Wednesday, November 24, 2004

thoughts on craig nicholls

I've made a few mentions of The Vines on this blog, mostly because I've been interested in the unusual behaviour of their singer, Craig Nicholls, who was recently - as I mentioned the other day - diagnosed with aspergers syndrome; another subject which interests me.

I wasn't one of the people proclaiming the first Vines LP as 'the greatest debut album ever made', although the NME were going all guns blazing on that front at the time of its release. Back then, opinion seemed to be sharply divided. I thought that the first two singles from the album, 'Highly Evolved' and - particularly - 'Get Free' were tremendous, but when I mentioned this I would often be rebuked by friends who thought that The Vines - and Nicholls in particular - were the epitomy of shallow, overproduced indie rock masquarading as 'punk'.

In many senses, they were right - the album itself was thin, trebly and one-dimensional (or rather, two dimensional, as it resorted to, in turn, karaoke grunge and stoned californian balladry). The production was hopeless and the songs generally either too fast, too slow, or too sludgy. Meanwhile, Nicholls was making a fool of himself whenever his band appeared; seeming childish and conceited in interviews and crazed on stage.

I watched one performance of The Vines on Later with Jools Holland and remember it as the most embarrasing TV appearance by a band in living memory - Nicholls trashing the stage, screaming incoherently and wrecking the song with clueless guitar playing. At the time I had started to agree with my friends that The Vines were a contrived mess, and felt that Nicholls was just a joke. He didn't even seem to know what he was angry about.

Fast forward a couple of years - plus a second album which all but sunk without trace - and it's tempting to apply a bit of revisionism to the Vines story. Diagnosed with Aspergers, Nicholls' misunderstandings in interviews, stage behaviour and odd and obsessive behaviour begins to make a little more sense.

Asperger's Syndrome, also known as Asperger's Disorder or Autistic Psychopathy, is a Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) characterized by severe and sustained impairment in social interaction, development of restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. These characteristics result in clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
Now the Vines's manager, Andy Kelly, has explained that

"it's never going to work in a traditional 'demo, record, release, tour' cycle again. It's going to be much more – probably - relaxed and... unconventional, I suppose."

It's interesting to note that while Craig's bizarre behaviour had driven his own bandmates up the wall, alienated a fair degree of the band's fanbase and probably influenced his own songwriting negatively (because it's worth stating that there's enough on that first record to make a claim that he is a decent - perhaps potentially excellent - songwriter), it takes a medical diagnoses to force the band's label to do the decent thing and excempt them from the schedule, schedule, schedule cycle which bands like The Vines have to endure.

"Obviously the big part of Craig's diagnosis is to just let things happen when they happen. After Friday, when the charges were dismissed [Nicholls had been charged with assaulting a photographer] and now that Craig has been diagnosed with Asperger's, it's a huge relief for the band and a huge relief for him - the first thing that he said when he came out of court was; 'It's so great that now we can just play music again and not worry about other stuff.' And that's sort of the approach that everyone's taking – not to suddenly feel locked in to a schedule where you have to have demos done by this time and an album done by this time and a tour booked by this time... because that's just not how it's ever going to work for The Vines again."

Apart from being pleased for Nicholls that his lifestyle will not again be disturbed in such a calamitous way by touring, one wonders what result this will have on future material by The Vines, assuming that they do stay together and continue releasing records.

Second album syndrome is a common problem in pop music; that a good band fails to follow up on the promise of their debut with their next (and often subsequent) albums. One theory for this is simple - the pressures and demands of success (and striving for success) interfere with the creative process. How many excellent albums have been written on tired, stressy evenings after work while a young band fights for some attention? How many more have been bloated by pressure, coke, the arrogance of success. In Nicholls' case, was the second album poor because his life had become too complicated?

I think there's a decent chance that the next Vines album will be far better than we might have otherwise expected. I hope Craig Nicholls goes home, calms down, and concentrates on what he's good at.

"Craig's just happy writing songs and recording, and that’s pretty much how it’s going to be. Craig has no intention of doing any more interviews or anything like that – and everyone totally accepts it. It’s even… if that’s the case, you have to accept that you’ll probably sell a lot less records, but everyone just wants him to be happy, so that’s kind of what it is. (Dealing with Asperger's) is just about managing your lifestyle and your situation - Craig’s comfortable as much of the time as he can be."

Good.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi J. I've noticed from previous posts that you're interested in aspergers. Do you know of any blogs which deal with the subject??

jonathan said...

Yep, there's one that I read, which should be in the blogs bar on the right. It's called Our Aspergers Teenager Son and is a pretty difficult read. I'm sure there are plenty more. If I get five minutes today I'll see if I can locate some more. If anyone else knows of any, please do post them below.

j

jonathan said...

This is interesting, some reaction to the news about Craig from people in the Aspergers community.

rebelmessiah said...

I remember seeing that 'performance', and I agree it made for very painful viewing. I don't even recall him getting half-way through the song before descending into screaming and throwing himself into amps.

djuggler said...

For National Family week Cathy at DomesticPsychology posted a list of Aspie related blogs. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

There's a book called "Standing Down, Falling Up" by Nita Jackson. Very easy and quick to read (you'll be done in 3 hours). You can find it on Amazon.co.uk !!

Anonymous said...

came across your blog on google, trying to find out what really happened to Craig, because evidently the vines web site doesnt say much. i've always been a fan, and i thought that their second album was incredible. its softer in a lot of places, but thats ok, and maybe thats why it didnt get the same review as highly eveolved did. winning days, in my opinion, was full of good lyrics, and not to mention the music is fantastic. there's a really awesome book i'm reading right now called "the curious incident of the dog in the night time" by mark haddon. its really interesting and without having to read numerous scientific documents about autism, you come to understand the mind of a person with it, completely. anyways, thanks for the information!

Anonymous said...

hi my names pete,i think the latest vines album is one of the most perfect and complete albums ever made.it has something for everyone,it takes afew listens but its one of those albums you can listen to from start to finish.
craig nicholls is abit of a nut but i really think that music without people like craig would be very dull and boring.the vines live is a crazy experience but its exciting and like noone else ive ever seen.long live the vines.....pete j

Anonymous said...

the vines are brilliant,there are so many amazing songs on the first 2 albums and the beauty is there simplicity.listening to the vines gives you the same sense as when you heard nirvana the first time,your just left wanting more,i seriously dont know of any1 whose actually listened to a vines album that doesnt end up loving it.its a real shame that he seems to be most peoples fave person to slag off.KURT WONT BE OFFENDED IF YOU LIKE THE VINES.

Anonymous said...

craig's hot.

Anonymous said...

Hi. i'm chandler. Craig has the most beautiful talent. APPRECIATE IT!

Audrey said...

Peace, I am a 42 year old woman, who loves craig and the vines . The lyrics and music have helped me cope with alot of crap that seems to come into my life. I am not autistic but am manic depressive a bit pychcotic, the music helps me. I am very grateful and would love to meet them some day.

Anonymous said...

Even though he has this sickness, the vines still rock hard! to bad he left the band and is now in youth group...