It’s weird to think that ten years ago last year (i.e. 2001), the precursor to X-Factor hit our screens and produced a band called ‘Hear’Say’ – who (on the surface) seemed to be a really nice bunch of folk – but whose band career lasted a grand total of 18 months…
It is weird how some people’s minds work. I have taken absolutely no interest in X-Factor for some time now, but I guiltily watched every episode of Popstars back in ’01. That had an innocence about it that X-Factor wouldn’t recognise if it sat down next to it at dinner. And one of the things I remember was that as part of elimination process, the Mamas and Papas song “Monday, Monday” was one of the things the hopefuls had to work on. And there was this guy, Darius Danesh, who sang, played guitar, and was just by some distance the most all-round musically talented person on the show, who led the others in sing-alongs and just left an indelible impression on both his fellow competitors and the viewers (well, those who knew something about music). The way Darius sang and played on ‘Monday, Monday’ inspired those singing with him to better things – and the song remains in my head because of that show to this day.
Darius somehow didn’t make it through as a winner on Popstars, but a year later, when the show was re-branded Pop Idol the British public voted him through to the finals, where he finished third. Here’s where the story gets interesting – Simon Cowell offers him a deal to sing whatever (covers?! don’t remember), and the dude says, “NO!”
Instead, he hooks up with U2’s producer and next thing you know, he’s got a No.1 hit and a platinum-selling debut album…
I just looked Darius Danesh up again and it seems he has gone on to bigger and better things beyond pop music – changed his name – and is doing really well! He has done a LOT in the last eleven years.
So, look at this. ITV screen a reality-TV pop show on which some not-well-known British youngsters sing a really famous pop song by an American band from the 60’s and 70’s – and for years I only know the song through them. It was several hours ago that I went to look up the song and that’s when I learnt the story of the writer, John Philips.
My father always taught me that one never had to read fiction if one desired ‘excitement’ in reading – for real life was always stranger than fiction. As I know that Dad never positioned himself to be aware of some of the more ‘out there’ literature (William S Burroughs and Anthony Burgess both come to mind), I did not take his dictum as literal unqualified truth – but I did accept his basic premise then, and still do.
Popstars took place in the first quarter of 2001, and I’m pretty sure that they did the “Monday, Monday” section before the beginning of March. John Phillips was 65 – not young, but not old, either – but by the end of March 18th, he had died of heart failure in Los Angeles.
Eight years later, his daughter, Mackenzie, actually claimed in the media that her father engaged in an incestuous relationship with her – a story ferociously denounced by two of Phillips’ former wives. However, what that did was draw attention to the insanely debauched life history of what was one of the wildest men ever to work in the entertainment industry.
Phillips had a less-than-wonderful childhood and with bad memories of relations with his own father, he vowed not to repeat what he had seen. Nevertheless, as journalists have since detailed, he created a private hell that was much, much worse than his father’s.
Somewhere in the heart of his being, despite his undoubted talent for songwriting and arranging, John Phillips nurtured and fed a self-loathing that in the end took him to the grave. There is a terrible story that I will let you read in the words of the Guardian’s Chris Campion:
In August 1977, John Phillips was supposed to be recording the album with Keith Richards that would mark his comeback. Studio time at Media Sound in New York was booked from 9pm but it might be 2am before the pair – two of the most charismatic stars of their generation and now two inveterate junkies – finally showed or 5am or not at all. The first port of call for the pair was always the bathroom. “No one wanted to be the one to go back there,” says studio engineer Harvey Goldberg, “because we didn’t know if we would find them dead.”
Dealers hovered around the studio angling for business. Goldberg recalls one girl asking if he wanted to see her scrapbook. “I just assumed that she was some sort of groupie and had loads of photos of her with the different stars she’d been with. Instead, she pulls out this scrapbook and it’s full of drug prescriptions from the 1700s through the 1800s. It was a collection of drug prescriptions. And I thought, ‘Wow!'”
Goldberg remembers Richards standing looking perplexed by his guitar amp one night. “I go over to find out if I can help him out with something. He’s just looking at his guitar amp, he looks at me, looks back at the guitar amp. Finally, it’s like a lightbulb went on over his head. A big smile comes over his face and he says, ‘I forgot my guitar.'”
Another time: “John comes stumbling out of the bathroom and into the control room. There are little blood stains on his shirt sleeve. It’s so obvious that he’s been shooting up. He sees me cracking my knuckles and says, ‘You know, you really shouldn’t do that. That could be a problem for you later in life.'”
As farcical and surreal as these incidents were, Goldberg was struck by how sad it all was. “These were grown men,” he says. After they had blown $170,000 in studio time, the sessions ground to a halt. A mix of the album was passed to Atlantic Records, but the label buried it. The finished master went missing for 30 years, only turning up among Phillips’s possessions in 2007. He knew that he had no one to blame but himself. “I had sabotaged the greatest break of my career since the Mamas and the Papas,” he wrote in his 1986 autobiography Papa John, confessing to an “intense self-loathing”.
So, what’s the connection between Darius Campbell (as he is now) and John Phillips? A reality TV pop show screened the year of Phillips’ death… Darius has re-invented himself, exploring opera and big band music, and become a huge West End star. Phillips went from project to project, desperate to build on the foundations of the phenomenal success of songs such as “Monday, Monday” – but in the end the demons in his head took the very success he had and took his life.
I will never, never hear this song in the same way ever again.
When Darius didn’t win through as part of Popstars and Pop Idol, some would have said that he failed. But look at him now, compared to those who ‘won!’
And who would have thought that a guy who could write and arrange a song like “Monday, Monday” – so good folk will continue to sing it for a long time yet – would be so unable to hold himself and his life together? But there is a deeper and darker truth here – there’s a little bit of John in all of us.
He couldn’t say ‘no’ to himself. And in his case, the spiral descent was horrible beyond measure. We all have areas – little things – in which we struggle to say no when we most need to say no. They may not be class-A drugs and sexual fantasies – but they will still hurt us spiritually. And if we continue to feed those parts of us, we will die spiritually.
Here at the outset of 2012, let us try to be wise enough to learn from the mistakes of others so that we reduce our own and enjoy a better quality of life than would otherwise be the case. There, but for the grace of God, go we…