WIFE AND SOUL
Being a rock wife is a little like being an arctic explorer; in that it's not necessarily something you do for your health. It's not a sensible thing to be. I first realised the enormity of the gulf between what is considered to be normal in a relationship and what I had always taken for granted in mine when I was called from my bed, one night many years ago, by the landlady of my boyfriend, Shane MacGowan. She had heard strange noises coming from his flat at the top floor of her respectable town house. On attempting to gain entry, she was forced to retreat by Shane, who stood at the top of the stairs - blood gushing from his mouth, teeth akimbo - and hurled an acoustic guitar at her.
Shane is a well-known musician with a reputation for drug and alcohol-fuelled impropriety, so his landlady was, in fact, prepared for a certain amount of unsociable disturbance when she took him on as a tenant. The blood, however, alarmed her, along with the fact that in one hand he had been holding a half eaten Beach Boys record, their Greatest Hits, Volume Three.
The unusual thing about all of this is that I reacted to it as calmly as I would have if Shane had told me that he was upset because his telly was on the blink. To me, it was a perfectly normal occurrence. Shortly after this happened, I spent four nights with Shane in a hotel at Heathrow airport, because he was due in America for the Pogues first ever major US tour, supporting Bob Dylan. Unfortunately because of the quantities of cough mixture and gin that Shane was consuming, British Airways kept refusing to allow him on any of their planes. When he finally got on a plane, it took four people to escort him and he screamed the whole way to Dallas. We didn't quite make it in time for Bob, which was probably a good thing, given the circumstances.
What I describe may seem extreme, and had I married Paul McCartney or Sting, I would have spent the last ten years happily designing veggie burgers and raising my children to be environmentally friendly, but from what I have gathered about the music industry, the kind of lifestyle I have endured is not all that out of the ordinary. It would seem that rock stars more than other creative types, feel the need to express themselves as much through acts of wanton self destruction as through their art. Whichever, as a rock wife I have found myself living with someone who favours the Keith Richards/Iggy Pop style of rockdom over the Cliff Richard kind.
Many people are curious as to the allure of a man like Shane, and indeed as to the reality behind the public perception of this way of living. I have seen Shane described as many things in the media: ugly, toothless, big eared, moronic and republican come to mind. Never handsome, sexy, desirable, witty, intelligent, all of which (naturally) I believe him to be. So it is important to realise that not all of what you read in the papers is necessarily true.
Many people are attracted to marrying a rock star without having given due consideration to what that person may actually be like. I have personally found the idea very glamorous and the reality quite the opposite. This is not just true of my situation. I have met plenty of outwardly sane and respectable, hugely desirable and famous musicians who are actually manic depressives, paranoids, neurotics, alcoholics, paedophiles, drug addicts, violent or all of the above, That is the fun thing about this business - most of the people involved in it are quite capable of building mutually rewarding relationships with the press, even if they don't manage it with their wives so that the unsuspecting punter knows nothing of their real lives. In my case it was fairly obvious what I was getting into.
What happens to the wives of rock stars is that they form relationships with people who are so desirable in the eyes of their fans, their record companies, their groupies, and their peers that they veer dangerously between believing that are as wonderful as people say they are and realising their mere mortality. This can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity and suicidal tendencies. Their wives are then forced to confront the fact that they are married to two different people, the Performer and the Private Person. I have met very few rock stars who are not two different people. Surprisingly, it is the outwardly respectable ones who have the most unusual offstage personas. People like Shane, Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Richard and Lou Reed seem to me to be the more normal, balanced, happy ones.
The problem with living with someone who is often on stage is that they
tend to need a great deal of attention from their friends and family when
they are offstage. This could be why many rock wives complain that
their husbands don't have any time to listen to their problems.
As the task became more insurmountable and the prospect of finding happiness less likely, I comforted myself with thoughts of other brave women who had sacrificed themselves for famous alcoholic poets: women like Mrs. Brendan Behan and Mrs. Dylan Thomas. People kept telling me that Shane was a living legend- a kind of Irish National Monument- and I should consider it a privilege to preserve him. This is a classic syndrome. Women more than men are capable of sacrificing themselves to the greater good of their husbands in this manner; witness Norma Major. I believe that is why very few rock stars marry women who are also rock stars. When they do, one of them often has to go - as was true of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. I had a few unfortunate run-ins with the Cobains, but I was inspired by Courtney to grow out of sacrificing my career for Shane's.
Another thing that people believe about rock stars is that they are continually sleeping with groupies and that their wives inevitably just put up with it. I can confirm that almost any band, however awful or unpopular, will have groupies who are willing to sleep with them - that comes with the territory. But I have found no reason to believe that rock wives are any more or less likely to be victims of infidelity than their husbands, and in fact many rock wives find themselves in the position I found myself in, where they attract a constant stream of other rock stars who admire their husband's music and would like to sleep with his wife to prove. Or perhaps they would like to sleep with you because they would like you to admire their music more than your husband's. It is a very childish business.
It is also a popular misconception that the other members of the band, entourage and crew generally react badly to the wives of band members. This depends, as in real life, on what uses the wives can be put to. In some cases, the women are highly desirable prizes and inspire competition amongst the band. Many cases have been recorded where women have slept with more than one band member while maintaining a relationship with one of them, as in the case of Marianne Faithfull. In my case, I was useful as a kind of nurse/therapist/minder, who could be relied on to feel guilty if I didn't manage to get Shane on the tour bus, on the plane, out of the bar, on the stage or whatever. This despite the fact that other people were employed to do that job and I was not being paid to do anything. It was many years before I realised that my life would not be significantly affected if Shane fell off the stage every night and I abdicated responsibility.
The moral of my particular story is that if you marry a rock star, you
need to be aware that they might not be as hugely confident in their own
living room as they are in front of 50,000 screaming fans - they may well
be less confident and more self conscious than most teenagers. They
will have become accustomed to having the undivided attention of everyone
around them at any given moment. You need to be aware that you have
a life of your own and you are not responsible for the life of your rock
star. Once you have these two things figured out, you can live happily
Photo caption: Trouble and Strife...Clarke and MacGowan
Photograph: Garry Weaser
Copyright 1996, The Guardian
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.