Tag Archive: In memorium


‘Thumbs Up’

The most important memory I have of my father I keep in a silver cigarette case.

He was born in 1928.

His fondest regret was being too young to fight in the thick of WW2.

He joined the Royal Marines and was present when the Japanese surrendered in 1945.

He always felt that he had somehow missed out.

He wanted to be a hero and I think he might have been if he had been born sooner.

But then I would not have known him.

We were never totally close but we had a secret signal, a ‘man to man’ thing that was called the ‘thumbs up’.

My father caught Leprosy in Palestine after the war.

They brought his body back and I visited him before the cremation.

I kissed his forehead.

It was cold and reminded me of the wax fruit my mother kept in the bowl on her dining table when it wasn’t being used for dining. 

His right hand was badly decomposed, all of his fingers were gone, apart from the thumb, which was pristine.

I had a knife.

The most important memory of my father I keep in a silver cigarette case. 

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Murder

It’s Halloween. Billy the Pill, Zimmerman, Crazy Alice and Charlie The Mute are having a few in the June Bride. A body has been found in Banglatown. Billy the pill tells Crazy Alice and her boyfriend Zimmerman all about it:

“So Charlie’s having a curry in Brick Lane and he’s just about to order another couple of poppadoms and a beer when all of a sudden the Abduls are running about like headless chickens and there’s coppers all over the gaff, creeping all about and eyeballing all the punters…”

He pauses for a swallow of his pint and a drag on his cigarette and Charlie The Mute nods to Carol to confirm what has already been said.

Charlie isn’t too good with words, having had his tongue removed some years before by some rather nasty face who had been extremely upset at Charlie for speaking out of turn regarding the sexual politics of the said face’s girlfriend.

“Anyway,” Billy continues, “It seems one of the Abduls has been out the back dumping some dodgy leftovers or something and he’s having a crafty inhalation, when he sees this pair of legs sticking out from behind a f**king wheelie-bin. Well, he comes back into the gaff shaking like a leaf and whiter than a sheet. Ain’t that right Charlie?”

Charlie nods. A dribble of beer runs down his chin. Alice and Zimmerman follow its progress to the lapel of his jacket. Billy takes advantage of the natural pause for dramatic effect. Then he lowers his head level with Carol’s and draws his finger in a slow arc from ear to ear.

“Throat cut!”

Then in an awed, theatrical whisper:

“Almost took her f**king head clean off.”

Carol shivers and grips Zimmerman’s arm. He mutters:

“All right girl, all right,” and strokes her hair. Then he orders her another half of bitter and a double Jack Daniels for himself.

“They know who did it?” he asks.

“F**king hell mate,” retorts Billy, “give them a bleeding chance, it only went down not less than two hours ago. Ain’t that the truth, Charlie.”

Charlie nods and holds up two fingers at Zimmerman, who responds with an uncomfortable shrug, handing Carol her half pint and pocketing her change.

“Bet it was a f**king Abdul, anything you like. Any takers?”

It’s the Dwarf. He’s just come in, edging his way between them to get to the bar.

“Can’t stand that shit they eat!”

“No you’re wrong, boss,” Zimmerman objects, “They don’t eat that shit. They just make it for the punters. And they’re mostly all English… like us, like.”

“Here we go,” chortles Billy, laying his forefinger lightly on the side of his nose and eyeing The Mute conspiratorially.

“Here’s the man! Now we’ll get the inside story. What do you know, boss, no, put your money away. I’ll get that. Come on, you’ve heard something, haven’t you?”

“All in the fullness, young man, all in good time.”

Billy passes him a pint and the Dwarf takes a long pull on it before reaching up and ceremoniously placing his half empty glass onto the counter. Meanwhile Crazy Carol, Zimmerman and Charlie look on.

“As it happens, I had reason – one of my little helpers got a bit careless – to be entrammeled for a short period of time this evening in the rather unpleasant environs of Lime Street nick, wherein I stumbled upon…” He reclaims his glass and swiftly eradicates the remainder of its contents, “…a little whisper!”

Billy the pill bites the crook of his thumb. Charlie is trying to lick the beer off his chin with his absent tongue. Carol and Zimmerman stand open mouthed and transfixed. The Dwarf’s eyes meet Carol’s.

“It seems the unfortunate young lady is an acquaintance of yours, a part time brass, lives in a flat down Shandy Street with some nonce?”

Carol’s eyes pop with shock and disbelief and her features freeze.

“F**king hell, boss. It can’t be. Not her, not little Alice.”

Zimmerman mutters:

“Poor cow. Don’t get upset babe.”

He makes to apply a sympathetic embrace but Carol shrugs and shakes her head, pushing his arm roughly away as she fishes a packet of cigarettes out of her bag. She lights one and blows the smoke in his face.

“Poor cow my arse,” she growls, “c**t owes me fifty f**king quid!”

After about a microsecond of stunned silence Billy the pill starts to laugh, closely followed by the Dwarf, Charlie and Zimmerman, in that order, and then Carol too starts giggling. Billy chortles:

“F**king hell Carol, ain’t you got no respect for the dead?” At which point she loses control completely, collapsing into whoops of hysterical laughter and spraying everyone with beer and spit.

“Yeah?” she splutters, “well I’ll tell you something else Billy boy, the bitch was three months gone!”

Gales of hilarity shake the big bevelled mirror behind the bar, glasses rattle on the shelves and the guffaw echoes like scandal all through the pub and out of the big swing doors and into the street. Somebody says later you could hear them laughing all the way down the Mile End Road.

Murray Roman Said:

“Go ahead – you have my permission to dance, copulate and smoke!”

This image was captured by Kim Gottlieb-Walker at a Free Press benefit in MacArthur park in the summer of ’69.

For more Murray Roman stuff click here and here.

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Photograph Copyright Kim Gottlieb-Walker, www.lenswoman.com

‘Nigger’ — there, I said it…

O.K. So you’ve watched the Kramer thing. Lots of people have.  It’s not the word, is it, you know, the ‘N’ word, that really pisses people off, is it?

It’s only a f**king word, man.

Black people use it all the time. To each other. Sometimes with affection.

No, that’s not what did it. Because words are beautiful and black people are beautiful and a word never harmed anyone.

No, it was the attitude and the context and the timing and the (lack of) talent.

Now, Lenny Bruce used the ‘N’ word a lot. He also used the ‘K’ word, the ‘M’ word, the ‘S’ word and ‘G’ knows how many others.

But…

In fact it was Keith’s influence at Track Records in the late sixties that facilitated the release of You can’t beat people up… and Blind Man’s Movie.

Melanie Safka was backstage at the Isle of Wight Festival, August 1970:

‘Suddenly, the door burst open and in jumped Murray Roman and immediately they [Murray and Keith] went into an hilarious comedy routine… I can’t begin to tell you how much that cheered me up, and then they were gone.’

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.

“I have a dream” video clip

This is the entire address. It lasts about 17 minutes. What else do you need to do that can’t wait?

If you can’t remember it or if you’ve never experienced it or if you think it’s got nothing to do with your life —

CLICK HERE

Just do it.

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.

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