He’’s a lumberjack, but he’’s OK

The Bassline Johannesburg Review

Ettiene Terblanche

Wed, 05 Jul 2006

If the ’80s was a cultural wasteland only occasionally alleviated by moments of genius (take a bow: The Smiths, New Order, The Replacements, H?sker D?, REM, Sonic Youth, Kate Bush), then it was a crummy time to grow up, to break up and to wear make up.

But hey, what’s a teenager without a time-machine gonna do? Suffer. That’s what.

Thank God, some of us grow up, sell the jalopy, wean ourselves off the beer, tuck our shirts in and update our vinyl records into CD format and, sometimes unwittingly, accumulate all the trappings of middle age spread. But, for coolness sake, our memories never “mature”.

Dim recollections of teenage heartbreak were revived and then kickstarted into technicolour melodrama when Lloyd Cole’s Medicine Show for the Culturally Disdvantaged hit Africa for the first time this week. And, hallelujah, there’s a healin’ goin’ on!

When he first takes the stage after support act Matthew van der Want’s intense-attorney-in-deviant-acoustic-guts-spilling-fetish routine, he looks like a roadie come to give the amplifier knobs a final polish. But once it’s clear that he’s assuming the “stool rock” position, it’s the born again who triumphs over the heretic.

“Contrary to popular belief, I haven’t retired…and this isn’’t a comeback”, our Lloyd intones, modestly, while the awestruck faithful laugh nervously, with the sort of reticence of the disciples laughing at The Chosen One’s jokes.

Since ‘Rattlesnakes’ (Cole’s debut album) entered the lexicon of the outsider lefty South African in 1984, we’ve been blessed with its creator’s tuneful wordiness and cursed by its addictive melancholy. His follow ups ‘Easy Pieces’ and ‘Mainstream’ were also staples of Anglophiles everywhere, and for the 600 or so seeing him in the flesh at the Bassline, was a bit like taking a sacrament — almost too important to be fun.

The gig is littered with the Lloyd Cole-isms that made him an icon to pseuds, students and earnest young people trying to find the answers to life, the universe and everything. He is bookish, aloof and witty even though, in appearance at least, the svelte polo-necked sophisticate has been replaced with Desperate Dan’s lumberjack cousin.

This is the man whose lyrics made us read (the first few pages, anyway) Norman Mailer, Simone de Beauvoir, Truman Capote and watch ‘On the Waterfront’ or flippantly tell our significant others: “Must you tell me all your secrets when it’s hard enough to love you knowing nothing?”

He takes us on a tour of his influences, from Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ to a Johnny Cash reading of ‘My Bag’ to a Tom Waitsian growl in-between song banter.

By the encore, the believers have thawed and relaxed. The occasional whoops of self-congratulatory recognition for “the songs we know” (‘Brand New Friend’, ‘2cv’, ‘Four Flights Up’, ‘Cut Me Down’, ‘Lost Weekend’ et al) or covert joy at a rare outing for minor classic ‘Why I Love Country Music’, are replaced by a reverential echoing of ‘Forest Fire’ (the one that made you love Catholic girls) and a standing sing-along to ‘Jennifer…She Said’ (the one about tattoos, regret… and regretted tattoos).

Post-gig the sated faithful drift to their upmarket drives home in the car park, and share a knowing nudge with assorted music industry types (music gurus Alex Jay and Neil Johnson, Paul E. Flynn, and Paolo from Absinthe).

A few smiley, happy people linger to sneak a peak backstage or maybe to pinch themselves sober before going back to the babysitter, the mortgage and the menagerie repeating our mantra for life: “Not even the government are gonna stop us now.”

Link to original article online

Publication: iafrica website

Publication date: 05/07/06