The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Black Sky Thinking

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

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