3.17 Tim Thornton Alternative Hero

ISBN 13: 9780099531784

Alternative Hero

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9780099531784: Alternative Hero

By the time most people hit 30, they've managed to do one of the following things: 1. Grow up 2. Quit idolising rock stars 3. Move on a bit from the music they were obsessed with at the age of 17. Clive Beresford has failed to do all three. But that's about to change. One unremarkable Saturday morning Clive sees the biggest alternative-pop star of them all walking down the high street with his dry-cleaning: Lance Webster, disgraced ex-singer of Thieving Magpies ('the biggest British band to emerge from the late-eighties indie-boom' Rolling Stone). Clive hatches a ramshackle plan to befriend his idol and grab the scoop of a lifetime - why did Webster burn out? The ensuing chaos forces both men to revisit the sweat, feedback, T-shirts, stage-dives, hitch-hikes, snakebites and hangovers of British alternative rock at the start of the nineties; to quote Lance Webster himself, 'before Britpop came along and fucked everything up'...

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About the Author:

Tim Thornton was born in 1973. Despite a boarding-school education and a degree in drama, his adulthood has largely been spent playing the drums, most recently for indie/folk artist Fink. Along the way he has delivered daily newspapers in Copenhagen, changed light bulbs at Shepherd's Bush Empire, and pulled one of the first rickshaws in London. The Alternative Hero is his first novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

But by the time eleven o’clock had struck, two things had magically happened: one, I had been transformed into a selfless hero of the hour, possessed of endless public spirit and generosity, sensitive, thoroughly modern, masculine and (perhaps) attractive; two, I had decided to rub along through the day after all. The power of women, eh?

All right, bearing in mind that our fourteen-hour relationship has just come to an abrupt and fairly acrimonious end, by which I must be slightly influenced, I can still say that she wasn’t that attractive. I think it was more the initial shock of her bursting through the door (carrying her bike), actually being female and close to my age, then the fact that she spent the next five minutes telling me how wonderful I was for giving up a whole day and how much she’d heard about me from Jackie (eh?), all the time flashing her eyes and doing that tactile thing. I mean, I suppose it’s just nice to be flirted with, and
complimented and stuff, because to be frank (and I don’t mean the violins to come out here) it’s been a while. So when she finally put on her white tunic and disappeared inside the consulting room, I was gasping a bit. Okay, I’m being unfair. It’s also because she’s . . . you know. Pretty. An ingredient not lost on me when, some eight (nonetheless knackering) hours later, she (yes, she) suggested we go for a drink.

Now, before you start worrying that this is all getting perilously close to the Nick Hornby zone, there’s a good reason for telling you all this. Here we have, or had, a fairly standard thirty-year-old London-dwelling Englishwoman. Born in Kent, I think, normal school, studied to be a vet in London. Likes doing normal London things: drinking, partying, eating out, going to the cinema. Clearly— although we didn’t discuss it properly until much later—enjoys
music, as she mentioned she had tickets to this year’s Glastonbury. But halfway through the evening, which was going very nicely, thank you (a few pints in, chat flowing, the pub buzzing but not too crazy), the following exchange occurred.

“Well, at least you only have to talk to them on the phone,” she was despairing, on the subject of the general public. “I actually have to meet the fuckers. Tell ’em what’s wrong with their bloody pets.”

“You don’t enjoy it?”

“I love the animal part.”

“You love animals’ parts?”

“Silly,” she laughed. “I love the actual vet bit. It’s the bloody publicrelations bit I can’t bear.”

“Right.”

“You know what I wish?” she began, playing with an empty crisp packet. “I wish it could be a vet drive-through. They drop the animals off at a kiosk, bugger off and wait in the car park. Then they get called over the loudspeaker when I’ve finished, drive to a second kiosk where they get their pet back and a printout of what’s wrong with them.”

“That’s a great idea. I should think they’ve got those already in America.”

“Probably.”

“But you do get relatively interesting characters in your place,” I suggested, deciding the time was right.

“Like?”

“Well, the guy today, who picked up Jessica the cat. Just before you arrived.”

“Jessica? That old tabby with lymphoma?”

“Lymphoma,” I winced. “That’s like cancer, yeah?”

“It is cancer. Poor thing.” She drew her index finger sharply across her neck and shrugged.

“Curtains?”

“Weeks, I’m afraid. Maybe less. The guy’s heartbroken, though. He keeps taking her in for pointless treatment. Seems to not care too much about the cost.”

(Ah. So maybe he has got a few bob stashed away somewhere.)

“Well,” I confided, “you know who that guy is, don’t you?”

“His name is . . . um . . . Webster.”

“Yeah,” I smiled, patiently. “Lance Webster.”

“Okay,” she nodded, still expecting something more.

“Lance Webster,” I repeated. “Used to be the singer with Thieving Magpies?”
She frowned and swallowed a mouthful of beer.

“Now, that name rings a bell. Remind me who they were?”

There it is.

I mean, I ask you. This kind of bloody thing happens all the time.

Remind me who they were.

Usually, depending on who has said it and how much I’ve had todrink, such a comment heralds the arrival of a rather large argument. Not because I’m offended, you understand—it’s just that I’m genuinely confused. Nah, bewildered. Flabbergasted. I just can’t understand it. It doesn’t compute with the way my brain operates.

Who were they? Only the biggest British alternative band in the world, between the years 1991 and 1995. With the arguable exceptions of The Cure and Depeche Mode. Oh, and maybe New Order. “Bad Little Secret,” their biggest UK hit (although far from my favourite song of theirs, as it happens), held the number-two position on the singles chart for three weeks (only kept from the top spot by that stupid “Please Don’t Go” song). Bruise Unit, the 1992 album that propelled them into the same arenas around the planet as the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and REM, shifted four million copies. Between 1989 and 1995, the Thieving Magpies sold out Brixton Academy a record-breaking twenty-five times, including three four-night runs. In addition to goodness knows how many NECs, G-MEXs and festival-headlining slots. But no one ever remembers all this. They just have vague memories of a band who were kinda fun down at the student disco, but who were ultimately forgettable. Or, if a music journalist is talking, an outfit who represent quite how
bad indie music managed to get, before Britpop came along and, by the grace of its fucking hairdo, corduroy jacket and afternoon drink at the Good Mixer, saved us all.

Or, even worse, a recollection like the one my “date” offered me.

“Oh, I know—they did that song that went ‘Nothing ever happens, dum-dum de dum-dum de dum . . .’

“No, that was Del Amitri.”

“Oh, sorry.”

I have no idea how people do it. But they do.

“You remember,” I coaxed. “ ‘You still don’t know how . . . look who’s—’ ”

“ ‘ . . . laughing now,’ ” she finished off.

“There you are! You know them.”

“Yeah, I know that one. Christ, that was him?”

“Yup.”

“Blimey,” she remarked. “I always kind of preferred the Mondays and the Roses, though.”

“Ah.”

“You’re a big fan, I take it?”

“Um, yeah,” I mumble.

“Wow. So it must have been quite a kick for you, meeting him today?”

“Sort of, yeah—I’ve met him before, though.”

Technically not lying, but all the same I decided it was a good time for a toilet visit. The last thing I wanted was my noble, gallant and (not to mention) date-acquiring day’s activity to be exposed for the devious, self-interested and ultimately useless exercise that it really was. I regrouped with the assistance of the mirror in the gents’; I get pretty flustered on this sort of occasion and need to check that I’m still with the programme, especially after a minor blow like this one. It’s funny, if I’d mentioned the Magpies and she’d exclaimed, “Oh my God! Not them! He was the most hideous creep and all their videos sucked!”—I’d have been happier. Marginally. But it’s the indifference that does my head in. The predictable, let’s-ring-up-XFM-and-askthem- to-play-“I Am the Resurrection”-for-the-fifteenth-time-todaystyle ennui which leaves me gagging. The sort of musical apathy that drives a listener straight into the arms of . . . well. You’ll see.

Having said all that, I am nothing if not a nine-months-single, thirty-something loser with a few pints inside him who wouldn’t mind a shag. I returned from the loo and the evening rolled happily along, music remaining firmly on the conversational reserve bench, and before I knew it they were chucking us out of the pub. How the decision was made to come back to mine I can’t now remember, but I do recall being glad that Polly was still at her parents’ house, and then having a bit of a snog in the kitchen. That, unfortunately, was as good as things got.

“You got any music?” came the enquiry, after I’d poured us a glass of wine each.

“Of course! What do you want to hear?”

(Mental note: never ask this question. Just select. It’s so much easier.)

“You know what I love, love, love to listen to on nights like this?” she enthused, already starting to dance a bit.

“No,” I replied, hoping I had whatever it was.

She took a sip of wine and proclaimed, with some drunken passion:

“Snow Patrol.”

Oh God.

“If I lay here . . . If I just lay here . . .”

She closed her eyes and started to sway her hips.

“Would you lie with me and just forget the world?”

“Oh, really?” I asked, feigning innocence.

“Have you got that?” she beamed. “Or Keane?”

“Um . . .”

Is it any wonder I’m tired . . . Is it any wonder I feel uptight ....

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