Friday, 8 May 2015

Adolf Bunter

'Lawrence is okay,' McArbuckle muttered as he sat. 'He's one of us.'

'Huh?' I was trying to work out if he'd really just said that.

'I was just saying that you're okay. You're a decent guy.'

Adolf Bunter sat smiling, giving no response, a great human dome of flesh in a black polo-neck occupying the corner of the pub as though recently dolloped out from a catering spigot in the ceiling, Satanic goatee arranged neatly around a mouth in a configuration suggesting sea creatures, and the eyes wobbling left to right in that massive head. I had the impression he was on his guard, and my apparently necessary introduction as someone who could be trusted did nothing to dispel this. He had an oddly craven look to him, like one of the more pathologically uncomfortable characters played by Roy Kinnear.

He had seen my cartoon in a fanzine, possibly Gneurosis, and now he wanted more. It was kind of a relief that he hadn't taken offence given how the point of the cartoon had been to extract great quantities of Michael out of him, his previous band, and their pal, the one resembling Jasper Carrott. In some ways it was also quite flattering, even encouraging to know that purveyors of such stentorian gloom had a sense of humour - if that's what it was.

Adolf Bunter was busily reinventing himself as a man of culture, some sort of patron of the arts, the sort of guy who eats paté whilst listening to that Pavarotti. To this end he was putting together a magazine of some description. It would be square-bound and would look reet classy, and there would probably be a compact disc with it too. It sounded pretty much like Re/Search or Rapid Eye from what he told me, the usual routinely outré subjects and suspects. He was after a cartoon strip and would be happy to pay.

Of course, I had to ask about the group of which he was once a member, the group I'd had such fun taking the piss out of in the pages of Gneurosis. 'So what happened? How come you split up?'

'It was three people in a room, each trying to be loudest.'

He talked a little about the past, about poor decisions made whilst young and stupid. This I took to be a reference to his having once been a member of the National Front, concerning which I hadn't asked because I wasn't sure I really wanted to know, and it hadn't helped that we had been discussing Coventry, the city from which I had moved just a few years before, the city in which my parents still live. He'd said it was terrible what the Luftwaffe had done to Coventry during the war, although of course what Dresden had suffered was many times worse. I observed that Coventry City Council had pretty much finished the job Hitler started during the fifties and sixties, tearing down a great number of old buildings which really could have been left standing. He seemed to warm to this idea, I suppose enjoying the notion of Hitler as the lesser of two evils.

This was not the first time I had encountered representatives of the extreme right, or at least a person with such vile politics lurking in his past like the turd that just won't be flushed. One such individual I had already forgiven on the grounds that he'd seen the error of his ways, learned from the experience, grown up, and was somewhere to the left of Tony Benn by the time I met him. The other had been Nick, whom it was incredibly difficult to dislike. I suppose he became our pet Nazi skinhead because everyone had already been endlessly entertained by his wit and charm by the time anyone realised. He was funny, seemingly very intelligent, and strangely disinclined towards the sort of racist remarks you would expect from someone who regularly attended No Remorse gigs dressed as Alex from A Clockwork Orange. The only truly awkward moment I recall was my mentioning having recently watched the film Romper Stomper, which Nick said he had also seen, happily reporting that he and his friends had chanted filthy yellow monkey at the screen whenever one of the Vietnamese characters appeared.

'Charming,' observed Andy without any obvious sincerity. Andy was also present in the kitchen, and was then a volunteer at Hackney Chinese Youth Centre and therefore regarded Nick as an idiot. With hindsight, the anecdote had almost certainly been forged for the sake of aggravating Andy.

I say Nick was our pet Nazi skinhead, although it's not like I was particularly in a rush to hang out with him for reasons which are hopefully obvious. He lived in a squat with some of my friends, none of whom had bothered to enquire as to his views on who should have won the second world war, and it can be quite difficult to get rid of somebody when you've already been their mate for three months.

Eventually he moved out of his own accord, which solved the problem. We all had an anthropological root through the cardboard box containing his record collection just before he vanished - all of those horrible bands: Skrewdriver, No Remorse, Skullhead and weirdest of all, what appeared to be a Chas & Dave rarities and out-takes album.

Nick's story became weirder still when in later years it emerged that he had been the son of some Lord or other, or at least someone with a country estate, and had moved to Italy to marry a woman of Indian descent. Either he had renounced his brief flirtation with racism - as claimed - or it had all been some peculiar put-on for the benefit of a father whom he apparently hated.

Adolf Bunter was somehow different. There was about him, for want of a better word, an unpleasant vibe I hadn't noticed in association with either of those mentioned above. It didn't help that his band just happened to fixate on north European imagery, Odin, runes, laments about the death of culture which never quite seemed to name any names of those apparently held responsible, and very little in the way of covers of ska, bluebeat, or reggae standards. Having grown accustomed to extending the benefit of the doubt to the sort of musicians who might slap a picture of Hitler on the cover of a record and then explain how they are simply exploring controversial images and ideas, I likewise extended the benefit of the doubt to Adolf Bunter.

Besides, I'd explored my own fair share of controversial images and ideas going right back to the Good Old Hitler cassette album recorded with friends at school as Eddie & the Ogdens. The cover showed Stan and Hilda Ogden along with their lodger Eddie Yeats from Coronation Street stood upon the podium at Nuremberg, each with Hitler's face. The music was as close an approximation to Oi! as we could manage on acoustic guitar and cardboard box drum kit, which was actually surprisingly close. Week after week we had howled with laughter at Garry Bushell's reviews of skinhead bands in Sounds music paper, particularly the occasional weedling attempts to pass off a few genuine bad lads as being not so much racist as simply proud of something or other. Good Old Hitler was our addressing this unpleasant phenomenon by trying to make ourselves laugh, specifically by seeing how offensive we could be if we tried really hard; and we succeeded in producing something that was pretty fucking offensive. Then of course later came Do Easy, my own flirtation with badly recorded industrial music and the increasingly predictable exploration of controversial images and ideas, and mostly for the sake of upsetting the sort of people who would be upset by controversial images and ideas; see also most major art movements since 1909; none of which is to say that recording a song called Exterminate All Weaklings and slapping a picture of Dennis Nilsen on the cover of the tape isn't necessarily an extraordinarily retarded thing to do, only that it isn't always indicative of where the author's true sympathies may reside. Personally I draw the line just this side of the point at which fans turn up to your gigs dressed in full SS regalia, and this doesn't cause you to take a long, hard look at what you're doing with your music and how it's presented. Anything short of that can probably be justified as art, if not necessarily great art. Anything beyond will most likely be either straightforward horrible bullshit, or horrible bullshit reliant upon being given the benefit of the doubt because it's simply exploring controversial images and ideas blah blah blah...

Adolf Bunter seemed to like my cartoon. He came to my home to pick it up, occupying the entire width of my couch much as Hitler's forces had occupied the Rhineland in March 1936. I showed him my paintings assuming a mutual interest in mythology, but he flicked through with the speed of someone searching for a specific image, something familiar. So much for patron of the arts boy. Maybe he was looking for Odin, or something a bit more Caucasian in spirit.

I met Adolf Bunter on just two further occasions in a pub near the Imperial War Museum in London. McArbuckle, whom I knew a little better, had invited him along as we went for one of our laboured Saturday evening drinks.

The less said about McArbuckle the better, but he was Scottish and he fucking loved his pies. Whilst he didn't really appear actively racist, it sometimes seemed dependent on who he was with and what mood he was in. He would go on at length about how much he loved his Public Enemy albums, oblivious to Public Enemy often being the choice group of those who otherwise hate rap but wish to appear open-minded - those for whom Public Enemy represent socially responsible black people, not like those gangstas with their sexism and glorification of sex and violence. He loved Public Enemy, but hated that awful Snoop Doggy Dogg, seedy little man that he was and not much better than some dope dealer; and then next week he'd always had time for good old Snoop - a genuine entertainer in the traditional sense of the term if ever there was, and could I burn a couple of CDs? I don't think it was that McArbuckle was so much a racist as just a complete prick.

The two of us were sat drinking with Adolf Bunter in some pub near the Imperial War Museum when a black man entered as though the universe was about to illustrate some point for my benefit. He came over to us and asked how to get to Borough tube station, which was at about ten minutes distance from the pub. Adolf Bunter politely delivered a series of directions, pointing and smiling. The man left and Bunter and McArbuckle sat chortling away like Beavis and Butthead. I looked out of the window and saw our man heading off in entirely the wrong direction.

'Borough tube is that way,' I said, pointing, initially confused.

'I know!' Adolf Bunter's many, many chins bounced happily as though someone had emptied a dustbin of ping-pong balls onto a squash court. Whatever the conversation had been, I found it difficult to return to our subject, and so the evening descended into idle observation of red London buses passing by the pub or waiting at the traffic lights just outside, mostly with some commentary on how you never see a white man driving one of those things any more.

The final encounter, another one of those meetings which just seemed to occur for no good reason, was in the same pub and served to introduce us to the surprisingly unpleasant Mrs. Bunter, whose contribution mostly seemed to comprise smirking, occasional comments which you couldn't quite work out whether or not they were meant to be insulting, failing to buy a round, and then requesting cocktails which cost as much as everything that everybody else was having added together. Happily I fell out with McArbuckle soon after, and was no longer subjected to either his peculiarly toxic friendship or his peculiarly toxic friends.

Years later, I noticed one of the cartoon strips I had drawn for Adolf Bunter had turned up on his website testily credited to some closet queen from South London. Elsewhere the site carried a notice protesting that Adolf Bunter deeply regretted certain political affiliations held in the past when he was young and stupid, adding that if people weren't going to believe him then they weren't going to believe him and there probably wasn't much he could say to change anyone's mind. My take on this, being older and hopefully less gullible, is that what you say is more or less irrelevant if you can't pass the fans turning up to your gigs dressed in full SS regalia test; and that like McArbuckle, he probably wasn't so much a racist as just a complete prick.

Once in the town of Guildford fair, a rotund minstrel he did strum,
Songs of liking not the foreigners written mostly with his bum,
On the stage in old Valhalla, that silly fat fucker I did hear,
and listen to those songs I would, but that in this world is too little beer.

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