Sunday, 7 August 2011

Primal screaming and a stoned rose … Fuji, Mani and Me

Just what is it that you want to do?
We wanna be free.
We wanna be free to do what we wanna do.
And we wanna get loaded.
Primal Scream, Loaded

Japan's Fuji Rock festival is something of a misnomer. It's been a long time since anyone rock and rolled upon the hallowed slopes of Fuji-san. The festival is now held every August at
Naeba ski resort in Niigata Prefecture; a brisk shot on the bullet train out of Tokyo. But you can see why the name stuck. Better to identify your festival with a world famous icon that is firmly wedged in the id and an integral part of the Japanese psyche, even if it means telling a geographical porkie pie. After all, it's the place that launched a thousand guidebooks.

Fame is funny like that. The trend justifies the means. Fame can cause dislocation, alienation, loneliness - and many have sought to fill those hollow places with chemicals of every description.  Fame can also make you act like a complete asshole. Lady Gaga made one of the few sensible comments of her short public life when she dubbed this effect: 'The Fame Monster'.

Fuji Rock is mostly good, clean fun, with the merest smattering of mud; a kind of Glastonbury-lite, featuring three days of world class acts, tens of thousands of people braving the inevitable rain to have the time of their lives, lashings of fast food and cheap beer, all set against Japan's unfailing politeness and unquestioned weirdness. For evidence of the former, I cite the calm and orderly queues to use the relatively spotless port-a-loos - not, I suggest, an experience familiar to those who go to rock festivals in America or Europe. Even the Fuji mud seems more civilized somehow, compared to the seething bacterial ooze that poops the Glasto party.

So I'm slogging through a better class of bog as misty drizzle descends on this humid August night, at my first ever Fuji, on the way to the White Stage to watch the incredible double-header of Coldplay and Foo Fighters. Chris Martin is in rare form as he romps through the band's impressive oeuvre of Everyman anthems, stopping between songs to throw in the first bit from Best of You, the Foo's huge new hit at the time. 'I've got another confession …' Martin growls, Grohl-like.

Grohl-like. If it was a Facebook button, we'd click it. We all would. Everyone loves Dave Grohl, the easy going and uber-talented former Nirvana drummer who by now had cast off Kurt Cobain's long shadow and become a rock colossus in his own right; a goofy, goateed yet mesmeric figure with an uncanny ear for a power chord and a pithy lyric. Grohl refuses to wear his angst on his sleeve, and looks like he can't quite believe his luck. He is approaching the height of his powers, and on this night we all know we've seen a special show. As the last hands-in-the-air anthem fades, a surging human tide sweeps us towards the exit. The faint remaining traces
of riffs rumble like distant thunder in the hills. The mist suffuses everything with an otherworldly glow. It's an awesome moment, floating along on air, far above the mud, high on the fine rare rush the best live music elicits; that adrenalized endorphin alchemy that sadly is all too fleeting. Later, there may be other chemicals in the mix. A big Hong Kong contingent has come over to let its hair down, and it is strongly rumored that among their number are lovable rogues and purveyors of proscribed substances. Some of our posse elect to rough it, erecting tents amongst the bedraggled muddy multitudes squatting on steep wet hillsides. I manage to bag a futon at a friend's place in town (though sharing a basement shoebox and its unventilated toilet with three big ugly blokes subsisting for days on a diet of beer and kebabs is rough enough stuff).

While the next three days will get decidedly messier in many silly ways, at this point there is nothing stronger than a couple of Kirin beers under my belt as we wander into the Palace of Wonder - a bohemian collection of tented bars, carnival barkers and burlesque reviews set amongst giant apocalyptic sculptures welded by real gypsies from car parts. This has become our rallying point, watering hole, and a suitably surreal setting for what happens next. For no sooner have I secured a seat and procured a drink than I become aware of a loud voice behind me, making derogatory if not defamatory comments about some poor fellow in a flat and whiny Mancunian accent.

I wonder if the cast of Corrie is in town for a jolly. But even the most shocking dialogue on Coronation Street would pale before this stream-of-stupidness ranting. I turn around to see who is making all the noise and I am gobsmacked to realise that it is being directed at me. I do a double-take, befuddled by this utterly unprovoked attack. My friends have not yet joined me. Is it, to paraphrase Dave Grohl, because I'm alone and an easy target?

To this day, I don't know what set Mani off on his mother of all rants. Had I pushed in front of him to buy a drink? Stepped on his toe?  Perhaps the melted years of gargantuan drug guzzling had finally come home to roost and his brain had broken. The only other possibility is that he took exception to my very lairy shirt; a horrid floral thing I picked up in Phuket, emblazoned with outsized orange hibiscus: 100% Mambo meets Magnum PI.

I size up my tormentor, who is now giving me a very slow motion, exaggerated version of what English and Australian readers will know as 'the forks'. It's basically flipping the bird times two and it doesn't carry a pleasant connotation. He then launches into a groin-grabbing, pelvic thrusting routine, executed with such glowering malice that my sphincter gives a twitch and I feel Michael Jackson turn in his grave.

Mani is not a huge chap. He doesn't look terribly fit either. But what he lacks in size he makes up for with an aura of demented bravado and a scary saturnine stare. This is the face of Caligula, of a man who has journeyed to the outer limits of debauchery and returned, damaged yet hardened to the point of being indestructible. He's wiry and almost certainly wired on something. His shapeshifter face is the hue of a ripe tomato, his hair the matted, sweaty remnants of something Moddish. Call it the lunatic fringe.  Most unsettling of all are his truly, madly, deeply-disturbed eyes. They are cartoon crazy eyes set in diseased dark circles that could have been inked in by Dante. He continues to carry on, shouting and gesturing, and none of it strikes me as the product of a sane or rational mind. Nearby, a band launches into its set and a wall of harsh chords advances. I'm stuck between rock and a nutcase.

I turn back to my drink, hoping he will go away if I ignore him. But the gobby fucker just won't stop and finally I snap. I'm against violence as a general principle, but I also support the maxim that if push comes to shove, it's advisable to hit first and hit hard. Which isn't to suggest I am some sort of hard man - however I did spend some time at the boxing gym as a younger man, in between ballet lessons. But the red mist is most definitely descending. I ask him what his problem is, but he continues to mug and gurn and gesture. I can't fathom it. Is he trying to provoke me into punching him? I summon all my powers of rapier repartee, and snap: 'Why don't you just piss off.' Adrenaline surges, but not the nice kind. I clench my fists and scan his face, both for targets and for some sign that this has all been a silly misunderstanding or a prank. Is someone getting the best of you? Not tonight. Especially not this rude punk runt, who has now officially asked for it with a gilt-edged, handwritten invitation. Call me the Fool Fighter. Let's get it on.

But my sucker punch is still born, as not for the first time during these mad three days at Fuji, the weirdness deepens. A gaggle of Jap girls into synthesizers interrupts this shrieking of nothing. They are dressed in their Madchester Hacienda best, acid house smiley face t-shirts nd leggings, football casual shellsuits. One girl even totes some glow sticks. And they are all screaming something at the rude runt. I can't quite make it out. It sounds like 'Manny' or 'Mini' or 'Money'. 'Stoneru Roses,' one nods approvingly, waving an original sleeve of the Stone Roses' self-titled first album. 'Foors Glod,' asserts another. 'I am the Lesserection.'

I'm starting to get a bad feeling about all of this, cogs slowly clicking into place in my head, when one of my best mates leans over and whispers, 'That's Mani! From Primal Scream? They're playing tomorrow night. Shit, man, what are you trying to do, beat up their bass player?' I need a quick reality check. Am I really in some far flung Japanese valley, surrounded by retro ravers, getting ready to take a swing at genuine rock royalty?

I mean, Mani, man! Of course I'd heard of Mani. Gary 'Mani' Mounfield, party animal non pareil and partner in crime of ex-Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher. Mani the member of Freebass, a supergroup also featuring New Order's Peter Hook. Mani of the hammered cameo in 24 Hour Party People, the Madchester movie. Mani whose driving, funk-laced bass grooves set the mood for two of modern music's most important bands.

But I'm confused. How can a major dude like Mani behave like such a low-rent thug? Surely even by the television-defenestrating standards of rock star bad behavior, there can be scant kudos for wandering a rock festival alone, looking for random strangers to humiliate. Primal Scream. Now I remembered; they were last minute additions to the bill after some other band dropped out. I look over at Mani, mobbed by fans, happy as, well, Mani. He still looks wrecked, but now he's purring like a pussycat, getting his ego tickled. A loopy, shit-eating grin plastered across his ravaged dial. I consider saying something to him, but the moment has passed, and he probably wouldn't even remember. What if I had hauled off and thumped him? Would a posse of bodyguards have materialized; beefy genies summoned to rip me limb from limb? Would a punch have been pointless in any case? In his righteously twisted state, normal rules of pain likely don't apply.

Primal Scream played the next night, and they sucked. Maybe Mani was still mid-bender, or in the grip of some crushing comedown. Perhaps their last-minute inclusion found them under-rehearsed and ill-prepared. It was a disjointed, shapeless and largely groove-free performance. Even their rabid Japanese fans were bewildered. They would play at Fuji Rock again, a few years later. They would redeem themselves with a mental, epic set that would blow the roof off.

Hard to fathom, but I guess the rock gods don't always let the sun shine upon their chosen few. And Mani? I didn't see him again, apart from onstage. I have read a couple of dozen interviews with him since, and he does a fine line in gnostic gibberish and musical babble, but I'm no closer to knowing what makes him tick. I never did find out what I had done to earn his ire, or if I had done anything at all.

I suspect, like so many fame monsters who thrive on attention, who outside the limelight are ciphers, Mani feels a bit empty. Maybe what it all boils down to is this: he wants to be adored.


  1. Great piece as usual. One day I'll tell you about the time I met jimmy Barnes and Michael hutchins and managed to inadvertently insult them both. Meeting stars in the flesh is treacherous.

  2. Ooh do tell Ken. I remember when I got sent to interview Anna Kournikova in Hong Kong. She was one of those people who are totally, mesmerisingly gorgeous in the flesh, even more so than in pix and on TV. But a total bitch and a bore ...

  3. I also recall getting offered an interview with Shakira and blew it off because I was too busy. She was just getting started and I'd never heard of her. She would have been more interesting than Airhead Kournikova

  4. Mani gave me a lighter once, after a HK gig. He was very low key and unLoaded. Not sure if you or I caught him on an off day...

  5. @AnomicQueen ... I don't doubt he's a diamond geezer most of the time. He was clearly off his rocker and it was such a random and bizarre end to a perfect day I couldn't resist giving it a proper airing. I'm a massive fan of the man's music.And lest anyone think I've exaggerated the incident, at least four or five of my friends were there and saw the whole thing. In fact, it's passed into Hong Kong journalism legend ... a bunch of folks from the South China Morning Post went that year

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