AH, those were the days. Cryptic phonecalls at all hours. The Sisters of Mercy at the Royal Albert Hall, a heavy black nectar of irony that looked certain to choke goth on its own bittersweet excesses. "First And Last And Always", the album out on Merciful Release through Warners and nights sat up in hotels with Eldritch in his manky black leather cowboy hat doing wilful bodily harm to our fragile metabolisms and rattling on at mutual cross-purposes; me about life'n'love'n'that, Eldritch, of course, about fencing and self-defense and the iron bar he carried up the sleeve of his coat for dextrous use in the possibility of attack.
The world was spinning at Eldritch's pace and it was spinning very, very fast. There were great conspiracies and greater paranoia. He even offered to take someone out of my life by offering them a job on the Sisters' road crew for a tour of America - a job he could hardly refuse and which he might not survive. Some friend. Some hero.
And then... well, those postcards. One from Mexico which read, "ELVIS IS DEAD. I know because he told me. Sorry to break it so bluntly, but you had it coming, hippie. Feed your head - when you can find it. Von Eldritch X." There was a PS: "Peyote girls go round the outside, round the outside."
There were others from Hamburg, the last of which was written in Chinese, and I wasn't the only one who feared for the great man's sanity. Rumour had it a combination of devastated health, legal binds and sheer disappointment that his ex-henchman had made a go of The Mission had laid Eldritch near-fatally low. We presumed the world and Eldritch, to all extents and purposes, had parted company. Such miserable unbelievers!
Eldritch is in a photographic studio, glistening with baby-oil and draped all over Patricia, ex of The Gun Club and now his "right hand man". He's here to pose with cigarettes and prove The Sisters of Mercy are still a force to get wrecked with. He doesn't talk of resurrection, but of continuation and, as if to insist megalomania is alive and well and ready to pistol-whip pop, his new single is called "Corrosion", lasts 11 minutes, features a 40-piece choir multitracked 10 times and was produced by Meat Loaf's old buddy and master of the Wagnerian, Jim Steinman. I'm about to ask him why but I'm laughing too much. The Bad News [one-shot spoof band made up of the cast of TV comedy 'The Young Ones'] mondo-metal version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" has just come on the in-house cassette and Patricia thinks it's The Cult!
--Let's talk over eats Eldritch. Where d'you fancy?
"Oh, anything but Indian."
--Really? I thought you'd be a man for a ruby.
"No, I refuse to eat anywhere they beat us at cricket."
--Where have you been since you last appeared in the hallowed pages of The Maker?
"Well, we went through the corporate wars in my familiar Jonathan E-type role and we did okay. A lot of untruths have been bandied about those times but unfortunately, the way we won makes it tricky for us to explain how we did it and, therefore, prove that we did. It was basically over the name - the people that are now The Mission and myself had an agreement no-one would use the name when the band went its separate ways. But, after they'd been touting their demos round getting nowhere under all sorts of other names, they began to claim rights to it which patently had to be stopped. And when they wanted to be called The Sisterhood, there was nothing I could do but be The Sisterhood before them - the only way to kill that name was to use it, then kill it. I think that reflected rather badly on the name The Sisters of Mercy and it's probably due for re-instatement for that reason if no other.
"Then there was a little disagreement with the publishers, RCA Music, over what would happen to the money. Effectively it all kept us out of action."
--Was it frustrating to see The Mission become successful in the meantime?
"No, because they're not doing something I'd like to do and they're certainly not doing it in the way I'd like to do it. Anybody could go out and be The Alarm or The Cult, which is exactly what they've done."
--You don't see them as a legacy of The Sisters of Mercy at all then?
"No... I mean, they took the interest and capitalised on that but, musically, no. It was noticeable for about a year that they couldn't get press unless they mentioned my name. I saw interviews with myself so many times by proxy - that got irritating because...well, Wayne has a REMARKABLE way with the truth."
--Is there bitterness between you then?
"Yeah. Yeah, there is."
--Personal or corporate?
--You suggest there's a fundamental difference in ATTITUDE between The Sisters of Mercy and The Mission.
"Yeah, their ability to bend over forwards in order to make progress appalls me. The way they've bent over contracts and been appropriately assaulted for it which, again, is something they've not really been prepared to let on about.
"Musically, too. I never sang a lyric of Wayne's. I never found one I COULD sing."
--History has proved that, when The Sisters disappeared from public view, was exactly the time you should have been reaping your greatest rewards. What, other than legalities, prompted your inaction?
"Well, I wasn't well. I'd done three tours that year and I thought we'd come to the end of a logical course. I titled that Royal Albert Hall gig 'Wake' about four months before it actually happened, and the band are probably still wondering why.
I mean, I thought it should still have gone on but I knew it wasn't going to.
"The last time we actually spent any time together, at the end of the tour before the Albert Hall, we had some time playing in America and then we had a week off in Los Angeles. I went to Mexico for the day and the other two couldn't think of anything better to do than go to Disneyland. And when I got back from Mexico a WEEK later, having got somewhat..uh..distracted,
I thought, 'God, what are these people whingeing about, really?' They just got so feeble.
"Then they said, 'well, okay, what are we gonna do for new songs?' And I said 'how about this, this and this' and, unfortunately, the first 'this' I cited had too many chords per minute and Craig said 'if that's the guitar line, I'm not playing it' and walked out. That was really that.
"But Wayne had already become a problem because he wanted to do more of his songs and I thought they were particularly vacuous. I used to have to fight with him to get the songs to make any sort of grammatical sense, let alone be sharp with it.
I mean, you've gotta know grammar before you can work away from it. The guy didn't have a clue - he'd just string buzz words together."
--Strangely enough, someone from The Maker was around Wayne while he was writing recently and he had a book of aphorisms with all the mystical-type ones underlined in red.
"That's how most people do it. I can't bring myself to work that way. That's what passes for revolution these days. I'm glad I wasn't around in '86 because it wasn't just The Mission, it was a bad year all over and anyone who broke then will be tainted with it for a long, long time."
--But surely you're responsible. You introduced a generation of synth-pop fashion fops to the thrill of anti-fashion, "When The Levee Breaks", outlaw biker chic and drug innuendo and guitars and ripped jeans and dry ice. Without The Sisters and the vacuum you created when you went to ground, there could scarcely have been grebo and Zodiac Mindwarp.
"I dispute that. That's like saying Christ is responsible for the Mormons - it's really not on. I don't know what you lot were left with. So what's grebo rock?"
--You really haven't heard it?
"No. Is it like Led Zeppelin?"
--Well... yeah... fake... fantasy-on-the-edge stuff.
"Oh, without the grunge. Maybe I SHOULD have taught them outrageousness."
--You sound like the Godfather of Goth.
"Ha! When we were trying to sell 'Corrosion' to Steinman, we told him it was like the high-point of a Borgia's disco evening and he went for it. Nobody makes gloriously stupid records nowadays."
"No, they're embarrassing. Steinman and I are the only two who share this glorious stupidity. Don't tell him though. He just thinks 'Corrosion' is perfectly normal. Other bands have no perspective on the stupidity of it all. They say things like 'Oh well, we never claimed we were original'(1) or 'well, of course rock's stupid' but it's just spiel, it's just Eldritch lines misunderstood."
--Surely this is where the attitude comes into it. The difference between The Sisters and the pretenders to the throne is irony-in-overdrive, an irony that takes the piss out of AND celebrates its role models.
"If you do it right, it compounds itself at every level. 'Corrosion' is an enrichment of bombast - there was no other way to do it."
--A lot of old Sisters fans are gonna say 'he's taking the piss'.
"Well, of course I'm taking the piss - it's the only way to be serious about it. Same as it ever was."
--So this is crap AND fantastic. It's time we redefined the difference between man and beast. It's nothing to do with how many legs you walk on; it's everything to do with the possession of irony. I know people who are animals.
"And I had a cat that had a very highly developed sense of irony."
--"Corrosion" is already being compared to some pretty Godlike things. One of them is The Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want".
--So it's pop about pop.
"That's a very important element, yeah. You have to acknowledge the medium in the message, I think, or else you're stupid... dishonest...or just very na´ve."
--In a sense, your attitude was a precursor to sampling. You were acknowledging Led Zeppelin before The Beastie Boys USED them. Is their physical, literal approach even more honest than yours?
"I think that's a lower level, a very vulgar interpretation. In about two years' time (2) I'll cover 'When The Levee Breaks' and wipe the floor with The Beastie Boys and wipe the floor with The Cults because they haven't got a grip on what is great about Led Zeppelin. It's like The Mission going out and covering Sisters' music, they just make it sound like bad Echo & The Bunnymen.
"I remember I want to see The Alarm when they were knee-high to Big Country and I thought 'these people have COMPLETELY misunderstood Mott The Hoople' and it's been happening ever since. I'm now used to people misunderstanding me though it's weird when you get all these ersatz Eldritch clones out there treading the boards."
--You've never seen Fields Of The Nephilim?
"No. I'm told we played with them once in San Francisco but I wasn't actually there when they played."
Patricia: "They knew I was there and afterwards, they came up and started talking to people next to me. I just left, I wasn't even going to speak to them. I mean, for a moment when they were on, I turned and thought 'this is familiar, what's this?'"
"The only reason that people like that embarrass me so much is that, if they're really that hooked on me, they must be tasteless. It gets to the stage where you think 'I'm not THAT good and anyone who thinks I am must be an idiot'.
"They haven't got a grip but there's an inner integrity and authority in 'Corrosion' which comes of pain, grief and suffering.
I couldn't do what The Mission are doing, I couldn't do what The Cult are doing (3), I couldn't do what The Beastie Boys are doing, I couldn't do what Madonna is doing, I could do what Alice Cooper did but I'm not extrovert enough. I would have no scruples about doing it if I were able to. There's an acknowledgement there that you don't find in other, smaller vulgarisms.
"And if it takes a year fighting corporate wars in order to be able to do it with integrity (4), then I'll do it...or not at all. I don't HAVE to do this."
--Don't you have a touching belief that the role of a recording artist is a reason to be intelligent and communicative, and isn't that belief extraordinarily old-fashioned?
"Yeah, and self-destructive."
--So you're fighting a rearguard action.
"Or vanguard, depending on how you look at it."
--I hope history proves you right.
"I hope so too because I don't think this irony compounds itself properly unless you do add an extra layer on the top, unless you do mix something worthwhile in."
--Don't we need a new era of innocence? Don't we need to UNLEARN how to progress?
"No, we need a new era of cynicism. The reason the NME, for instance, can't comprehend this sort of thing is that they don't have that cynicism. They still believe that rock'n'roll is supposed to be na´ve and wonderful and, if you give them irony, they say 'Oh dear, that's distasteful. Let's forget about it. Let's pretend it's not humorous.' That's a very primitive cynicism born out of a very vulgar and na´ve ideology."
--Has pop music let you down?
"No. I know what it's capable of because, when I grew up, it was blatantly capable of it and it was delivering. Expectations have been lowered since and deliveries have been faltering. It's just a question of raising people's expectations again.
We can do it. I'll make the records if you'll raise the expectations. It's a long war but 'Corrosion' might win one battle and, after all, it's the only war worth fighting."
--How much is revenge the motive?
" 'The Gift' was revenge, a weapon very specifically pointed. This is the gloating, much more widespread, more general."
--Why did you go to live in Hamburg?
"It's the largest city in the Federal Republic which is the most powerful country in Europe. It's just such a cool place because it's not populated by cool people like Berlin. Love the people."
--Do you feel badly done in by Britain then, by the press...
"Yeah. Not so much these days because I've got a reasonable amount of goodwill stored up, but one knows it's only goodwill as long as you don't start going on about aesthetics when they ask you what your favourite colour is."
--Perhaps you were better off as goth's missing man, the Eighties' own Jim Morrison. I can just hear the headlines - "Eldritch spotted gunrunning in South America". As soon as you come back, you're just part of...
"The circus? I don't think so because this record is so far off what people expect, especially after 'Gift'. And, I mean, apologies to Slough but we ain't gonna be out there playing next week. Or the week after. Or the week after that. I'm not going to be turned into the sort of person where, after awhile, there are only two sorts of people - there's the entourage, and they're good guys, and then there's the bastard public and they're just there to make the turnstiles go click. Or, if they've got a pulse, they get f*cked and, if they haven't, then they're the people you score the drugs off. It's really dehumanising."
--What are your writing impulses now? Considering that you've cleaned up and look fit(ter) and happy, can we really expect the traumatised emotional blackmail of "Marian" or the vicious drug inertia of "Nine While Nine"?
"I'm only this fit because I'm about to be tortured all over again. I'm not gonna do it to myself by touring but this business takes an awful lot out of you. As for all the myths about me - well, the ones you know are perfectly true."
--Of course. You feed off your myth.
"If someone's come up with a good idea, I don't think 'hm, better go out and live that one', not like Wayne."
--So the drug-taking, womanising rock'n'roll rebel isn't that important?
"No. I have a body of work built up that is so substantial that it will eventually get Dylanologized. I have total faith in the ability of history to judge, which is why the gloating of 'Corrosion' is so non-specific. I don't feel the need to say 'hey, I'm being vindicated now'."
All the while we're talking, incidentally (or maybe not so incidentally), Eldritch has three pairs of shades arranged before him on the table - two wire-framed bikecop models and a vaguely RayBan number.
--Has your lay-off changed your attitude at all?
"It's confirmed my unwillingness to pay attention to anybody else. I overhear things but I make no effort to listen. We don't really figure to re-enter the arena; we figure to sit in the emperor's seat for awhile, then go on holiday, then sit in the emperor's seat for awhile, then go on holiday, then sit in the emperor's seat for awhile... We're not interested in being Christians or lions really. Before, I was a Christian. Now I'm an emperor. A benevolent one. I mean, if I had my way, I'd stop the lions eating the Christians, but some people seem born to be Christians and some people seem born to be lions and there's not a lot you can do. Thanks to them, we've been pushed into the emperor's chair. It's quite comfy."
--Have you, in your time away, seen anything encouraging?
"What, to do with music?"
To do with anything.
Twenty seconds' silence. Then, "No. But nothing discouraging either. It's all just perfectly logical and according to the scheme of things. Life went on and I expect it to go on. I'd find it pretty weird, in fact, if I had seen any light... or darkness."
--Control seems important to you while, all around, others are relinquishing theirs.
"Yeah. But, you see, although I put my sole existence into making records, I don't need to make records. I mean, if I hadn't gone off and been a little degenerate in the meantime, I daresay I'd have joined the Diplomatic Corps - that's what I'm trained for. Or MI6."
--So what'd you think of "Spycatcher"?
"That's pretty damn irrelevant - that's all to do with the Home Office isn't it? I haven't read it but I believed Harold when he said it the first time. I was pretty young then but I figured 'sure, that's the way the world is'. I can't see what the surprise is all about. And then there was Nixon - what the hell did they expect? It's just politics."
--So was Nixon hard done by or was he just dumb to get caught?
"I thought Nixon was a great president. He got the Americans out of Vietnam, he made friends - to some extent - with the Russians and he certainly made friends with the Chinese. He was the best president in terms of foreign policy that nation had in a long time and I thought they were very stupid to get rid of him. He was very stupid to make a mess of covering up Watergate -
I mean, Reagan survived Irangate."
Patricia: "I was over there when that happened and, you know, Reagan called up Richard Nixon and asked him how to survive it."
--Eldritch is supposed to be a pretty ruthless character himself.
"Not really. I'm a counter-attacker by nature. I'm not a pre-emptive strike man."
--Most people in your position, if they're interested in maintaining control, tend to make a point of confounding (Robert Smith) or confirming (John Lydon) their public image. You tend to do neither.
"That's where the hardship comes in. It's a lot of extra work and a lot of extra worry and it's dreadful publicity. Anecdotes?
I just don't have them."
--Will "Corrosion" chart?
"I'm told it will. I don't care. It's a good record now, it'll be a good record in five years' time. I don't care when people buy it, though I think it's more accessible to people, it has a more accessible top layer than maybe records we've had out in the past. That's just a function of the way it's recorded, I don't think it's a function of the song."
--So the song's a wolf in sheep's clothing. Or..uh..a wolf in..what? Brontasaurus' clothing? I dunno, I'll cheat and put in something really witty and apposite when I write this.
"Ha! I think it's a shark in wolf's clothing. That was a pretty duff metaphor to start with. Forget about that one..."
--But it is devious.
"Not deceitfully so. It's just crafty. Whatever level you take it on, I hope it makes sense. I mean, I'd like people to go for everything they can get out of it and all at once - that's what symbolism and obscurism are all about - but I don't expect that.
It's the only thing I get off on though. It's the only thing that would make me wanna sing the same song two nights running on tour. It's gotta have that overwhelming panoply of effects."
--What do you read now?
"Der Spiegel and The [London] Times - I've started doing the crossword again. Last month I read 'Pilgrim's Progress' and 'Beowulf'."
"I don't have a television in Hamburg. That's one of the reasons for not writing in Leeds because I'd spend 24 hours - well, 25 hours a day by the time I'd taken some medicine - watching TV. I was very pleased to be forced to catch the Rutger Hauer season while we were in the studio. Patricia was renting anything with Rutger Hauer in it. Some of them are real stinkers but he's so funny in 'The Hitcher' - it's a brilliant comic performance. You'll love it.
"It really makes you wanna go out and do it. There's not a lot of films in which the character is so obviously deranged but, at the same time, makes it look like such fun that even the sanest person could imagine doing it. I mean, to go out and wanna be 'The Terminator' you've gotta be a moron basically - it's great to watch but you'd never do it yourself. This is different."
--So what makes you happy Eldritch?
"Cats still make me ludicrously happy."
--What makes you sad?
"Nothing makes me sad because I think there has to be some element of surprise in order to feel sad."
"Well, I'm thinking of learning to drive. The thing is, whenever I go abroad, I invariably end up driving and I don't have a license or anything which is probably not the thing to do. Then, you see, what happens after that is I buy a car. At the moment I just can't figure out how to enjoy that because I don't particularly like cars for their own sake and I don't particularly like driving.
I'm very bad at it. I get these urges. I see these things and I wonder 'what if...?' That's why I don't really enjoy it; because I'm responsible enough not to do what I feel the urge to do. I don't get the urge to drive fast, I just get the urge to drive off the road, especially when there's nothing on either side of me.
"It's got nothing to do with suicide; it's just got to do with driving a car off the edge of a cliff."
--How would you kill someone?
"It would depend whether it was someone I liked or someone I didn't like."
--Okay, someone you like.
"It depends whether I think they'd appreciate something spectacular or something just very sedate. I thought the self-destruct programme in 'Soylent Green' was pretty good for the sedate. I think if it was someone I really, really liked and they'd appreciate the spectacular, it would involve an expanse of scenery and an extraordinarily fast car."
--And those you don't like?
"I'd always want it to take longer. It's best to kill someone they really like, I think."
--You suggest in what you just said that you like and dislike but not love and hate.
"I'm very wary of it. I have to be very careful because I think I'm probably a bit obsessive by nature. I had to TOTALLY stop drinking in order to maintain any business whatever. I don't gamble. I don't do smack."
"Absolutely not. I only ever really did it once and I don't think I'm likely to do it again."
--Because you don't like losing your personality in someone else or because you don't like inflicting it?
"Both. We were just dreadful for each other. It didn't stop it being brilliant but it's marginally better that it doesn't happen anymore. That's tough. It still hangs over to the extent that I couldn't do it again."
--What would induce you to lose your self-control, to endanger yourself in passion?
"I've only ever done that when I wasn't quite... well, onstage I've done things that afterwards I've thought 'no! Eldritch that was just beyond the pale.' "
--Because you could or because you were out of it?
"Because I could, because I was out of it and because I had to. If you're in front of a crowd, you're in a position of responsibility and, if they're all waiting for you to sort out one moron, then you have to do it."
--Did you feel pissed-off being put in that position?
"Yeah. I mean, the last time it happened, I spent half an hour trying to talk the crowd into sorting out their own problem and then, eventually, I just dived. It was really sad. I felt very ashamed on their behalf that they let me do it."
--Okay, that's it. Was it good for you?
"I never know. I always go away thinking 'well, I haven't said enough about post-war dramatic theory or fencing or Chinese philology' which are, y'know, the things I really care about. And then someone always comes up to me and says 'well? Did you tell them how great the record is?' and I go 'oh, actually that never occurred to me.' "
--Mission accomplished I think.
"Well, I don't feel the urge to express myself outside the songs. I'm useless at small talk and I'm really a pretty boring person."
--It's only that you've never sat across a table from Wet Wet Wet that allows you to say such things. (5)
"No really, I can never remember a joke and I don't feel the need. The only conversations I quite get off on these days are the ones I have with you where we discuss how crap conversation is. I'm not socially-honed and I don't feel the need to be; I was pretty cruel when I was. It got to be beyond a joke. Once you convince yourself you're the all-time best at it, where d'you go from there?"
"I don't feel enigmatic. Enigmatic is being deliberately obscure and I'm not. I might be oblique but that's only because, to me, obliqueness is a clearer way of expressing something in its entirety."
--Could this be the Oxford University training - the art of leaving oneself least open to attack, or are we talking about truth here?
"Truth. I can do the other as well but I'm too out of training to be able to do that and, when I got really good at it, I began to despise myself for it. In the songs, that crops up again and again, the contempt of oneself when one finds oneself on the verge of getting involved with all that."
--So you're talking about a search for communication or a loathing of not wanting to communicate?
"I really don't know but, aside from the bit about Roy Kinnear, I stand by everything I've ever said to you."
Even the stuff about Norman Wisdom?
Gods will be gods.