Category: Deaths and Obituaries

For sure I’d tell you about Ted Silverstein if I could without fear.

Only I don’t know who he’s working for now and they could be dangerous.

When I first know Ted he’s a burn-out and a fallen piano player, a shoe man.

His son, so he tells me, is expense-account rich, a direct sales whizz-kid whose obsessions include a fetish for the softer body furnishings.

In effect, shirts.

Yeah, Ted’s boy is a shirt man.

Nevertheless, he is obviously a big part of Ted’s world, although I cannot recall ever hearing a mention of the young man’s name from his father’s lips.

No, it is for Miriam, the shirt man’s wife and the shoe man’s daughter-in-law that he reserves his fullest passion and his truest praise.

She is the only thing his son ever got right, to hear Ted tell it.

“It’s one thing to be an expert on collecting receipts and selecting shirts but to be a menche with the right woman?  Hah!” said Ted. 

You can’t walk far in shoes made out of silk and a leather shirt you can’t wear beneath a dress suit.

“She was hand made in Lewisham.”

Ted tells me this with his eyebrows arching like vipers ready to strike and his Havana-brown breath walking spanish around the last sylables.

Hand made in Lewisham.

For those of you who don’t know so much, Lewisham is a south London borough famous for murder, drug abuse, a writer of popular songs who squandered his genius on fast drugs and a slow-burning woman, and a Saturday market.

Yeah, I could tell you about Ted Silverstein, for sure.

If I could without fear.

Billy Mackenzie

It’s ten years since Billy’s death. I met him a few times and liked him a bit but I don’t think I came close to knowing him.

Nobody did.

To the music media at the time he was something of a sacred cow, no-one wanted to say it like it was.

Reading between the lines and drawing on personal experience he was a spoiled brat, really. He never knew what it was he wanted but was always confident that he could get it and, when he couldn’t, he’d convince himself and everybody else that he didn’t want it in the first place.

He had a head full of music, a lot of charm and an ear for a lyric but he never mastered an instrument. His voice was interesting and had a good range but he faked the high register and socially he was a bit of a prat.

And then there are the musicians he ate up and spat out: guys like Steven Reid, for example, the guitar player who co-wrote a lot of his stuff but never received any credit.

But hey, this is Galloway the iconoclast talking (if I can dis God I can dis Billy), so, if you worshiped him or if his memory is sacred to you, if you want to think of him as a lost, tortured soul, a tragic genius, you go ahead, my friend…

I won’t disillusion you.

Sing it to the angels Billy and rest in peace.

Died 22 Jan 1997.

Have you noticed that the older you get the more dead acquaintances you collect? It’s a sign of maturity, I guess.

In my twenties I knew one dead guy. His name was Steve. Married a Welsh girl. Two years later he was dead. Was it the food, the Celtic temperament, the weird sex, the in-laws, the heroin? My guess is that all of those factors contributed but it was the opiate that knocked him over the edge.

Then there was John Begg. He died of AIDS when I was in my mid-thirties. I’d known him as a living person since childhood. We grew up in the same Scottish tenements.

Which reminds me, Steve wasn’t my first dead friend at all, that was John’s brother David, whom John murdered when they were kids. It was something to do with religion. Real Catholic shit. Neither of them stood a chance.

Their father, a degenerate gambler, tried to kill himself by getting drunk and going to sleep with the gas on. He failed of course: spent so much money on booze he didn’t have enough coins to keep the meter fed.

Anyway, John never forgave himself for murdering his brother. At Her Majesty’s Pleasure he became an amateur psychopath. Then when they finally let him out he went full time, became a petty gangster and heroin addict — AKA The Knife Man — and served a manslaughter stretch of 7 years, with the usual discount for good behaviour and an HIV positive blood test.

Dirty needles and a jail-house tattoo, that’s what did for Johnny boy.

Of course if I’m really picky the first dead person I ever knew was my paternal grandfather, who split before I was born and, to my knowledge, never took drugs (unless you include whisky in that category).

And then there was Mr Kinair, my English teacher, who died of syphilitic brain disease when I was struggling with my A Levels. The short sighted, selfish bastard just couldn’t stay away from naughty prostitutes. But he never took drugs (at least that’s what he told me).

But you know, I’m no peasant: included in my list of dead friends are a couple of rock stars.

Dead rock stars, don’t you just love them?

They take care of you through the difficult adolescent years and, just when you reach that disillusioned stage, you know, where you’re starting to doubt their validity as useful icons (growing up) they let you off the hook by dying, usually of heroin overdoses, alcohol or sex. Saints that they are.

My first was Billy Mackenzie, patron saint of the Warbling Romantics, voice of an angel on crystal meth, the man behind the Associates. We were brought up in the same town, only he didn’t come from the slums. We never met in our native environment but first crossed paths some years later in Kings Cross, London. I interviewed him for an article about Celtic New Romantic brats, which I was trying to pitch to the NME.

I told him: “No Billy, I’m not that way inclined, you know…” And he said: “Fuck it, never mind. Just give me a few lines out of that wrap and I’ll take you to a nice club I know.”

That was in the early 80’s. Come Christmas 1997 he was dead by his own hand.

I blame myself.

Perhaps if I’d shared my Charlie with him that night, instead of telling him to “f**k off I need this to get up and go to work in the morning”, he wouldn’t have gone out and scored some smack and gotten to like it so much that it eventually depressed him to the point of suicide.

Because that’s what heroin does for you.

My other dead rock star acquaintance was Stuart Adamson. I met him when I was ligging on Big Country’s first UK tour. Their chief roadie, who shall remain nameless, sold me one of Stuart’s guitars — a lovely black Gibson Les Paul — for a gram of good Bolivian and a Turkish hooker called Tanya…

Of course, Stuart was never a smack-head; he was just a piss-artist.

It’s her optimism that kills him. Makes him happy and desperate at the same time.

In the morning.

Saying goodbye.

He’s still in bed, waiting for the neighbours’ dogs to start up or someone out back to continue building that fence or begin chain-sawing that tree or kango-drilling that patio.

She breezes in: pink linen jacket. She looks fatter than yesterday. “Oops. I almost fell in there with you,” she giggles. He turns over and tells her “goodbye,” in his over-voice. His under-voice tells her “f**k off you stupid cow.”

It amuses him but he’s disturbed: because he loves her and it disturbs him that his under-voice has so little respect.

It’s her optimism that kills him. He’s sure sometimes that she hears his under-voice but chooses to ignore it. Such strength of character she has to do that. Perhaps she hears it but believes it’s an hallucination, symptomatic of her own psychosis.

As he hears her leave through the front door he wants to call after her: “Look, you stupid bitch, it’s real and I mean it!” But the dogs have started up, someone out back is hammering and a tree is being noisily executed…

Of course, he never blames himself for the rail crash. But when he speaks at the funeral his guilt rings in all of his voices.

Vicktor Dworzanski

My dear friend Vicktor Dworzanski (Vick) was fifty-two years old when he died a few days ago. He was cremated yesterday after a funeral mass at the Polish Catholic Church in Sherwood, which was attended by approximately two hundred people.

I was asked by his wife Elaine to say a few words in church. Here is what I said.

When opinions are solicited from a disparate group of an individual’s acquaintances regarding that person’s character, their perceptions often differ.

This is because most of us adjust our behaviour, as we do our language, to suit different social registers.

In that sense we’re all a little bit false.

Since our friend passed away I have spoken to many people who knew him, many of whom didn’t know each other and had little in common but their friendship with him.

And a strange thing occurred to me: every one had the same story to tell.

They spoke of his smile, his sense of fun, his ability to calm a potentially hot situation, his humanity, his devotion to his family…

In short, Vick was unique, a one-off — a man without camouflage. What you saw was what you got and nothing about him was either hidden or enhanced for social effect.

That was the Vick Experience.

The shortened Polish version of the name Vicktor is, I believe, spelt VICK.

The Letter V will always make me think of his Veracity, his truthfulness, his honesty in his dealings and accuracy in his work.

The letter I stands for the immensity of his stature as a human being , the immutability of his nature, his importance as a father, a husband, a son and a friend and the fact that he is irreplaceable.

C is for his circumspection, his canniness, his sense of camaraderie, his candour and his capacity for generosity.

And finally K is what he was: a King, a gentle giant.

That last letter is also the first letter of another word, the word “knock”.

It was Vick’s idiosyncratic way of bidding his friends farewell after a few drinks to knock twice on their table.

None of us will ever forget it.

Au revoir, my friend.

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