In 1991 Douglas Coupland published his slacker masterpiece, Generation X. It was the first book I ever pre-ordered. The chapter titles were enough to evoke the end-of-the-world feeling that pervaded the transition from the ‘80s to the ‘90s; Our Parents Had More, Quit Your Job, It Can’t Last, Adventure Without Risk is Disneyland…it was time to give ourselves permission to walk away from accepted notions of success.
I embraced the opportunity to expose ourselves to fiscal inertia with zealous enthusiasm. All four of us did. Giving up a job is a big enough deal in itself, but we had fledgling careers. Steve and Neil had mortgages. Neil was starting a family. All of the inhibitors went over the side as we pushed off on our journey in a tiny leaky boat, keeping just enough room for the things that really mattered; family and friends. In photos from those days we look thin – not because we were young or active, but probably because we didn’t really eat regularly.
We downsized our material expectations and began a very risky adventure. Living in the moment, which is the only way to live when you are in a band without major backing, lowered our expectations of what the future might hold. I quickly decided that a nine-to-five job would never really suit me. There was talk of sandwich shops, smallholdings, retirement at 30. During this period all of my spare time was spent reading graphic novels and staring vacantly into space; anything to avoid the reality of modern life. I found, and still find, money and the things it allows us to access incredibly uninteresting. You can’t buy sunshine, the taste of a ripe tomato, a kiss. Well, you can I suppose, but not the essence of what marks the truly remarkable from the everyday.
On tour in the US we visited a Cincinnati launderette with a tiny coffee bar in the corner. It was called the Clean Café. My experiences in London and Ipswich of lugging a bin bag of clothes to a brightly-lit hell-hole smelling of savage detergent and sweaty sports kit were nothing compared to the delights of the Clean Café. I fell in love with it and for years I daydreamed about opening a similar place back home, with a bar and a tiny stage for open mic night. It would become a magnet for creative yet fastidious types – a bit like Warhol’s Factory with lint rollers. The concept of “lessness” appealed. I could get up when I wanted, sit around chatting and making the occasional coffee or opening a beer while making my slacker peers happy and, of course, making sure they smelt nice at the same time. What more would I want from life?
I still think about the Clean Café. When I do this I forget that almost everyone has a washing machine and has done for decades. I forget that students don’t gather in coffee shops to write songs and discuss art – they jab incessantly at their mobiles and apply false eyelashes to go to the shop for a pint of milk. Generation X spawned a monster.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to earn more money, but only so that I could work fewer hours and spend more time reading graphic novels and staring into space. The cultural pace these days is too fast for any of us to stop for long enough to actually appreciate anything. Film it on your phone, save it to Sky+; you’ll never find time to watch it but at least you tried.
I can’t help being a slacker. We’ve got a week to go and I really should pick up my guitar. It’s not that I don’t want to, I really do, but I need to just sit sometimes. And it is lovely to look at.
I’ll never know whether being in the band shaped who I am or whether it was an expression of who I was anyway. The truth probably lies somewhere between. I know that it gave me the perfect platform from which to develop a lifestyle that didn’t involve department stores, DIY or package holidays. In a week’s time I’ll be doing something I love with people I love for no money. What more could I ever ask for?