Living fast and dying young – a tribute to Peter Kinski
By Neil Patrick
I have a dream
To move in a forward motion
'Till I see the shape of my life
(Lyric from 'Something to Live and Breathe By'. By James Maker and Peter Kinski. EMI Records, 1991)
Every now and then something happens in our lives which causes us to reflect, to take stock, to be grateful for what we have. This post is a requiem for one of my oldest friends. A story of how our career choices kept us apart but our love of music always brought us back together. It’s about friendship, fate, choices, commitment and rock and roll. It’s also a series of musical snapshots between 1975 and 2016. Forty years of my memories of how music made me feel.
There’s a lot of talk about the merits of following your passion, vs. doing what we are told. And you don’t get much greater opposites than banking and rock and roll. It's easy to be passionate about music. It's almost impossible to be passionate about banking.
My friend was a great artist, musician and a rebel to the end. I was mostly an obedient servant of whatever master dominated my life at the time. I doubt he ever envied me. But I often looked at him with admiration.
1975: School Daze
31 October 1975: Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" is released. It goes to No.1 for 9 weeks becoming the biggest-selling non-Charity single in UK history. I am furiously banging my head to the outro years before this same act becomes the most memorable clip from the movie, Wayne’s World.
I used the money from my Saturday job working on a fruit and veg stall in the local market to buy Queen’s fourth album, A Night at the Opera. I had been a fan since buying their first album in 1973. I absolutely loved Brian May’s storming rock tracks, but felt a bit queasy listening to the delicate and artsy musings of Freddie Mercury.
At the same time, I met Pete when his family moved to my town and he turned up at my school.
Pete was pale, thin and had straggly blond hair. His blue eyes had a gaze which was deep and knowing. He had a quiet voice and a sharp, acerbic wit. We got talking and it soon became apparent that we were both serious about our rock music. He loved The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Frank Zappa. I loved Thin Lizzy, Genesis and Queen. Lots of heated debates ensued about the merits of this artist or that album. These discussions bonded us in the way that men do by arguing about shared passions.
But we were also different. Pete was not one to compromise. He was quite definite and unnegotiable about everything he cared about. I was pragmatic and flexible. This difference would soon manifest itself in how our lives played out.
This was the age of the LP if you were serious about music. Poseurs and popsters bought little 7 inch singles of chart topping songs. To my pubescent binary mind, real men bought albums – 12 inch slabs of electric noise wrapped in some of the most evocative imagery to be seen anywhere at the time.
Today, the LP is an almost forgotten music medium. Back then, billions were sold. But they were more than just a music medium. They had a physical form which allowed teens to badge themselves and your choice of 12 inch heraldry determined who your friends would be. It was a form of personal branding long before the term had ever been coined. Carrying around a Jimi Hendrix or Deep Purple LP at school was pretty cool. Abba was absolutely not. Owning a Simon and Garfunkel LP risked getting a kicking.
Pete and I shared cigarettes, LPs and copies of Sounds magazine. Pete had started learning to play guitar and even though he could only bash out some simple chords, I was in awe. I wanted a guitar too and I badgered my parents for one to absolutely deaf ears. They thought it was waste of my time and their money. So I gave up asking.
1976: Music on the brink of anarchy
3 April 1976: Brotherhood of Man win the Eurovision Song Contest for the UK with the song "Save Your Kisses For Me”. I absolutely hate it and fear that rock music will die if this trite and pathetic pop junk gets any more airplay. Hearing it really does make me feel I want to strangle someone. Fortunately on August 25th, Boston’s first album is released. Pete and I agree, it’s absolutely epic and will save the world with the power of its rock.
Punk rock is nascent and Pete is enthusiastic about The Ramones’ first album. I buy Anarchy In The UK, by the Sex Pistols but find it a bit ratty for my taste.
Whilst I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, Pete had a simple if ambitious plan for his. He was going to be an artiste.
Pete had already started and set up his first band. It was called Sticky Fingers - an homage to the Rolling Stones album of the same name. They weren't very good. But thanks to a couple of Marshall stacks, they were loud. And proud.
In the 1970’s, this was a form of cool that the footballers couldn’t begin to emulate. I hung out with Sticky Fingers’ at rehearsals and gigs, lugging drums and amps in and out of village halls and offering uninformed 'advice' about their songs and sound mix. Being part of this band of brothers meant something to me and gave me some much needed confidence that I was somehow more attractive to girls.
The band got better rapidly. Aged 16, we left school and went to the same college sixth form. We chain smoked during our breaks in the student common room. All the other band members were at the same college with us and we adopted a ‘cooler than thou’ attitude, which in hindsight must have made us look like complete pricks.
The discussions about music went on for hours. We’d travel to watch bands such as AC/DC, Hawkwind and Long Island, New York’s greatest rock prodigy, Blue Öyster Cult. The following days would be spent recovering from minor tinnitus and debating the details of every performance we had seen.
4 December 1980: Led Zeppelin disbands following the death of drummer John Bonham. I am disappointed rather than distraught. Conspicuous compassion won’t be invented until 4 days later when, on 8 December 1980, John Lennon is shot dead outside his apartment building in New York City. I am completely bemused at the media circus and weeping fans. Lennon never even rocked a chair in my opinion.
The time came to go to university. Pete went to Middlesex Poly. I went to Brighton Poly. It seems odd today, but then there were just two ways to keep in touch – the telephone (more or less impossible when you have an itinerant student lifestyle) or letters (which were slow and tedious to write). Pete and I lost touch for what turned out to be the next nine years.
The dice were cast. Pete was staying true to his artistic temperament and studying at art college. I had decided I didn’t want to participate in that life lottery and would go after the money in business and chose to study business and marketing.
1989: Crises of confidence
9 April 1989: The Rolling Stones' Bill Wyman (53) announces that he will marry 19-year-old Mandy Smith, his girlfriend for six years. It doesn’t occur to me that this is immoral and possibly illegal. It seems rockstardom confers sexual super-powers. Confined to corporate conventionalism, I start to doubt the wisdom of my career choice. Only a very large home stereo, gigs and my growing guitar collection keeps me remotely connected to my rock and roll mistress.
By 1989 I had graduated and was in the early stages of my marketing career. I was doing okay I thought. I had been appointed as a marketing manager for a big UK bank and was always the youngest person at every management meeting I attended.
One day I had flu. I took a couple of days off work and lay in bed with a temperature and lots of paracetamol. My girlfriend went out and brought me back some medicines, the Financial Times and a copy of Kerrang! magazine.
From June 1981 right up to the present day, Kerrang! has been the bible of hard rock and heavy metal. I picked it up and looked at the cover. I almost choked. Staring back at me from the cover photo was Pete and the other guys from Sticky Fingers, now going under the moniker of RPLA. The article inside posed the question, “Is this the next Led Zeppelin?”
A three or four page article by editor Geoff Barton told the story of how Pete and the guys had spent the last six years slogging their way round pubs and clubs in London, playing to whoever was there. A talent scout from EMI had spotted them and they had signed a record deal shortly thereafter.
Whilst I was overjoyed at my old school mates’ success, I also had a feeling of remorse. Pete had stuck to his guns, believing in himself and his art. I had chickened out and gone after the security and safety of a conventional career.
I somehow got hold of a postal address for Pete and sent him a congratulatory letter. To my delight he replied and sent me a copy of the band’s new single:
I thought it was great and wrote back to tell him so. He wrote back and said he'd just got back from LA after shooting videos for their forthcoming EMI album. And he was not exaggerating:
Our worlds were now both geographically and occupationally about as far apart as you can get while still living in the same country. We lost touch again for the next 26 years.
2015: The final countdown
Adele's third album, 25 becomes the fastest-selling UK album of all time, beating a record previously held by Oasis' album Be Here Now in 1997. I am forced to buy a copy for my step-daughter although I know it isn’t good for her. Fortunately, I don’t have to listen to it.
In April I spotted on Linkedin that Pete had looked at my LinkedIn profile even though we'd been out of touch for a quarter of a century. I connected with him and asked where he was. He replied he had left London 10 years ago and moved to Wales. “Where in Wales?" I asked. It turned out he was living just 5 miles away.
So last year we renewed our old friendship with mutual enthusiasm. I discovered that in 1991, RPLA had gone very quickly from being media favourites and EMI recording artists, to being dumped in the trash can when internal politics at EMI, band squabbles and fickle media opinions about them killed their career almost as fast as it had begun.
Pete’s achievement had been the result of his total commitment. And in his world, that’s what it takes. In my world, there are few such one shot gambles. Some things go well. Others don’t. We learn our lessons and move on. But I couldn’t help but admire how he’d never compromised and never quit. And for a short moment in time, he had been vindicated.
Pete had spent the next 10 years or so in London attempting without success to rekindle his music career, but all the while lapsing into the underground scene of drugs and clubs. He had found odd jobs as a graphic designer, doing design work for top shelf magazines and the odd bits of session work.
But I was so overjoyed to have my old friend back. We’d chat on the phone, have dinner together, go to the pub. All the while enthusiastically discussing music, guitars and reminiscing.
This went on until last autumn. My summer had been busy and I’d had little contact with Pete. I dropped him an email. The reply that came back paralyzed me. It said he was in a hospice with a rare form of cancer and had been given a few months to live.
I would never see him again. A few emails went back and forth. But he couldn’t easily write anymore and he didn’t want me to visit him in his fast deteriorating condition.
Pete died early this year with no media attention at all, and this is partly why I wrote this. I want him to be remembered. To me he’ll always be the swaggering guitar hero I knew and admired. Rest in peace my old mate. You lived the dream without ever compromising your ideals. You achieved greatness even if it was momentary and fleeting.
You did something everyone should do, but rarely does. You understood your deepest talents and used them to live a life which had meaning to you and those around you. You built your City of Angels.
And this is how I’ll always remember you: