I tell you as I feel now, in this moment, that I was more intelligent then than I am now. Maybe it’s the years of abuse, the broken, scarred and sinewy heart, the empty fields of regret that I vowed never to have. I tell you now as I feel now, I did things without foreknowledge or overshadowing, I had no philosophy other than to live in the material world, be material, experience material things. I had no concern for wrong or right, no honesty, no fear of immortality beyond death. These are all things I learnt, were thrown down on me by living materially, living with no concern for wrong or right or honesty. I just wanted to get my kicks before the whole shithouse went up in flames. It was 1990, in ten years the world would end, I had no cause to worry about being remembered, or my story being told. There would be no future generations to learn from me. This view was little in my head then but grew as we got closer to the millennium, in some ways it contributed to my many disappointments later, the world did not end, I took my kicks, suffered for them, for everything balances out, in the end. The end that I had no conception of then, have none of now. Live only in this moment that exists now, in these joys, happiness’s, triumphs of the moment. As I did then, but now am tempered by not getting kicks at anyone’s expense, but receiving them naturally, unforced. Even then I thought what I was doing was natural unforced. So this living, as I am now, in the moment may be as invalid as it was then, but at least there is a certain honesty in saying, this is how I feel, this is what I think is right to do, as opposed to what I want to do; I guess. But I have been wrong before.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Philip Hunt has moved to Cape Town and he has a flat on the Kloof Neck Rd, right at the bottom, an old building wooden floors and palm trees. Like the palm trees in Fresnay that we shoot with the video camera, trying to recreate the shot from The Doors L.A. Women video. He has no lounge, but a studio, tables littered with drawings and photographs and a black motorbike is parked outside. I am determined to be like him but not him, I eventually save up and buy a fifties Vespa in bright yellow. Phillip is going to Spain, he needs a flat sitter, and so I give up my apartment and move into his for a month. There is something dangerously romantic about the candles and Nick Cave records. It’s the beginning of the windy season in Cape Town; spend many hours on cheap wine watching trashing palm trees out of the window. Somehow in this period I have discovered a cache of pretty young girls, all still at school, remember I am only seventeen still, my birthday is a month away. I meet a girl that I nickname Starlight, she is incorruptible, quirkily creative way before the times in which that was cool, she loved fashion as I did and made her own clothes. I create scary little notes in Phillips studios, running red ink, possessive statements, I want her, she is my Little Phil replacement. She does not talk to me, not much; I befriend her friend in some teen pink nightclub. I am all belt buckles and cowboy boots. The friend, Eve, is as into film as I am, in a move to get close to Starlight, I start to spend time with Eve. I cannot recall the exact stream of events. But it goes something like this. I start to fall for Eve without noticing, my eighteenth birthday arrives, I fully expect someone to call me, I get drunk on the wooden floors listening to Henry’s Dream. Mad by eight o clock I am determined to not be alone, I walk out into the rain and am just walking when a car pulls up. In the car is this fey man, older Jewish, gay, who has tried to pick me up before on Greenmarket Square, he is going to a party in Kalk Bay, I think what the fuck. We pull off onto the freeway, into the wind, alone into the night.
It’s a large rambling Victorian style house; set off the back of a big garden, filled with brown paper bag candle lanterns and people. I lose the guy; find myself in the kitchen, near a box wine and Styrofoam cups, being charming to a group of older people I desperately want to impress. From those young eyes, it all seemed so wonderfully grown up, there were hippies and Goths and jocks, it was in retrospect probably just another digs party, but to me it was warmth and people. Somehow in the bare light bulb yellow kitchen I get into a conversation with a woman, who is a Goth, taller than me, fat, eyeliner dyed black long hair, fishnet stockings, not ashamed of her largeness. I am drawn into conversation with her as I begin to realize that firstly I have no way of getting home, secondly I am weirdly attracted to her and off course quite drunk. I tell her about Eve not calling; I tell her I am still a virgin, that it’s my birthday, that I need a ride home. All of this she drinks in, suddenly we are stumbling through the lanterns, setting them on fire by manipulating them with our passing feet, she has reluctantly agreed to drive me home, back to Hunt’s place. I remember throwing a beer bottle out the window, reveling in the sound of the crash and then being scolded and feeling ashamed at my recklessness. We pull up at my place, I look up the stairs at the windows past the palm trees, it’s late, I am drunk and don’t want to be alone. I say, come up, she obliges.
I have bought a large bag of oranges and they are sitting in a pile next to the bed, as we flop onto it, in a sorta we know what we’re doing and isn’t it a bit sorta ironic way, wry smiles and all, she wants oranges, starts peeling them, eating hungrily, I start to lose all desire for her. I drink more. I play loud music, the palm trees flap in the wind, I have dim memories of a struggle, discovering condoms in the bathroom thankful, her on top, darkness, waking up in the morning surrounded by oranges and peels alone, Eve’s voice on the answering machine, wishing me a happy birthday, a day late.
At around this time, I was walking on Greenmarket Square and handed a flyer for a house party, from a nervous American, whom I would later learn was named Jesse. Jesse was to become my first major impetus to entertain beyond merely creating art; Jesse promoted ideas and made an art of it. I go to the party in Oranjezicht and end up seeing but not entirely meeting all sorts of glamorous people, My abiding memory of the night is standing on the stairs, once again wine in paper cup, looking out at the dance floor, hearing this strange electronic music, this pounding beat, feeling strangely attracted to it all, but in my un hipness, distant from it. I leave feeling disconnected, desperately want to be part of this whole fashionable scene, walking home, a car slows down, “We saw you at the party, do you need a ride”, We end up at Nick’s place or Brendan’s, not sure, drinking whiskey till the bleak darkness breaks, Bodine Hallelujah and his Long Street cowboys.
Phillip returns suddenly, my little sojourn with art supplies and furniture is over. I end up drifting into staying at the YMCA next to the company gardens, while I look for a flat. To supplement my income from my parents of eight hundred rand and an agreed four hundred for rent, I start working as a clothing assistant at Jack Ruby with Brian Dove. To supplement this income we hire street kids to steal car radios from around the square and sell them out of the back room of the store, it does not take long for this to turn from car radios into televisions and finally hiding LSD amongst the shirts, selling the first MDMA to body builders, before long I have another job, selling and buying records second hand on a Saturday from a stall in Greenmarket Square, this is how I encounter my first junkies and learn that selling your stuff is less important that getting your drugs, a lesson I will return to time and time again.
I find a flat in Green Point; I discover that it is only a block from Eve’s house. Below me lives a guy called Kay, flamboyantly gay, long hair, smokes buttons and like dancing, always trying to seduce me. Lonely sometimes he invites me out the one night, gets me hopelessly drunk, tugging at my zip while I am passing out, I manage to start vomiting and he abandons me under the table in a gay bar, limp home, don’t speak to him for a while.
I want to get close to Starlight, I think, but I am in actuality getting close to Eve, I go round to her house, wearing a rosary, infatuated with catholic sex and death rituals as passed onto me via hunt from Morrison, this is how I realize she is Jewish, over a Friday night dinner, embarrassed, tucking in my rosary as Eve giggles. We spend long nights talking about Starlight, it take months and months for me to come anywhere near the realization of what I feel for her. We watch all the lynch movies, Wenders; all of Twin Peaks that we can, twice, Scorsese, my film education is rounded out by this girl. And one other, Nicole Able, who I meet somehow, lives in a big house in Bantry Bay, many books on shelves, many Marilyn Monroe movies, wants to study acting, is vibrant and full of life, Hunt likes her, she supports and tries to help in my efforts to capture Starlight. I take her to all the parties, when the acid and ecstasy start flowing she is two steps behind me guiding me.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Hard as it is too accept, I lived my whole life in these two years and everything since there has been repeat information. Obviously except the now. It is only in hindsight that we see the patterns evolve.
My basement flat. Is under a house on the hill in Greenpoint. The kitchen and shower are recessed into the darkness of the old Victorian basement. The lounge bedroom are pivy to the only mean sunlight. I spend a lot of time on the lawn. There is a single bed. I am to start film school in a few weeks. The people who live in the house upstairs have a daughter, call her Kim, we talk often and one week night I buy cheap wine and we sit on a blanket in the fading light overlooking the bay, talking, holding hands and then kissing into the darkness. Spend many mornings after that at the front door above my window, seeing if she is home. Next time I see her is when she brings her boyfriend home, I feel a bit like a house pet. There was a singular joy of rushing headlong into a new life that evening on the lawn, now I realize it is the old life, in so many ways. Having spent my bus fare on wine and processed food, I now have to hitch to film school.
Which is a disappointment from the get go. Housed in a moldy building and with a library of dog eared books and bad vhs copies of movies already seen, the owner, head lecture of the school, John Hill, proves the maxim, those that cannot do, teach. His partner in the school Nadja, proves the opposite, but she teaches scriptwriting and I have many stories, so I don’t believe I need her.
I want to learn the technical aspects, so I can make my stories live, but I don’t see the obvious, in order to tell stories, you need to know all stories, all the ins and outs, the construction of, for the story is the form. I find myself sinking in anyway. I hitch to the film school on Sundays to use the vhs and Tv to watch films, John the owner is always suffering from last night, wearily lets me in and I watch.
One Sunday I get out in the road, it’s February, the roads are quiet. I cannot get a ride, I walk over the hill from Greenpoint, down to town, to walk through the parade to hitch on the lower freeway. As I reach the top of Strand street I hear a strange mass of noise, buzzing, mingling, people are walking into town from all over, mostly not white people, I reach the parade, even the streets in front of the city hall are choked with people. Thousands, maybe seeming hundreds of thousands, dressed in yellow, green and black, mostly black people, carrying banners, chanting, celebrating, swirling around, eddies of people jubilant, breaking into dance, all facing the city hall, not facing it, hugging each other, generally happy in the moment. I have never seen so many black people in one place. I am shocked there are even that many black people in the whole country. Not just black, but brown, sprinkled with white. I find some white people, ask to find out, what is going on.
Mandela is being released. Today. Mandela? The murderer? Because that’s all that I’ve been told about this name that crops up in graffiti and sometimes the news. Mandela the freedom fighter. Mandela the hero. Now there will be peace. Not on this day, I abandon the idea of watching a film that day, here is a film, in front of me, I allow myself to be drawn into the mass, hours pass, hours of a political education, I am being pulled into conversations, told the history I never knew, given statistics, somehow too young to feel the force of the moment, still nervous of the police helicopters the men in riot gear hovering on the edge of the mass, being told that there is nothing that they can do now, we are too many, the future is ours, all of ours not just theirs.
I am down front, near the steps, the balcony, it’s late afternoon and the news filters through that Mandela is out and making his way here. The crowd bristles, some young guys, my age really, smash through and start looting a bottle store, it’s everything and all the police need, they start firing rubber bullets into the crowd, which in that small part of the crowd, panics, ullates, pushes back, I am caught up, see guys running with whiskey, falling, screaming in pain, I climb somehow into a rubbish bin, the twack of a rubber bullet hitting it’s side and then suddenly, as quick as it began, the crowd surges back and the police stop firing, retreat, by the time I get out of the bin, it is like it never happened and I am shaken by the whole day, leaning nervously against under the balcony when the speeches begin, I feel trapped, trapped, the whole mass of the people pushing on me, eager to be in front pushing, the security police coming down, to help, pull me out, shaken, I go home, not aware of the importance of the moment, miss Mandela and his speech.
Friday, March 26, 2010
The memory is blurry, but somehow I convinced Phillipa to come to my matric dance. I even designed her outfit, out of a red and gold carpet with a chiffon skirt. I myself wore a black silk shirt with dragons on the back and the green sequined flares. There exists a photograph of me and Phillipa standing in the kitchen in Westville, I am proud, young, puffing out my chest, Phillipa looks like she just wants to get it over with. Maybe that is my interpretation. The evening is a rush. Of course by then everyone knows I am in love with Phillipa, but actually I’m crushing on another girl, who happens to be Andrews date, I don’t remember her name, even though he was expelled and not at the school, we managed to get him on the list. I buy a whole lot of daffodils on the way there. We have tequila, I think, or old brown sherry but a lot of it anyway, shout to interrupt the speeches, when the “dancing” starts, I come in from the table we have been placed at in the marquee, far from the action, to try dilute us, in to the main area, climb on a table throw flowers about. We are constantly sneaking through the gaps in the red striped tent to drink more, more, eventually thrown out of and/or leave, stopping to ring the school bell, normally only rung in reverence, loudly, continuously, until the prefects come out and we are running in the mad possibilities of it all into our futures, multiple, split, to join and split, we bundle into the car and race off to drop off Andrews date first, Roxanne maybe, Rosanne? Anyway. We get to her place and there is smoke rising from the, it seems, gearbox, “Gearbox is burning!” I shout, we all tumble out of the car and into a ditch, fully expecting it to explode, Phillipa saying “I left my rose in the car”, me, heroically going to fetch it, gingerly getting into the car, picking the rose off the back and running back to the ditch, Roxanne’s father coming to of the house, looking at us, saying, “It smells like you kids have been driving with the handbrake on”, sheepishly saying goodbye. Goodbye to all that.
The second last real memory of Kevin, chronologically incorrect, is when the Celtic Rumours played at the university, supporting Mango Groove, who at that point in my eyes where an inoffensive pop act. I had just managed to dodge army call up, with a two-year study deferment, Kevin would have to go. My sisters boyfriend, later husband, who I spent most of my life hating and jealous of his suburban ethic, Kevin referred to him as Fat Pig, for his own reasons, was in the crowd. The lead singer of Mango Groove, makes a political statement, she supports the ECC, the End Conscription Campaign, Mark, future brother in law is standing in a bunch of guys, all on study deferments, who start protesting, throwing beer cans. It is a moment of supreme irony for me, avoid beer in cans still to this day, the searing image of men throwing beer cans at a woman, trying to get them out of something that they say they believe in but are avoiding anyway.
1989 ends on December 31st, as it should, with me, my father and Brandon Botha driving to Cape Town, to begin a life in film. We drive up, through the mountains, then me crossing the Free State for the first time (later discovering it unfree), then dipping into the great desert of the Karoo, ending up staying at a cheap hotel, edgeofthedesert half empty swimming pool, my father drunk in the room at sunset, me and Brandon, still high on a week of parties and marijuana cooking, sitting at the pool until midnight and bar closing, drinking cheap gin umbrella cocktails the desert warmth and the future promise washing over us, swimming lazily and long, my father on the edge of consciousness as we sneak into the room, a beast mumbling, keep quiet, keep quiet.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
This book, needless to say, is not a credit list of influences or a nod of heads to all that walked through my life. I am trying to explain who I am now, by who I have been, trying to work out my need to explain it. All art is a celebration of loss. Loss of Love, Loss of Innocence. A dictum of everything we have lost and everything we have gained in the losing.
I have told this story before and will tell it again. My father could not understand my love for photography, my need for film, my inability to not write. He was convinced I would take over the family business, his building company. Not that it existed, he was living from job to job, holding onto the house with my mothers salary. After two years in Cape Town, I hitch back home to surprise them, am surprised by the fact that they don’t live in that house anymore, have to get the new residents to give me the new address at one a.m. Loss comes slowly and is then definitive.
I applied to the Cape Town Film and Television School as a last ditch effort. Photography schools, techs, would not take me, I was told that I would have to start at second year and you can’t do that. I was for the first, not boasting (am, really), not the last time, overqualified. The day the fax came through, I heard the phone ring, picked up, pressed start and slowly saw the acceptance form coming through. I called my mother, who’s response was, as I recall, simply to say “We have to break this to your father gently”
Of course he tried to talk me out of it, the mantra, “when are you going to get a real job” was beginning to form. I remember putting the fax, already browning, on top of his, already yellowed, architectural plans for a long since lost project and him trying to convince me. The next morning my mother told me that my father would be leaving for Cape Town to find me a flat. All that was left to me of my adolescence was a matric dance and some goodbyes.
Friday, February 19, 2010
The first of many car crashes occurs days after the matric dance, weeks before I am due to leave town to go study in Cape Town. We are driving the car home to my parents place. Andrew is driving, I am still under the age and anyway haven’t learnt yet. I think we are on acid, something, and I decided to see if we can make the car fly by flapping the doors. I’m not sure how it happens, but Hallucinogenics, the car door is ripped off its hinges, but still hanging on, by something we pass, or passes us. When we get home, we manage to “convince” my mother that the door was open and we caught it on a pole parking. Next night we borrow Dad’s bakkie, smash the windscreen with a mistakenly popped champagne cork.
The first of many run-ins with the police. We are in the back of some truck, having hitched a ride. It’s 1988 and we are not so aware, so we don’t realize that getting a ride with two black men might be a problem for white boys. The cops pull us over, one of us starts to freak out, he has a matchbox of marijuana on him, the truck is enclosed there is no way to throw it out. The yellow cop van is idling right behind us. No escape. For some, goodness knows what, reason the police give us a cursory search, find the match book, spill out it’s contents and drive off. The guys giving us the lift, drive off, turn the corner, order us out. It’s too dangerous. For them, we are not a concern.
There was a club we would go to, played the early parts of dance music, was in an apartment building in Point Road, started sneaking in at 16, place called 330, it grew as we got older, taking over other floors, swapping staircases, getting into commercial house, but in my earliest experience, we had to pretend to be eighteen and gay to get in. Dancing in the pounding strobe and hanging out in the women’s cloak rooms, watching the older patrons line up to get to the toilet. Whole evenings spent, sitting on the floor, with only an occasional dash to the dance-floor to throw ourselves about under the hard strobe to New Order.
A fire drill one night, I am wearing my green sequined flares. We are all standing on the pavement. Suddenly the profusion of police means it’s not a fire drill, it’s a raid. Drug dogs everywhere. Somebody says, “I thought there was a fire”, Nicky O says, “It’s Roger’s pants that need to be on fire”.
I will remember this moment later when I am vomiting after spilling amyl nitrate on myself in Nicky’s squat in Brixton (London, Not JHB) three years later, everyone mooning about Smashing Pumpkins, me vomiting up my only meal for days, dry take away chips. Wanting to just go home with Eve, who is not consoling me, just wanting to go home, me not having a home but a bedsit, Eve, meaning her mothers house, me seeing the whole affair falling apart. Feeling self righteous in my vomit, not realizing, how wrong I had been.
Essentially there were five of us in that art class who were pushing forward, whether we were any good is a question for a later debate. Besides us gang of four, there was Bryce Gordon. Bryce was a pasty faced, greasy haired, pimply, biting sense of humour guy who painted De Chicero derivatives with technical aplomb. No matter how we tried, we couldn’t get him to join in, come out with us, anything.
In matric Bryce Gordon won the Art Prize, something we had all secretly desired but had claimed we wouldn’t receive on Dadaist grounds. He had won it the year before as well and on the evening of it’s announcement and presentation we all showed up at the school, lint free uniforms, all hoping it would be us. The award is announced and the principal stupefied by the fact that Gordon is simply not there. He did not show up. It wasn’t on any other grounds, as it simply meant nothing to him. It held us in awe. But Bryce didn’t care for other reasons.
After Matric exams, the news reaches us. Bryce and his whole family have committed group suicide. They got into the family car together, with the dogs and gassed themselves, all of them. It seems they had applied to immigrate to America and had simply been waiting for Bryce’s matric results which, although the top of the class, had obviously failed to raise whatever profile the family had in the eyes of emigration. A whole family gets into a car with the dogs. Mother, Father, Brother, Sister and agree to end their own lives. It cannot have been an instant decision, rather something that took place over a long amount of time and disappointment and frustration. I think now back to the existential gesture of refusing to, but actual being one of resignation, knowing it’s no longer important to, receive the art prize. The many times we tried to get Bryce to go out with us, teased him for not, the disdain he showed, all exterior signs of large responsibility and in the end signs of defeat. They simply could not live here anymore.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I will bring this up not because I want to flood you with self indulgent detail, these things come into force later. I promise to leave out the irrelevant, I promise not to tell you any stories.
We used to have these little get togethers at my parents house. It was a big double story house in the suburbs, with a lower half exposed storage basement thing just near the pool, out of view, under the main house, opposite side to my parents room, shielded by the servants quarters. Yes, before my father sold it all for liquor, we were rich. There was a big liquor cabinet, old French oak, well stocked. I used to pour my parents drinks before Hill Street Blues started (and in every ad break) so I knew where the key was. Side Note, by the time we got to A-Team my mother had cut back to Cola Tonic and Lemonade and my father doubled to whiskey doubles. So My friends would come over and my parents woulde that, get drinks.
By this stage, I was courting the popular. ID3 had changed name to Jack Ruby. One of the models was this coloured boy, Brian Dove. I kept inviting him to these things, he lived too far away he said. I hadn’t put together that he could not come into a white area at night.
One night, we are drinking, at school, in the dark room, we have discovered glue, someone comes up with the bright idea to go to our store room, see if we have any. Fucked out of our little heads. We collapse the shelves, my father too drunk to come out then, but from there on, whenever I have people over, he positions himself on the verandah, bottle in hand, looking for trouble.
My seventeenth birthday. I invite all the popular people over. It’s a day time thing around the pool. At the back, come down the drive, around the back steps, don’t bother about knocking. Brian can come, it being day. Before sunset, figuring other people not coming we decide to go to Melanie and Marks place and then to a movie. We leave my father on the verandah.
Brian arrives just before sunset. He pulls up with his brother, not sure of the house, which one, that is. They sit in the car and look at it, do not in the semi darkness of the veranda see my father. Brian follows my instructions. He goes down the drive way, avoids the front entrance, sees the side gate, tries it, we have bolted it, not locked, he gets it open, saunters toward the pool.
My father on the veranda sees a car pull up with two coloured youngsters. They survey the house. One of them gets out and slinks down the driveway, plainly avoiding the front of the house, going furtively around the side of the house. He calls to my mother, sends her round the back, calls the police, goes round to the side gate.
All I know is what is reported to me after. I am at Mark Collins flat, we have had a little to drink, the movie is later, we are descending into procrastination. Hours after Sunset we are about to go to the City. As we leave my father arrives with friends of his, worried for my life, carrying cricket bats. Some black bastards have tried to rob the house, and they knew my name, how did I know these people. These people. My mother is in hospital, it seems brian has slapped or punched her. Even in the court case that was to drag out, I never found out the full truth.
A year later, working in the Cape Town branch of Jack Ruby, while at film school, working with Brian Dove, we would have to take days off at the same time to fly back to Durban to attend the court case.