“What I’m thinking during this insane hour/of the night itching morning’s thought is this…” Even in Blackouts.
It’s 5:14am on the morning of Sunday, August 17th here. I got out of bed a few minutes ago to listen to Even in Blackouts, this superb new acoustic pop-punk band from Chicago. They have a song called For ‘Pete’s Sake/is it the beauty that remains’ that I had to get up and hear. It’s about the suicide of a friend of the guitarist and lyricist for the band, John Pierson, aka John Jughead, of the defunkt punk outfit Screeching Weasel.
The song is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard, a wistful, painful elegy of loss and longing for a lost friend and times past spent well with him that will never come again. And I know of no better song to encapsulate my feelings right now. I woke up at 2:30am and lay awake staring at the black blur of my ceiling with my mind in maximum overdrive as per usual, thinking about the 57th Edinburgh International Film Festival, which is in full swing right now. I haven’t been particularly interested in it, and I was lying there trying to quantify and qualify my feelings and thoughts about why I really can’t be bothered much with this (mental) institution anymore.
I ran a real old scratched, faded reel or two of memories from past festivals through my brain and, as well-worn gossamer-thin fragmented reruns sped through my head at who knows how many frames per second, I really felt down. Cos nothing is the same anymore, you can’t go home, the old internal grindhouse has shut down and the years have leeched the fun from the festival and it’s never gonna be as great as it was over a decade ago again, for me at least. You might say it’s no major tragedy, and you’d be right, but I am gonna tell you why I feel so sad.
Let me tell you about my best ever Edinburgh International Film Festival. It was back in the year when “Strictly Ballroom” was the film that opened the festival, 1992, I think. Back then I was 22 years old. At that time I had been on a long, fun, drinking binge with my best friend back then, Davy Blair. I was a major Hunter S. Thompson freak at the time and I called Dave my Attorney, just like in Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas. Damn that book rocked my world to the core. Always wanted to do the festival on drugs, but could never really seem to afford the damned things back in the day.
Anyway. Through the now-gone-but-not-forgotten print incarnation of this very site, I managed to blag us both press credentials. We thought this was the funniest thing on the face of the planet. We would sit, ripped in Falkirk and watch every piece of splatter and underground trash you could imagine, often out of our heads, and motorvate up-and-down the country to horror film festivals (Splatterfest 90, Shock Around The Clock, Nothing Shocking, Dead by Dawn) or screenings and just having the best damn time in the world cheering and clapping and whooping whenever somebody got bloodily butchered. It was youth run rampant: remind me to tell you the hilarious story of me and Dave getting kicked off the bus to London from Glasgow 200 miles from our destination at 3am for being drunk, going down to catch the British premiere of Pete Jackson’s “Braindead” sometime.
Youth run rampant, yeah, mournful early a.m. elegies for bygone years and eras and trips and times and tides waiting for no man.
So anyway. We went through to Edinburgh to pick up our press credentials, reveling in our roles as (ir)responsible (occasionally physically) upright members of the film journalist community, laughing at what a hilarious scam it was and all the free booze we’d get. Oh, and the free films we’d get to see, of course. All I had ever written for was a few splatter fanzines from here and there (Sludgefeast, Neros, Samhain, my own Viscera View and, most notably, Deep Red, which gave me my writing start: Chas Balun, where are you now?) and done a coupla things for the Film Threat Video Guide (hiya Williams, you swine!); Dave had never written a word in his life. But he was along for the ride as my ‘photographer’.
He didn’t even own a camera.
Man, we did that festival so right.
We got through to Edinburgh and headed into the Filmhouse, which is where the press desk was located back in those daze. The alarmed festival press people took one look at Dave (know how Jeff Bridges looks in “The Big Lebowski”? That was exactly how Dave looked back then; we used to call him Snake Plissken after Kurt Russel, of whom he was a big fan, in “Escape From New York”) and decided that they had somehow ‘lost’ his credentials. Dave said that was alright, he could just get another pass.
They said they needed a photo. Dave whipped out an old bus pass and told them they could cut it up and have the photo from that one. Having to fill in the accreditation form, Dave asked me what the postcode (zipcode to you yanks) was for Film Threat, which at that time was located in the plush Larry Flynt buildings in Beverly Hills. I told him 90210, just like the TV program, which was true.
“Bullshit,” he said, to the vague consternation of the effete zorro behind the press desk (Sven in the film of “Fear And Loathing” always reminds me of film festival-worker guys) who suspected that Dave might not actually be the top-ranking snapper he pretended to be. But he had no choice but to accredit this unruly-looking individual, and told us to come back later on to pick up our passes. We said okay and moseyed along to this art exhibition about porn. But it turned out to be some boring rubbish on the ‘meaning’ of porn and it was a terminal turnoff.
Oddly enough, we then went for a drink.
Getting back to the festival some time later on, we collected our passes and attended our first screening, a blacknwhite effort in some tiny cinema (as I seem to recall though I may be wrong) not for the general public in the Filmhouse. The film in question was about Leopold and Loeb, the two real life gay intellectual Germans who wanted to commit the ‘perfect’ murder and messed it up. The cinema was full of well-dressed people in tuxedos and expensive dresses and we grabbed a seat down the front, me in my black Film Threat tee shirt and Dave in his black leather jacket (I am sitting laughing here as I recall this) and Jack Daniel’s sweatshirt.
We were half-drunk and just ever so slightly out of place.
The two murderous young lovers on the screen kissed.
“POOFS!” barked Dave in disgust, loud enough for the whole cinema to hear, then stormed out with a disgruntled “I’m away for a smoke.”
I just slid lower in my seat.
Now, Dave was pretty homophobic. I had known this was gonna be a gay flickershow, but thought it would be funny to take him along, too. His reaction was everything I could have expected – and more. I watched a bit more of the film and, bored, got up to find him. We found out there was some sorta launch party in a marquee to the back of the Filmhouse, so we went out there to see if we could blag some free booze.
Dave stormed ahead of me into the marquee; the zorro on the door was so cowed by Dave’s (who’s actually incredibly intelligent and well-read) intimidating appearance he didn’t even ask to see the pass Dave had mutilated his bus pass for. We were each handed a Rusty Nail as we walked in, which was some booze that Drambuie, the sponsors that year, made. The place was full of empty tables and chairs, but the bar was staffed and that was all that was important. I turned to Dave.
“If it’s a free bar I’ll buy the next round,” I graciously offered.
Dave shot up to the bar and I saw two drinks being poured. He turned round with a drink in each hand and a big smile on his face and shouted across to me the magic words:
We were in hog heaven.

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