There was a time when smoking seemed so cool, now in the 21st century, the line of smokers outside the stations look melancholy. What happened to the hipness of the filter tipped and yellow fingered?
It seems that a subsidiary feature of this nation’s most popular coping mechanisms that they can also hasten your death. Maybe that’s not the subsidiary feature, perhaps killing you is the ultimate answer to the problem of learning how to cope with existence. I was once a smoker, a properly stopped just over three years ago. My last cigarette was with Steve Lamacq at the Reading festival, then I thought, “you have a child, and frankly, the supposed,and frequently unnoticed, joy of smoking a cigarette really isn’t good enough to counterbalance the scenario where I apologise to my son for dying earlier than necessary.
The oral fixation that took particular hold of me when I seemed to need to do something with my hands and mouth while anxiously waiting to go on stage, could be stamped on. Hopefully that would also reduce the frequency of the wake up paranoia incidents where the splutter in my arid throat would lead to another day contemplating that the cancer had come. In one of my many moments of warped logic, I decided I would give up coffee and alcohol to. This would become one of my more difficult post gig tours. I was an uneasy fidget as others boozed and sped through words. The most interesting discovery concerned booze. I know that sometimes after a few drinks I can be a bit of a dick, but after giving up drink, I discovered alcohol had nothing to do with it. It just turns out that after 11pm, I can be in a dickish mood. The thoughts behind my stupid idea were that I would be so relieved when I started drinking alcohol and coffee again, that I wouldn’t a give jot about the cigarettes. It has worked so far. I was disappointed with the first coffee back. Sitting in a pizza restaurant with Alan Moore, I decided three months without coffee was quite enough. Alan, a man who knows far more than me about imbibing things that alter the mind, reckoned a strong black coffee, after three months of vaguely infused pond water, would have quite a kick. I waited for the kick, perhaps a neural spark that would release a grand idea that just hadn’t had the energy to be translated from the frontal lobe during my abstinence, but nothing happened. The coffee tasted like coffee and then I ate the sort of dessert that needs a long spoon.
I don’t think smoking suited me. Actually, I am not sure how many people it suits when they’re not in a black and white photo shoot with Bette Davis or Jimmy Dean. It’s so sophisticated when it’s a glossy page plugging Lucky Strikes in a 1949 Picturegoer magazine, beyond two dimensions, it is hard to capture that chic. There have been some dandies who carried it off well. Peter Cook carried it off with loose-limbed aplomb on the chat shows of the seventies. In such a short time, public smoking in interiors seems so alien. Watching an old Whodunnit, a TV panel show of the 70s with a Cluedo sensibility, the cigarettes being puffed and passed around by the various sitcom, DJ and “other” celebrities of the day seems so distance we could be watching fops powder the holes in their faces with white lead powder.
My smoking years, though ending little more than 1000 days ago, capture an idiot me I can just about comprehend but view with an admonishing stare. What did it add to me? Did it really offer me stress relief that couldn’t have been gained just as well by pausing, reflecting on the sky and breathing in.
All that cognitive dissonance needed to inhale that smoke. I persuaded myself I really did like smoking. Whisky and cigarettes, buying into an iconic cool of outsider artists and dispossessed rebel writers. Sadly, you can’t booze your way to genius, though you can booze your way from it. Just because you wake yourself with a rattling cough at 6am, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to write The Old Man and The Sea.
Reading the newspaper discarded on the seat opposite me, I saw a report that the youthful smoker pays little heed to the cigarette pack that portrays wretched goitres and corpse gums. When you are wrong we either believe that death is so distant it just doesn’t matter, or we fetishize the “live fast, die you, leave a good-looking corpse”. This came in handy whenever conscription for war was required. “be a dead hero, you might be remembered in granite”. I remember a Goth at university who gave the illusion of teen fantasy depth by going on about his imminent death. I believe he is now the manager of a building society.
Writing this now, I think of those tutting, “listen to that old square”, and I probably am. I am not a rebel, but if I did have the energy and chutzpah to rebel, I’d probably go for something involving revolution against an oppressive status quo rather than an ash tray and an iron lung.
So, I can never look cool again as I tilt my cigarette from my Belmondo lips, failing to notice the trail of ash on my cardigan sleeve.
Cosmic Genome app September update is here, with Dave Gorman, Richard Dawkins and many more http://cosmicgenome.com/Home.html
I am on tour from Edinburgh to Exeter via Manchester and Birmingham with many towns in between. dates are here