It's the sort of place that I should love: a schmear of freaks, the art is gothic illustrative but on the right side of gaudy. Double kick drum metal adding a frantic air to the first sun-soaked Friday of the year. The energy of Camden mixes with the screaming Friday relief of it all. The room is big with high ceiling and a glass roof. I’ve been in more modest churches. I should love it: but I can't shake the cloud of death that has lingered since the British museum.
Not morose, but it's hard not for any museum to be a giant memento mori. Whole civilizations reduced to a series of knick-knacks in presentation cases not a million miles from the market stalls. Hopefully researchers in the future will be able to decode the layers of pop culture mashed together and sprinkled with our post millennial nihilism, or perhaps they will think that Bart Simpson was a god of several incarnations, Bart the White deity in this form that governs Cooks of Meth. So my mood was, let's say, reflective, coupled with the very real colonial guilt grumbling in my stomach with the duck wrap I’d absent-mindedly eaten earlier.
The swing from Anubis to Dionysus being to big a shift for my delicate humours today.
Appropriately enough the place I’m in is called The Worlds End, up on the wall I can see an old pub sign for Mother Red Cap, the pub that was here before it. The Mother Red Cap is a reference to one of the infamous crones of London who lived at the site. Not Mother Shipton who famously foretold the great fire of london and is now remembered as pantomime dame, but ‘Mother Damnable’ Jinney Bingham. Jinney lived as a potion maker and fortune teller and responsible for at least four men's deaths, including a husband burned alive in her oven. She was later acquitted because it was revealed that he was probably hiding in there away from her ‘nagging tongue’. The night she died, according to eyewitnesses was claimed by the devil himself. The sign itself is a replica, a simulacrum as if painted from a blurry photograph itself.
The crowd is, I’d say, an equal split between the after work pint crowd and tourists caught in the reverify. There's something about this place, too clean, the bar staff too efficient, it's too new. Like a rock pub theme park. I don't doubt its legacy but where are the regulars? The old guard? Dirty old motherfuckers in unwashed denim, the scarred old men whose tattoos have turned into watercolour smears? The ones with big reputations but small hands, and the ones with tall tales but shallow pockets? Frankly if you’re apologising to the tourists for the regulars, are you even a rock pub?
But ignore me, I was born at the tail end of Gen-X, a generation obsessed with the notion of authenticity bookended by generations having a far better time: either blithely worshiping artifice or using whatever they can lay their hands on to remix they world into something worth having. Cobain died for our sins and Holden Caulfield is our Baptist and Ritchie Manic beatified in our eyes.
A few years ago: I’m a youth leader on a coach with the young people I'm going to be teaching for a couple of weeks. Pixies come on my headphones, the kid opposite is wearing a Nirvana hoodie, so I do the take-your-headphones-out mime and and try to connect.
“Have you heard of Pixies?”
“No.” a confused look, I offer one of my headphone buds
“Oh, it's just that if you like Nirvana, then you might like Pixies, they were a massive influence,” I gesture to his top and the penny drops.
“Oh I've never really heard these - I just like the logo”.
Growing up I went through a few different subcultures - I mean shades of the same one if everyone was honest with each other - but in my time I managed to cycle through every shade of weird; punk (third or fourth wave, we stopped counting but were still called ‘plastic punks’ by whichever ones were before us), goth, nu-metal and the conversations in them were universally about whether you were punk/goth/whatever enough.
“Fuck you - I put Special Brew on my Cornflakes this morning” says some little punk with a fresh nose piercing that looks a bit septic. His T-shirt looks ironed. My friend Tony is having his credentials tested because a short spell in prison has left his normally shaven head a tennis ball fuzz and his jacket is warm rather than ‘cool’.
“If you bothered with cornflakes you’re not punk” he dismisses.
Yeah I know, ridiculous.
There have always have been gatekeepers but I think the boomers were ours. A whole generation looking at us wanting us to be them. Seeing their privilege as hard work and expecting us to to match it. Scraps of culture falling off an emptying table. Becoming copies of copies until we're all just fanzines passing ourselves off as vintage. Then millennials solved this problem by turning the collage into the art, and bless them for it.
I still work with young people. And The Who are correct on one point, the kids ARE alright. Their lives are a thick goulash of influences. You can be who you say are, second to second, subcultures are hats to be worn, or theme park pubs to be visited. And fuck it, they’re far better for it.
I nip to the toilet on the way out, as I walk in there's a man in his fifties, one of the market traders with his back to the urinals pissing in the sink trough, unawares as some teenagers are snapchatting it behind him. Tony would have approved.