Category: personal thoughts


To be blessed

Ok, so I’m doing my time in the sun now.

But the bar scenes, the 2am lounge scenarios, the backstage kitchen sink sets, the imported stench from the ghettos in perfumed candle or aerosol formats, the blacks, spics, bubbles and micks around the place, strategically situated on bar-stools and banquettes just to brighten up the setting and muddy the narrative for the paradox that’s in it?

Well, sunshine doesn’t burn everything out completely.

“You know that stumbling feeling,” I recall Ted asking, “like you’re falling over your own shadow in the dark or tripping on a small piece of conversation somebody left on the carpet in a corner of the room? That’s what being me is all about.”

Ted may have been a degenerate asshole but he was right, life just won’t sustain such things, isn’t dense enough. They feed you that garbage all around the world, everywhere you go and it doesn’t get any sweeter no matter where you hear it. 

The sex only helped with the physical stuff, and the alcohol was a waste of time because nobody recognised that the pain was there in the first place. You can mend a bird’s broken wing but it sure as hell isn’t going to fly the same again.

A bird can’t fly with a limp and retain its grace, and the spirit of the people won’t be raised by a dictator speechifying with a lisp.

But it’s all way back when in the long gone and misty now. So we lived at night, denizens of the dark; but now we must take notice of the day and it doesn’t come easy. Maybe we just can’t adapt or perhaps it’s just that we won’t. Whatever.

No matter which way you cut it, it seems the past will remain there, right there where it belongs, even though every bone, nerve and thought tells us that it’s been following us right along, that it’s here right now in the present and will be all the way through to whatever future is waiting.

I just sit here and watch their shapes in the shadows. What I can’t see with my eyes I sketch in with my thoughts. Who can help but marvel at the workings of their mechanisms of hope?

Oh to be within touching distance of an understanding of the politics of transfer, to be blessed.

I met Suzanne outside the Hawley Arms in Camden in 1983. She had big sad eyes. I asked her what the problem was. Bridget was embarrassed. I was drunk.

“Why did you leave us?” she asked.

I said, “What do you mean?”

There were tears in her eyes. I lit a cigarette and offered her one.

“I haven’t smoked since Chinatown,” she said. Bridget shuffled her feet.

“Buy me a drink.”

I said, “Do I know you?”

“Two Barley Wines,” she replied, “buy me two Barley Wines and I’ll forgive you.”

“Forgive me for what,” I asked.

“I’ll have that cigarette after all,” she said, taking one from the pack. “Two Barley Wines… one for each of your dead children.”

So, it’s been another slow year.

You know that feeling, when you’re the only one (I mean one, get it?) in a crowd to see a single magpie? Man, that’s a f**ker.

One for sorrow…

But why me. I mean, I’m in a crowd, you know? And it’s just me that gets the sorrow-vision?

It’s because I’m an atheist, isn’t it? It’s because I’m not quite black, isn’t it? Because I’m half a Jew?

I’m a f**king gypsy. That’s why. Don’t try to tell me I’m wrong.

I blame it on slow jazz and bottled water. If I believed in God or Rock and Roll I’d have no problem.

But I don’t, so it’s got to be that I listen to too much vacuum-cleaner-bass-jazz and drink too much Evian.

No-one told me it’s a sin.

Last week I go to London. I’m attending this party at the Porchester Rooms, thrown by a very good friend of mine who’s extremely talented, has had a lot of luck and has won this extremely prestigious award.

Anyway, we have a drink back-stage, I tell her I love her dearly and, though I’m dying of a tumour in my heart, she shouldn’t let that ruin her night.

It won’t.

So I leave her and visit the cloakroom, blow my nose. Then I take my place at a table reserved for me up front of the stage. The waiter brings a bottle of something French. I tell him to take it away.

‘Get me a bottle of Tequila and some olives,’ I tell him.

Suddenly I’m surrounded by these very serious, very legit looking guys with press badges. Seems they want to interview me.

‘So, what have you done since **** **** ****?’ asks one.

‘Nothing that would interest you,’ I tell him, thinking naively that now they’ll all go off and leave me alone. I’ve been out of the public eye too long.

‘Did you re-marry, after ****** died?’

The Tequila arrives. I do the salt and lime thing.

‘Yup!’

He pulls out a notebook and starts scribbling. Some of the others take Dictaphones and MP3s out of their breast pockets and place them in the middle of the table.

‘And what happened to that one?’ asks the scribbler.

‘Are you still trying to write comedy?’ asks a Dictaphone guy.

‘They say you’re not funny anymore,’ says a young MP3 guy with a cold-sore on his upper lip.

So, I have a long drink and think I’ll throw in a stock comic cliche line and they’ll know it’s a put-on:

‘My second marriage was broken up by my mother-in-law.’

‘Oh-oh! Mother-in-law jokes,’ says the waiter beneath his breath.

The scribbler scribbles, a couple of the Dictaphone guys adjust volumes, there’s a general surge of activity.

‘That’s funny… mother-in-law jokes. What happened?’ ask the hacks as one voice.

‘Well, let’s see. My mother-in-law broke up our marriage. One day wife number two comes home early from work and finds us in bed together.’

‘What? Your mother-in-law in bed with you?’

‘Yeah, that’s right.”

‘Well, that’s disgusting!’

‘Oh, well, she was horny and she came on to me…’

‘With your mother? Well, that’s psychotic!’

‘Why? It was her mother, not mine.’

Then the lights dim, the band starts up, my friend stumbles on stage and the audience applauds.

A guy closely resembling myself leaves by an alley exit.

Soon it will be summer.

Girl Alarm

I know the girl in the bar by sight. Our eyes meet and I nod. Her phone rings. An odd ring-tone. Sounds like a klaxon. A car alarm. A smoke alarm. A personality alarm.

I sense that her life is on fire or overheating or being tampered with in some way. So we arrange to meet after the show.

There’s a club in the city called the Candy Box. It’s a place for people who work in the leisure industry. You know, waitresses, bartenders, casino monkeys…

Anyway, I meet her there. The bar is tended by a typist and an insurance salesman. While I wait for the drinks I could dictate War and peace and earn a four year no claims bonus.

Eventually we’re equipped. So we head for an intimate table in a dark booth and start up a little conversation.

‘My father is dying of cancer,’ she tells me, ‘I’m grieving already.’

‘Why?’ I ask insensitively.

‘I’ll tell you why.’ she says.

Then she tells me:

‘With cancer you never stop grieving. Some people say you grieve twice but I don’t think that’s the half of it. I don’t think you ever stop… just go on and on and on… grieving, you know? I’d striven for so long to be like him. Time was what I struggled against. I fought for time. Then I had it. The problem then was that I didn’t have the energy, the passion.’

‘Ah, the passion,’ I counter, meaningfully.

‘The solution is a sure one,’ I continue, ‘but the side consequences might be scary…’

‘Hey, talk to the hand, motherf**ker. If you got it I can carry it. You know what I’ve been through already?’ she says.

So we go back to my house, smoke some weed, snort a couple of Gs of best toot and drink the largest part of a bottle of whiskey (it’s Irish, right. So don’t be a kibitzer and correct the spelling).

Turns out her name’s Penny.

In the morning I tell her:

‘We should have a baby, Penny. We should have a little boy and call him Carlos, after my father. He died of cancer, you know… and with cancer you always grieve twice.’  

As far back as I can remember I had one desire that transcended every other: I always wanted to be a human being.

Things worked out fairly well, to a point.

But there was this constant, nagging knowledge that I wasn’t quite making it.

After a while I stopped fighting, gave up the ghost. It became obvious that I was never going to be like my peers; my Dad or my Mom; my sister; my cousins; my uncles; my kids…

They always told me that there was this line, the crossing of which would take me to a whole other place, where nothing I had learned in my life — on the ‘right’ side of the line — would apply.

Of course, the first thing I did was cross it. I tried it once, then twice, then again…

After a while I was crossing that line every day.

I still do.

Because, you know what?

They were right, bless them.

In dimly lit rooms faceless men and women sit hunched over keyboards, fingers tapping wildly but silently on their keys, unaware of their thoughts or the processes of their writings. They seek answers to questions that torture timelessly, striving to expel them from their minds and get them out of their mental cells and into the world. There are sensations — something in their fingers like presences or prospects of the cold — but there are no ideas. 

And beyond their rooms there are other rooms in which people lie still as corpses but conscious, as if under a strange and all-pervasive governance, a principality of heel-click on sidewalk and sodium streetlight. A dark miasma seeps into their rooms through loose window pains and broken transoms, a hideously expanding ectoplasm, which they inhale deep down into their lungs as they wait to be written.

Writers are alchemists and they are chosen not manufactured. Chosen by whom? you ask. God? I don’t believe in God, so that’s out. What is there to believe in? Something bigger than ourselves? What could be bigger than a self? What could be bigger than ‘I’? Other men like me, perhaps? Only I’ve never met any.

Writers are chosen. Chosen by what they write. Curses are cast in soiled paper wraps, hexes are hurled through space via satellite and through wires and eventually are rendered in words. Spiritual beauty is to be found in anger. For rage moves like an erotic impulse towards the experience of time suspended; rage can expand the moment so that the whole of life becomes potentially one enormous and eternal present, like a piece of writing.

She wakes up slowly. The fragments of the dream that she can recall with ease she tries to fit together, all the while knowing that the picture will never be complete.

The pain is in the small of her back and in the space around her liver.

One day, she thinks, it’s all going to come down in a shower of stiff rain, rock and roll and dreadful shimmer. She’ll walk out, be absorbed by the storm, screaming, and no-one will hear.

But in the meantime she just wraps his big coat around her and bends her back into the wind again.

Life and death: a sequence of repeats, a movie that she watches again and again.

How does it all begin?

I of fish? You of pork? They of lamb and we of beef? He of lungs and she of teeth? It of brains and heart and liver and spleen and blood and unrecognizable flesh?

“Offal,” he tells her, “that’s where it starts and ends.”

Reportedly…

Joseph Merrick said:

“My head is so big because it is full of dreams…

Do you know what happens when dreams cannot get out?”

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.

heartdagger.jpg

Image by Neal Domenico

Behind the promenade is the facade of the wounds that haunt you. A cut is forever. A broken bone signifies a difference of opinion. On a slight incline, veering off the esplanade, is an all night chemist. One could be in Golders Green but for the absence of tigers. Everybody dances. And no one hurts. It’s the sea air, makes you sleepy. Those wandering voices like child-scent. But you don’t blink for the cold on your skin, and the rag around your heart is a friendly pain.

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