Interview with Baxter Dury about his new book, Chaise Longue. But inevitably, as these things tend to unfurl on their own accord without any real sense of structure, there’s a broad range of information exchanged. Information, ideas, a book, about so much more than living with Ian Dury. But something which just so happens to have a book, and Baxter, as the primary conduit for all life’s troublesome conditions, all life’s turbulent complexities.
This isn’t a review.
It never is.
There’s a review online by one of our own you can check out if you want that.
It’s me asking the young man in an older man’s body about the reasons for expressing a certain need to experiment with his own history for all those who are interested to see what makes it.
It’s me sitting in my office overlooking the stampede of transport that dominates Stockport Road in Manchester, fresh from working at a secondary school looking after disabled children, whilst asking the older man why he thinks the younger man felt like he did.
Why he thinks it was important to outpour this plethora of memories, a trove of moments enclosed within each page.
Why it was so suddenly essential and right to publish this recovery, and intimate recitation, this exposé of the fascinating flood of diary entries that right certain personal wrongs, that help colour in certain lines, that assist in joining up one lost dot to another, to ”Clean up some of the muddier facts about it. A dinner party expert about talking about myself, because I think people like me, orphans of a mad world become…appointed, sort of delusional people that go on about their own lives”, says Baxter. Ultimately making one end meet the other end, sitting one tooth of the jigsaw into the mouth of another and assembling the picture with us, watching it happen along with him.
All of which was completed during lockdown when a workaholic Baxter simply had to do something. ”lockdown was also quite helpful. I would always do something; I need to do something”. When the world was turned upside down, twisted inside out, convoluted beyond possible belief, Baxter was at home opening the filing cabinets of his head. Remembering walking from one teenage street canteen to another.
A world within which we become our Monday morning. One that encompasses the struggles we all, in one way or another, are forced to sit up straight and confront head-on. Are required to tie our shoelaces in a particularly neat and tidy knot in order to walk tall, to talk clean, to surmount all domesticity and the surrounding agendas that aim to paint a target on our backs, and confront those agendas upon realising the lunacy and social delusion and psychological chaos often located within each brick that builds the house, chaos and disorder, dreamlike at times, anything but in others, we are confused is either sourced within others, leading us to seek out likeminded chaotic people. Or we are actually the source of such a chaos and we guzzle people up into the cyclone; a lot like the relationship shared between Baxter and his dad.
It started with the intention to ask Baxter about whatever came into view. Wherever the conversation took us.
And therefore, enquire with a sense of depth, and discovery into his fabulous book Chaise Longue. Uninterested because the chime of a good line is worth more as imaginative currency, as profound and palpitating like jackhammer drills or butterfly wings from the heart than definite dates and streets and surnames and all that jazz could last as.
An autobiography with a difference; Chaise Longue is an unfurling as assiduous and erudite as anything else that tackles the past according to Ian Dury, but also one uninterested in how accurately, how exactly, unquestionably, the puzzle pieces demand to be fitted together: ”I just got very bored. Every story that’s mythological always has someone’s version of it. For instance, did my dad play Johnny B Good as I was being born in the house, as he told me? Who the fuck knows?”
Every sentence blooms with possible illuminating song titles. An irrepressible flash of the catch when swimming through the consciousness stream, inspired by the notions of the written word as a device to deliver what one day the mind will fail to serve.
Song titles and their own narrative counterparts, their own special subject matters raging from the simplicity of the single forename, not unlike those of those primitive, dandyish ’60s beat and mod groups (Molly, Jemima, Aileen, Lucy, Aunt Moll, Mr. Boil, Athena Cocktail).
It’s a book that encompasses so many things at different times. Some readers will be interested to gain a glimpse, through Baxter’s eyes, into the life of Ian Dury, the kind of sex pistol McLaren imagined as the Kilburns kicked a pre-pubescent punk, within each lightbulb that poorly illuminates dark, damp rooms, and feet firmly trudging through an entrenched, expanse of fat, discharges of tar that flatten the roads of a moaning city, crippled by commuters on a daily basis, into action.
When the spot was burst against the mirrors of the blank generation. When Year Zero had more of a future than Rotten would proclaim. Who couldn’t sing, but could say everything. Or like me, readers react to the kinds of images and respond to the ideas about a torrent of themes that correspond to our own disgruntled lives (mum and dad, new friends, first taste of drugs, first taste of danger). To our own pulsating brains. To our internal lines of questioning.
Other images we can only possibly have come into contact with by reading this book. Ian Dury as his dad as one example. The Sulphate Strangler: Baxter’s babysitter when dad wasn’t around, a cowboy in snakeskin boots, demonic ogre bejeweled in bottomless layers of chains and bracelets, one-time roadie for everyone from Marley to Motörhead, amphetamines for breakfast, temazepam for tea the following week when tea actually entered the schedule, being the other.
But it ended up with us talking about everything from the diverse standards of worthiness when it comes to lines of work, from teaching assistant (my job) to playing trumpets (his job), the inescapable reptilian pit of assorted celebrities and their inappropriately stroked egos associated with such an echelon of camera-wank tactics in the modern age, and also, the symbolism of banana bread in accordance with the sentimental warmth of Baxter Dury. Always excellently peppering the book with vibrant vignettes, clippings and cuttings, and kaleidoscopic collections of experiences and emotion which, although on the page, or in this case, on the plate, appear to be perfectly dressed and delivered in the novel form. Perfect as something purposefully nostalgic. Every detail as potentially noteworthy. The mysteries of the banana bread contains more than meets the eye with one glance, one connotative slice.
Details of which you can dig deeper into by…yes, actually reading the book.
Or reading a review of the book and reading furthermore into those kinds of aspects and abstractions of Baxter’s story whatever the reader makes of it.
Incredible segments of his honest, allegorical, unparalleled, erudite, electric command of the English language as concluded by Frank Black of the Pixies, controlled yet exploding, always succeed in satiating some kind of mysterious pop root with power and poetry, crude truths and comical aplomb. Erroneous occasions to confront the ugly boot of romance and relish in both the swords and shields of humour and honesty as some regaling knight on our side.
Enabling the fables enacted by Baxter and his cohorts as they come of age, comrades fighting crime, fall in love, fall out of it again, run-ins and run-outs, frequently hit by streaks of circumstance and the ensuing tragedies (a car crash when his mum was charged with manslaughter, a protest of swallowing jellies in Hammersmith in 1986), shattered by fierce shots of white light and white heat, but somehow spared and scooped up again by whatever was, and still is, watching the man. In amongst a riot of white noise and rolling of dice across the deserts of an itchy mind with an appetite for anti-authoritarianism, eager to be intrigued, eager to be fulfilled, and more so to be thrilled.
What else is worth noting is the abilities of Baxter’s literary spirit once cocked, to be shot forth and spring into life in ways we find touchable and humble. The bohemian life as a series of rooms in a strange hotel that Baxter takes us on a tour of as a humble scribe of the times. The words, and we along with them, levitate and enchantingly leap to the forefront with wonderment, in a specially curated kind of significance and entertaining execution we can all, if we wrap our heads around the subtext of what each chapter in his timeline can be compartmentalised into, relate to with familiarity, with recognition and resonance.
A unique sense of eloquence able to be deciphered in a way that is lovely and ubiquitous, accessible, and clever. Rather than suddenly being forced to stop before the dividing lines of estrangement often drawn between the world of the popstar and the world of the fanboy. Whereby council estates with railings painted the same shade as pale faces in the rain transform overnight into mountainous golden gates.
Not for Baxter. A bohemian through and through. Etched into his helix, like father, like son. Or so they say. But Baxter as the assumed anomaly in the family able to be observed, and understood right here, as one with a unique palette of colours to identify a line and fill in those blanks. To be what dad was not but concurrently become what was always going to work best for a peripatetic young man, constantly unsettled and restless. An exponent of rebellion, betwixt by worlds run by mum and dad, polarities that didn’t agree with a Baxter. unwilling to believe and indifferent to the notion of being able to synchronise, satisfyingly, with his surroundings. Or his surroundings, wherever they might be, whoever might be behind him, unwilling to synchronise with Baxter.
This isn’t a bog-standard rock biopic. How could it be? It’s about the trip. The transition.
A transition taking us from Texas to Trellix, to Tring, during 1980-84 whereby each day treated Baxter as though he was an alien fresh from descending from the sky in a spaceship. Baxter contributes the hostility that came with being a military brat for a musician in lieu of soldier; a traveling circus for the late 70s/early 80s generation that trickled from post-punk into the new wave as the audience in attendance to ”part of the structure those kids were on, and I was just in the centre of it. I was a bit of an experiment because we’d opted out of the ordinary life but I was elected to be a part of the normal. A bit like being brought up in a cult”.
Other references are more ingrained in the ways of life as experienced by everyone. Those mantras and parables of an unabating fate, part Satre and Socrates (‘success means an endless toil that results in a crash’). Those maxims and moments in time with mum in Chiswick, London, 1986-87 (‘a sanctuary of stillness away from some of the unwanted chaos’). The source of the chaos in question and inescapable skylarking in Hammersmith with a dad in command of every detail in his and other people’s lives from the same year (‘even though unconventional in almost all of his habits, he demanded a lot from you’).
They assist in succinctly explaining whilst boarding a train, standing before a steamed mirror staring at a reflection about to strike a blade against the flesh and shave away the stench of yesterday’s chronic aches and caustic pains or lying naked in the cold, blue light of consequence. But it was here, free from consequence, that Baxter cut his very own key from the streets. Without school, without rules, without dinner, without morning, ‘the clocks had turned upside down, and I could live by the night in a new world’.
Always at odds, in a war, on a walk, even when a faint silver lining stretches from one side of the sky to the other, with the world at large, Baxter Dury is not just a musician in his own right, but a man in his own right. His past is one of drama, an apostate, and heir to new wave pop royalty.
But his own man nonetheless despite the dissenting times he arrived from. Each experience as an indulgence in trial and error. Asymmetric and anarchic. An oddity for not being born with a silver spoon dropping from his gob, so much as a spliff and a can of spray paint to tag the architecture of whatever was unveiled to him as his metropolitan oyster, his confoundable suburban doormat.
A strange case of despondency at home due to living with his dad, but sympathetically portrayed with endearment, sensitivity, and nothing more but less language to get in the way of an honest image. That of Ian Dury’s routines as ‘born out of a series of events unique to his life’. Events like polio at age seven, enabling the birthing of a requisite for brutality and affection, kindness and cruelty, to be felt equivalently by him. A life of hardship recapitulated by Baxter here as incisively as any other piece of literature on his old man could attempt to reach: ‘through combat or through wit he triumphed over an often sadistic regime of forced self-sufficiency’.
The aftermath? The aftermath was an acceptance on behalf of a young Baxter that ‘I was marginalised by his need to do what he wanted first, and then be a father later’.
An outcast for having a famous dad when fame was actually fame. When the rhythm stick was outrageous. When Top Of The Pops was the moment the UK crowned you as a worthy performer perching upon any rung of the chart ladder. Such things Baxter as a young boy couldn’t avoid encroaching upon his existence, somehow snagged by both the centre and the peripheries of everything: ”The important thing was the cause and effect of fame on a child. I didn’t want to dismiss him. I’m not talking about him. I tried to share it out equally. It’s who causes the biggest effect that ripples throughout and I guess he had a way of changing his environment quite radically which greatly affected us so…I went into a little bit of research about what happened. When a pop song became A Pop Song”.
But anyway, the book didn’t disappoint me. I never expected it would.
It hit me in ways that such lyrical precision often does. But delivered here with a uniquely layered filter, a peculiar opportunity to turn the dial another degree and refocus, even reconfigure, our notions of what a book-about-a-boy-whose-dad-was-a-famous-pop-star can really reflect.
Fuck it, another degree; a book about dad and lad, all our old men.
It ended differently than it was designed to be.
I ring the phone but nobody answers.
Nobody ever does.
And like a dog howl follows an exploding firework, the phone rings me.
This isn’t a review. It never is.
BD (Baxter Dury): Hello, who’s that?
It’s Ryan from Louder Than War.
I was just making trumpet noises when the phone rang.
You were making crumpets?
Oh that’s alright then.
How are you?
I’m aright mate, I’ve just dived onto the laptop. Intense day at the school but I’ve been looking forward to this so I’m happy.
Ah well, dual pressure lifestyles. Which one’s more important?
Probably playing trumpet to be honest.
I think so.
Is it the tour or something you’re rehearsing for?
No I’ve just been messing around with a friend in the studio, which is nice actually.
This is doubly special actually as there’s a best of album coming out in December to briefly mention as well. I’m curious as to know who this character is which also gets name-dropped in Miami, a guise or alter-ego adopted live almost; Mr. Maserati? Who is this character?
I have no idea. He’s just a sort of gimmick, an umbrella character that maybe embraces a few of the other characters. Someone that features in a bit of subconscious songwriting. It lends itself to a bit of cheap advertising. A best-of, is in some ways a cynical spinoff to doing a book. If you have an album or a compilation, whether it could be warranted a best of is another thing but, it’s a compilation for some of the music over the years. And I thought that was a suitable, not-very-much-thought-about title with not a lot of depth to it whatsoever.
Do you see the album as a companion to the book in that sense? There’s a sizeable and profound, preliminary period in your life that can be sourced and started, in this book, in these stories, aspects of your life that can maybe be sonically mirrored in the compilation which covers a 20-year period.
You could read into that. Maybe you could tie it all in. It’s all from the same soil if you know what I mean? I didn’t quite think of it like that. There’s nothing premeditated like that but I’m guessing there are some links in my search for it.
Was it easy to write the book?
No, not at all. More like in terms of, I had no sort of example of that type of effort ever in my life before, probably. But in other ways I’m quite good at the task, I could complete it in quite a haphazard way. But I’d never had to do anything of that nature to a concentrated type of past, and I couldn’t quite really ever believe I’d be able to do it. I don’t know. It was a fantasy more than anything.
Was a way to expressively discipline yourself, a fantasy, and an experimental exercise to maybe unlock all these different ideas that perhaps you’ve been storing up in the hard drive of your mind?
Yeah, and I was also quite trained in regaling a version of my life. So I thought it was better to put it as a concise version. I learned how to cash in on it from an earlier age to create a tension for myself. I thought there was something unavoidably cynical about that, but I just thought it was a better way of putting it all down and verifying it a little bit.
When did this particular idea arrive then? Because of who you are, because of where you come from, could this book have been written a long time ago, ten years ago? There seems to be a fairly bottomless wellspring of information and ideas boiling at all points in the book but has something happened recently, a prime moment in order for you to say to yourself ‘fuck it, people should hear and need to hear aspects of my childhood, my youth’.
I think I didn’t know how I’d gotten through the journey before. I also think I’d gotten to a point in my musical career where I started to relax, to feel more secure. And then what happens in that situation is, the better you are, the better the people are that hang around you. I just got some really good managers and one of them happened to be really, very academic and that helped a lot. Him being my manager and really academic was quite a reassurance. An old journalist; been to Oxford. It was just a good mood. I was guided through it a little bit.
There are linguistic similarities there between your lyrical style too that I see in the book. But there’s a distinction to be made there, between the narrative in the book and the subject matters of your tunes I suppose. All of them have this constant montage of surrealistic imagery going on. But this book is about you. Your way of dealing with things and growing up from adolescence into adulthood.
Yeah, exactly and you’re in some ways freer in songwriting because you don’t have technique and you can kind of forge that away and not be held accountable to some extent. Each sentence had to be justified. It’s interesting, you can do what you want if you want to in that over-optimistic way. It’s all doable. You could maybe do another one if you wanted to or whatever. It’s all achievable, that’s the point. It’s lyrical.
Although it’s filtered through your encounters with that kind of environment and the events which happened within, they’re essentially experiences that underpin a lot of people’s lives in one way or another. Be it relationship with dad, relationship with drugs, relationship with the law, rebelling against the education system, or being ostracised for signifying this sense of automatic otherness. It’s cool and nice that everyone can look through the magnifying glass. That everyone can take a trip in the time machine. That it’s not a rigid description of facts or a description of factual events but is a potent suggestion of childhood…
Yeah because journalism has no appeal to me really, to be honest. As I started to write it down, it started to bother family members because they knew how loose I was going to be with it; just to tell a story based on how fantastic it could sound, as opposed to how well-researched it is. I still went with that. I got bored when I started to research what street something was on so then I thought ‘fuck it, I’m not going to do that whatsoever’. It’s like making a film. You’re conjuring up the right atmosphere. And that’s all that counts. As far as I’m concerned, the small, factual details are overlooked for the greater good of creating an atmosphere that felt right.
Is there more to this thing than what’s currently been made available then? Could the book have gone on and on and on about people like your dad, figures like your mum, other characters like the Sulphate Strangler? It’s painted as an experientially rich, interestingly vibrant, mad, wild, dangerous, and oddly alluring place to be alive and young to the point that in a way it could have been an endless piece of work…
I didn’t want to write anything about the century. Essentially those experiences I only really understood when I was much older. I wanted to keep it naïve. Not make it about dad’s pop triumphs. There’s 12 other books, four other films about that. I didn’t honour it too much. Or the accuracy of what happened. Then it becomes a tiresome rock book; it’s not a music book.
I got the book because I’m interested in you. Therefore I love the idea of mentioning dad almost vicariously, like some sort of omnipresent spectre that impressed upon you and instilled you with certain attitudes. Something or someone in the background, his presence is obviously detectable but this is about you getting into trouble, getting into graffiti in the 1980s which is described as ‘an escape from things’, getting into school, feeling awkward and uncomfortable at school because of your famous dad, and tripping through existence. It’s probably a cleverer and more creative move to not go ‘I’m the son of Ian Dury, this is my tale’. For it not to be a book sharing all the uncovered anecdotes about another famous father figure.
Yeah, I hope so. I did it quite naturally. It’s been covered and it would have bored me. There’s one well-written book by a guy called Will Birch who wrote about dad extensively. I just nicked any bit that I didn’t know about from him. That was enough. That’s when I found it boring. Not because what he wrote was boring. But the historical details I thought ‘oh this is boring’. It’s not creative. At the departure of those aspects in the book, I got into it. I found my own time and wandered off and could talk about myself.
And one of those things would be fashion which you articulate as being ‘desperate, not natural’. With that in mind, when did it become natural and not desperate? When did you step out of that particular shadow?
I’m always aware that I might be on the outskirts of making the right choice. I’ve never naturally…never is the answer. I quite like that. I’m not naturally fashionable in any way, shape, or form. An accident.
Is that important? To be awkward. To be uncomfortable. Conceptual awkwardness even?
It’s important for me not to take it too seriously. That’s all. There’s nothing really conceptual about it beyond that. If I took fashion or being who I thought I should be too seriously then it’s over with. And no one who could be convinced of what I do anyway. I think there has to be a bit of me that has to be quite self-effacing or aware of that who I think I’m not. Or some strange…whatever. The right side of vanity, the wrong side of vanity are important to be aware of.
That’s interesting. It’s like a person’s greatest defence is being able to take the piss out of themselves I suppose.
Yeah exactly. It allows you to carry on being a knob actually.
What about graffiti, which is something you indulged in quite a lot when you were growing up. Are you still as fascinated by it as you was?
I’m not engrossed in it but I do have a strong admiration for it, I can’t help it. I know a little bit about it, but I’m not active in it. Some obsessive people outlived it and they became too old. Still operating in that world but looked a bit ridiculous I thought. It was a young person’s rebellious act.
Another fascinating line in the book that resonates with a perhaps rebellious sentiment is to do with money and how your dad handled it: ‘embarrassed about having money and spent it as quickly as I earnt it’. This is maybe one of the more philosophical and lyrical moments of the book that leaps into the light. Where did that ideology come from, do you think? That notion of being embarrassed by having money and maybe the kinds of opportunities that could offer you or platforms it could put you on?
I don’t know how that manifested in dad. I think it must have been a kind of weird Klondike. They must have made a radical amount of money quite quickly. I think he probably did, and that was bewildering for him. There were traces of upper-middle-class background but he had experienced that for himself, having no money growing up. His parents were…his mum and aunties had been brought up with relative wealth but that had faded by the time dad was born. So there’s probably an old hang-up somehow about that kind of thing. Maybe that grew in dad. So by the time, in the socialist way, he made a lot of money, he just got a bit confused by it.
Was that something instilled in you maybe? Those ideas of bewilderment to money and hostility to the escapades of fame?
Oh yeah. I’m a tiny improvement but not that much. I actually shared the same account that my dad had. He had no bank account whatsoever. I have one debit card. Which I’ve lost. I don’t know where it is. Still pretty primitive which works to my advantage, that small amount of money that I had was not quite accessible. I live in quite a strange way.
Why do you think other people demonstrated vindictiveness or exerted some kind of acrimony or resentment toward you at school?
I’m unsure how to interpret it. Maybe it wasn’t resentment. Maybe it was me provoking it. Maybe I was odd and unleashed something. There were different stages of my childhood where I was put in different places. I was put in a provincial school which they just didn’t understand. There was a bit of that going on. Then when I got to tougher, urban environments it was just violent. Mirroring their backgrounds becomes socially complex in a poorer part of London…it wasn’t even a poor part of London, it was quite affluent. But it was just how the school was. People mirror their surroundings. Maybe some of it was about me having a famous dad.
I imagine people’s socio-economic background could contribute to them being spiteful and insensitive. It almost required them to pick on other people; the act of singling out the alien as a show of strength in the eyes of others.
Yeah, and I tried to act tough. But I was not tough; that’s where I came unstuck. When he was at the height of his fame, that definitely freaked people out. There were only two or three channels. So if you were famous…there were not many people that occupied fame. There weren’t that many famous people. Now, it’s all a very fragmented version and variety of stuff. But, if you were Number One…there was Number One. Everyone watched Top Of The Pops. That’s famous.
Do you think being aware of what was going on during the formative years for what constitutes “famous”, in addition to it being nailed to a very primitive, minimalistic handful of channels and equipment, influenced how you visualise fame and celebrity? Did that toughen you up as you got older in a way that you were disenfranchised and disenchanted by the whole fame thing? You seem to carry it and can handle that kind of special, celebrity circus ring quite well…
I think staying at normal school and all that allowed me to understand. To not be a c*nt. You mustn’t ever be. And if you brag about something, justify it. Say you’re good but you must have a reason to say it. That’s what I think. And help people with their shopping bags.
My other little silly last question is about this infamous banana bread which in the book is stated to be the best thing, to this day, you’ve ever tasted.
As I wrote the book that person that did make the banana bread I realised was very helpful. It’s more of a symbol of how grateful I was for the banana bread. If she ever read it, the fact that I talked about it, she might acknowledge it. It wasn’t so much about the banana bread but the fact that she helped me out at a weird time. She was a family friend so I wrote it that way. Poetically really.
In Baxter’s words, repositioned here and meditating upon the movements of his father, ”it’s a personal triumph of applied effort”.
It’s a sense of childhood and not a detailed account of factual events.
Like this bastard article is more for me than it is for you. A sense of exploration, and not a technical representation of a general piece of journalistic work by today’s expected standards; by today’s facts.
It starts how it ends. Like after Durex (Ian’s nickname) had his funeral and Baxter took to the stage performing ‘My Old Man’ from New Boots and Panties. The first time Baxter was ever on-stage, performing a tune from the first album he was ever on.
This is many different things containing many diverse themes. In parts a book about making sense out of imagined realities. But equally it’s a book; a confessional book, a psychological travelogue, a psychoanalytical constellation, a fascinating piece of work.
It’s Baxter and me for 25 minutes over a crumbling phoneline.
But this isn’t a review.
Never is, mind you.
Ryan Walker is a writer from Bolton. His online archive for Louder Than War can be found here.
Photo credit – Tom Beard