Altered States (part 2)

Mr Albarn has precious little enthusiasm for anything else 'happening' back home, though. He "doesn't understand" the fuss over the Spice Girls, although he does have a favourite ("Mel B - she's the best looking by miles"). He can't stand New Grave ("I had enough of Goths when I was trying to avoid them as an 18-year-old in Colchester. That Marilyn Manson guy was at the Tibet gig, ordering champagne. And I'm like, 'Champagne? F*** off! You should be drinking cider and black like the rest of your kind!'") Oddly, the one person he does have a little sympathy for is Crispian Mills.

"Not too much, though. I mean, he does come across as a bit of a twat, doesn't he? But I'm very grateful to him for replacing me as everyone's favourite whipping boy. At least, he's a proper public schoolboy - that was the only thing people have ever said about me that wound me up. I don't mind being called middle-class, but I didn't go to f***ing public school."

Aside from that, it seems, nothing much bothers Damon Albarn these days. Tonight, he's relaxed in the company of the most stellar guestlist ever created (Winona Ryder! Courtney Love! U2! REM! Jamie Theakston! How did he get in!), even when Liam Gallagher spots him in the crowd and ambles over to mumble the usual variations on 'I'm mad for it, me!'

Does this mean there's a truce, then, Damon?

"Well, we're not big pals or anything. I don't relate to them at all. But it's a bit different over here - they're mere mortals like the rest of us. We're playing on the same bill as them at a couple of gigs, which is fine by me. We'd never do it at home, but it's a chance for a less partisan crowd to judge us on our playing abilities."

For a minute, it looks like the old Damon might sneak in through the back door, but instead he clamps his gob and heads off to do a radio interview. Professional at all times, that's the new Blur credo. Even when they later attend a party thrown by Rock Chick Inc - a group of New York lasses apparently on a mission to take the word Anglophilia to its natural sexual conclusion. In days of yore, you might have expected Alex James to stay here roister-doistering till dawn. Tonight, he goes home on his own, just as most people are arriving. The old Damon might have got legless and into a ruck about something, but tonight he just gets pleasantly tipsy and chats about football.

Make no mistake, this is a happy man. A far cry from even the start of this year, when a series of interviews saw him talking about his clinical depression.

"I'm just starting to really sort myself out," he says now. "It takes ages until you can actually identify what you want out of life. I don't even think the information is available until you've been through a lot of different experiences. Occasionally, the symptoms of my depression come back, but I know what they are now so I can deal with it, whereas before they scared the shit out of me."

Good. For a while there, what with Justine complaining about her press treatment, the Coolest Couple In Rock were starting to look like the Whinging Couple Of Old Camden Town.

"The Whinging Couple Of Old Notting Hill, purlease," he smirks. "We've never lived in Camden. But when you're being interviewed you either completely lie, don't say anything or open yourself up a bit. All three will land you in the shit one way or another. And, y'know, Justine has had to face her own demons.

"But we have a unique relationship. Justine's a very relaxed and open-minded person. Which makes me a very lucky man."

Blimey. Is that wedding bells I hear?

"I don't know. All I know is I no longer want to be the biggest band in the world. I just want to be happy, have a family and be good at carpentry. But I've got to get off this world tour first."

You could always have a quickie marriage in Vegas...

"It's funny. I admire Noel for that cos he actually seems stimulated by the big classic rock'n'roll gestures. Like having that bit of stained glass saying 'Supernova Heights' outside his house."

He's got a new house now. Well, mansion, really.


Oh, Buckinghamshire or somewhere.

"Ooh, very nouveau. That's what you do when you're rich, buy loads of houses but never live in any of them. It's ridiculous. I've got three now - one in Notting Hill, one in Cornwall and one in Iceland. I'm a millionaire but I don't feel like it cos I've been in Melody Maker since I had 5p."

But it's not all happy families, wedding plans and property investment chez Albarn & Frischmann. Otherwise the new Elastica album wouldn't be taking so bloody long, surely?

"Oh, I think they just want to make sure it's absolutely right and allow everyone to speculate wildly while they're doing it."

And speculate wildly they do. Wild Saloon Bar Theory No. 1 for the day is: you write all the songs for her.

"Well, I don't," he snorts, looking annoyed for the only time all trip. "They only say that because she's a girl, don't they? They'd never say 'Oh, Justine writes all Blur's songs'."

Well, if that one gets your goat, how about Wild Saloon Bar Theory No. 2: that the reason for the delay is both you and Justine are heavily into heroin.

Oddly, the reaction is anything but angry.

"Oh, I heard that one," he smiles. "There's quite a lot of spicy gossip about us, isn't there? Well, of course I'm going to answer 'No'."

Why "of course"?

"What else do you think I'm going to say?"

Well, you might get angry. Have you ever taken heroin?

"Er. Um. [Huge pause] Er, I can't answer that really, can I? No. The fact that you ask a question like that... it's implicit that I'm guilty."

Well, are you? You're saying no, but the way you're saying it...

"...suggests I'm shooting up? Well, here are my arms," Damon smiles, proffering limbs with nary a pockmark on them.

There are other places to inject.

"Well, yes, you can, but I couldn't. I'd faint at the sight of a needle. My pulse rate rises uncontrollably whenever any surgical instrument comes near me. But you know, this goes back to what we've been talking about all day - it's a life choice whether you want to just play music or do all the other stuff that can help sustain your career. In the past, I've let the other stuff do the job, manipulating the media to my own ends, but I don't want that any more. I don't want people camped at the end of my road again.

"But I would say that, as far as heroin is concerned, I've seen so many people erase huge chunks of their lives as a result of it... I just think it's a very dangerous drug for people to take."

You don't seem that bothered by the rumours, considering your vitriolic attacks on people you suspected were using it in the past.

"You mean Brett?" queries Damon. "Well, I do regret that and I've said, on many occasions, that I was wrong. But I'm not puritanical. I've been through a lot in the last few years - all the things the tabloids love. But I've never taken a lot of drugs. I'm one of life's moderates. I'm actually very lucky - I'm one of the few people I know that can take drugs then walk away from them.

"I agree with the whole debate that was kicked off by the Brian Harvey thing because he actually spoke for a huge number of people. There really isn't a huge problem with taking E every weekend - I used to do it. I don't do it any more, but I used to. But then again, I come from a very emotionally stable background and a 16-year-old hasn't got the experience I have. I... I just wish you hadn't asked me that question, really."

Weird. Damon is clearly far too healthy, alert and driven to be abusing any drug at the moment, let alone smack, the ultimate fool's choice. Yet he can't bring himself to give a straight 'No'. Oh well. They don't call him the Tony Blair of pop for nothing.

"It's brilliant, America. All you do is play all your punk rock songs and they love you. It took us eight years to figure that out. Mind you, this set we're doing now reminds me of being in Seymour - fast songs played aggressively with lots of spazzy dancing from me. The only difference is we're not f***ed up, pissed-up and 18 any more."

Damon Albarn is about to go onstage at Philadelphia Electric Factory. His mission: to use punk rock fury to scare the life out of the mall honeys and Britpop wannabes that constitute Blur's old US fanbase while thrilling their new MTV alterna-rock converts. Only a few Britpop chestnuts survive. The message? Never mind all that bollocks, here's the Essex Pistols!

And they're brilliant. The likes of 'Girls And Boys' and 'Stereotypes' actually benefit from the sonic rocket up their arse, while even the weirder songs from the new album finally begin to make sense. They even play 'She's So High' in a style that's alarmingly close to Oasis ("It IS an Oasis song!" Damon smirked earlier. "Just six years before they did it"). By the time they get to 'Song 2', the jock-friendly chorus of "Woo-hoo!"s is deafening and Blur have passed the first serious examination of this American campaign with flying - nay, hurtling - colours.

Afterwards, everyone is so excited they actually go out to a club - except for Damon who has one puff of a spliff, gibbers briefly about Paolo Maldini's imminent arrival at Stamford Bridge and then feels so giddy he has to go to bed. Aw, bless.

Meanwhile, those that do stay up late are treated to the unusual spectacle of an utterly sober Alex James heading off to a drum'n'bass club.

"Just because I'm not drinking doesn't mean I can't chase girls and make a fool of myself," he grins, sagely.

Despite the teetotalism breaking out around him, Damon is the only member of Blur to make breakfast the next morning.

"I wish I was going home today," he says fuzzily, eyeing your correspondent's plane ticket.

No, you don't.

"Well, no, I don't really," he admits. "After all, I do want to be in a position soon where I can say, 'The only thing we've got in common with Oasis is we're both doing great in America'."

Any day now, surely. Blur, this is American Air Traffic Control: you are officially cleared for take-off. Have a nice day now, y'all.
by scummy | 2008-01-25 01:04 | interview


by scummy


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