Have you noticed that the older you get the more dead acquaintances you collect? It’s a sign of maturity, I guess.

In my twenties I knew one dead guy. His name was Steve. Married a Welsh girl; two years later he was dead.

Was it the food, the celtic temperament, the weird sex, the inlaws or the heroin? My guess is all of those factors contributed but it was the opiate that knocked him over the edge. 

Then there was John Begg: he died of AIDS when I was in my mid-thirties. I’d known him as a living person since childhood. We grew up in the same Scottish tenements.

Which reminds me, Steve wasn’t my first dead friend at all: that was John’s brother David, whom John murdered when we were kids.

Neither of them stood a chance. Their father, a degenerate gambler, tried to kill himself by getting drunk and going to sleep with the gas on. He failed of course; spent so much money on booze he didn’t have enough shillings to keep the meter fed.

Anyway, John never forgave himself for murdering his brother.

At Her Majesty’s Pleasure he became an amateur psychopath. Then, when they finally let him out, he went full time: became a petty gangster and heroin addict, a.k.a. The Knife Man, served a life stretch of 7 years, with the usual discount for good behaviour and an HIV-Positive blood test.

Dirty needles and a jail-house tattoo, that’s what did for Johnny boy.

Of course if I’m really picky the first dead person I ever knew was my paternal grandfather, who split before I was born and, to my knowledge, never took drugs (unless you include whisky in that category).

And then there was Mr Kinair, my English teacher, who died of syphilitic brain disease when I was struggling with my A Levels. The short sighted, selfish bastard just couldn’t stay away from naughty prostitutes. But he never took drugs (at least that’s what he told me).

But you know, I’m no peasant: included in my list of dead friends are a couple of rock stars.

Dead rock stars, don’t you just love them?

They take care of you throughout the difficult adolescent years and, just when you reach that disillusioned stage, you know, where you’re starting to doubt their validity as useful icons (growing up) – they let you off the hook by dying, usually of heroin overdoses, alcohol or sex.

Saints that they are.

My first was Billy Mackenzie, patron saint of the Warbling Romantics, voice of an angel on crystal meth, the man behind the Associates. We were brought up in the same town, only he didn’t come from the slums.

Anyway, we never met in our native environment; we first crossed paths some years later in Kings Cross, London. I was interviewing him for an article about Celtic New Romantic brats, which I was trying to pitch to the NME. I told him: “No Billy, I’m not that way inclined, you know…” And he said: “Fuck it, never mind. Just give me a few lines out of that wrap and I’ll take you to a nice club I know.”

That was in the early 80’s. Come Christmas 1997 he was dead by his own hand.

I blame myself.

Perhaps if I’d shared my Charlie with him that night, instead of telling him to “f**k off I need this to get up and go to work in the morning”, he wouldn’t have gone out and scored some smack and gotten to like it so much that it eventually depressed him to the point of suicide.

Because that’s what heroin does for you.

My other dead rock star acquaintance was Stuart Adamson. I met him when I was ligging on Big Country‘s first UK tour. Their chief roadie, who shall remain nameless, sold me one of Stuart’s guitars, a lovely black Gibson Les Paul, for a gram of good Bolivian and a Turkish hooker called Tanya…

Of course, Stuart was never a smack-head; he was just a piss-artist.

(To be continued).

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