Lord, I Hate Camden Town
It's the graveyard of the fad.
Photo by Antonio Bugarin
Hello, I'm the Editor-in-Chief of VICE UK. I never get to write because I'm too busy walking around noisily criticising others. But, in an attempt to change that, here's Alex Miller's New Column. I asked Twitter to help me decide on a name and someone pointed out that this was a good one because it's a joke that only gets funny as it gets old.
Do you want to know something depressing? Camden Town is to be twinned with Hollywood. It’s a terrible, but apt relationship. They’re two ancient whores, uncertain of anything but their own relevance, swapping showbiz gossip over a cistern on pop culture’s farewell tour.
Obviously it’s a less than equal partnership. Last time I checked we were all still in thrall to Hollywood cinema, but Camden’s just a coked-up myth. It’s a place screaming for attention, pointing at lost promise as though it amounted to achievement. It’s a 45-year-old sucker hiding its wrinkles under a hat; it’s basically Johnny Depp without the popularity. So yeah, I think it’s fair to say that Camden Council are probably a little more hyped about their new pals in Hollywood than anyone in LA is about the possibility of a subsidised trip to that little bit of North West London between Kentish Town and Mornington Crescent.
And it gets worse: Camden, having been inspired by the stars on Hollywood Boulevard, plan to “lay down 30 discs honouring international musical figures this summer”, which is the kind of idea you'd expect to hear from a kid on NME work experience. It's Camden's way of making sure everyone understands just how much cooler and steeped in alternative culture it is than say, Euston, or those dorks in Belsize Park. Except, of course, the culture they'll be celebrating will be about as alternative as pepperoni pizza or the Brit Awards. Perhaps instead of lining the streets with faux-gold, someone could just make Camden Council’s dreams come true and get them a Hard Rock Cafe to manage? Imagine how happy they’d be with fewer debates about disabled access to the tube, more air guitar to “Paradise City” and an awesome boss who wears Ray-Bans and lights his Marlboro Reds with a Clash Zippo.
Obviously, the first on the team sheet for these shiny atrocities is poor old Amy Winehouse, whose tragic house has done more for Camden tourism than those shops that still sell magic mushrooms; something I'm certain has been noticed by people who wish to make money from these things. One day I'm sure they'll bring in an Amy Winehouse wishing well so, once a week, they can collect the pennies thrown in by coachloads of sad fans.
Alongside her in the gold disc A-list are those juggernauts of self-serving local pride, Madness. I guess it’ll be nice to see Suggs and his porkpie buffoons turn up on a sunny Saturday afternoon to gurn at the cameras as they unveil the plaque, if only because that’ll be a weekend off for the crowds of bewildered children who’ve been watching them bounce through 2PM inner-city festival slots since Britpop both reinvigorated the band and rendered them pointless.
A fan leaves flowers outside Amy Winehouse's home at the vigil following her death
At least Winehouse and Madness are locals with some good songs – if anyone can justify to me why Grandmaster Flash, Gil Scott-Heron, Zeppelin, Sinatra, or The Doors have had paving stones reserved for them outside The Crown & Goose, I’ll give them my dick on a plate. It seems as though Camden are looking to own “music” (ironic, considering the rate at which venues are closing down in the area), in the same way that its new best bud Hollywood took ownership of cinema. But, where billion-dollar budgets and the studio system turned films into an LA prerogative, Camden has been long since left behind by music, gigs and bands. All it’s got now is the dim hope that one day Pete Doherty’s erratic tour of endlessly decreasing audiences takes him back to the Dublin Castle.
Of course, once Doherty’s there he’ll probably be able to stumble outside and vomit all over a “gold disc” in the pavement bearing his own name, thereby spelling out his current cultural cachet in metaphorical terms so devastating that he’ll pack up and never be seen again. And rightly so; after all, few people are interested in the winklepicker indie that coincided with Camden’s last hurrah, even if it still haunts the pubs round there, awkwardly finding its noble seat beside the cybers, the crusties, the nu-metallers and the hippies in Camden Town’s graveyard of fads.
I grew up in Camden, I bought an unwatchable video of Stargate from some Camden pirate, 501s from Camden second-hand stalls, UK rap mixtapes from laughing clerks in Camden record stores. I retarded my development in Camden comic shops and stunted my growth learning to smoke in Camden skate parks. I made out with my first girlfriend on the same Camden lock I previously turned for the barges coming down Camden canal and I once lost my mum in the big Camden Sainsbury's and it was terrifying. But now Camden just makes me sad.
When I was growing up loads of people hated Camden, but they were mostly my dad who hated how pedestrians always had the right-of-way, or my sister who hated the punk tourism. I loved it though. For me it was a mythical place where Blur lived and all the adults drank and swore.
The bleary-eyed author, being very hypocritical, hanging out with three crusties on Camden Lock because it seemed funny at the time.
Camden represented that first wave of adolescent arrogance, where you start to believe that your interests and tastes are becoming ossified, that this you, this 14-year-old you, will be you forever. Thinking about it now, it reminds me of a time when I was about ten, telling my mum something like: “Of course I’ll always like WWF, woman. Just look at the crowd at Royal Rumble, there are LOADS of adults there, and their presence clearly validates wrestling’s worth as a mature art form!” She was nice enough not to say, “Yeah, but they’re moronic hicks and if you turn out like them I’m going to sue you for wasting my time,” but I’m sure that’s what she was thinking.
A few years later, spending time in Camden offered a similar experience. Discovering that there were grown men who loved smoking weed, listening to U.N.K.L.E., thought Batman: A Death In The Family was seminal and had strong opinions on trainers, just reassured me that I was indeed an adult. I was simply a different type of adult to the ones I’d met at family Christmas parties; in fact I was a BETTER type of adult, because I wasn’t square.
Now though, on reflection, I can see that all the 40-year-olds either sucked, or were humouring me. Yet in some way, those people still define Camden Town and its debilitating desperation to be cool. In any other part of London, the racist Italian crust punks who inhabit the bridge near the stables would have been moved along, but in Camden MPs pose for pictures with them.
Fortunately, I don’t pay tax to Camden Council any more, but if I did I imagine it’d feel like watching your kid spunk his pocket money on flesh tunnels and accessories that glow in the dark. I'm embarrassed by them and I'm worried that it reflects badly on me and my innocent friends and family from NWhatever: "Where's Alex from again? Camden?! Oh right, I wonder if he brushes his teeth with bourbon and wears a leather jacket in bed?" – that kind of thing.
Ultimately, these discs that will soon cover Camden's streets are another nasty little chapter in the triumph of branding over identity in that particular part of London. Just another way to sell property and appeal to the kind of tourists who spent the morning posing with John Lennon at Madame Tussauds. Sadly though, I think the thing this says most loudly about the area is that somewhere along the line, someone has sat down and thought, 'Now, how can we make more money out of Amy Winehouse?'
Follow Alex on Twitter: @terriblesoup