Story Behind the Song: Greetings from Shitsville

The following article is an extract from an old issue of Raw magazine, written by Dave Ling. Thanks to Rob Firth for the scans.

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One noteworthy day in 1992, Ginger of The Wildhearts clears a space among the cockroaches, then sat down to write a song – and came up with three! No change there! Even two years later, while many a lesser composer would be slowing down a little and letting the royalties trickle in, the band’s productivity has increased to the point where they’re now forced to release their latest batch of material, ‘Fishing for Luckies’, by mail-order only, as their record company also have plans to issue the follow-up to their ‘Earth vs The Wildhearts‘ début next March!

Anyway, I digress. Let’s go back to our story. If you recall, The Wildhearts are in a delicate state, having being picked up on a development deal by East West and are standing on the precipice of signing to the label permanently. Although the buzz about them is gradually building, they’ve got no money whatsoever. And then Ginger comes up with ‘Greetings from Shitsville‘, ‘Miles Away Girl‘ and ‘Nita Nitro‘ – the latter is finally due to appear on that second LP – all in less than 24 hours. For Ginger, who admits it took them a while to grasp the knack of writing songs, it has now become an almost orgasmic process.

“It’s funny, it just happens naturally” he says, “It’s almost like a cleansing. In a way, the writing process for me is a bit like when you’ve got a lot of alcohol inside you, your body will respect the poison and you will smell a bit bad, but it’s almost like an exorcism. It’s like one of those particularly uncomfortable shits you sometimes have – it doesn’t taper and you’ve not quite sure if you’ve finished and you should get of the pot or not. But it’s got to be done!

“It just happens to me now and again. I’ll fall through this big hole in the floor. It’s actually the case that the best songs come when you’re feeling pissed off and frustrated. Let’s face it, there’s only one song you can write about being happy.

“Maybe that’s where The Wildhearts’ miserable image comes from,” he ponders. “I feel sorry for the rest of the band because all that misery’s down to me. I’m sometimes jealous as fuck because all they have to do is perform, learn the songs and sort out their personal issues, and pay whatever bills they’ve got when they’re housed – which we’re not at the moment! But with me, I have all of that, plus this quagmire. An endless swamp of ideas – which aren’t always great!”

However, when Ginger does get it right, everybody knows all about it, and ‘Greetings from Shitsville’ is a case in point. Very few songs are capable of describing the individual’s predicament as graphically, and even less can encapsulate so many emotions: frustration, anger, desperation and biting wit. There were so many different feelings swirling around Ginger’s head that it’s amazing he managed to get them down on paper at all. “If I’d gone to see a doctor at the time I’d have been put away for a while,” he admits. “It was a terribly lonely time in my life, and so many of the songs I was writing back then were with myself in mind.”

There are those who’ll insist that’… Shitsville’ is The Wildhearts’ best song, but Ginger doesn’t attach any great significance to it. “To me, it was just another song, really,” he says, with a scratch of his head. “It was written about the flat I was staying in at the time. It was a shitty place in what was supposed to be a really nice area of London, namely Hampstead. I was on the edge of the Finchley Road in a shithole: it had cockroaches and I couldn’t turn the heating off. It was one of those occasions when I needed time by myself because I’d been sharing flats, but it worked in reverse because it didn’t provide me with any inspiration…until started writing about the flat itself!”

In fact ‘… Shitsville’ was originally going to be written about a friend of Ginger’s who was living in similar squalor, until the frontman realised it was a bit too close to home. “He was going through a load of shit at the time, and I was singing about him and every time I came up with a line like. ‘There’s ‘roaches dancing in the hall’. I’d look around and think. ‘Fuck, this song’s writing itself!'” smiles Ginger.

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With its chorus which wonders. ‘Why do we stay here? God only knows!’ and ends with a rousing. ‘Greetings now from Shitsville. London!’, the song could easily be interpreted as a rant against England’s capital city. Each year many opportunists move to London expecting the pubs to serve free pints of lager and the streets to be paved with silver – but end up in a worse predicament than ever. Ginger was born in South Shields, Newcastle, and it sounds like he has a serious grudge against the place! “Not at all!” he protests, “Again, it’s shades of the ‘Turning American‘ thing (where The Wildhearts were accused of xenophobia). It ain’t anti-London, it’s anti-the flat I was occupying in London! If the flat had been in Scarborough, it might’ve been seen as an anti-Scarborough song!

“I’ve spent eight years in London now, and London doesn’t really have any place in my heart but when I go away for a while and come back it’s always exciting. It might have been Oscar Wilde who said that whoever is tired of London is tired of life – and it might not’ve been – but that never made any sense to me until I left. It’s true, there’s stuff that goes on for 24 hours, it’s full of people and it’s exciting.”

When it was conceived Greetings from Shitsville reflected the state of The Wildhearts pretty accurately. Bam (former Dogs D’Amour drummer) was in the band and we were getting ready to do a load of tours for the first time. We’d all got our first little bits of money, so we could pay for flats,” recalls the frontman. “It was kind of a scary point for the band, because I was writing for the first album, and then we had to do the press. I didn’t want to because it didn’t seem natural to go and talk about the stuff we’d written. People used to accuse me of being scared of success, to which I’d reply. I’m not scared of it I just don’t want it!’. There’s no plan behind what I do, it’s not just a means to an end.”

Naturally, he looks down with disdain on bands who realise they’ve written the best song they’re capable of, then go off and do something else instead. For Ginger, songwriting is a vocation, not a profession. “Somebody who could do that… oh God!” he almost waits. I hate people patting me on the back. If you’re a songwriter you never sit down and appreciate what you’ve done, you’re too busy writing something else.

“By then you’ve taught it to the band, you’ve recorded it and waited around for it to get released. In the meantime, people start applauding you for a song you wrote two years ago…and the chances are that you’ve already forgotten anything about by then!”

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