Tuesday, March 03, 2009

passionate friend on acid

Issue 3 of the mid-90s drug zine Heads And Tales had an indispensable little feature called Ten Rules For Tripping.

1 - Cars can hurt you.
2 - You cannot fly.
3 - It's never 'a good day to die', no matter how amazingly dramatic it sounds.
4 - Taking your clothes off will draw attention.
5 - Keep mouth shut at all times in public.
6 - Although you may see things that are not there, you won't NOT see things that aren't there.
7 - Don't forget how to burp.
8 - Only carry a house key, some loose change, and your address in your shoe.
9 - Nobody can tell you're tripping till you tell them 'I'm tripping'.
10 - No matter how fucked you think you are, you'll eventually come down.

It's rule 9 that we're going to illustrate here.

On the surface, this appears to be just Teardrop Explodes doing Passionate Friend on Top of The Pops in September 1981. Because, unless singer Julian Cope tells us 'I'm tripping,' we're none the wiser.

In his autobiography Head-On, Cope describes what was going on from his perspective.

= = = = = = =

We piled into the Toppy studios for what was to be a 'live' broadcast. Of course, we were still going to be lip-synching but it was screened directly to its regular 10 million viewers.

Gary [Dwyer, drummer] and I took huge hits of LSD during the afternoon and our dressing room had a vague narcotics lab feel about it, what with Droyd and Bates and the head of [record label] Phonogram TV punishing large quantities of powder.

We lurched over to our set. I was going to perform the whole song on top of a grand piano, in bare feet with leather pants and a shit embroidered top that I'd made from a Columbia hotel pillowcase.

I climbed on to the piano and freaked. No way. I could barely stand up on the ground. Up on the piano I felt like Basketball Jones, the cartoon kid from the Cheech and Chong video who keeps getting bigger and bigger.
I looked up into the ceiling of the studio, the lights twinkled like distant stars. From my elevated position on the piano, studio technicians and members of other groups looked grotesque.

The acid heightened the fake tans of everyone in the room and only accentuated the paleness of the Teardrop members. Of course, if they'd had a chance, Alfie, Jeff and Gary would have been sun-worshippers, but I had to keep those bastards in check.

We ran through the camera rehearsal and loped back into the dressing room. The next few hours were spent smoking spliff and everyone trying in vain to persuade me from wearing the orange pillow case.
'Okay, Copey, five minutes and you're on'. Uh? Wow, Batesy was right. I sat, head down, with the front of my leathers undone. Sweat coursed down my belly and I mopped it up with my shitty top.

I was paranoid as hell. The BBC make-up woman had scared the shit out of me. They had asked me if I'd just come back from the Bahamas and said they loved my tan. Of course, irony is lost on someone who's tripping his brain out, so I figured that I must be turning brown.

'I'm not too dark
really, am I?'

'Fuckin ell Copey, you're dead pale, honest'. Gary was trying to make me feel better, but what did he know? He was tripping too and I didn't want people placating me. It was time to go. I wasn't ready. We had to go. I wasn't ready. Why aren't you ready? I don't feel tall enough. Well, you're gonna be standing on top of a piano. Is that tall enough for you. Eh?

They led me reluctantly out to the studio floor. It was total chaos out there. People were running around and freaking out and winding everyone else up. I suddenly felt very becalmed. A group called Buck's Fizz were doing their thing on the other side of the studio. They were a two-boy, two-girl, fun group with cutesy expressions and dance routines. We were to follow them.

[The Buck's Fizz song was One Of These Nights. The TOTP performance doesn't seem to be archived online, but it must've been pretty darn similar to this one]

I watched fascinated. Then as time moved slowly on I felt sucked into their scene. God, they were brilliant. I wanted to be in Buck's Fizz. I rushed over to Gary and hit him with the idea. The two of us should join. Imagine an acid-soaked dance group with showbiz routines, it would be incredible.

It was two minutes to our performance. We had to be exact as it was live, so no mistakes. Bates dragged me to the grand piano. Shit, it's like an ocean liner. The piano was exquisite and moved gently past me as I walked around it.
Little girls ran over towards me as I climbed aboard the piano. I smiled my most ridiculous and inane grin and, after much manoeuvring, scrambled to the top of this vast and polished plateau.

The finish of the piano was unbelievable. I waded in its high gloss black syrup, my bare feet sinking deeper and deeper into the surface like hot wet tar on a newly completed road. It was all I could think about.
'Don't jump around too much, Copey. It'll cost us a fortune if you wreck that thing'. Oh, thanks a lot, Batesy. Thanks fucking loads. That's just what I want to hear when I'm tripping on live TV.

The boom camera swung away from Buck's Fizz as their song faded out. Everyone was in position and I forgot to duck as the camera crane whizzed past my head, nearly knocking me from my dubious perch. Okay, I'm not in Buck's Fizz. I'm not. Better remember.

'The friend I have is a passionate friend, but I can't see you buying...'.
Passionate Friend doesn't have an intro or anything. It just starts - vocals, drums, guitar, everything. All together. In a split second, I was fighting for my life up on the piano. I looked back at Gary who was off his head. His blond quiff was hanging straight out over his face, jiblike and starched and strong like a newly creosoted fence. I wanted to climb on to it and walk along its length, like a sailor walking the plank.

Around me, the song waged war with itself. So much going on. How can I keep this together? Who cares, I'm doing fine. I looked down at Jeff, thousands of feet below me at the piano keyboard. He looked ridiculous to me, like the phantom of the opera or some such shit.

Now, Passionate Friend is also one of those songs that has a reprise. See, the whole song builds to a climax then we come to a stop, and start the whole thing again. Suddenly, I was miming, 'the friend I have is a passionate friend, but I can't see you buying...'.
Hold on, I thought. What's all this? My mind did double-takes and I battled for some sense of reality. Maybe this was the real start of the performance. Maybe I'd imagined the first half of the song. What the hell is going on?

I felt the song disappearing into a tunnel. It was fading out and the Top of The Pops audience was cheering. I felt as though I had been up there for days. But I'd done battle and I seemed to have won.


punkscience said...

"My mind did double-takes and I battled for some sense of reality."

Gods, thats the worst bit about tripping: Trying to work out if the weird shit you just saw was the drug or reality fucking with you.

A hilarious tale. I can't believed he was that strange! His performance seemed no more bizarre than any other 80s TOTP effort.

I love the list. That's going on my kitchen wall.


Anonymous said...

That's my checklist and I've never touched acid.

Anonymous said...

I dunno man... When you see some kid with eyes like saucers staring at his fingernails and giggling for like, 20 minutes solid, you've got a pretty good idea that something is going on. Nobody naturally has pupils larger than their head.

As an older and hopefully wiser head, I do enjoy playing the "guess which drug he's on" game.

Guy said...

I love this performance but actually the piano was white not black as he remembers it... he was doing pretty well anyway considering he was that caned.