The following article was written by Henk van Straten, a Dutch fiction author and freelancer for, amongst others, the Volkskrant Magazine and Nieuwe Revu. He played in the same band as Selim Lemouchi as a young man in the nineties. This article was originally published on the 6th March 2014 in Dutch over at 3voor12 (here), it’s been kindly translated by Andreea IC and is used with kind permission from Henk, read on…
IM Selim Lemouchi by Henk van Straten: “All The Things That Make Me Human”
by Henk van Straten
I got to know you in ’95? ’96? Our group of friends split into two Eindhoven hardcore punk bands: mine, Maypole, and yours, Urban Conflict. But you actually came from outside our group. Out of all of us you were the only one with long hair. (You didn’t have enough facial hair for a beard.) You were “the metal-dude.” It didn’t really go together, punk and metal, but you didn’t give a shit, you didn’t like to be pigeonholed and because you showed it, you – apart from your fair share of teasing remarks – were accepted. Besides which, you played guitar so well that you really shut us up.
We were teenagers then, fifteen and sixteen years old. I remember you as a little bit goofy, a little silly, busier with your music and your guitar than with looks and popularity. In short, the way true musicians are. I remember you with your open character, the energy in your eyes, your cheerful appearance. That’s the way I got to know you over the next years.
We still hadn’t gotten to know each other too well by that time. Our group of friends was chaotic and the two bands weren’t always hanging out. We saw each other at our shows in youth centers. Carrying amplifiers, joking around, drinking. Happy with an audience of twenty. We were boys who think they’re men. I remember your too-long solo’s and how we, in the audience, were grinning and making devil’s horns at you. You were like a young dog, going in all directions.
As far as I know you never finished high school, but I’m not sure. Either way you started working at the Eppo comic book shop on the Kleine Berg quite young. You were a fan of comics. For years it was a very familiar sight: Selim in the Eppo.
There was this one time, on a parallel street behind the Stratumseind, behind the bars, that we sat side by side sniffing coke. I don’t remember anymore what kind of night that was. What I still remember though, is that all of a sudden you got serious and quiet and that struck me. I still hadn’t gotten to know that side of you. As far as I can remember we sat there silently snorting the coke. (It was only a little bit of coke, we didn’t have money for more.)
We didn’t see each other much in the period after that. You got into a long, serious relationship. A girl whose name you’d later get tattooed on your arm, with a red rose next to it, the only color tattoo you ever got. Urban Conflict was calling it quits. You only came back into my life around 2001, when we got semi-serious with Maypole, and started having shows and touring, and our lead-guitarist quit. You had shaved your long hair (you would do that regularly, let it grow long and then shave it). You joined the band. For the next two or three years you were one of us.
You were calm and made your little wisecracks during rehearsals, but you took the music seriously. On stage you gave your all. We all did. Afterward we we were destroyed, drenched in sweat. Goddamn, it was beautiful. Before and after shows you were wild, as wild as the rest of us were. You were happy and had boundless, at times almost childish, energy.
We had bought a green Ford Transit. We drove in it to badly attended shows in France, Spain, Portugal, Germany and the UK. It’s these trips that have stayed with me the most. Squeezing in the back, our legs up against each other, smelly, laughing, sleeping, nagging, teasing. How many times did we listen to Iron Maiden? And how many times did I complain about it? (Now I think it’s cool, can you believe it?) How many times did we listen and sing along with Hank III? (“Well my name is Cecil Brown and I’m from a little town where people do not think of me muuuuuch. I never Understood why they thought I was no good, but this is hoooooow it seems.”)
In some way you were the wildest. We were evenly matched, but with you I felt that you could always take it further. You weren’t a daredevil, you, thankfully, didn’t try to pressure others into doing things, you were definitely not one of those irritating desperado-types. It was more a kind of unbridled enthusiasm. You did it all cheerfully, smiling, friendly. Deep inside you were a polite boy, yes, even when you stood on the roof of our bus in Germany with your pants around your ankles, swinging your dick around in circles, and shouting: ‘Hubschrauber! Hubschrauber!‘ (German for helicopter.) Even when the two of us roaringly went searching for “very hard drugs” in some godforsaken East German village.
I saw something in you. We shared something. The dark side of the Great Why. The deep existential ravine alongside which we both seemed to be wandering. Which sometimes manifested itself in misanthropy and cynicism, or at least pessimism. Incidentally, more for you than for me. I still remember how you got into a vicious argument with Michiel about his idealistic vegetarianism. Now that I think back on it, I
think: yeah, obviously. It fits the Nietzschean Satanism which you later embraced so seriously and devoutly. A man is a hunter, a man is bloodthirsty. Resisting those impulses and instincts is a symptom of the hypocrisy of Christians.
I enjoyed our conversations in the tour bus. When we were on our way to Portugal you had “Lords of Chaos” with you, the book about the Norwegian black metal scene. I was allowed to borrow it from you, and I read it in one breath on that trip. We talked about it, you told me about real Satanism. Not the adolescent worship of a red, fallen angel with a red trident at the end of its tail, but the immersion in the occult, the forces of the earth, death, creation and destruction, accepting the full spectrum of being human -and being an animal- the same. Yesterday I sat around watching youtube videos. In one interview you were asked what inspires you to create music. “The devil,” you said. “Satan.” Then, you fortunately followed up by clearing up what you meant, “Darkness, light, misery, love, passion, despair, joy … all the things that make me human, without discriminating between them.” You talked about it with those friendly, gentle eyes that I know so well.
Without discriminating between them … It’s all part of us. It makes no sense to say: this is part of being human, and this isn’t. Each person defines his own morality. Everyone is a god, ugly and fantastic, brutal and noble. I realize now just how much Satanism and Buddhism intersect. Where the “immorality” of Satanism lends itself to hedonism and that of Buddhism more to control, the two have something essential in common nonetheless: accepting the person as a whole, including all the things we would rather not admit to ourselves, which we get prude about, or righteous. And above all: death as a condition of life.
You went searching for the devil. I for the Buddha. How great it would have been to talk about it again.
The fun we had. The little arguments. The long hours in the bus. The orgasmic eruptions on stage, even though there were only three German squatters and a crippled shepherd standing there watching us.
At the time you told us about your father, an Algerian man with psychiatric problems. He had abandoned you. We listened to you, but were still too young to say anything meaningful in return. In later interviews, you would talk about your genetic predisposition to depression.
In 2004 we pulled the plug on the band. You and I briefly started our own little project on acoustic guitar. Grace Louisiana, as we called it. We practiced in the attic of your mother’s house. But I wasn’t musical enough. I already knew that, but I wanted it so badly. There should be some recordings of that. Damn, where are those takes? On your computer, I think.
After that I lost you sight of you for a bit. I still kept seeing the guys from Maypole, but you were always a bit of an outsider. Maybe it’s because you had joined us later on. Or maybe because you kept to yourself a bit more.
You did play your guitar at my wedding. Do you still remember that? You stood there at the end of the aisle with your golden Les Paul and played the tune of “Here comes the bride” while my wife was walked down the aisle by her father. I’m proud of that, man.
The years after that I followed you from a distance. Your incredible success with your band The Devil’s Blood. Your interviews in newspapers and on the internet. I was in the audience for your “The Time of No Time Evermore” record release show. You stood there doused in pig’s blood, with your long hair, your big beard, your occult tattoos, your leather jacket. You didn’t call it a concert, but a séance. They were rituals. And that’s what you saw. It was a hypnotizing war of sex and death and guitars.
I was jealous. You had a real band. A real band.
When I heard that you had gotten yourself admitted in the psychiatric ward of a hospital, addicted to cocaine and depressed, I never came to visit you. I regret that. But now I also think: that you didn’t want to go just yet. You chose to fight. It makes me think that now, last Tuesday night, you really wanted to go. I take some comfort in that.
In a TV documentary, recorded in your home, you talked honestly and without shame about your depression, and you announced then that you yourself would decide when to step out of life. It was a strange, beautiful broadcast. On the wall all those inverted crucifixes. A mural painted in your own blood. Many people found it sick and dirty, but I understood. You saw your own life clot up and die. At first it was in you, you were it, and then it was outside of you, dried up scabs on a wall and it was dead. That says something. That is something. It puts all assumptions about “I am” in doubt.
Still there was something tragic to it. Embracing satanism meant embracing your own death. That painting on the wall … As if you were watching your own death. I wonder: when you spoke to that TV crew so objectively about suicide, was that objectivity the result of a total acceptance and making peace with death? Or was it a defense mechanism?
Did you know that an early death was unpreventable and is that why you did everything to enfold death in your arms? Were your performances with The Devil’s Blood ceremonies for your own death? But come on, man, besides misery and darkness there were still light and passion, things to celebrate? I’m reading things now, on the internet, it became increasingly difficult to keep your demons at a distance. You called the band you founded after TDB, Selim Lemouchi & His Enemies. Who were these enemies?
As the cliché goes: if only I could ask you.
You became an upright, maniacal musician. TDB was your band. You were the dictator and held back no punches. You stopped at the peak becaus you thought you had said everything there was to say with the band.
Where others would’ve sailed on through the warm sea of success, you could not justify a similar course to yourself. There’s a parable in here as I see it.
These last couple of years we lived in the same neighborhood. You had gotten a dog, a giant white Dogo Argentino. Otherwise you no longer came out of your house, that’s what you said once on the street. Because those were the only moments when we sometimes still talked to each other, quickly and in passing, and often I had my own dog with me, and our two dogs would’ve preferred to tear each other to pieces, so we didn’t talk.
Often, I’d suddenly hear you call out my name in the distance. “Henkie!” you screamed. And then I’d look. And then you’d be walking there. And then we’d wave to each other. And you always looked cheerful. As I knew you. As I know you.
I think it’s fucked up, man. I think it’s really, unbelievably fucked up.
Scribed by: Henk van Straten (first published on 6th March 2014 in Dutch at 3voor12)
Translated by: Andreea IC