I meet the Svenhunter the day after the madness at Madame JoJo’s (as expertly related here) for a briefing and ceremonial passing of the baton. Tonight AWK is playing the Astoria 2 in London. That’s right, playing. Not lecturing, not Q&A, but a real live show, as part of an indie club nights’ first birthday. A gig, like he used to do with that hairy band in surf shorts he had, when he played Vans Warped tours and whipped American jocks into a frenzy.
Would tonight be a return to that era? Would the Andrew WK documented in the bizarre live DVD Who Knows?, with its “Andrew WK 1999-2004” caption stamped on the front like some kind of tombstone, be reconciled with the Andrew WK now being interviewed by Wire and bigging up integral philosopher Ken Wilber? The information, as is often the case with Andrew, was not forthcoming. I would have to find out for myself.
Cut to the evening. The club is packed, and, judging from the way the people are massing in front of the main stage, the majority aren’t here for Bloc Party remixes. Eventually the stage springs to life and a man dressed in white t-shirt and white trousers with semi-long brown hair runs on, greeting us enthusiastically. The crowd roar, the music kicks in, and we’re off. There’s no band, no stage-show as such, just a man with a microphone, a backing track, and an electric piano that he expertly boogie-woogies along on.
He bangs through most of I Get Wet, his first and most successful album, and everyone goes wild. He tells us we’re all perfect, that we will remember tonight, that this is the most amazing, most awesome happening that has ever happened. My friends uncharacteristically take off their tops and run into the circle pit. A girl faints at the front and is lifted out. A million people crowd-surf. Not so long later he says goodbye, the indie comes back on, and that’s it. We go home having enjoyed AWK.
But wait a second. Something isn’t right. Perhaps its the voice- far more high-pitched than I remembered, and very different to the metal growl he used in the past. Also, the rocking stage moves come less often, and less confidently executed. Afterwards, a friend who’d seen the whole thing at Madame JoJo’s fills me in on what transpired there.
Apparently this Andrew is indeed not the original Andrew WK, but a new one. Through the talk he had been gradually stripping off the suit he was wearing to reveal the white AWK uniform underneath, finally symbolically donning a pair of Converse that had been on a plinth next to him for the duration.
I’d been reading the rumours on the internet, but for it to be so clearly spelt out was outrageous! We’d all been fooled, taken in by a charade wrought by some faceless puppet-masters! Outside the gig I quizzed people about whether they’d seen the real Andrew WK. 9 out of 10 said yes. The one who didn’t had been to the talk the night before. The only person I confronted with the very possible fact that it was a “new” Andrew WK looked at me with disgust and disbelief, making me feel like I’d just told him Father Christmas wasn’t real.
Then it all made sense. It doesn’t matter who Andrew WK actually is, it only matters what he does. These people saw a man in a white suit, they were uplifted, and they had a fantastic time. As far as they were concerned, they saw Andrew WK. And they did. Y’see, that’s why I love this guy. What other contemporary entertainer makes you confront the nature of identity, of what it is to be famous, to be an artist, and does it in such an damn fun way?
As posited on one of the many conspiracy blogs, the nature of Andrew WK is like an onion. You can keep peeling it down, revealing another level of meaning. But to grasp that one layer and call it the onion, or grasp that one meaning and call it the truth, would be false. Many would say I have fallen into the trap orchestrated by the original AWK, perhaps the same one that was on stage tonight, an elaborately constructed fan-baiting self-mythology. And perhaps I have. So, is the truth out there?
How far down the rabbit hole would you like to go?