IN THE NIGHT
he who hath who hath understanding reckon the
number of the apartment. For it is a human number. Its number is Six-Hundred And Sixty-Six.
As we arrive, the sky suddenly turns black and a huge thunderstorm breaks out. Well, a few drops of rain at any rate. Seemingly from nowhere, a huge Wagnerian orchestral crescendo sweeps through the air. That'Il be the aerobics centre next door, then. The huge oak doors creak slowly open, and we are greeted by a gnarled old man who tells us he knows of no 'Mr Tricky' round here. No-one's lived here since.. the accident. And no, we can't go up there. People have been rumoured... never to have come back.
So we go up in the lift anyway, to be met on the top floor by a petrified looking janitor, who begs 'as not to go and knock on the door of 'the dark one'. Terrible stories, terrifying music, signs and threats have come from beyond that door, especially when he's hungover and hasn't got any spliff. But slowly, chillingly, the door swings open by itselt when we turn the handle and push it. We see a hooded figure, and a deep croaking voice speaks to us.
"Johnny Cigarettes? You're a wanker, aren't you?"'
Your correspondent is too stricken with horror to ask why, exactly, I have been deemed deserving of such an accursed name. And then the voice speaks once more.
"I'm sure you are... Don't know why, but. Got any weed? I'm f-in' desperate for a smoke, man.
Meet the neighbour of the beast. Yes, the resident of 666 Greenwich Street, New York City, is the new, improved, mature, chilled-out nice guy, Tricky. Don't be scared - he's keeping his distance from Old Nick these days. He doesn't need myths and magic any more. He's staying away, since he recently found himself in a real-life chiller, staring down the barrel of a gun.
"I was in the Bowery Bar (swanky bar on New York's otherwise non-salubrious Lower East Side) at about four in the morning," he recalls as he brews us a cuppa in his kitchen. I was just in the middle of skinning up when these guys burst in with guns and got everyone down on the floor. I've got this gun in my face and I'm thinking: 'This could all be over just like that.' It's so easy. If I'd started mixing it with 'em, which I might have done at one time, I might not be sitting here now. And it made me think, trouble is so easy - staying out of mischief is the hard thing.
"I don't know how it happened - I think I
talking to some New York kids earlier and they asked me what I had in my
pockets and I said. '20 grand.' Jokin', but they don't have the same sense
of humour, do they?
"You gotta be careful walkin' round like a bad boy round here. It's made me realise that there's no point being a weekend warrior - 'cos you might bump into a real one. That's why I've chilled out in New York - there's no point in getting all attitude on people. They might shoot you.
Damn right. Thank God for the city.
"New York makes me behave I always needed an older brother to beat the crap out of me, 'cos I'm a gobby c-, and I say harsh things about other bands and get into trouble. But in New York, you realise that in music everyone can co-exist - whereas in England everyone is fighting for scraps and trying to distance themselves from everyone else."
But you could be forgiven for assuming that gun-at-the-head incidents, and the ultra- claustrophobic metropolis atmosphere of New York, would seriously worsen Tricky's already legendary smoker's paranoia. On the contrary...
"I can walk the streets here much easier than in England," he enthuses. "I know less people will get on my case, and I can stay out of trouble. I might be in a hotel in London and I'll smoke weed for three weeks, get totally paranoid and never go out. Here I can go out and walk the streets - 'cos people don't have attitude, and everyone's got a gun, so that means they don't f- with each other."
Have you got a gun yet, Tricky?
"I thought about getting a gun, in case I got robbed. But I don't trust myself with it. When I haven't been smoking spliff I get narrow-minded, and I could easily shoot whoever comes through the door. If I'd had a bit of weed I'd be paranoid, and too scared of it backfiring to use the gun. But then sometimes I smoke so much I get straight again, and - then I might be OK with it."
Hmmm. I don't suppose you've ever considered laying off the herb for a while?
"Yeah I did! I gave up smoking weed the other week. Gave up for two days... No, a day and a half... But after a while I felt so f-ing stoned from not having any, that I had to have a smoke to get straight again!"
Oh well. There's nothing like keeping your problems in perspective. Sadly, clear heads were in somewhat short supply at a New ceIeb bash recently, where, in full view of press and peers alike, Tricky had a rather choice exchange of words, and allegedly, fists,
the jungle 'Jaws' himself, Goldie.
"Goldie was following me round for about half an hour, demanding that I come outside and fight him. And I'm saying 'No, I'm not going to fight you.' But then I had all this pride shit going off, so what do you do? I'm a bit scared as well, so I either fight him, or I leave.
"The problem is, when you have a beef with someone, it's got to go further. First it's words, then it's fists, then someone pulls a knife, and in New York they'll pull a gun. One of my bands I'm producing, their mate got shot the day after my thing with Goldie, and I just looked at myself in the mirror and thought, 'You f-ing prick.' I really hated myself. There's so many more important problems in the world to think about than some petty argument. Me and Goldie ain't bad boys - we've got record deals, we don't wanna go to prison. You realise when you come to a place like this - it's practically a Third World society within the most advanced country in the world - that fighting about petty arguments is boys' stuff. And then you see someone like Tupac getting killed and you think, 'Chill out, get on with your music.' You gotta stop and think about your priorities - if I was into fighting I'd still be back in Bristol doing that, I wouldn't be doing music. But as it is, I can't go back to England now, 'cos Goldie's still after me.
The Goldster seems to be putting it about a bit at the moment. Not content with chasing Tricky around nightclubs, he's also mixing it with that cheeky coat hanger-faced imp Keith Prodigy for 'dissing' him in print. Naturally, Tricky has a peace plan. Of sorts.
"Goldie and Keith should have a boxing match for charity. Sort it out fair and square. Or I tell you what - Keith could get that big bloke Leeroy to fight for him! I've seen him fight, and I'd definitely back him to have Goldie.
"Thing is with Keith, he's a really lovely bloke - he's a pussycat really. I went training with him once, and we did a bit of kung fu. I punched him in the lace twice and it was all over!"
So you haven't quite renounced violence yet, then?
"No, er, yeah, well I just think musicians shouldn't pretend to be bad boys on the weekend, y'know? Me and Goldie should sort it out between us, using music. You should put him in one corner, and me in the other, both with our equipment, and get us both to write a tune, with independent adjudicators. I'd wipe the floor with him!"
For the moment, Tricky is hanging out with a bunch of New York hip-hoppers, collectively calling themselves The Autumn People whose record he's putting out on his Durban Poison label, and
in a few projects of his own, including Drunkenstein, a wilfully deranged,
off-the-wall, semi-humorous alter-ego. At least it keeps him off the streets,
"I've said to my boys, 'I'm not into fighting or anything - don't have guns when I'm around,' and they're cool with that even though they're from that background. But then the other night I was in a grocery store, and some geezer started f-ing with me and giving it attitude, so I knocked him out."
Doh! There goes the Nobel Peace Prize. "Well, what can you do? You've got to defend yourselt haven't you... No one's got any weed have they?"
THERE'S a large metal
sign on the stairs in Tricky's apartment. It says, 'EVERYONE WANTS A PIECE
OF ME'. What can it all mean? But before we have a chance to discuss its
significance, the phone rings. Tricky barks uneasy greetings into the phone,
then goes into the other room to talk for a minute. He returns and casually
remarks, That was Naomi Campbell. She's been ringin' me loads. She wants
me to do an album with her."
'That Garbage thing ain't happening now," he says, referring to his remix
of Garbage's 'Milk' single, which is actually still coming out as a B-side.
"They flew me to Chicago to do this remix, and then the management decide
to put the other version out instead because mine's 'not commercial enough'.
I mean, if you want a commerdal remix, why d'you ask me to do it?"
Not to worry. He may yet rule the world through his own label Durban Poison, which he persuaded Island supremo Chris Blackwell to finance.
"Everything on Durban Poison is poptastic. They're all going to be bigger than me. It's gonna be like The Great Rock'n 'Roll Swindle!"
And with that he scrambles over to the DAT machine to play a track by his own new project Drunkenstein, which would seem to involve getting together with his New York hip-hop mates, getting pissed and stoned, then making utterly ridiculous records. The track he plays is a mad monster-mash that sounds like Busta Rhymes and Tom Waits having a rapping contest in the middle of a motorway pile-up. It's rather great - comic, melodramatic, mad, loose, funky and fantastic. Mind you, it may be way too insane to be quite the pan-global pop smash Tricky might have in mind.
"I gave the rapper mushrooms before he sang that!" announces Tricky proudly. "He was all over the place!"
Tremendous. Fancy a line?
"No, I never do coke these days. It's boys' stuff. And I've never touched heroin. I used to be kind of intrigued by it, but only because I wondered what sort of music I'd make on it. Then a few months ago this bloke from the Guardian told me 'Nearly God' sounded like it was made on smack, so I thought 'Well, I don't need to find out any more, do I?'
"I only smoke weed these days, and every few weeks I have a day when I just take mushrooms, without eating or drinking, and it really clears my head. D'you know anyone who's got some weed?"
CROUCHED ON the sidewalk next to a trash can, on the corner of Times Square, a young black man shivers over a soggy cigarette, his dirty matted hair flattened by a grubby old headband, his worn and weather-beaten face wearing a bleak expression, as people march by,
|careful to keep
their distance. "Get off the floor ya f---n' bum!" says one as he
trips over him. F--- you, you racist wanker!" the young man replies. Tricky
doesn't like posing for photo sessions.
There's a deep confusion on the faces of passers-by here. I mean, people take photos all the time round here, but what are these guys doing? I mean, he's a black guy, right, he looks scruffy - he must be a bum, right? Why do they want to photograph him?
Oh well, at least you don't get those kind of preconceptions in the liberal, poly-racial, anything-goes music biz, ah? Or at least, that's what Tricky thought...
"The only racism I've ever experienced is walking down the street and people shout, 'coon' or 'nigger' at you. That's what I thought racism was. Then I ask the head of my record company, 'How come I can't get on radio, and Portishead can, even though 'Hell Is Round The Corner' was based around the sarne Isaac Hayes sample as 'Glory Box'. And he says, Because you're black, and they're white.' It was like a punch from Tyson! I'm like, 'Whaaat?' And the guy who's saying this has done a lot for black musk, but he's a white guy, so he's seen it from both sides."
Tricky's hardly the first black artist to be disillusioned by what they see. But he could yet be one of the few that make a difference to the way people's views of music are coloured. Because the last thing he's going to do is retreat bitterly back into a defense generic corner.
"I want to change people's ideas about black music. I want to make the first Specials album, I wanna make a Rakim album. But I also wanna make 'Nevermind', or a Neil Diamond record - no, really! He made some great songs, man! I'm still a fan, see, and I've got all this shit in my head inspiring me. The trouble with black music in America is that you can only be a rapper, R&B, a soul singer or a f-in' diva. If you try to step outside people's preconceptions you won't get on the radio, you won't get on MTV, you won't even get a record deal. It's a f-in' circus, and the record companies want rnonkeys to sell their stuff. All the videos are of girls with their tits out, and fur coats and Mercedes are the status symbols. Everyone's sold this fake idea of success. Everyone knows where the real money is - in property and stuff like that - but they let the black kids
|have a superficial
little corner of it, just to keep 'em sweet.
"Chuck D's been trying to change it for years. But I think I've got an advantage over him, because he was kinda strictly in the rap camp, even though he got a lot of other people into rap. I've got gay people, girls, men, a mutant race of people, with no prejudice. Success for me is about changing people around, changing the music scene. I think I've done it to an extent in Britain, but to do it in America will be the real challenge."
Tricky's plan for world domination is basically the same that inspired the likes of Public Enemy, Death Row Records, and much of the black music business in America - to beat The Man at his own game, and build your own empire by your own rules. Only you can believe Tricky when he says his motives aren't financial, but creative and essentially subversive. A means to an artistic end. You might even call it a grand vision.
Meanwhile be's also tending to his nest closer to home, and raising a daughter he wants to grow up as a "yuppie".
"I want Maysie to be well off, so she has those opportunities. I'm descended from a family where my great-granddad was hung for sheep-stealing, my other great granddad was a bare-knuckle fighter, and my nan used to have to steal for us. The next generation of our family will have money. Trouble is, whenever I see a kid who's worse off when I'm with Maysie, I always end up giving her toys away to them. I get all sentimental.
Awww. But what of Tricky himself and the records he puts out under his own name? At present he's probably the one truly extraordinary figure in British music, at a time when the cult of the ordinary bloke playing bread-and-butter guitar music is at its height. You're tempted to see him as something of a British Prince - prolific, eclectic,
effortlessly original and frequently brilliant. Except while Prince wanted
to build his own private universe in his own image, Tricky wants to tap
into everyone else's universe and be all things to all people.
The only trouble is, you suspect that, like Prince, his prolific creative energy and wayward artistic muse sometimes get the better of him, at the expense of quality control.
This was fleetingly evident on 'Nearly God', and likewise on his new album 'Pre Millennium Tension'. Alongside the sublimely minimal melancholy of 'Christiansands' and 'Makes Me Wanna Die', or the claustro-crackers paranoia scape of 'Sex Drive', are tracks like 'Ghetto Youth', a dull, pointless patois diatribe, and the directionless, austere opening track 'Vent'. But then it seems Tricky's quite happy making 'difficult' records...
"Well, it's 'Pre-Millennium Tension', which means it's a hard record. 'Maxinquaye' sounds soft to me now. But the industry makes you go this way. I didn't get much radio play on 'Maxinquaye', so now I'm like, 'Well, if you didn't play that, then f- you, you definitely ain't gonna play this.' I couldn't give a shit about Radio I and MTV. I'm not pop music. I can do pop music if I want, but it ain't what I'm about.
In perfect contrast, Tricky protege'es, The Autumn People, are in a studio off Times Square as we speak, mixing a rich and savoury soul tune that could fit easily into the American Top Five. Tricky is suitably impressed, but you can see that he's twitching. He's in a studio, see. He's going to have to create any minute, or his head will explode.
"I've just got an idea for another Drunkenstein track," he gibbers, fixing a console with a piercingly concentrated glare. "It's alright, it'll only take ten minutes to write."
And with that he's bashing away randomly on a drum machine, looping an
inflection of The Autumn People's female vocalist's slowed down voice,
to create a deeply strange, jazzily syncopated groove, over which he and
fellow rapper, Rock, will freestyle all manner of nonsense, windmilling
through styles and in and out of beats. And eventually some kind of elegant,
mesmerising chaos emerges. Jesus!
One hour later (still, not bad going - Norris McWhirter take note), after he has finally procured some top-quality grass and gorged his lungs on a fat spliff, we head back home, presumably for more frantic tape playing.
So, perhaps now is the time to ask his darkness what exactly the significance of Number 666.
"Oh it's not deliberate," he grins. "It was just a nice flat. I didn't even think about the number. Anyway, the block is actually 666-668. Quite a funny coincidence when you think about it, though..."
If you say so, sir. So what was all that rubbish about being the devil? A marketing scam?
"No way. I have been the devil. Just in the sense that I have done bad things. I've drank and smoked myself senseless, hustling and thinking, 'I don't give a f- about anyone in this life.' But now, what I really want to be is a nice guy. I played up to the evil image so much that I lost myself! People used to say about me in Bristol, 'He's such a nice guy,' but the drink and drugs, and the bitterness got to me. it sounds ridiculous but I wanna forget alt that bad boy shit and get back to being a nice guy. And f- with people's heads as well. But in a nice way..."
And the Lord looked down on his new disciple and saw that he was good. Damned good, if you'll pardon the language. And the Lord sat back, rolled a well deserved spliff, and said to himself, "Must find him a new flat, though."
photos: Mike Diver
|analyze me (Tricky)|