"I'm fucking sick of going to see bands and being bored. I want to be blown away... It's not enough to be another boring group. It's not enough, if you want to do anything." (Ginger, Scuzz fanzine, 1993)
In the late Eighties, decadent rock 'n' roll bands like Guns N' Roses and Skid Row were riding the crest of a wave popularity-wise. However, by 1992, rock 'n' roll had become a term of abuse for many people. Nirvana and Pearl Jam had re-invented the rock musician as anti-star super-Christ. Flamboyant behaviour was frowned upon and a whole generation of hard rock fans looked to Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder to lead them forward into the new decade. When the 'New Honesty' collapsed under the weight of its own expectations, culminating in Cobain's suicide in April 1994, the music world was forced into some pretty serious soul-searching; even back-pedalling in some cases. This wasn't supposed to happen. What had gone wrong? If 'honest' rock music was meant to make people feel good about their lives, why did everyone seem so damned miserable? One band had known the answer for years.
Battling their way to prominence through the 'grunge' era, The Wildhearts seemed to strike the perfect balance between the primal scream of Nirvana and the fun rock 'n' roll spirit of prime-time Guns N' Roses (the fact that they sounded like some bizarre marriage between Cheap Trick and Metallica must surely suggest alien forces were at work). Their songs spoke a million truths about human nature, though they did so without constantly lapsing into negativity. Even their angry songs rattled along with a positive rage. Nothing seemed to phase their songwriter and frontman, Ginger. If life had teeth, he wanted to be the one to kick them out.
For me, The Wildhearts represent life in all its joyous, though often painful, glory. Ginger's written songs about every human emotion there is: love, hate, rage, lust, loneliness... And every time I play a Wildhearts record, a million memories come flooding back: some funny, some warm, some painful, all precious. The first Wildhearts review that I ever wrote - a short piece on Mondo Akimbo A-Go-Go in 1992 - ended with the line: "Come on, kids, let's change the world." Little did I know how much The Wildhearts would change my world over the course of the next seven years.
It was a shared love of the band that brought me and my wife, Tara, together in 1994. And since then, I've made many more friends in much the same way, both through my writing about the band in fanzines like Ginger Nuts!, and my contributions to THE WiLDHEARTS MAiLiNG LiST on the Internet. My self-belief has also been given a major boost by the positive messages that I've picked up, both from the band's music and the occasional pieces of support I've had down the years from Ginger, Danny and Willie.
When I sat down to write this chronology, I knew it could never be a straightforward history of the band. I knew I'd have to include events and people that were specific to my experience of The Wildhearts over the past eight years. The Wildhearts' story is as much about their fans as it is about the band themselves (not to mention the press). Context has always been an important part of rock 'n' roll. Personal memories are as much a part of history as records and news stories. To deny them on the grounds of "irrelevence" is to miss the point of a band like The Wildhearts. Their music isn't just their own lives, it's ours too. So I make no apologies for the occasional personal slant that I've given the text.
It's now over a year since the first version of this chronology was published (in EastWest Japan's 4 CD Wildhearts boxed set, Moodswings And Roundabouts) - even longer since I wrote it. When I was asked if I'd be willing to update the history for Burrn! magazine (in which this expanded version was published in March 1999), my first reaction was, 'but nothing much has happened this year!'. It was only when I started piecing together all the Wildhearts-related events of 1998, and saw the bigger picture, that I realised just how much had happened. Chronicling the events of the past year has doubled the total word count of this piece, which took me a bit by surprise. It's a very nice surprise, though.
The first version of the chronology ended with the release of the band's last original studio album, Endless, Nameless. 1997 was the strangest year yet for the greatest rock 'n' roll band of the Nineties. They went back on their promises about multi-formatting, played some amazing gigs, turned into glam rockers, made an album to make Phil Spector's jaw drop, lost half their fan base, cancelled an entire UK tour and flew apart in front of our very eyes, leaving rumours of drug dependency, personality clashes and musical differences in their wake. Endless, Nameless is the soundtrack to all this and more. It's rock at its most terrifying and absorbing, the aural equivalent of a David Cronenberg movie. The final, crashing, low frequency boom that thunders from the speakers at the climax to Thunderfuck sounds like the end of the world. For certain people, it very nearly was.
So how did we get from there to here? The fact that band members, both past and present, at last seem to be at peace with themselves and each other is just about the happiest ending for this updated version that I could possibly imagine. Of course, it's not the absolute end of the story - that'll always be ongoing - just the end of another chapter. But it's a chapter that gave me great pleasure to write. It's definitely a far more positive place to rest than the events of October 1997, my deadline for the first version.
(One entry that I wish I never had to write, however, is Danny Deen's obituary for 6 Dec 1998. Danny was the talented artist who created the p.h.u.q. artwork, as well as the Landmines & Pantomimes sleeve and many other bits and pieces, including Wildhearts T-shirts. I learnt of his sad death as this piece was nearing completion. My sympathy goes out to all of Danny's family and friends.)
Where to now? Well, as you know, Ginger's been a very busy chappy since The Wildhearts' split, and I've no doubt that he'll come through with some truly great, inspiring music in 1999. I wish him the best of luck, though with that much talent I'm sure he won't need it.
The last time I had a proper conversation with Danny McCormack was in September 1998 at a London Yo-Yo's gig, where he seemed very happy to be part of a fully-functioning band again. I'm pleased for him. Danny's been through a lot these past few years, and he deserves every ounce of happiness that life grants him. The Yo-Yo's are a brilliant rock 'n' roll band - a band that I feel are very close in spirit to The Wildhearts.
Though I was supposed to be interviewing Danny and guitarist Neil about The Yo-Yo's, I took the opportunity to talk to Danny about The Wildhearts, telling him that I thought the band had saved rock 'n' roll in the Nineties. Danny didn't seem to mind talking about the past, and responded warmly and candidly: "Actually, tonight'll be the second time in a year that we've all been in the same room together. The first time was Ginger's acoustic gig [at the London 12-Bar Club in August 1998]. I mean, we all go out drinking and boozing together, but one on one. It's never, like, all four together. It used to be, but now... aah, I dunno, we'll have to see. But we won't reform for good... Every time we get pissed together it's 'oh, wouldn't it be great if we did this?!' But by the time we've sobered up it's like...
"I've never purely hated anybody in The Wildhearts. Nobody. It's 'cos we've loved each other so much, and we were that close. They're the ones you always hurt, the ones that you're fuckin' close to, isn't it? They see you in the morning, see you naked and stuff... [laughs]. And you always piss off the people around you. Getting snappy and stuff, and it's like water off a duck's fuckin' head... a duck's back, even.
"It was just a shame that we didn't fuckin' become millionaires. But we've all still got our health. We're all still alive, which is the most important thing. Fuckin' hell... we saved rock 'n' roll, but we didn't even save ourselves!"