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How Live Aid Ruined My Life, By John Doran
John Doran , July 13th, 2015 13:12

In an extract from Jolly Lad, John Doran remembers how in 1985 Live Aid was one of the three events that set him off the straight and narrow into two decades of depression and alcoholism. Illustration by Krent Able

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When you write a memoir about alcoholism it's tempting to look back in an attempt to pinpoint where it 'all went wrong'. And sure some people suffer really terrible childhood events which can mess them up for the rest of their lives. I'm not one of those people though. It was just the cards I was dealt that made me into such a bad piss artist. But for a while I was convinced that something must have happened to me when I was 13 - the age I started drinking. And there were three dates in particular that I had ear-marked as being the start of it all going wrong, when synth pop became terrible. Science fiction started to seem ridiculous. The 1980s went sour. My life went sour. Reality went sour.

September 23, 1984: I am sitting in my room and everything is right with the world. I am reading The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams and listening to The Luxury Gap by Heaven 17 on my Dansette. I love sci fi and I love music from Sheffield – especially by ABC, The Human League, Heaven 17 and Cabaret Voltaire. My Dad shouts up from the bottom of the stairs: "Come down here. There's something on TV I think you should watch. It's called Threads." The next day I tearfully join CND. By the end of the week I am a vibrating nexus of anxiety and I constantly check the horizon for mushroom clouds.

February 15, 1985: I am sitting in my room, afraid of nuclear war but otherwise still essentially happy. I am listening to a group I discovered last year called Simple Minds. Not only are their recent albums Sparkle In The Rain and New Gold Dream (81 82 83 84) excellent to listen to on a massive Walkman while striding dramatically though snow and rainfall but you can also get their early, weird LPs from Woolworths for two pound each. My favourite is called Sister Feelings Call. Today, in St Helens, is the debut screening of a new John Hughes movie called The Breakfast Club which climaxes with the brand new song by Simple Minds. It concerns a disparate bunch of white American teens on weekend detention. One of them is a proto-criminal called John Bender played by preposterous tit mangle Judd Nelson. He wears fingerless leather gloves – the stylistic hallmark of a complete bellend. Apparently during filming Nelson insisted on staying in character between takes and mercilessly aggravated the angelic Molly Ringwald until she was in tears. It took an intervention by cast and crew to prevent a raging Hughes from sacking the actor, furious with his oafish behaviour.

If only Hughes had stuck to his guns then perhaps my life wouldn't have collapsed into ruin. But no, at the end of the film bad boy lummox Bender strides across a sports field as Simple Minds' transcendentally awful new song 'Don'tYou (Forget About Me)' comes on. He leaps up and punches the air – his fingerless leather glove becoming frozen centre screen. Jim Kerr roars like a hippopotamus that's fallen into a hay baler.

After that, I feel like the shadow of a giant concrete building without windows has fallen across my soul. I don't know it yet but this feeling is called depression.

July 13, 1985. I am round at Stu's house, in his bedroom. I am afraid of nuclear war and massively depressed but I still have faith in technology and the future. And today the future has arrived.We are both 14-year-olds and we are just a couple of the two billion people who are watching Live AID as it happens on TV thanks to satellites. Satellites in outer fucking space. Phil Collins is in mid-air on Concorde heading towards America faster than the speed of sound. The screen I'm watching is only four inches across and part of an upright turntable and cassette recorder hi-fi combo. The technology that is allowing today to occur is blowing my fucking mind. Stu's Mum comes into his room carrying a tray of roast chicken legs. Adam Ant walks on stage. "Yes!" says Stu. "Yes!" I say. He isn't dressed as a pirate or a highwayman wearing makeup but as some kind of rockabilly duffer but it doesn't matter because nothing can ruin this moment of righteousness and vindication. What is he going to play? 'Kings Of The Wild Frontier'? 'Prince Charming'? 'Mohok'? Two billion people are waiting. They play 'Vive Le Rock'. "What?" I say but by the time he does a scissor kick I know the 80s and my childhood are over. Humanity has peaked. The world has become a darker place. It's all downhill from this point onwards. I look at the chicken with tears welling up in my eyes. By the end of the day I am a militant vegetarian. By the end of the week I am an angry alcoholic who no longer speaks to his parents. And by September I have a Jesus And Mary Chain LP, back combed hair and winkle pickers. And that's exactly how I remember it happening.

In reality there are people out there who suffer simply awful and calamitous experiences when they are young and this, if they are unlucky, can plague them for the rest of their lives. For the rest of us however – me definitely included – life just doesn't pan out like that. I had a moderately unusual upbringing but then, doesn't everyone? There wasn't anything in particular that made me an alcoholic or a drug addict or mentally ill. It just panned out that way. It was just my bad luck.

John Doran's Jolly Lad is out now via Strange Attractor, and can be purchased at their website here

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Jul 13, 2015 1:56pm

Heh, good call on Threads. I was too young to watch it at the time, so didn't see it until many years later.... it's probably the most depressing tv movie of all time. God knows how it felt watching it at the the height of cold war paranoia.

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Jul 13, 2015 2:22pm

In reply to Bob:

I take it you've never seen 'Scum' then. Nothing depresses like Scum.

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Jul 13, 2015 2:28pm

They made us watch Threads at my Boarding school. Happy days.

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Jul 13, 2015 3:01pm

In reply to :

I don't think Scum is quite on the same level, no. It's bleak and harrowing alright, but doesn't have the huge scale of destruction and utter helpless misery as Threads does. Watching either of them will ruin your week though.

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El Chapo
Jul 13, 2015 4:27pm

They showed us Threads *and* The Day After, in Social Studies, in a two week double-header - must have been about the same age - 14 or thereabouts. Let me tell you, the rest of that year was a complete write-off.

Also. You'll never take me alive, coppers!

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Jul 13, 2015 6:33pm

Saw Threads for the first time two years ago, being too young for it when it came out (also, I hadn't heard of it til then, probably because I'm not British). Anyway, I was about halfway through when I was forced to turn it off because the tears that lined my eyes prevented me from continuing to watch it. Probably would have killed me if I'd seen it as a teen when it came out.

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Barry Fentiman-Hall
Jul 13, 2015 11:13pm

The War Game was sort of the precursor of Threads in the 60s but it was deemed too bleak and realistic to screen it till the 80s. Most of it was shot around Medway. It was suppressed because it showed up how little chance there was of surviving it. They finally screened it in Rochester a couple of years ago and I met some of the locals who had been in it as kids. They glued rice crispies to their face to portray radiation burns apparently.

I saw it as a kid alongside Threads and When The Wind Blows. Scared shitless of sirens for years after that. I blame them for my long association with Newcastle Brown...

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Mark Smith
Jul 14, 2015 12:01am

So it was Live Aid that prompted you to start lying and trying to convince everyone that The Fall was your group?

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John Doran
Jul 14, 2015 8:13am

In reply to Mark Smith:

All things are connected...

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Jul 14, 2015 10:06am

Great read and you've reminded me of the gate keeper on the door at St Helens ABC! Wouldn't let me into Rambo

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John Doran
Jul 14, 2015 12:03pm

In reply to Jogga:

There was a riot on the first day of First Blood. Loads of lads from my school huffing aerosols and throwing chairs through the screen of the ABC.

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Jul 14, 2015 11:32pm

Such a juxtaposition of feelings. Is it wrong for me to read this and think "wow, this is really good, i'm looking forward to reading the book"? In other words I'm stoked to pick up a book about someone's alcoholism and depression? Not sure that's quite right.

By the way, "I am sitting in my room, afraid of nuclear war but otherwise still essentially happy" is the hook... just brilliant.

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John Doran
Jul 15, 2015 10:13am

In reply to Apop:

Hi, thanks for the kind words. I'm really pleased with any emotional response to it. I've done readings where people have been howling with laughter at what I consider to be pretty bleak material and conversely looking dismayed or upset at stuff I think is funny. I don't mind at all as long as people think it's well written. So any kind of emotional response is entirely appropriate. Best JD

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Charles Hodgson
Jul 16, 2015 10:44am

So you were a typical teenager? A lot of that stuff sounds like me at the same age at the same time ('cept I had better taste in music - "Sparkle In The Rain" was fucking awful. Got my money back on that one! - but the Mary Chain - of course!). I didn't know true depression till enduring an extended period of workplace bullying at the turn of the millenium, which broke down ny personality and destroyed my confidence. and eventually left me unable get out of bed, eat or enjoy ANYTHING. Including music. ANY music. Or sex. Alcoholism didn't ensue for me, but OCD did. Which is a kind of addiction. My subconcious trying to exert some "control"of a life over which I had lost all real control. OCD still blights my life - despite repeated treatment with fucking "cognitive therapy" and "mindfulness" (ineffective bollocks - for me at least). Not asking for sympathy or anything, just doubting you had "clinical" depression at the time you describe.

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John Doran
Jul 16, 2015 8:02pm

In reply to Charles Hodgson:

This is quite clearly a piece of comic writing. So, yes, obviously you're right but I don't think anyone else thought I was being serious. And congratulations on your great taste in music.

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Jul 17, 2015 11:44am

In reply to Jogga:

I recall him too... Steve? we we're in line waiting to see Aliens, and he was going up and down the queue just saying the word "Ayleeuns? Alyeeun? Alyeeun?" until someone punched him

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Jul 19, 2015 7:11pm

John Doran, it's really eerie to me how much I empathize with this article! The Breakfast Club was so embarrassingly tacky, yet everyone where I lived loved it.
I too had stumbled upon the brilliant early Simple Minds records: to this day Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call are among my favorite albums. With that ghastly "Don't You Forget About Me" suddenly a fantastic band became slime overnight.
LiveAid and "Do They Know It's Christmas" were like the 80s "jumping the shark." All the excitement of a new decade with new fashions and new sounds just became sickening and eating too much ice cream!
I enjoyed your article so much because it captures a "first world" problem in the sense that one's favorite nuggets of "pop culture" can mean so much to the psyche. When you spend all day at work or at school, it's not just teenage years during which certain bands or movies or concerts have such a deep magic. So when a formerly beloved rock band sells its soul to make awful music...yes, it's enough to drive you to drinking!

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Dec 26, 2015 9:56pm

Still haunted by Threads, all these years after - never even saw it on the day, but I'd seen enough clips and an elder brother helpfully fleshed-out the action. It's eventual appearance on YouTube proved to be too much of a temptation and, quite frankly, it was worse than even my tortured imagination could come up with.
I saw The War Game for the first time this year, banking on the black and white presentation being less harrowing, but it still left me feeling harrowed for days after at the horror it portrays.
Oddly, Geoff Barrow of Portishead also once confessed that watching Threads left him so traumatised that he's been anticipating a fiery apocalypse ever since. Don't believe me? Check out the track listing of Third...

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