Finnegan, I’d later learn – walked over to where we were sitting and asked the leader of our little gang, me, if I’d like to buy some grass. I replied, “Buy grass? Are you mad? Grass is free!” thinking he was referring to the green stuff beneath my ass and trying to tell me it had to be paid for, like a deck chair.
Kids don’t get cooler than that, do they? Happily, my mates were actually hip and after they stopped rolling around the grass laughing they told me what Peter meant. Meanwhile, also laughing he headed back to his gang no doubt to tell them about the dope from Glasthule who didn’t know what dope was. But I soon lost my innocence, in this sense, as any young boy would, after being seduced by journalist Caroline Coon. Sadly, the seduction occurred purely on a televisual level. One night I saw Coon on a BBC TV programme, looking all sultry and sexy, heard her suggest that everyone should try drugs at least once, and I decided immediately, no doubt thinking with my thighs, “anything you say is ok by me, lady!” So, the following Saturday afternoon, having pooled my financial resources with the 13 shillings, or so, that was given to me by two of my fellow students at the Bolton Street College of Technology – by this stage I was an apprentice sheet metalworker, a job I hated – I descended into Murray’s basement to buy dope.
Within minutes, having made the necessary enquiries, and feeling like a villain from any of the 12 James Bond novels I’d devoured at the age of 16, or so, I was staring at the tiny piece of silver paper in the palm of my hand and asking some suitable shadowed figure, “Is this all I get for a quid?” [£1] He replied, in suitably whispered tones, which were almost drowned out by the sound of Jimi Hendrix singing, or so it seemed to a suddenly paranoid me, “Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that dope in your hand?” – I’d played Hey Joe on the juke box – “It’s strong stuff, you don’t need much, it’ll blow your head off, man.” That may even have been the first time I was called a man.
Of course, I’d love to be able to say with certainty that the “head” in question, who promised me that trip to hippie heaven, man, was Bob. If only because that would allow me to light-heartedly title this preface ‘Geldof Was My First Dealer.’ However, the most I can recall is that it was either Peter or Bob and that I had been told Geldof was “the guy to go to if you wanted to score some dope.” But whoever it was that sold me the dope, he lied. The three drags I took definitely did not blow my mind, man, or even send in its direction a light breeze. In fact, after the third drag I gave up, said, appropriately enough, “fuck this shit” and then watched my two fellow sheet metalwork apprentices do their best to pretend, or so it seemed to me, that they were Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson sitting beside that fire in Easy Rider, “totally stoned.” Five years would pass before I’d smoke dope again and then I did so simply because a girlfriend liked to “roll a joint” after, er, rolling me.
Who knows, maybe back in 1970, if I had joined one of those groups of “drug taking hippies” that gathered in the Peoples’ Park, down on Dun Laoghaire pier or up on Killiney Hill, and which local parents warned their children about, I’d have gotten closer to Bobby baby in those days. But I doubt it. You see, Geldof was a bit of a snob. One of my mates even mockingly called him “Bob the snob.” He definitely was disinclined to acknowledge out presence in the Bamboo café, which, as with the Peoples’ Park on Saturday afternoon, was firmly divided along class lines. At the back sat the elite, beside the kitchen, whereas the rest of us sat nearer the front door. And every time Bob would sashay, Jagger style, through that doorway, whether he was in the company of Peter Finnegan or not, he’d ignore us. Peter, on the other hand, never did. I remember one occasion when he paused to conclude a discussion we’d been having in Murray’s that afternoon, said, “the point is, when Tyrannosaurus Rex changed their name to T-Rex they went commercial and lost credibility.” Bob, however, kept on walking, which prompted one of my mates from Sallynoggin to say, “You can tell that Geldof, from me, that he is a total prick.” The latter was not an uncommon comment in Dun Laoghaire.
Either way, unlike my mate, I didn’t mind being blanked by Bob. I was a “pleb” who was “posh” remember? More seriously, ever since the day, when I was 12, and fought two guys from Glasthule who called me a “fucking snob” in my “fancy school uniform” then, ten minutes later, fought two real snobs from Dalkey who called me a “pleb,” I’d decided ‘to hell with them all’ and saw myself as classless. Besides, Bob had only two things I lusted after. The self confidence that enabled him to sashay into the Bamboo café as though he owned the place and the girls from the Dominican Convent, in Dun Laoghaire, Loreto Convent in Dalkey and Sion Hill, in Blackrock, which he, as a student of Blackrock College, seemed to know in ways I could only dream about. And I did, believe me, on a nightly basis.
But I hung in there, at the “Boo,” sometimes sitting on my own, yearning to connect in any way with those girls but also terrified that if I spoke they might realise I was “just” an apprentice “metaler” and reject me. Or, worse still, laugh and walk away. Happily, I soon discovered that some schoolgirls actually “fancied” me, said I was the “strong, sensitive type” and one, Michelle, even became a close friend and someone I would talk with for hours in that café.
And so, Bob and I continued to grow up, not with, but near one another, drinking coffee in the “Boo,” or Coca Cola in Murray’s basement, buying records in the record shop upstairs, attending the same dances and parties but never talking with one another. He had his circle, and I had mine. But then on February 9th 1973, I finally abandoned my trade and decided to try to realise a life long ambition and become a writer. I may have been born on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ but as I neared the age of 21 I knew I would be damned, in ever sense, if I allowed those tracks to determine where I would travel for the rest of my life. So, I went back to school, which I’d been forced to leave for financial reasons at 17, and took on extra-curricular classes such as Creative Writing, Elocution/Drama, Music Theory/History, and most influentially of all, in terms of my social life, love life, and future, a Psychology of the Visual Media module in the Dun Laoghaire College of Art. There, one of my classmates turned out to be Bob’s old buddy, Peter Finnegan, who then became a new friend of mine and this seemed to give me a new form of social status, dubious or otherwise, as far as Geldof was concerned. In other words, he finally deigned to not only acknowledge but also talk with me.
The fact that I began a relationship with one of the most sought-after women in our class, who also happened to be a former Attorney General’s daughter, also seemed to impress those who might be impressed by such things. Either way, this now was my circle and we even made a movie in Art College, which I was set to direct until Peter Finnegan said he’d love that gig so instead I became the cinematographer and filmed it on my own 8 mm movie camera. We were living out La Boheme – Charles Aznavour’s song, which I loved – and I knew it. Not only that, many of us were passionately committed to the concept of democratising the arts. Back in 1972 my father, Joe Jackson senior, had told me he’d sent one of his poems to “an alternative poetry magazine called Breakthru,” and claimed he’d “like to have done what McKuen [Rod McKuen] did” as in, popularise poetry, so this became my goal. Likewise, in 1974/’75/’76, my girlfriend wanted to exhibit her work, “not in stuffy art galleries, but in supermarkets for all to see.” Graham Knuttel, meanwhile, seemed similarly influenced by Andy Warhol’s concept of Pop Culture, and so too was another student, and friend of ours, Simon MacCloud.
That’s why, whenever I met Bob Geldof in the Dun Laoghaire dole office and he’d talk about his dream of becoming a rock star, he struck me as just another guy hoping to establish himself artistically. Although I do remember that at one point – and I would allude to this during my 2001 interview with Geldof – Bob’s craving reminded me of the kind of ‘neurotic’ quest John Lennon, one of my life-long heroes, sang about in his song, I Found Out, and that Arthur Janov described in his book, The Primal Scream. I also remember that the more I talked with Bob, at the dole, or otherwise, which wasn’t often, I hasten to add; the more I liked the guy.
And here we got to one of those synchronicities that began to manifest themselves when it came to our respective careers. On May 30th 1977, photographs I took of two of his blues heroes, and mine, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, led to me being asked to become one of the founding photographers for a new Irish rock magazine at roughly the same time he was in London recording the Rats first single, Looking After Number One. Sadly, my delight in my newfound status as a “rock photographer” was short lived. By the time the Rats released that single my original, and ultimate, rock ‘n’ roll hero, the man who fired so many of my childhood dreams, Elvis Presley, had died and my world, and psyche, imploded.
Ironically, Presley’s death also finally led to the birth of my career as a journalist, which was one of those dreams he had inspired me to follow since I was nine. My immediate response to the news of his Elvis’s death, on August 16th 1977, was to write about him all night, between, and during, the bouts of weeping. Then, the following morning I asked the editor of that rock magazine if he’d be interested in “an article about what Elvis’s death really means to a fan.” He was not particularly enthusiastic, but did at least say, “why don’t you write it, I’ll read it and we’ll see.”
Then we discussed the fact that the following Sunday I was due to do my first major photographic commission, covering Ireland’s first major open-air rock festival, in Dublin’s Dalymount Park. This really was me hitting the big time. It was headlined by Thin Lizzy, a band I loved, and with a lead singer, Phil Lynott, I remembered seeing perform as a member of The Black Eagles in Club Caroline in Glasthule, when I was 14, or so. And next on the bill, in Dalymount, was none other than my old dole mate, Bob, and the rest of the Boomtown Rats, all of whom came from the general area of Dun Laoghaire. The gig was meant to mark Phil Lynott’s birthday, but to me it was a homecoming concerts, of sorts, even if I could hardly enjoy it as such, so soon after Presley’s death. Nevertheless, I did my best to immerse myself in the spirit of the event and Bob helped greatly, in this sense. For example, when he saw me climb scaffolding at the side of the stage – my years working on building sites had not gone to waste – in order to get better angles for photos he smiled, nodded a hello, then proceeded to throw some great “shapes” in my direction. We sure had come a long way since those days in the Bamboo café.
Indeed, the distance I had travelled fell into focus, if you’ll excuse the pun, after the next issue of that rock magazine was published. It’s cover collage, which included many of my shots of Bob, and was created by Willie Finney, had been inspired by one of what turned out to be three Elvis articles I wrote for that issue, and the magazine itself featured no less than forty of my photographs. “You are the man of the moment” the editor told me at one point. And on September 12th 1977 my “moment” was extended a little longer when Mulligan Records commissioned me to cover the launch of the debut album by, you guessed it, the Boomtown Rats.
But here’s where the story of Bob and me takes on a different hue. One that was coloured to a great degree by the cosmic blues that had taken hold of my soul after I finished writing those articles about the death of the man I used to call the ‘King of Pop.’ I also had decided to extend the theme of one of those articles and write a book about my life as a Presley fan. As such, I was very much in an Elvis mind-zone. Maybe that’s why, as soon as I noticed that fame seemed to have gone to Bob’s head, I heard Hunk Houghton say of Elvis’s character, Vince Everett, in Jailhouse Rock, “there’s not much oxygen up there, a man gets light-headed.”
Then again, I also had noticed that many of my peers in the media were pumping hot air up Geldof’s ass, which may account for how light-headed he seemed to have become. One guy said, “Bob, your lyrics remind me of Lizzy’s songs, but not in an imitative way. They are more literate, have more of an edge, are more now.” Then again, maybe he was referring not to Lizzy, as in Thin Lizzy, but to Queen Elizabeth whose silver jubilee it was. Another told him, “Heard the album, Bob, love it, instant classic, and not just an Irish rock classic, a rock classic, per se.”
I began to wonder what kind of dope they were on. The Green Room, suitably enough, in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, certainly reeked of grass. More seriously, this was the first time I had seen people demean themselves in the presence of a celebrity and it was not a pretty sight. So, when a Radiator from Space [Irish punk group] said to me, “Take a picture of me pretending to give Bob head!” then fell to his knees and simulated the act of oral sex I took that photo, gladly, and smiling.
That said, what really made me smile was noting that Bob seemed to be posing as what he perceived to be a “pleb” in order to get “street cred” during the punk era. I certainly didn’t remember him peppering his speech with so many expletives during any conversation we had in the dole queue. Also, at one point when I was photographing Geldof outside the stage door of the Olympia he said to a group of nuns, “I suppose a ride is out of the question!” then winked at me. I did not wink back. The nuns, meanwhile, literally ran through that doorway, as if attempting to flee from the devil himself. I have often wondered if, years later, when Geldof began to be called, “Saint Bob” those nuns remembered that sweet little encounter.
Then things got even more surreal. Still in my ironical, if not smart-ass, sarcastic mode, I said to Geldof, “give me your best Elvis pose” as soon as he climbed up onto the stage in the otherwise empty auditorium of the Olympia theatre. Within seconds, Bob did so, effortlessly, and then he slipped into another pose that reminded me more of Cliff Richard’s high-stepping dance at the end of The Young Ones. “Where, in God’s name, did you learn to throw all those shapes?” I asked. “Me and the rest of the Rats went to kind of classes to learn how to pose and all that shit,” he replied. I wondered had I heard him right. Maybe I didn’t. Either way, I began to imagine The Boomtown Rats, plus say, The Stranglers and Sex Pistols, all sitting at school desks and taking notes from a music establishment figure about how to throw anti-establishment poses. I could almost hear their teacher say, “Geldof, if you ever see a group of nuns, try this line, ‘I suppose a ride would be out of the question.’ That’s the kind of stuff tabloids love.” And so punk music began to lose its glow for me that day, became more a matter of poses than protest.
And, yes, I was in that kind of mental space at the time, moody and blue. My mood was not helped after Bob introduced me to some bearded “head” from a record company who offered me a lift to the nearby Bailey pub and both then proceeded to ignore me in the car. I was being blanked by Geldof, again, but at least this time the conversation I overheard was revealing.
“You guys, the artists, make the music” said the beard. “Our job is to move product. That’s what we do best.”
“But I’m into all that, too, demographics, all that stuff” Bob responded. “I can tell you what areas in England, Looking After Number One, is doing well in, and where it’s not doing so well.”
“But it’s still climbing the charts, jumped from 25 to 16 this week, you’re even doing better than Lizzy’s Dancing in the Moonlight!”
“Yeah, but that’s where it gets to marketing strategies, making sure the dates of your record releases don’t cross. The Beatles and the Stones never released their fucking singles at the same time. That would have been suicide, so they’d check dates with one another. And, they knew where the money was. Jagger and Richards only started writing songs because their manager told them that’s where they’d make a killing. That’s where it’s at – get rich from publishing.”
Hearing all of this, I was reminded of a conversation I’d had with the owner/editor of that rock magazine during which he told me about the direct correlations between reviews, interviews and the advertising space “taken out” by record companies. And so, sitting in that sports car, I began to wonder, ‘is this what the music business really is all about, business rather than music?’ I also suddenly began to feel that I myself had come a long way, and the wrong way, down, from those days of living out La Boheme. The Bailey, meanwhile, a pub I had avoided ever since I was told it was “the place you have to be seen if you work in the music business or the media,” was as bad as I had expected. So, I sat outside it all, jotting into my pocket notebook, observations such as the following. ‘Bob doesn’t listen anymore, he delivers monologues, no one seems to interest him as much of himself.’ Also, ‘he seems to enjoy turning everyone into his flunkies.’
Maybe not surprisingly, I soon fled from the pub as fast as the nuns had dashed away from Geldof. I also decided that if the Bailey was the place you were supposed to be seen, I’d rather remain invisible. Not long afterwards, I made roughly the same decision in relation to my career as a rock photographer and decided to focus instead on finishing my Elvis book. But Bob and I did meet again, on Dublin’s Nassau Street, a few days before Christmas in 1977. He was “heading to The Bailey” to “meet some mates” and I was heading for the Dandelion Market where I had a stall and sold photographs. However, along the way, we stopped at a shop in which Bob had seen a Christmas present he wanted to buy. It was then I saw a side of Geldof I’d never seen before and that left a decidedly bitter taste in my mouth. After checking the price tag on the base of a tiny porcelain statuette, if I am remembering right, he waved it close to the face of a young, female, shop assistant and shouted, “This is a fucking rip off! It wasn’t that price a few days ago. Do you make a habit of ripping off people just because it’s Christmas?” Don’t they know it’s Christmas, indeed. Startled by his tirade the shop assistant froze, tried to speak, couldn’t, so I said, “Take it easy, Bob, that girl just works here!” But he was livid and replied, “It’s still a fucking rip off! I’m out of here!”
The latter were my sentiments exactly, in relation to Bob’s company and, frankly, I couldn’t wait for us to part and go our separate ways that day. However, after we did and I was left on my own walking up Grafton Street, I realised that maybe Geldof and I had more in common than I cared to admit. After all, hadn’t my girlfriend of two years finally told me in October that as much as she loved me she couldn’t take anymore the black and angry moods that taken hold of me since Elvis died? Either way, Bob and I didn’t speak to each other again for 12 years. By that stage, thanks to Live Aid, he had become “Saint Bob,” I had returned to journalism and I was now working as an interviewer for that Irish rock magazine.
What follows is the first interview we did, in 1989. Incidentally, I should point out that many of the memories I have recounted for this preface were not in the forefront of my mind on the two occasions I interviewed Bob. In fact, I’d forgotten a lot of this until I wrote an article for the Sunday Independent in 2010 for my occasional series, The Joe Jackson Files. This book is an extension of that article, I dedicate it, with a good heart, and with all good wishes, to, er, Sir Bob Geldof.
Joe Jackson. Dublin. August 1st 2012.