Concrete, Bulletproof, Invisible and Fried: My Life As a Revolting Cock – Chris Connelly

There’s a photo in the middle of the book from spring 1988 attributed to “unknown”, which I recognise, because I had it on my wall. This would be my cube wall at my first job, which was a shrine to the industrial rock legends of the day – Al, Trent, Ogre … the people in this book. You may remember Chris Connelly – the skinny Scottish self-styled also-ran eternally upstaged by his bandmates – from such freakshows as Ministry, RevCo, Fini Tribe, Pigface, Murder Inc and The Damage Manual. And he’s about to tell you everything.
The book held a particular appeal to me because, when I was 19 years old, I worshipped those industrial rock bands. I had the dreadlocks, the hats, the boots, the trousers, the t-shirts, the chunky rings on every finger, smudged black kohl liner and funky-coloured lipsticks. Al Jourgensen – an idol about whom I knew practically nothing – was one of the people from that scene I never met. Of the other people in Concrete, Bulletproof, Invisible and Fried: My Life As a Revolting Cock, I could sort at least half of them into “people I’ve met”, “people I’ve had beers with”, and “old friend who kissed me under the mistletoe at midnight on New Year’s Eve about 15 years ago”. I never thought of him as “mealy-mouthed”.

Hardly anyone comes out of Concrete well. Al is introduced as Neil Patrick Harris in the Harold & Kumar films, but quickly morphs into a braying, bleating horror trailing after Ogre like a lost child. Geordie Walker is boorish, Richard 23 is pompous, Martin Atkins is all soundbytes and chaos, and the rest of the cast and crew are a cacophony of addled maniacs. Only Ogre’s ex Cyan, Mary Byker and William Tucker seem wholly likeable.

It’s interesting to read stories I’ve heard about elsewhere – such as En Esch‘s fire, Ogre‘s hepatitis and Mary Byker‘s insane psychedelics binges – described here from alternate perspectives.

Mostly, though, it’s Connelly’s story, as he starts off miserable in Edinburgh as a member of the only-very-faintly-successful Finitribe

and then finds himself whisked away into Jourgensen’s tilt-a-whirl world of speed-and-liquor-filled benders for reasons that are never fully explained. (What on earth made Al think that this insipid electro-boy would make such a rock star? Then again, you could have said the same about Jourgensen.)

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Connelly soon fits in to the WaxTrax! circle, working by day in its record store (and listing his drugs as “business expenses”) and playing gigs or recording with various levels of disaster at night. Thus he embarks on a near-endless road trip that starts off lightly amusing and gets steadily more terrifying as it goes along.

It’s a cracking tale but badly written. Connelly can’t for the life of him spell the names of his colleagues – Lesley Rankine, Paul Ferguson and Jim Thirlwell are all mispelled, and I’m not sure whether “Dannie” is supposed to be Danny from WaxTrax!. Even “Fini Tribe” is spelled various ways. The grammar is atrocious. Regardless, it’s as laugh-out-loud funny and absurd as Terry Pratchett at his best.

“A little restless, Tucker produced a couple of screwdrivers from his toolbox, and we silently and dilligently went about disassembling the entire room; the beds, the television, the closets, the desk, everything. All the blankets and towels were folded neatly and placed in the bath, which we then topped off with water, at around about 7 a.m.
Tucker and I looked at our handiwork, ‘Dude, what the f*** have we done?’ Tucker asked.
‘If we flush the room key down the toilet, they’ll never know it was us,’ that steadfast Connelly logic coming to the fore and dealing with the situation.”

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Broadly, it’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets Rockstar, and as much is made of the daft haircuts and silly clothes as is made of the ever-more-ludicrous attempts at redefining the rock process (by doing away with rehearsals and actual songs).

As the years pass, the tale gets darker as the drugs get harder. Speed is replaced with acid is replaced with heroin. This change manifests when there is a horrific incident involving a member of the band and a fan, and the band-member is quietly dropped afterwards. Connelly weakly expresses his disdain, but it’s a very muted disapproval – earlier, someone gets a worse bucket of vitriol for having the wrong outfit. I start to wonder where his moral compass is, before realising that it’s been shot to pieces in the miasma of addiction. He doesn’t admit to the same problems as Jourgensen, but develops an absolute dependence on narcotics to the point where even the music is inconsequential.

Even so, the book remains entertaining, especially with its descriptions of the shambolic Pigface shows – extended improvisations that range from pretty good to absolutely f***ing dreadful.

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Brief mention is given of his stints in Killing Joke-related projects Murder Inc and The Damage Manual

but it’s clear by this point that – like industrial rock in general – he’s just run out of steam. The book fizzles out shortly after a rather drier but still entertaining explanation of the recording of Revolting Cocks’ Linger Ficken Good. (We clearly disagree on what the good tracks are.)

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It’s a shame that the tone becomes increasingly bitter and despondent – but not surprising, since anyone with even a passing interest in the genre knows how it ended up. I met the people I did years later when they were sober and repentant, but this book ends with the vague “phffft” of the void fireworks winking out.

About a decade ago, I was in a room with Chris Connelly, but I’m not sure if we actually met or not. By that point, he’d have been unrecogniseable anyway. Even though it seems like yesterday, those days were a very, very long time ago.

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