How We Met: Jim McCarthy & Jah Wobble
'You meet a lot of sanctimonious people in recovery. But we'd genuinely both been to the edge'
Sunday 06 July 2008
Jim McCarthy, 52, is a comic-book artist and author. He worked on 2000 AD for 10 years and has published graphic biographies of Eminem, Kurt Cobain, Tupac Shakur and the Sex Pistols. He lives in Sussex
We almost met before we actually did. I used to play a lot of drums as a kid back in the late 1970s, and I saw an advert that John Lydon put in the Melody Maker for a drummer for Public Image Ltd. I was getting very excited about going up to audition and I would have met John [Wardle, Jah Wobble's real name] then, but on the day of the audition it got cancelled. I was gutted.
So John and I didn't actually meet until 1986, in very different circumstances. We were both going through a lot of trouble with alcohol and drugs, and we hit rock-bottom at about the same time. We met in a self-help recovery group in London. I immediately felt a kinship with him, because he was so serious, as serious about his recovery as he was about his music. Getting well and getting off substances was his only objective. And it was mine too. But he seemed quite well-balanced, considering, and we were really into a lot of the same music. So we started hanging out quite a bit. I was living in Deptford and he would come over to my council flat.
He ended up being the subject of my first published piece, which was in the same year. It was a feature called "Jah Wobble Invades This Space". At the time he was quite a tough character, well-known for punching people's lights out, so we took a picture of him cuddling this ridiculous teddy in a clown's outfit.
Now he's turned up again in my new book, which is a graphic biography of the Sex Pistols. He's on the first page, along with John Lydon, John Ritchie [Sid Vicious] – all the Johns. He was very helpful, sorting the myths and the bullshit from the truth about that era. I think he's a really important artist. He's still doing new things, he's not just rehashing the same old stuff. He's invented his own musical universe and stayed true to it. I'd say he's like our English Miles Davis.
We've both been clean and sober for 23 years. We have kind of an eternal friendship. He's one of those people you could not see for 10 years and then when you next do it's as if it's only been a day. We talk on the phone for hours sometimes, and last year I had a particularly tough head-trip and called him up, and he understood. With some people in recovery, you can't really talk openly about everything. With John you can. He knows the dark sides of his character, but also the light.
Jah Wobble, 50, was the original bassist in Public Image Ltd, which formed when the Sex Pistols fragmented. He has since collaborated with musicians including Brian Eno, Massive Attack and Sinead O'Connor. He lives in Cheshire with his daughter and his wife, the guzheng player Zi Lan Liao
You meet a lot of people in recovery who you think, "OK, I take your word for it that you were a drug addict, an alcoholic, but you don't look like one to me." Well, that wasn't how it was with Jim. We both knew we'd come pretty close to the edge. We absolutely went down the road of excess and, as [William] Blake says, that hopefully leads to the palace of wisdom.
There were all these people there who'd become sanctimonious and bland; they'd wail about wrestling with their anger. Deptford Jim, as I knew him then, retained this tremendous appetite for experiencing life. He wasn't afraid to fail. When I was talking about writing my autobiography, he would say, "Go on, why are you still talking about it? Just write it!"
I was very happy around that time but I needed to get out of the music scene for a bit – and I needed money – so I worked for London Underground for a few months. I loved driving a Tube. Once I got on the PA system during rush hour and said: "I used to be somebody. I repeat, I used to be somebody."
We lost touch for a bit, but we got to know each other again six or seven years ago. These days we talk about American DVD boxsets. I used to say, "I don't watch television. I read books and go to the pictures, thank you very much." But he turned me on to The Wire, Six Feet Under, all of those. I don't tend to like talking about my taste, but I find I can with him.
And he rubs off like that on everyone. We went to this gaff I know in the East End a while back; it's run by this gorgeous, voluptuous woman that all the sad old geezers just die for. And Jim noticed she was reading this music biography and wandered over and started talking to her about it. He brought her over and I ended up not getting a word in all lunch. At the end she told me, "Your mate's really nice". He has a kind of childlike enthusiasm. I think that's part of what people like about him. He's easy to talk to.
I hope he thinks the same about me. He's one of two or three people, when the chips are down, who I'll talk to. With him, I don't have to pretend I'm something I'm not. That's nice.
Jah Wobble plays Bush Hall, London W12, tonight; tickets from 08700 600 100. See 30hertzrecords.com for further tour details.
Jim McCarthy's 'Sex Pistols: The Graphic Novel' is out now, published by Omnibus
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