Push Yourself Just A Little Bit More, Johnny Green (2005)

A gonzo account of the 2003 Tour recounted in rock n’ roll patois in which the race and results take a back seat to a rollercoaster back-stage view of the event

Orion 0752867520 Quarto 243pp £14.99

For most of the 1970s Tony Benyon wrote a cartoon for the music weekly NME entitled Th’ Lone Groover. Its protagonist – a masked rock n’ roll desperado – spoke a transatlantic lingo in which apostrophes generally took the place of vowels and th’ beat o’ th’ street coursed thru his veins.

I had thought that so searing was Benyon’s satire of ‘blues talk’ that he had killed it stone dead. Apparently not.

Green’s modest fame might rest on his time as The Clash’s road manager, but his outlook predates punk. He is pure mid-70s rock hanger on. Gene Hunt (from Life On Mars) is anodyne by comparison. Saxondale a pale imitation of this road-crew geezer persona.

Here he is having discovered that some men working on the road had given him a bum steer, despite his press pass.

“Teeth bared ‘n’ gritted, except for a stream of obscenities shouted. I was gonna kill those fuckin’ workmen. I’d give ’em ‘Only havin’ a laugh.’ I had blood ‘n’ violence in my soul. I retraced the road. There they were. Still grinning. I’d teach the cunts to cast me down into the despond of punterdom.”

Rarely in this book does the word ‘and’, appear – it’s all abbreviation ‘n’ apostrophes – particularly when ‘gs’ come at the endin’ of a word.

Green and his compadres somehow obtain press accreditation for the Tour, an event and a sport for which he has a fairly recent enthusiasm. This memoir is of the spectacle he encountered – the traffic jams, the characters responsible for the race’s organisation, the low-grade hotels and the hours on the road. By the time he gets to Paris, he has driven more than double the distance covered by the riders.

It’s a novel approach – at least in writing about cycling – and one that does bare some fresh fruit – even if you have read dozens of books about the event. The journalists’ media pack, rich in historical information and literary quotations about stage towns, was new to me, for example. And Green’s account of the logistic challenges that the event overcomes, sheds a new light on the unique hell of mountain-top finishes, after stage is over.

He has an abrasive turn in nick-names – Virenque is a ‘Weasel-Faced Rent Boy’, Ullrich merely ‘a wanker’. And he sprinkles his narrative with entertaining digressions from the Tour annals, French history and rock ‘n’ roll mythology. It is a high-speed, stream-of-consciousness that had enough for me to enjoy getting to the end.

At heart, though, there are curiosities about Green’s standpoint. He is insanely pro drugs, for recreation and performance enhancement – despite suggesting that he has been an alcoholic and heroin addict in the past. But his greatest thrill, it seems, is to see a pulsating alpha-male athlete doing something at which he is exceptional.

Here he is with Mario Cipollini, to whom he takes a particular fancy.

“Le Beau Mario seemed huge, perfectly in proportion. I looked down at his muscular thighs, bronzed and smooth. I wanted to stretch out my hand and stroke his bare flesh down to the knee with my palm. I knew that action would give me a lifetime’s good ju ju.”

It is seeing things, in the flesh that gives Green his greatest thrill. “To be at a gig is to be a molecule in the body of the crowd. To lock on to the band. The band plugs into the crowd. It only happens in person.” The thrill he experiences watching riders finish a stage is the equal to that kind of rock ‘n’ roll moment, he suggests.

The thought does not seem to occur to him that it might be more thrilling still to ride over the Cols himself. Perhaps that is because, at the end of the day, despite punk’s DIY ethic, his role in The Clash entourage was carrying the equipment and watching from the sidelines, rather than strutting his own stuff on stage.

Tim Dawson February 10

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