Walking past a State Street record store one day during my senior year of college, I spied an album cover that intrigued. My friend Melissa was also intrigued. And together, we went off to the Metro in Chicago and ended up at a show that would lead us both into yet another obsessive relationship with yet another great English band.
I remember telling my friend Nicole about this band. We watched this awkward interview on MTV (yes, when they still played music, and had a wonderful show called 120 Minutes). Somehow, they’d caught on to the fact that Suede was busy taking the UK by storm. We laughed at the awkward exchange between old country and new. Now I know that Brett was being a bit of an earnest prat, and I’m painfully aware of how annoying the interviewer (strangely, his name escapes me) would come across to a UK audience… But at the time, I thought, it was fabulous.
So, Melissa and I took off for Wrigleyville, and had a truly memorable experience. We were in the front row of this tiny but wonderful venue. As they came out on stage, my mind kept going back to Bowie… Brett was a frontman as exciting, as sexually charged, as intense as the great man himself. Melissa had the unfortunate pleasure of being crushed against a roadie trunk that some idiot had decided to put on its end in front of the stage. I was whipped in the face at one point by Brett’s mic cord. We loved every moment (aside from those two) and were hooked from there on.
There is an intensity and excitement to a Suede show that you don’t often see. Even on that first tour of the US, they were inspiring a level of adoration that I hadn’t seen since Morrissey. We had the pleasure of hanging out in the alleyway next to the venue after the show with the band and a few dozen fans. That was where I realized that most groupies scare the hell out of me.
Though I have been, at times, what most people would call a groupie, I like to think that I’ve always controlled myself and carried myself with grace and a certain sense of self-awareness and humor about it all. My lowest point was during a near encounter with Sting. But that is for the Sting entry. At this point in my music fan journey, I was pretty much under control. I did, and still do, have such a deep admiration and respect for what these artists do, that I simply have a real desire to have the opportunity to tell them how much I appreciate their work. I must have done this on this particular occasion. However, I can’t honestly remember due to the lasting image of the girl with the painting. As we stood and observed the band and the fans’ interactions, a strangely nervous girl approached Brett with a canvas. She presented it to him, showing everyone in attendance that it was a painting of Brett in some sort of bondage gear. He was incredibly kind and thanked her as politely as he could. But I remember feeling incredibly uncomfortable on his behalf at the thought of someone spending that amount of time and energy depicting your image in such a bizarre way. Bloody hell, he must’ve thought. I know if I had been him, I’d have wanted to run away.
Here is some excellent footage from a show in Hamburg off that first tour… Suede at their quieter, intensely beautiful best on Pantomime Horse.
My love of Suede hit at the same time that I met my soon to be husband, and continued as we made the decision to move to London. The timing for following this band on their own turf couldn’t have been more perfect. I had missed the heyday of the great 80s new wave and alternative bands. But here I was, heading to London, my personal musical mecca, with a great band to follow at their peak.
About a year after our arrival in London, there was another fabulous show at the National in Kilburn. What a venue. What a night. With my new friends Anne Marie, Jane, and Mandy at my side, I had the funny feeling that I’d finally come home. I don’t know if this is footage from our night, or the other night they were there, but it actually made me cry finding someone had been incredible enough to upload most of this show.
Then there was a most special Suede experience at the Forum to follow. As was Melissa’s custom around those years, she had arrived in London for a visit, and the focus of this particular visit was on a fan club only gig at the Forum in Kentish Town. This show was special for many reasons. We were together, seeing our favorite band of the time. We had a grand adventure just getting to the gig as we walked around the abandoned warehouses behind King’s Cross station, met up with others in the same state of confusion, ended up sharing a cab and just making it to the Forum in time. Melissa took a grand crash off the stairs on the main floor. And they played only b-sides. Things that they’d probably never play live ever again. A special night indeed.
Then there was the penultimate (for them) Suede gig. At the lovely Brixton Academy no less. With the lovely Caroline. My personal circumstances were much different by that point. I had had my first little boy, and the night had to be well planned for a long time in advance. I was to come down to Herne Hill, where I’d stay the night after attending with Caroline and her sister. Time was at a premium. I remember rushing to the pub pre show, downing a few very swift halves, and chatting with some gentleman that Caroline knew. Then I remember being on the main floor, just a few rows back, in a throng of pogo dancing fans, all wire and fueled with multiple pints and a deep sense of sad urgency… this was, after all, the penultimate night of Suede’s existence as a band. We danced hard and I sang along hard as I always do, no doubt annoying the hell out of all those around me. Though, seeing the general state they were in, I doubt anyone noticed. Lots of beer spilled on us, angry words between Caroline’s sister and some huge bloke that did most of the spilling, and many great songs later, it was over. The lights came on and it was time to go home. Like being ripped from a fabulous dream that you don’t ever want to end, the night, and Suede, were over.
Still to this day, no one epitomizes London to me as much as this band. They symbolized everything I loved about that period of my life in that great city, and for that, I’ll always be grateful to them. From the Suede mug on my desk at DK, to the ‘See you in the Next Life’ t-shirt I got at that last show, they were the English band I’d always hoped to be able to have in my life while actually living there. All the pale, angular Anglo attitude and androgyny. So sexual yet so sexless. Thank you, gentlemen, for some incredible times and beautiful music. Here they are with Still Life…
Of course, they got back together last year, something which Melissa got to witness on her annual trip… Here’s hoping they’ll stay together for a while.