I first heard of Placebo in 1994. I was at secondary school, and a lad came up to me and said; “All right Brian?” prompting sniggers from his surrounding lackeys. I thought this was another ‘Tosh Lines’ sort of reference. My peers often called me by the names of burly male celebrities in an effort to shame me into being more appropriately feminine. But the Brian thing was different. Numerous people said it to me, and not always unkindly, until eventually one guy informed me, “You look like that Placebo bird.” (I’m not kidding, the concept of a man in make-up was so alien to him he was insistent on Brian Molko being female despite being called Brian and identifying as male.)
So did this Brian really look like me? Or was it another cruel Tosh Lines joke? Was I going to find some middle-aged Yorkshire man with luxuriant facial hair and a worn trenchcoat? When I first saw the video to Nancy Boy, I was transfixed and delighted. Brian was beautiful! And we do look similar – long nose, round cheeks, a pointed chin and a slightly lop-sided smile, although he is admittedly rather more delicate and elfin looking than I am, and his make-up is far prettier.
We went to this gig in a bit of a panic. It was a greatest hits tour, which is usually rock band code for ‘last tour before we break up because we hate each others’ guts now.’ My following of Placebo had lapsed. I was a few albums behind, hadn’t even really realised they were still relasing stuff. I realise now that’s because I didn’t need them so much. I was okay on my own, didn’t need to see another me singing his heart out, being awesome, because I felt like I could be awesome on my own. But the potential for him to disappear without having ever seen him in person filled me with fear, so we had to go along.
It seems these fears were misplaced. The band were clearly at ease with one another. (Placebo’s ranks have swelled to include a couple of extra guitarists and a violinist) Brian in particular was having the time of his life, sweating all his make-up off and telling a girl off for ‘stealing his soul’ with her incessant photo-taking. He ended by saying they’d be back again soon, and hoped we’d all come and see them again. I hope so too.
It was always weird to me that for years people used his name as a stick to beat me with. Why would I be offended to be likened to him? How was that in any way a slight? I admired him and found him attractive (the ultimate in narcissism, I know) Seeing him on stage just a short distance away was a strange, almost out of body experience. I was able to imagine another existence where I never got SD and became a rock star.
His voice hasn’t aged over the years. He still has that same unique, nasal drawl that would probably be annoying on anyone else, but when paired with his odd Luxembourgian twang, works perfectly. I’ve always loved his pronunciation of words like ‘always’ (‘al-wes’) and his ability to turn a two syllable word into a five syllable one. It was strange to hear these familiar techniques employed in some of their newer material. Rather than the usual angst of being an effeminate outsider, ‘Too Many Friends’ covers the petty annoyances of facebook, mobile phones and the internet. And that experience we’ve all had of throwing an old computer away on the Champs-Elysees. On the one hand I was a little sad that that’s the kind of stuff they’re writing about now, but on the other I admired Molko’s ability to imbue such a first world problem with the same level of mournful loneliness as their other songs about attempting to break out of the confines of society’s imposed roles and stereotypes.
I’ve often wondered how I would have coped as a teenager without my weird little boy twin out there, doing his thing. Not so well as I did, probably. So it’s good to know that he’s still doing it and it’s even good to know that the pain he obviously used to feel has given way to more mundane technological annoyances. We’re doing all right, Brian and me.