Memoirs of a Geezer, By Jah Wobble

A post-punk raconteur gets straight to the point
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The Independent Culture

Long-standing readers of these pages will remember Jah Wobble as an entertaining and wayward book reviewer for more than a decade, covering crime, football, psychogeography, the East End and, of course, music. I met him in the summer of 1997, having invited him to a literary festival to discuss William Blake, whose work he had set to music – including a reggae version of "The Tyger". Wobble's writing was always eccentric and amusing, and he possesses the knack (not all that common) of being able to write in his own speaking voice. There isn't a dull page in this slyly entertaining memoir. Wobble is the ultimate punk and post-punk raconteur, and for those not lucky enough to spend time with the great man, this book – in which he sounds off all over again about crime, football, psychogeography, the East End and, of course, music – is a terrific substitute.

The legend begins when the tearaway Stepney boy meets John Beverley (Sid Vicious) and John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) at Kingsway College, and goes on to be one of the "faces" of the punk scene. If anything, Wobble downplays his friendship with Sid, whose death doesn't even merit a mention. Perhaps this is just the effect of looking at much mythologised events down the wrong end of time's telescope. The most interesting part of the story for many readers may be the brief and brilliant heyday of PiL (Public Image Ltd), which launched Wobble as an influential and revered bassist. However, the band took a lurch in the direction of Spinal Tap with its co-opting of the shop manageress Jeanette Lee, with whom Lydon and the guitarist Keith Levine were smitten. "I thought that it was fucking mental. She couldn't play anything, couldn't sing." He concedes that she was "reasonably pretty". But with a megalomaniac singer, smack-head guitarist and a Tap-like tendency to shed drummers, the band was already doomed.

Wobble's character assessments are always entertaining, whether it's Lydon ("I don't think that John can help himself with regard to money"), Brian Eno ("he is not, in my opinion, without talent") or Iain Sinclair ("he had what I felt was a rather sneering attitude to regular people"). Most of my favourite anecdotes are here, including the time he shared a haunted house with Lydon, and the mayhem that ensued when Wobble took a friend as "personal roadie" on tour to curb his drinking. Otherwise, the drinking and drugging years are lightly stepped over: "It got really ugly and messy. There's a lot of stuff I won't go on about," he writes piously. (A song lyric from the period is quietly harrowing: "They call me John, but I am alone, not even a person.")

A hard-won sobriety led to new musical horizons and a measure of spiritual insight, which fortunately for the reader doesn't hobble Wobble's I-am-right-they-are-all-wrong certainty, or his Cockney humour. And, if some of the lairiest stories aren't here, there is at least some insight into the central tragedy of his life: "To this day I still avidly follow Tottenham ... as I always say, you change your house, you change your motor, you even change your wife, but you never change your team. You're stuck with the useless bastards."

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