"I'M ACTUALLY QUITE A DECENT BASTARD"
- NME, February 27th, 1988
(Andrew Eldritch, much maligned, man of mystery, Sister of Mercy etc., lies supine on the analyst's divan and Barbara Ellen, late of Vienna, takes the notes. Picture: Steve Pyke)
Andrew Eldritch does not forgive easily. When I sprint into his hotel room inevitably late, I find myself cast in the role of Enfante Terrible: Menace to Staunch Monuments to Sedate Professionalism (and other decent sectors of society).
Only Patricia Morrison has the grace to look interested. She gives me a look of arched brows and sympathy. Eldritch reclines on his hotel divan. Some kind of stranger. He has already informed me - by telephone - that my inefficiency was "not disastrous, merely prejudicial".
Now he toys with the advantage. A lithe, modern-look Caligula with more than a dash of Bluebeard. Together with Patricia Morrison, Eldritch has taken Sisters of Mercy into the charts with songs that have daggers for teeth.
Eldritch is nobody's fool. He is, in fact, living proof that an Emperor need not cavort naked before his subjects, and that conviction, wit and passion can be chart-smart once again. No wonder Patricia ducks and leaves. He is Public Enemy Number One.
--When was he last beaten up?
"Someone tried to take my eye out in Leeds once; I've got scars on it now. I didn't see them coming. Next thing I knew I got up off the floor with pieces of glass in my eye..."
--Does violence perplex you?
--Are you violent?
"Violence.. as I apply it is not physical."
--You indulge in...violent invective?
"I might use a violent vocabulary occasionally. And I might use it rather savagely...but I don't raise my voice. There's no point in raising one's voice in conversation."
Eldritch, one soon comes to realize, never raises his voice. He is never LOUD in any cheerful, vulgar sense of the word. He does not deal in borrowed plumes of the leftist variety, nor does he pump up the Neanderthal volume. Eldritch has a voice that consistently bewitches and terrifies.
And whereas in concert it assumes the shape of wire barb-ing into a whore's most intimate silks, in conversation, and at play, it is content to flirt and crack. Taking care even in extremes of rage or laughter never to relinquish its hold over that fragile, hot-eyed essence.
Now Eldritch falls silent. He tilts forward, fidgets wretchedly, redistributing his weight on the skinny divan. The cigarette welded to his hand sulks and glows, decomposing onto the bedspread. I have lost him again.
Eldritch is in a different world, possibly having his blood changed. And after the chaotic and brutal battle of the night before I know better than to pinch this dangerous sleepwalker.
Eldritch is no soft-bellied media pet. He does not require constant stroking or baiting. At times the interview is awkward, amusing by flashes. I am not taken for a grim and boring dance down Memory Lane. Nor am I lashed with the usual cosy banalities. Like his music Eldritch is compact and vicious, cruel and inexorably sexual. Maybe he needs a good analyst. Maybe he could become one. I look up, then jump. Something has unfrozen his face.
--Are you a manipulative person?
"Of course...I had to learn to be, on behalf of all the band. In an ideal world I would not have to be, but in this world some of those little muscles have to be flexed...I just try to preserve the distinction between US and THEM. I'm actually quite a decent bastard."
--You're of the Old School. An honourable man?
"It's all part and parcel of the same thing. I take how I behave in the industry very seriously. If I were to do an indecent thing I would feel soiled...but honourable men in the 20th century have to know how to be manipulative. It's not like the world consists of US, it consists of US and THEM...and frontal assault achieves so little in the modern world."
--You talk of Knowing Your Enemy. Who is the Enemy?
"Whoever you pick as your target today...but you can't fight something unless you understand it and that also includes understanding the attractions of it. When you get close it becomes very attractive. I've seen a lot of people pulled in by it. There are certain things I won't go close to again, I know I couldn't pull out. I won't get close to drinking again, or smack, or gambling."
--I see. (Been there, seen that, done that...). I take it you were once involved with all three?
"No. I was involved with drinking. I never learnt to drink in moderation."
--You shot away your liver?
"I shot away my self-respect."
--Are other chart acts The Enemy too?
(Eldritch snorts contemptuously) "They're not much of an enemy...that's piffle. I compete with the government, I don't compete with Rick Astley.(1) He's inconsequential. A decoy thrown out by the government."
--The Man from U.N.C.L.E.?
"Either that or Satan."
--Stock, Aitken and Waterman (2) actually.
"Yeah, Satan, Satan and Satan."
--Do you feel vulnerable?
"Not at all."
--How often do you make big mistakes?
"I never make the same mistake twice, which is all you can ask of anybody."
--What was your biggest?
"She had a name but I'm not going to tell you what it was and even that was a mistake that had to be made."
--Yeah, well let's not drag that up again...it's always discussed in your interviews.
"But it was my biggest and most necessary mistake."
--...One you can write down to experience.
"If you're telling me that experience consists solely of mistakes...I might be inclined to agree with you. But I think that says more about you than it does about me."
And so we collide, due to rank incompetence on my part, into the old, old story. A tale of spite, legality and passion. Starring Eldritch, Patricia Morrison and Hussey's (Crass) defectors. A bubbling jackanory of l-u-u-r-ve, bitterness and power. With male bit players kitted out in identical black hats and cuban slippers just to keep the media happy.
Eldritch - a gifted newcomer - seems capable of simulating the roles of Good Guy and Bad Guy. With equal amounts of conviction. Tonight he adopts a tone of measured acidity. 'When it comes down to experience', he seems to imply, 'this is bigger than both of us'.
--Could the world surprise you yet?
"I'm a pragmatist first and foremost... Could the world surprise me yet? Hm. I'd be surprised if there was an earthquake right now...I could even go to some place I'd never been to before and have some preconceptions overturned."
--Does this incorporate running away to India to Find Yourself?
"No, I don't like crowds. The only thing that could surprise me about India is if it looked like Hounslow. I have a very open mind."
--But are you a nice person?
"Hmmm...any honest person if you ask them that is going to dither. Allow me to dither for awhile here...quite a long while..."
--Must you always chew questions a hundred times before answering?
"If they're as nebulous as yours. That's not to say that a nebulous question isn't okay as long as you allow me to respond to it like a nebulous question. I have to pick which angle to take it from, and then attack it of course."
--Such contortions to such easy questions.
"Any one of these questions could lead me to ramble for hours."
--Or attack me...
"I use the word attack metaphorically...Have I a heart of gold?... I was made in God's image like everybody else...and there's nothing wrong with that answer, you lazy journalist you!"
--Do you see yourself as condescending?
"No. I never talk down to people."
--But so often your lyrics talk about and dramatise feelings, often very intense emotions, implying that no one else has access to them.
"That's not saying that I don't have those feelings to the same extent as everybody else, that those feelings don't give me pleasure or pain to exactly the same extent. All I do is articulate them. It doesn't mean I don't feel. I think I feel very much the same. That's why people buy our records in the first place."
--That's what I was saying yesterday - your audience includes a lot of emotional cripples who need you to articulate for them their innermost hopes and dreads.
"If that makes them emotionally crippled then I am too. I can't articulate some things without people articulating in songs for me. People can't articulate what Shakespeare said without quoting Shakespeare chapter and verse. Not that I'm setting myself up against Shakespeare; I'm just saying that some things can only be articulated in Art. That's what Art is for."
--Maybe cripple is too strong. How about wounded? The Walking Wounded? People who are depressed...in an emotional state maybe?
"(laughs) you mean depressed, and I'm not going to rise to that. Your questions are outrageously loaded."
--That girl, you mentioned earlier, the love of your life. Was she beautiful?
--and was she cruel to you?
"No. And I thought we both agreed earlier that this was very well documented and old hat."
--Yes, but seeing as you mentioned it...do you think this experience in any way disabled you emotionally, turning you into a purely sexual rather than sensual creature?
"(sighs) You couldn't be more wrong."
--Eldritch, are you a slut?
"I used to be. It went along with everything else but not anymore."
--Does Patricia scare away the groupies?
"When I've been at promotional conventions people have been after me and she's put them off."
--What are they like, these girls?
"I don't know. I never get to see them. Patricia knows they're not good for me."
--What's with this Protective Momma routine? Can't you look after yourself?
"I'm just not strong enough to avoid doing the things that I would inevitably end up doing. I was brought up to believe you took whatever was going. I wasn't brought up to fend women off. I find the idea really strange."
--But you've been doing it for years...maybe not very well but...
"(laughs) Maybe it is a bit too late to learn. It's all too easy not to fend them off. And if one's in the touring mode one inevitably ends up treating them badly. 'That was this city, tomorrow's another, I've got an hour impress me...'
I don't want to treat people like that. It's much easier to point Patricia at them. Her judgment is certainly better than mine. And she doesn't stop nice girls coming to talk to me...just the flesheaters."
--Do you miss the flesheaters?
"Having one's flesh eaten can on occasion be...all too tempting. Now stop this!"
--Sorry, my Sun mentality is showing.
"What was your next question going to be?"
--Do you still enjoy being in the music business, or would you rather do something more challenging?
"As I said earlier it's been a hard enough struggle as it is, doing what I do now. But it must be said, I'm not interested in what passes for modern music today; it's just one-dimensional and that one-dimensional aspect of it all horrifies me. I just take very little interest in it. That's why I don't compete with Rick Astley."
--Rick Astley again!...why keep mentioning him? He's harmless.
"For 'Rick Astley' you could substitute a million other names...and he's not harmless."
"I think insipid music is very dangerous. It's a narcotic for the nation as you very well know."
--So their taste in narcotics isn't the same as yours. Who are you to moralise!
"Hold on, now HOLD ON... I do not have a taste for narcotics. This is important. I don't even smoke dope! Now, what was your next question going to be?"
--Is your vocal style a fair representation of how you feel, or do you occasionally force it for the sake of the song?
"That's a very good question; I'm going to have to think about it. There are times when I know I'm going over the top and there's nothing I can do to stop myself, and where I know it's appropriate. It's not staged, I'm acting quite naturally...and those are the times you get to hear it. But I'm sure there are parts of me that stand back and watch... And in other areas, maybe in the movement of an eyebrow or an arm I will always acknowledge the ludicrousness, but there's nothing I can do about it.
--How do you react to criticisms that your music is pompous, melodramatic and facile?
"All popular music is all of these things. I think it's important to acknowledge that there's an element of that in everybody's music. If I'm the only one to acknowledge it now and again I don't think that makes me an idiot...the medium generally has facets which are pompous and facile.
I think the fact that I acknowledge it makes my music more trustworthy and complex. I know it's paradoxical. I know there's an irony there but sooner or later the English public will have to face it. It's part and parcel of my music."
Eldritch pauses. He looks grim and determined. I bite back a scream; in expectation of his anger the steady build-up of caffeine inside me pops and blisters. I arrived - a mere journalist. I will leave as Mount Vesuvius.
Eldritch grins, then yawns, grinding his fist into his eyes. Be they wrong turnings into red-light districts, scraps with sin and prisms or fantastic voyages along tidal waves screaming about sex and culpability, Eldritch's best adventures will always be with music. Only then can he hope to stretch the delicious trick of his wit, that whine of pain and drive.
"It's not easy you know," he purrs and suddenly, "Don't think it is."
('Face it, and you will have a place to stay.'-"Driven Like The Snow")
(1)& (2): Rick Astley: temporarily mass-successful UK singer of the late '80s;
hits incl. "Never Gonna Give You Up" and "Together Forever".
Discovered by and protege' of the production team dance-pop hit machine of Stock, Aitken and Waterman.
A clean-cut young man with a strong, clear and utterly featureless voice,
Astley was the epitome of the antiseptic, manufactured pop star, and as such
was bitterly loathed by his more credible contemporaries. Even more opinionated
than Eldritch on the topic was acerbic Miles Hunt of the Wonder Stuff; the Stuffies
recorded his priceless diatribe "Astley In The Noose" on their 2nd album, HUP.
...go back to Transcriptions page.