Wreckless Eric’s Bubblegum Dementia
Pop-punk sensation tends his talent nearly 40 years on
By William Harries Graham,
3:05PM, Fri. Jul. 17, 2015
In 1977, the year punk broke, Wreckless Eric released sensational punk-pop hit “(I’d Go the) Whole Wide World.” Born Eric Goulden, he became part of a songwriters cell on Stiff Records that included Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, and Nick Lowe. Like his label mates, Goulden’s lyrics remain brutal, abstract, poignant, funny. He plays Saturday at Strange Brew.
His story begins in UK fishing port Newhaven, 1954.
“It was quite rustic,” he says by phone. “When I was nearly 4, we moved three miles up the road to Peacehaven, a small town that was really just a big collection of bungalows on a high cliff top overlooking the English channel. The good thing was it was only eight miles from Brighton, which was generally thought of as being Europe’s San Francisco equivalent.
“By the end of the Sixties, bands loved playing in Brighton, so I got to see an awful lot. Apart from that, summer days were blotted out by sea mist and the rest of the time we were practically blown inside out by south easterly gales.”
In 1962, when he was 6, his parents bought him a record player and the Tornadoes’ single “Globetrotters.” That record player spun the Small Faces, Chubby Checker, Rolling Stones, and Kinks.
“Between me and my sister, we bought a lot of 45s. I still have most of them,” he confirms.
When he was 16, Goulden knew music would become his life.
“But it took another seven years for it to actually happen,” he quips. “There wasn’t a specific plan. It was more of a foregone conclusion. It was the early Seventies. You could do anything if you put your mind to it.”
Although believing his music deserves to be listened to more than described, Goulden recently told a Canadian border guard he plays “bubblegum with dementia.”
At what point did he know he’d arrived?
“Well, if you ‘made it,’ your heart would probably stop beating and you would cease to exist. It doesn’t matter how much you achieve as an artist. If you’re not completely deluded, you’re always going to fall short of your own expectation, and that’s what keeps you pushing forward.
“A certain amount of self-delusion coupled with the odd crisis of confidence helps to fuel the process. ‘Making it’ is akin to washing up or tidying the house and thinking now that it’s done you’ll never need to do it again,” he chuckles.
Goulden’s married to New York rock vet Amy Rigby. He says the best times on the road are always with his wife. For a while they lived in France, but the French didn’t take to them.
“The word pop doesn’t exist in their vocabulary, and the notion or concept of pop doesn’t exist in the French psyche,” he reveals. “For the most part, they just didn’t get it, so we’d have to drive eight hours or more to the French border to get to anywhere we could play. We’re pop people. America is the land of pop. We both love America, for all its faults.“We weren’t garage, we weren’t country, we weren’t roots, or rock, or even roll. A lot of English people retire to France and they’re very happy, gardening, going to the market, drinking an aperatif, going to bed early, but it wasn’t a life we wanted.”
According to Goulden, audiences change shape every 100 miles.
“English audiences, particularly London audiences, are rowdy,” he explains. “I played in Liverpool, broke a string during the first song, but I plowed on regardless, breaking another in the second song. ‘I’ve broken two strings,’ I said at the end of the song. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do now.’
“A guy in the front row said, ‘Another four songs at this rate.’
“That exchange would not have happened at a show I just played in Jackson, Mississippi, where I get the impression the public don’t get much chance to practice being an audience.”
Goulden’s kept rolling fearlessly through the decades despite the music industry.
“I’ve been dismayed at times, but I don’t remember ever being surprised. In the UK, all the immediacy fell away when the music press went from weekly to monthly. You used to be able to schedule a record release and have it in the shops within two or three weeks. You could book shows a month in advance. Now everything has to be planned months in advance.
“Ian Dury once told me, ‘If you look after your talent, your talent will look after you.’”.
His golden moments now are with his family.
“I love slowly waking up from a doze on the sofa at my daughter’s house to the realization that my 4-year-old granddaughter is stifling giggles as she dresses me up in a silly outfit, generally involving a hat and glasses.”