THERE'S MORE TO Billy Childish than simple three-chord thrash. "I don't want to hide behind volume and monitors," the Chatham (England) poet has said. "I want to close the 15 feet between us and the audience and have true communication."
He's an eccentric, suffered terrible abuse and bullying as a child, has painted over 2,500 paintings, penned 40 volumes of poetry, written three novels, and continues to fascinate mainstream artists with aspirations toward credibility, such as Jack White, Kurt Cobain, and, well, most of the Seattle/Olympia lot, actually.
His writing, is brilliant, incisive, cuts away the bullshit, hits the bloodied nail. The music he plays is raw garage rock, stripped right down and given plenty of attitude and melody.
He's parochial, has lived in the same part of Medway forever, shaves with a cutthroat razor, has a fascination with the two world wars, doesn't tolerate fools, and is brutally frank. He has been expelled from St. Martin's School of Art, been turned down by Goldsmiths College (home to Blur, Damien Hirst, and Malcolm McLaren) on two separate occasions, and continues to carve his own path out of nothing.
His music—based 'round the direct approach of '60s bands such as the Creation and the Kinks and articulated in Childish's groups, Pop Rivets, the Milkshakes, Thee Mighty Caesars, Thee Headcoats, and the Buff Medways—has always been controversial. Critics who say anyone could do what he does are missing the point: Not only are his woodcuts evocative of van Gogh (he once staged an exhibition of his own work in tribute to the Dutch artist) but no, no one could do what he does, even with those three chords. For the appeal of Billy Childish lies in his personality, his self-created aura—and no one else possesses that.
"I do not like white-wall galleries, large rock venues, or offstage mixing," Childish says. "I do not read newspapers or go to music concerts." How can you not admire that?