Remembering Pete Shelley
I’ve been waiting to write something about Pete Shelley after hearing about his passing today.
When I was 17 I had a radio show at the local 13-watt college station, and I used to play Buzzcocks’ “You Say You Don’t Love Me” as shout out to a friend I had a pathetic, years-long crush on. That song perfectly expressed the confusion and rationalization I was feeling as a hormonal teenager who was trying to figure out how to do the right thing, (well, ok, maybe I wouldn’t be ready for the last verse for another bunch of years, but up until the bridge pretty well crystallized my thoughts at the time), and because of that the song continued to resonate with me, and still does today.
Fast forward 7 years to 1993, and I was on tour working for Montreal’s Doughboys, who scored an opening slot with Buzzcocks across the US. It was Pete Shelley, Steve Diggle, Tony Barber on bass, and Mike Joyce on drums. They were in top form, experiencing a bit of a renaissance, and they and their crew were super nice guys and treated us well.
For some reason I got the nickname of John Wayne, and getting a nickname from them flattered me to no end. Every day I got to load in my stuff, set up drums and string guitars while one of my favorite bands sound checked and ran through numbers 10 feet in front of me – a concert just for me. About 4 or 5 shows in I asked them if they ever played “You Say You Don’t Love Me,” and Tony and Steve said they didn’t, and I left it at that.
The next day, Pete told me he had a surprise for me, and they played a flawless version of “You Say You Don’t Love Me” right there at sound check. And the next day, and the next, and the next. However, they never put it in the set.
A couple of weeks later I was talking to Tony and I remarked how lucky I felt that every day while I was working, I got to watch Buzzcocks perform, and that Pete even sang “You Say You Don’t Love Me” for me. It was amazing.
Tony looked at me, raised an eyebrow and said, “John Wayne, he ain’t singing the song FOR you, he’s singing the song TO you.”
Here’s to passed opportunities, poets who teach us how we feel when we can’t express it ourselves, and a sweet man who was one of the most influential figures in music over the span of 40 years. From Spiral Scratch, the first DIY punk record, to “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” to “Homosapien,” his echo will continue to be heard for long after these words fade into the internet’s backwaters.
Thank you, Pete Shelley. For everything, and for a song that meant everything.