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.
Friday, September 4, 2009
In Standard Nine. 1988, I am expelled for Satanism. For 2 days, until my father makes a deal, makes them take me back for a caning, six of the best, then spends the evening with my grandmother’s sewing kit making me a pair of underpants padded.
I wrote an ironic essay on the basic hypocrisy of Christianity. Including local examples, the younger Religious education teacher, married, who we had spotted kissing a maths teacher by the wood work room, we thought, my cousin Terry, Christian guitarist with too much happiness for my liking at that point, some preacher caught “Fucking a Whore” as I, bad mistake, profanity, destroying my argument, put it. Early signs of my predilection for always striking to close to home. The essay was theoretical, realized then that I couldn’t hand it in, left it on my desk, someone else did for me. Early signs of self sabotage.
Let me say this now, as I have said before and said again. I know my father, my mother loved me, I know my father did, was human, struggled to express these things, none of what followed is his fault, really, really not. But then I felt the gap. Thought I had created it, acted like I didn’t care, for reasons still unknown to me.
When compiling the memories I felt I should explore it came to my recall the story of Jimmy Scabanti. Now when it comes to the moment that I must write this memory down, I find it dim around the edges. Something to do with Kevin and a fight at school, getting home late or detention, clearly it was Kevin’s fault but I could not blame him, at them moment of truth before my parents I blurted out “It was Jimmy Scabanti”, who I then proceeded to describe as an Italian boy from “the wrong side of the tracks”, Scabanti was mean, but through no fault of his own, his father had abandoned his abusive and crippled mother and so on, he was the perfect scapegoat. Soon the legend of Jimmy Scabanti grew, Kevin and I used him for any situation we need to. Dirty school clothes? Fight with Jimmy Scabanti. Out of pocket money? Bought food for the Scabanti family. Need to go to the sports club disco? Must help Jimmy with his homework and boy, is he stupid, it might take all night,
But Scabanti grew out of our control, others started to use him too, and parents do talk, soon there were conflicting reports of the nature of the Scabanti family doing the rounds and one morning after Kevin and I had been out separately and presented different Scrabanti-isms, his parents, mine and another set were talking at the local takeaway, compared notes and came home determined to finally have a talking to Jimmy Scabanti’s mother. We could not produce her. The artifice collapsed. For years afterward anytime anything couldn’t be explained, Kevin would blame it on Scabanti.
Just after Christmas, my parents are away. Amanda and I are alone in the house. I think, there may have been a party, there may have been other people, but we are in my bedroom, fumbling. It was not how it should have been, this was before the break up of course. I am poking around in her panties, feeling proud that I have finally got this far and ashamed at myself for not loving her. I feel dirty for lying and giddy with power, the contradiction in feelings puts me in an unknown, indefinable place. It’s not so much that I enjoy being caught between the two, but that I know I can never fully understand it. The feeling does not last for long, the power and lust take over momentarily and then I am flooded with shame.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
There were two girls. One I tortured myself with teen love for, one I ended up with. Let’s invoke that literary cliché and say, Let’s call them Phillipa and Amanda. They can correct me if I am wrong in doing this, saying this.
I wrote a seventy-two page poem for Phillipa, I was 16, she probably younger. I told her she could only read it in the distance, when she was twenty one. I was young, I was foolish. I fell for Phillipa, deeply, out of some literary duty to being a teen, isolated, emo in a blazer. The Smiths to blame for my unrequited love fantasy. I can’t quite recall how it happened, Phillip O was friends with a girl, or seeing a girl called Simone, or was he seeing Maxine? Anyway. Philip was in the art class with me, a surfer, wanted to be, ended up, an architect, with Maxine, I think, point is, he was cool. In that he got girls, had a crude surfers humour (Body Boarder, whatever, this distinction reduced them to nerds in the end), but was aloof and educated. Unlike Phillip Hunt, Hunt the Cunt as, I couldn’t understand, they called him, I didn’t want to be like Phillip O, I just wanted to understand what made him so attractive to women. They displayed their brand of toilet humour openly forever homoerotically, scatologically, pissing and shiting in each others board bags, vomiting, fucking each others girlfriends, getting changed together, all that crap so enhanced by my, via Morrissey, discovery of Oscar Wilde and my, via Hunt, my discovery of Genet. Lost Track.
Spring, Summer, Phillipa Green, do you like Ice Cream?
Was the first line in the long adolescent ramble, I spent nights walking the long distance hitching, cadging rides, sleeping in the park once, to just pop over, was in the area kind of visit, using the older sister, via Philip to see Phillipa. Olive skin’d little Phil, round faced beauty of an adolescent fantasy, long neck, eye lashes, sharp words, don’t even think about it attitude.
That’s it. Phillip was seeing Tracy, Simone’s friend, Maxine’s friend, carry on.
Phillipa would come out to the under 18 nights at Nello’s, I’d stand around on the edge of the crowd, looking up at Hunt, standing next to Frankie, who was looking up at Hunt, next to Pseudo, who was looking up at Frankie, next to Russell who was copying Pseudo by looking up at Frankie, in our blazers and crazy ties and socks, Goss, hovering around skirting between fashion and surf and girls, us watching the fashion, the tide of girls, only Hunt and Frankie having access, being older, Frankie maintaining an Ironic Kerouac distance, Hunt, wanting to fuck them all and Fuck them All, talking about Rimbaud and me looking at Phillipa, talking to Surfers and over eighteen guys and all this around me and desperately wanting her, desperately on the road outside the eighties neon nightclub with the dancing cages and the Stock Aitkin and Waterman, and the cars slowing down, Umbilo boys shouting insults, calling us bum boys, Hunt, saying under his breath, just because they want some, to shock us, it registering but me, holding on to my Dorian Grey, wanting little Phil. It could only end badly. I mean, I was typing out a minor work of poetry on my spectrum, with my dot matrix printer.
Phillipa had a friend, a ball of Jewish energy. Oh, did I mention that all these girls were Jewish, all my early life all friends female all girlfriends Jewish, me hankering after my supposed heritage. Ananda. I called her Amanda because I was a WASP, simple. Somehow we end up, “going out” I think I had to actually ask her to be my girlfriend before I kissed her, I just wanted to kiss her, so I asked her to be my girlfriend. Kissed her on the beachfront at night on a hill, by the Tropicana hotel (later to return to this hotel for a drug deal and binge and failure) all lit up in yellow and green neon, feeling deliriously high, wandering through the promenade crowds, holding hands and saying nothing, wandering through the hotel lobby, watching the magician slash lounge pianist, through the crowds at Basement, floating did I say, floating, in the joy of the fact that I had worked out how to kiss girls, you asked them, they would always answer, even if the question wasn’t always plain, the answer either.
Phil seemed really happy for me. Hunt thought I was mad. We were standing in the LA hotel outside the door to the main dance floor club, across from the beer garden concrete, maintaining an ironic distance, him in cowboy boots, white Levi’s, red felt blazer, corduroy waistcoat, pocket chain, black shirt, long hair, black cowboy hat bad guy style, me in brown waistcoat made from floral upholstery, suede jarmins from Grey St, red dyed jeans, white shirt, so on, both books in our pocket, actually there to check out girls we couldn’t have, but could shock by quoting obscure French poets in their oxford translations. Hunt scared people, girls, girls pitied me when I tried the same moves, Hunt fascinated me, he had been a fashion model, now working as a photographer for a new fashion magazine and a trendy shop in town called ID3 where we would all hang out and pretend to know Mark Collins the model who owned it with Glady, try talk to Melanie, the girlfriend, who I was to later develop a crush on. Drink Horlicks and Honey milkshakes in the arcade.
Standing in the LA hotel, I tell Hunt about Ananda, he plainly says to me, have you slept with her yet, no have you fucked her. I’m 16, He’s 19, maybe. I am mortified. I know I should have. He says, you better, before she discovers that you’re in love with Green. I will not describe the distance or fumbling that took place on the blue embroidered bed cover that New Year eve. The drinking of gin from belly buttons, forced romantic that would haunt me. It felt like conquest, knew in the instant after, it was defeat.
I tried to maintain the relationship with Amanda. Eventually, I think it was her who said, why don’t you just break up with me. Why do we actually have to say it, I thought, isn’t it embarrassing enough. Said, Will you break up with me? No, you need to say you’re breaking up with me. Okay, I’m breaking up with you. Little Phil was not actually horrified, more dismayed, in a kind of, I thought I’d gotten rid of him kinda way. I will spare you the details of all the crushes that came after, always Lolita obsessed, Gina, Tarryn, even though not old enough, me. Always brown or olive, tanned, dark hair. Every little fucking obsession could be an entire novel, every day. But this is not a diatribe on teen love. I am taking you somewhere. My editor promises me, this all has a final point, a resting place, a moment for reflection, a final shucking off of stories, lies, a moment of truth. Promise.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
In my early adolescence I attempt to write my first of many unfinished books. This one is based on reading too much Thom Wolfe, listening to too much The Doors and wanting to take acid badly.
The genesis of it was La Honda, Kesey’s farms name, became my hero Nathan Zeno’s hometown, near the city of Ergot, like a Smallville Metropolis relationship. Nathan Zeno was a superhero who wore green sequined flares. It was filled with Pow!’s and Ta-dah!’s of writing style and is, thank heaven, lost.
But Nathan was to follow me.
"The machine does not understand the flesh"
Seth Brundle/Brundlefly in Cronenburg's "The Fly"
You have read many poetic descriptions by now, in your life, of chemical processes. Some of photography. I cannot do that analogue magic justice. I can deride digital, but this is not the point. Film is always light, it is never broken down into numbers. This is the first thing to remember in any comparison. Film means you cannot immediately preview, so you must know what you are after. Film means you only have 12, 24 or 36 shots, per roll and that you better know what you are after. Film being chemical and always light, means that what you get will be a sum of the two added to what you thought you were after, it will always be other than what you expected and at the same time exactly what you knew you where after. Or only know now. I cannot speak to digital, it has it's own advantages, none of which I am versed in.
I am versed in silver halides and sepia tones, C41 and E6, 127 mm prime lenses and leaf shutters. I know to cross process and the colour temperatures of light, I can read f-stop off the back of my hand and rely on no metering or automatic camera adjustments. Though shooting photographs I have come to know light, but not understand it. Knowing only that it cannot be grasped, nor contained. I have come to love light and find and draw out its small motes in shadows. I can see light in the biggest of darknesses and find shadow in blinding light. I over expose, I under expose, I revel in CIBA chrome paper and gelatin prints. Long hours in labs and darkrooms talking with technicians, myself sometimes that technician, finding a particular aspect and working ways, to without disturbing that natural order of light, enhance, reveal. I can hide with light and show with light, I can ring in darkness. I can be darkness. The astringent smell of the stop bath. The girlfriend adjusting her hip in the fading sun. dew drops on my lovers navel in the morning. My fiancée’s ass in see through panties. The crackhead on the corner, the whore whose soul I trapped and paid for. Joy at festivals, despair in war, my eyes have seen it, through the eye in my camera I have seen it again, different, refracted off my brain.
Photography is not memory. It never happened quite the way a photograph sees it. In its infancy especially but also beyond, there were proponents of film that believed somehow the chemical interaction with light revealed things invisible to the naked eye onto the photographic negative. Photography was used to track ghosts, capture fairies, find under sea monsters. Photography is myth making, celebrity in all it forms. Photography is another life revealed, a heart broken is so many different ways. I learnt things about peoples souls through photography that would have not otherwise have been revealed to me.
I have been told that I "have an eye" yet myself have always believed that my choice of camera and film stock is the only decision of framing and light I can make, the camera, the light direct me, the spirit captured on the film, is a guiding force. In all my times of emotional prosperity, I was holding a camera, looking at everything refracted in different ways.
As a teen, I was a classist, an arrogant son of a bitch who believed you could tell a man, by his shoes, the cut of his clothes, I mean, you can, but not in the ways I thought. I had French Vogue's, Blitz magazines, loved fashion, Oscar Wilde, dressed and believed in the Modern Dandy and Decadence. The other was not a concern; don't know how conscious I was. Carried these things into my twenties.
As my record collection grew, so did my reputation as a teen DJ and my popularity at parties. Maybe I only ever did five or ten, but they felt like an occupation. I consulted with Gordy, the DJ at Basement, with other DJ's at other clubs on the spur of the moment. Can you see? I am acquiring a swagger.
At Basement discovered public embarrassment when I insisted Gordy play a bootleg copy of George Michael’s "Faith" video on the big screen sent to me by Fiona (I think) and the sound quality so bad that it was mere fuzz. Gordy, Tertius, all faces looking at me.
This social advancement led from 6D through Richard Power to Guy Duncan, Phillip O, The North Beach Crowd, Rod Harries, Brad Anderson, watching the boogie boarders spit on each other upstairs at North Pier my pants on embarrassingly too tight, loving The Smiths, feeling superior not being got. Andrew egging me on in TD to hit that boy with the T square constantly. That boy later hanging himself.
Masturbating to the picture of Wendy Oldfield on the Sweatband album cover, thinking that song "This Boy’s gonna get there” was about me. In all ways imaginable.
Shopping in Grey street for Blazers and Tie's trying to emulate the older boys, The Tony Goss's the Colin Frankie's and the Phillip Hunts. Having Pseudo Sutic and Russell Van der V, follow my predilection for carrying Oscar Wild books to nightclubs, Dean preferred On The Road, never went on the road, whatever. Russell and me both crushing on a girl called Kathryn, who had an older boyfriend. Afternoons in her flat, she was out of school, how did we find her? Photographing her in a stream in the Drakensburg, amazed by the black hairs on her stomach, her cat like eyes.
Fell deeply for a girl called Helene, who Russell later got, was jealous but all of these, Maxine included were mere precursors to Phillip Hunt, Phillipa Green and Brian Dove. All my misconceptions and convictions’ stem from here.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Somehow we fooled them. This was my making, essential part of my making, we had freedom unparalleled in art class at school. I am repeating here, but somehow my Art teacher, Paul Litchkus, I think used us a rebellion.
In the eighties cultural expression, dissemination of cultural expression, reading of anything outside of the expression of Calvinist values was just not allowed, actually to the point of being banned, you could be thrown in jail indeterminable for showing a child the works of P J O Rouke, and that man was a Republican chrissake.
Litchkus told us about bizarre architectural concepts, dada-ism. We threw obscure pots, made large sculptures that fooled teachers. Hermanides, Adrian. Ohlmsdahl, Philip. Botha, Brandon. Joubert, Mark. Geniuses all, that I followed, into abstract photostats of photographs degraded in strange chemicals, good for breathing and processing, film and thoughts. More than this. we were allowed to run rampant. we would file an essay on the essential art nature of all things and then dress a standard six as Cindy Crawford and parade him through the Religious Education Class. We would dress up in spools of rubber hosing and run through the school during maths class singing, “home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play.” We ended up, all our valid works in an exhibition on the value of art in schools, at the Playhouse, essentially our provincial state theatre, first taste of rock stardom.
“for we posses nothing certainly except the past”
First off, I do not wish to set myself apart, we all have exceptional childhoods, wonder-filled adolescence. This is just mine. Except I heard it told so many times, with so many different details that i wonder still sometimes what did i really do, as a teen. And further more what of my families history is to be believed. It is the slow realization that the facts don't really matter that allows me to tell you this, that will lead to me repeating myself, telling the same stories in different ways, for different reasons. My fathers was alcoholic memory loss, mine is simply that in the advance of time and through the many natural and or manufactured chemicals that have passed through my brain, I see refracted below the surface of things, many ways of remembering. Memory, the past is nothing. We do not hold onto it in any real way. These recollections of mine, will pass away. In a year from now you will only have a selective memory of what you have read, this process is more for me than you.
Here. Try this. Take the preceding page of this book. Tear it out. Now. Yes, actually do it, tear out the preceding page. Yes. Of this very book that you are holding. Take it in your thumb and forefinger and rip it from the book.
Now, fetch a match, a lighter or turn on the toaster or oven, or ask the library assistant for a match, a lighter, there that fellow crossing the parking lot. Hold up the page. Okay, Have you ripped out the page? Do you have a source of fire? Don't be shy. After all it's your book, you own it. or at least borrowed it (if you borrowed it, check the page numbers, see if any pages have been ripped out, if so, think, was the narrative interrupted, did i notice) but anyway Rip Out a Page. Get fire. Now do this, you will have to put the book down to do so so read on for a bit. You will now put the book down. Then you will hold the page aloft, set it on fire and hold it for as long as you can until you have to release it's remnants into the breeze. Yes, burn my words, I'm telling you. do it now, seriously. Put down the book, burn the page. If you're shy, burn just the title page, pick a page, any page. put down the book and burn the page, holding it aloft, letting the remnants go into the wind.
There. That is memory. does it matter that the exact sequence of events on that page are no longer accessible to you? You will be able to recount a smattering, embroider, somehow convey what you gleaned from that page, but ultimately like our lives, that memory those precise facts is just ash in the wind. this is no small relief.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
“you gave me a can of red spray paint & told me to spray 'celtic rumours' on the bridge. when we got down there, there were too many cars passing by to write out such a long name ... we did some anarchy signs (they were there for years) and went back to the church. you were so pissed that i'd let you down”
But before I was inducted into The Basement, in the trailing off of church, after Vern left I transferred my young love onto one of her friends and one of my confidants, Lauren. I transferred my confidence and friendship onto Lauren’s friend Fiona; the dark little Goth. Lauren had a friend Lisa. Soon I would transfer the crush to Fiona and the confidence to Lisa. There were hours on the phone.
Lauren was the archetypal pretty blond, except looking back on pictures from the time, she was not. But the attraction was her popularity. How did one create that from scratch? Anyway, not important, Lauren was not important; she could not even make me cry, after Vern I thought I would never cry again. Fiona was an infinite black loss that was only formed long after she was gone. She was an ache while she was around a dull thud in my pants that was totally out of sync with the fact that everything about her, according to my standards of the time should have revolted me, but didn’t. She was skinny and smoked cigarettes, pimply, somehow greasy; she was more a boy than a girl, physically and mentally. He arguments against religion and for bands like The Cure were far more convincing than anything Vern had or could thrown down, she fascinated me in the same way road kill was to later. When I visited her I preferred to sit outside, but was inexplicably drawn into the chaos of her room. She never took no shit from no one, she was cool. Beyond popular. All those boys I wanted to be in with mattered nothing around her, with them it was how many records you had, with her it was what records you had, and what songs you preferred and what did you prefer about that song. She had an obviously insular familiar childhood; she had delved into Deep Thought. Wanting her seemed absurd. Like how could she be desirable? But I wanted to see what it was like; I sensed layers of tenderness when the Laurens of the world would only yield up one happy face and no secrets. Fiona was secrets, things hidden from me by the world until then. I made black mix tapes for her and never gave them. I only knew what I had lost once it was gone, obviously.
How did I lose her. I can’t really say. She went to England with her parents, she never really came back. She was around. I saw her once or twice. But I had fucked it up before with the same lack of courage that was to dog me until I later discovered that having money was confidence (discovering this was an incremental step toward my eventual destruction). Fiona made dangerous emotions natural, she made death seem inconsequential, some how in her hard-shell sweetness she engrained in my romantic nature, into my desire to save my self for The One (There was always a The One) the underlying notion that sweetness and light was not for me, mystery, layers, Fiona introduced me to duality, I am grateful to her for opening up the doorway toward my eventual collapse, for duality is an easy way out of the complex natures of humans. But we were young, we were foolish. We didn’t know what we were thinking.
Years later when I lost my virginity. On Phillip Hunt’s bed to a fat goth. On the way from the party to the bed, I kept looking at this vacuous pile of flesh, arm out the window like a truck driver, thinking about Fiona, how unlike Fiona this was going to be. How unlike Fiona anything was.
Monday, June 29, 2009
We say that as kids we knew nothing about apartheid. But an attitude was passed down that even at the age of fifteen was confusing in that it evoked feelings of power and feelings of shame. The blacks were subhuman (only later becoming human when I saw them en masse. When I saw them bleed), they were other. Sub. Shack dwellers. I struggled to understand because they seemed human. Kind even, not like my kind. They led the horses at the hotels, The Oaks, Dragon’s peak, they cleaned the fire places. They cooked. Esme our maid was that. She inspired fear in me, was the one who had, I’ve been told changed my nappies, fed us, made us do our homework and yet she was below us. She was dismissed for theft. Later my father said that she was dismissed because he just didn’t like the look of her. We received a new maid, a “girl”, she was probably around twenty. And I taunted her.
What they fuck must she have thought? But I simply did not regard her as anything other than clockwork. We were told that she was just to cook and clean and did not have the authority Esme had had, we were told to distrust her. I thought she was quite pretty. I thought of all the westerns I had read, stories of John Smith and Pocahontas, “The Searchers”, and I was the wise benevolent white man. She would marvel at my attentions. She had to, she worked for us. I had these thoughts, I acted on them, so I could not have been ignorant of Apartheid. Maybe I didn’t understand the scope and range, but I understood that no matter what I did, if she said anything she would be dismissed, and Blacks needed jobs, right? So.
It must have lasted 2 weeks. My father had this trench coat, his dad’s from world war two. It was a heavy item and I would only wear it out to clubs in mid winter, it was a very “Alternative” accoutrement, I had a thing for embroidered badges, saved up for them, put them on my shorts. Anyway. I would go swimming down by the pool and instead of a towel I would take the trench coat. I would swim naked, masturbate furiously in the pool and then put on only the trench coat, it had a natural way of closing itself, and I had to contrive with the back cross strap to keep it ever so slightly open, so that my young erect cock would stick out. And I dripping wet, erect would go into the kitchen and make a sandwich. What I expected to achieve I cannot tell you. What was thrilling was her lack of recourse. Her total immutability, she could not afford to lose this job. I took to just coming home from school and not even bothering with the swimming. Strip, put on the trench coat, in weather that made you sweat if you thought about it, and pass through the kitchen. I don’t remember that women’s name and neither does anyone in my family, she up and left after quite a few weeks of this sexual harassment, this debasement, this fascism. Before she did that, she came across me walking down the stairs from my sisters TV room place and looking straight at my penis said something like “Why do you keep bothering me with that thing”, This was the first thing she had ever said to me. I never tried it again. But she quit anyway, she had become pregnant and although the baby was months off, my father had been instructed to get that young woman as far away from here as possible and make her sign something so she won’t come back.
It would be easy to say we voted PFP and that my parents were opposed to the whole system. To say that I knew nothing about it, that I was just a kid, but whether I was willing or not, I too lived off of the spoils of this war. My parents were never so wealthy again after Mandela came out.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Westville Methodist Church. That place has a lot to answer for. Like most churches. Anyway, it’s me that’s got to answer. It happened as I remember like this. I had, through my newspaper route, my pocket money and birthdays, accumulated at lot of records. I was going to church youth groups and the church always needed to raise money. There were boys at school who girls wanted to be around, the girls at youth group didn’t want to be around me. I wanted to be around those boys. Through Guy Duncan, I met Andrew Guilfoyle, who was popular because he had been expelled or something from another school and liked Depeche Mode, Andrew was friends with Warren Hickey, who was popular because his dad was rich and bought him lots of records from his overseas trips, records that I could not get my hands on, limited editions, coloured vinyl stuff like that, gatefolds, music magazines less than a month old (Smash Hits came in 2 months after the fact at CNA where I had a standing order along with MAD magazine, before magazines were published here, it took 2 months because they had to pass through the censor, sometimes an edition would not appear). I wanted to impress these boys, be allowed into their inner circle. I don’t know how I came to do it but I decided to throw a disco at the church recreation hall. I made a hand written sign. One. And put it up on the school notice board. I looked in the phone book found a mobile DJ booth to hire. Lights. I paid for it all. The church organised refreshments. Remember I was Fifteen (eternally fifteen it would seem, later I am eternally 28 or 32 or 25, you will see). And people came. It worked. I slowly worked my way into the circle. The other thing I had to offer was the school darkroom, I had the keys, Prefects weren’t allowed in because I might be developing, I could skip assembly because I might be developing, if anyone wanted to cut class, they hid in there, smoking cigarettes by the ventilator. Later when prefects demanded to inspect, I would say sure, but refuse to turn anything but the red safe light on. Everyone hid in the equipment cupboards, the prefects never thought to look, stumbling in the darkness. We experimented with typex thinners in the dark, all kinds of darkroom chemicals. I threw another disco. More people turned up, I split the profits with the church. bought more records. Andrew invited me to go to a club with him called The Basement, it was an under 18’s club in Durban, then far from suburban Westville, now on the same freeways it’s only fifteen minutes. I skipped youth group, lied to my mother about sleeping over somewhere and me and Andrew hitched into town. Finally I was in.
No. Omit is wrong. Condense. These are not all my true experiences. Not what really happened. That is incommunicable. I can give you remembered shards. Like the list that stretches below. The rest of this book. Now it is a list, later it will be paragraphs, parts. And there are certain memories that I will blend two into one to communicate an emotional truth, maybe I’m rushing this, so much to cover, but when you read it too, you will rush, skipping words, bits, here and then. So maybe try this. I will give you a phrase. Consider it, consider everything that had to come together to make that phrase. His first pet. What kind of pet was it. Who chose it. Where. How. How did he receive it. Who was he. Who is he now. Is he still he, is he she, is he dead. The pet being the first, implying others must be dead. Buried where. But that is after think of the before. How did he receive it. In a box. Bounding out the car. In a cage. With joy. With sadness. I had a hamster, called Hammy, it lived with another hamster whose name I forgot and anyway died. Later when we discovered that Hammy was pregnant, we rename her, Mother Hamster. Mother Hamster got cancer or a tumor and died, after we had given the babies away. I was at someone’s house, my mother picked me up, driving me home told me that Mother Hamster had died, I knew she’s had him killed. I recall her telling me this on the street where she had once run over a cyclist who had darted into the road. All I ask is that knowing these memories are amalgamations, you consider them. Occasionally while you skip through my life like so much television.
(I am singing now to some unnamed entity. It might be a girl, a bungie jump or a god.)
So then. When I got to the basement it blew my little mind wide open. Well partially open. There was a huge queue which I had to stand in. Andrew said wait here and disappeared. I waited. Hickey and Andrew walked past me and went inside. It took me another 30 minutes to get in and pay the ten or twenty rond. An there was this cavern so different from the mass in the rec hall, but so much the same full of people. But darker, more adult.
I was young and my time at the basement was a blur and a backdrop, soon we were moving on to Play @ C.A.W., Nello’s, Ronnie’s (if we had fake I.D.’s) and spasms, where through Depeche mode and New Order I discovered, dance music.
Somehow I ended up working as a barman there and at this point I’d never kissed a girl. It was an under 18’s club so no alcohol. But I kept some in a fridge in the storeroom, for the Boss, Tertius, occasionally I’d bring in extra and sell them, under the counter, to Andrew and Warren. I wanted to impress them. Tertius was short and fat and wonderful, friendly funny and with a mean temper. I had played DJ at the church thing, so DJ was where I was aiming then, I started to lend Gordy the resident DJ some of my best new music.
Eventually once my mom accepted that I was obviously not sleeping out at friend’s places if I got home at 4 in the morning. After the basement me and Andrew and some other would go elsewhere, Like Play, at community arts workshop, a Goth alternative thing that played way better music than The Basement. Sometimes it was Nello’s. By that stage I had met Tony Goss and Colin Frankie. Tony was our age and hung out with the north beach crowd a vulgar lot that I wanted desperately to be accepted by. Colin was out of school and a male model. He was well dressed. A trendy he was called, I aspired to that, I started to care about how I looked, dress up, carry a copy of “Dorian Gray” in my back pocket. There were other Russell van der Westerhuzen had the same aspirations, Basil, their friend Dean. And while Russell and Dean and I hung out under Colin and Tony’s shadow, there was something Genuine about Russ, something distinctly pseudo about Dean Sutic.
Colin Frankie had been shot for the clothing catalogues for a local shop called I.D.3. The photographer was Phillip Hunt. They all dressed incredible well and I wanted to be just like them, I started to invest more money in clothes, spend more time reading Vogues than books, as I was leaning photography at school I was discovering fashion and fashion photography, Phillip was a working Fashion photographer, six foot something, skinny, dressed like a cowboy on acid. Here, I thought, was a teacher.
But that was later. It got to the point where my mother couldn’t stop me going out, so she insisted she pick me up. In that embarrassed teenage way, I always had her meet me round the corner. On one of the first or second nights of this, she parked up the road and to my teenage embarrassment, we had to drive past the club, everyone outside as it was closing time. There had been this girl earlier talking to me, Michelle, and someone this had offended this guy, who I’d never seen before. As the car rolled slowly past the club, he gave me the finger. Instinctively I reacted, quickly pumping rolling down the window shouted, “Yeah, well go fuck yourself too”, or something like that, I then turned to my mother and said, “Sorry about that.”
The following Friday as I arrived at The Basement, Michelle was standing there, and there was this guy. Andrew was standing off somewhere out of sight and this guy comes up to me, giving me the whole "that’s my girlfriend speech". I didn’t have anything to say. Then the fucker slapped me. Hard. And I knew from experience, from being a fat nerd, to not move. He screamed some more and hit me again. I shrugged and walked off, to go down into the club, leaving him screaming after me, it happened like in a dream. And Michelle followed me down.
That night, I kissed my first girl, with tongue, to Cinema’s “My Kind of Girl”, on the dance floor. Gordy stopped the music and Andrew and warren applauded. Seriously. I felt like I had arrived. I worked in a hip nightclub, I had “won” a fight, the cool guys liked me and I had a girlfriend.
Later that night Warren bought me a beer, I grabbed it and drank lustily. It wasn’t beer, Warren and The North Beach guys had filled the bottle with piss.
Then I discovered that everyone had fucked Michelle, I realized the clapping had been ironic. And she wouldn’t leave me alone, then she told me that she was 23 and I was her boyfriend now, so I mustn’t talk to other girls. And most of my real friends were girls. I left the club that night with a gnawing sense of horror; I was to report to Michelle’s house the next afternoon, to meet her brothers.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Photography. It began as an accident. Like this. Remember the me being a nerd stuff. Well in the school system in standard 7 you have to choose your subjects for your last three years. I’d had an I.Q. test and was meant to be a genius but already for std 7 I’d opted out of Latin, for accountancy, which meant I wasn’t going to be a lawyer. That was fine with my Dad, he wanted for me to take over the family business, which was his little building company, ManRodge Enterprises (Get it Mandy and Roger, he even had this silly brass plaque in front of the house in Westville. Have I told you about the house? We had big avo tree, my dad made me climb it and then go up and down the street giving the avo’s away to the neighbors. My dad would bring shit home, like you know, appliances and if we asked where he got it he would say “I acquired it”, my mom said it was a bad example and when I acquired some chocolates from Johnny’s tea room, my dad didn’t see the humour when I said just that to the arresting officer. Then in Standard seven I met Guy Duncan. 7D. Guy introduced me to typex thinners. What I’m trying to tell you was that without knowing it, I was whittling down my options. So by the time it came to choose, I ended up with English, Afrikaans, Math, Science (wiz bang, not biology), History (real enlightening in 80’s South Africa) and Art. Art you only took if you were gifted or just not bright enough for other subjects. Somehow from being a genius in Std 6A I was down to not very bright and in 8G. I had some trouble with drawing, painting, sculpture, pottery and everything else. Luckily two things happened. I took a photograph of Kevin at band practice and because I couldn’t draw I traced it. It looked okay but my Art Teacher Mr. Litchkus saw right through me. And the second thing was he got the school to reopen the old darkroom and convinced someone that Photography was acceptable as Art; I didn’t have to paint or do ceramics. He also introduced me to the drawings of the expressionists and told me that drawing wasn’t reproduction, nor was photography, it was interpretation. That man saved my life. My whole life. He gave me a path. A path away from having to take over the family business. I owe that man everything good that ever happened to me because of the craft he taught me, everything bad that came out of that craft, came out of me.
Mr. Stokes my English teacher filled in the gaps one sunny Std 7g afternoon when he read “ode to a Grecian urn”. Truth is beauty and Beauty is truth. I bought my first camera with proceeds from the mobile disco I was running. Oh yes, the mobile disco. Blame the Church, blame Vern, blame my desperate desire to be cool, to have an audience, again I must take a step backward.
About the family business, my Jewish-ness and all that. I’ll tell you what my father told me one day after watching the Jazz Singer (Neil Diamond version) on VHS together. While he cried he said that’s me, that’s what my dad did to me. Referring to the scene when Larry Olivier rips his shirt and says you’re no son of mine. My mother says the following is untrue; my sister while never hearing my version of what I was told swears that it is true in essence. Maybe it was just a good story. My father’s dad owned a construction company. My father wanted to run it, he was the second born. He was given a hardware store instead. Musgrave garden and Hardware (My mother in her wisdom opened a branch of a building society inside the store, this was before ATM’S and when building societies were basically another name for banks. This was clever, it was like putting an ATM inside a Mica hardware store, her whole career and ability to make money and support my father through his alcoholism stemmed from this smart move) however was badly run, my father let out too much on credit, blamed the lack of good parking spots and generally sulked because he didn’t have the construction company. I remember the overwhelming stench of new rubber dustbins, some reason it made me retch every time I walked past that section, I had to walk past them to see my mom. So they hardware store went bankrupt, my mother was hired by another branch of the building society, my dad was thrown out of the family (according to him, “My father ripped his shirt”,) and suddenly we were Methodists. My father started his own little building company, which he expected me to join him in a soon as I finished school. But the company was failing before I hit standard 9. My dad had already taken to drink. Did I tell you that he built the house in Westville himself, well, with black labour, who didn’t really exist, there being no black people in the country at the time, so “with my own hands I built this house before you were born”, he showed me a picture of him pointing to a wall while two black men looked at him. “If there had just been proper parking, we wouldn’t have lost the store and you would have had a bar mitzvah instead of becoming a Methodist” he said while Neil Diamond sang “Love on the Rocks”. I embroider, but you get the picture.
“I think the difference between a lie and a story is that a story utilizes the trappings and appearance of truth for the interest of the listener as well as of the teller. A story has in it neither gain nor loss. But a lie is a device for profit or escape. I suppose if that definition is strictly held to, then a writer of stories is a liar – if he is financially fortunate”
John Steinbeck –East of Eden
Invariably things will be left out. Like how I feel about Christmas. Like how I used to save ants from the swimming pool, but had to throw them in first so they could be saved. Stuff like my scrap book of silly renames, like Hark Maris for the water boatmen in our pool after “The Man From Atlantis”. Why so much water? I was in the A swimming team in senior primary. My dad told me I had to give it up because of the one lung situation. I bought it. It bought me more time at the library. I was a latchkey kid. I’d save my bus fare and walk home from school and put the money toward more records. Before birthdays I’d find where my parents had put the wrapped gifts, mostly vinyl or ZX spectrum game tapes. I’d remove the record or tape from its sleeve cover put in some older thing and play the record to death, tape it or copy the game and then when I got the gift on the day of my birthday, I’d hitch into town to the record store, (what was it called? Moola’s was in JHB right?) and swap it out for something new. I loved diving to bottom of my pool holding my breath until my lungs were bursting. Later I loved skinny dipping in the afternoon alone, knowing that our pool was not only in full view of at least three neighbors houses but also that the maid (the domestic, y’know?) could see. I would walk down to the pool in a towel, wait until I could see her at the kitchen window and drop my towel, parade around for a bit, jump in and masturbate under water furiously. Something that is not that easy in cold water, sometimes I’d swim along the bottom of the pool, scraping my erect young penis against the bottom of the pool until it bled. I was fascinated by the form my ejaculate took on in the water, floating and swimming like organic streamers in a high wind. Like I say, there are something’s I won’t tell you. Details that I will omit.
When my dad started falling apart. I mean when I realized that it had happened and I was able to trace back in my mind to time he was a different person. When I was twenty eight and concerned only with my glamorous life, and he would phone pleading for me to tell my mother to take him back, then. I tried to ignore it. I ignored it in my mother too. I offered platitudes and solutions I didn’t believe in. By then Paul was already dead, so was Jeremy and Julie. Alan. Shit, who else? I can’t place them, I’ll get to that. The thing is I should have seen the signs or maybe I saw the signs and thought that it was too late. Maybe it was too late. I would bump into people when I traveled to Joburg or people down from Durban or sitting up late on cocaine with someone who I’d been at school with and they’d say “How’s your dad doin’ and before I could answer they’d turn around pass the joint and say something like, “Roger’s dad was such a card”, or “Your dad gave me my first whiskey” or “His dad was always telling the same jokes”. I noticed that people didn’t ask much about my mother, probably because he subjugated her totally, reduced her to a cipher, the wife, the good wife. She was a good wife. She supported our family, once he no longer had the hardware store and his own little building company was gone, his work was sporadic, my mother was the only stable thing about my dad and he faded her into the background, maybe because he couldn’t face the fact that, as a man, he needed to be stabilized, looked after. It was only late at night, sometimes, some girl would say to me, if I cooked for her or did some domestic thing, “Are you close to your mother?”, Yes, always yes was the answer, but it’s not the truth, I’ve only become close to her since his death. No, since I have crossed the mountain that the slow moving continental sneaking fucking plate of his obvious inevitable death pushed up. Fuck. Sorry. Only since I got over that, I’ve been able to get close to her, I had to be him for a little while, still obviously am. He was a weak man. And everybody who never saw him later remembers him as this larger than life, generous, laughing, caring man. And maybe that’s how he started out, but that’s not how he ended up. And people would say to me then, after I’d been on the phone with him, making suggestions (Once I tried to convince him to seek out the Hare Krishna’s, thinking he could find some solace, so wisdom that would fix him in their temple and he said, “Those bloody choots who wear orange?”. He was an equal opportunity bigot) and I would ended up high somewhere and somebody from Durban would say to me, “How’s your Dad doing.”, and I say, “Oh you know Colin Young, same old hustler”, and they’d say, “Yeah, that man, he gave me the first puff of a cigarette”, and I’d nod and make another line for everyone.
I remember two things. He took me to a building site, he was building a house for someone, and gave me the one-day-this-will-all-be-yours speech and I told him I was going to be a photographer, never a builder and he just didn't hear me. He never even came to my matric exhibition; my mother bought me my cameras. And two, when the fax came through from the film school that I had been accepted and I was so happy all he could say was, “It’s not too late could try start the building company up again.” And three, when I came home after working on a feature as a coordinator for eight months, exhausted, flush with cash, with my shiny new imported apple laptop that had cost seventeen grand and nearly eighty in savings, when he was unemployed and my mother was making about eight a month, he took me aside and said, “When are you going to get a real job?”. And look here, now, dead for all these years and I’m still trying to make him see me.
I think about songs recorded long ago, imagine someone like Woody Guthrie or Robert Johnson or some forgotten orchestra or man in white hat, cane, striped jacket, the music recorded directly onto wax cylinders, fragile, tinny, later transferred to Bakelite, then years later remastered to magnetic tape, made bolder, rerecorded by others, added instruments, new voices, to a different tape, then to vinyl or other tape, remixed, and then to magnetic disk and then optical disk and now existing fragmented in different hard drives around the planet, spread out mutated, possible to bring together through the wires, emerging from the ether through these speakers, tinny and grave, the history of the recorded song like a life. Must I really draw out the parallels.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Often you have heard that advice is a form of nostalgia. But this book is nothing but advice cloaked in nostalgia. There are no good writers only writers that have discipline and good editors.
My hard memories, the unpleasant the embarrassing are easy to write. The pain still fresh. For the last ten days I’ve been struggling to start writing this memory. The sentence…
Kevin Lived across the road and down one.
…has been sitting on the screen for hours, while I have attended to other menial writing tasks, reviewing this. Opinioning on that. Following it is...
(A vague memory of Malcolm’s mugging and star wars toys)
… I am trying to recall completely as a relatable story a happy time, a golden time in my teen years. Yet the more I plow into this collection of recollections I realize that the happy moments are long vague blurs and feelings. No distinct events stick out. The above bracketed I can tell as a brief story. The time with Kevin and the band is a long hazy happy blur. But let me try. I call myself a writer. Let me man up, have discipline. Let me hope for a good editor.
I’ll take the slow road the easy way. A vague memory of Malcolm’s mugging and Star War’s Toy’s. Carol and her brother Lyndon lived across the road. He was weedy and red haired, the thinness of his hair makes me think this pallid boy must be bald by now. His sister Carol (Do not mistake her with Carol Anne, Kevin’s sister, who lived next door to them, down one across the road from me), She was winnowy and red haired and freckled and googley eyed and funny jawed and I fantasized about her only when I was hit with the reality that none of my other fantasies would ever come true (When I realized these fantasies wouldn’t come true I fantasized once about my sister, and even once or twice about the young version of my mother in a photograph I found in my fathers bedside cupboard, but maybe that’s also because I knew that’s where he kept his playboys, banned in the country at the time so doubly rare. I knew about banning, often wondered why Hunter Thompson wasn’t, anyway those are the least off my depravities, you will learn this)
Two recollections. Whenever I fell out with William or Kevin wasn’t around (This is after Karen’s family had moved) I would go to Carol and Lyndon’s house (Why were neither of their parents hair red?) and we would play in the big side yard, climb tree’s and I would envy Lyndon’s Star Wars toys that had brought with them from England (why had they emigrated to South Africa, their father transferred here, how horrid). The Eurhythmics, There Must Be An Angel was a favorite song, I dedicated it to Lyndon one morning on the radio, because he dared me to. It took me years to figure out why my sister and Carol giggled so when it happened, Lyndon taped the dedication and played it back, just the dedication. It shamed me somehow and I snuck into his room one afternoon while they were in the tree, faking needing the bathroom and erased the tape. He never mentioned it again.
Malcolm was mugged. On the beachfront. In a parking lot. Beaten badly for his wallet. The more I think about it the more it doesn’t make sense. Was he beaten for being white? For his money or being British… I will never know. But he came home from hospital and was bedridden; we were all filed in by my father to look at the bruised swollen once vital man lying bandaged and breathless in his own bed. The first time we had been allowed into those parents room. He was in the centre of the bed (did he move over at night for his wife to get in?) and he mumbled. Kevin was there and tried to speak with him but his lips were swollen, just looking at him you could feel the violence, the house was horrid quiet. I went into Lyndon’s room and played with his Star Wars toy’s. Once of them had a button, if you pressed it it reeled off a quote from the movie, a storm trooper, brusque electronic, loud. Kevin rushed into the room, grabbed the toy from me and scolded me. For disturbing Malcolm, couldn’t I see? I didn’t want to.
After the mugging, after the healing they went away on holiday. But somehow their house had become infected with fleas. My dad knew the solution and as we were watching the house, he set about driving the fleas out with branches of syringa trees. We collected hundreds and covered the couches, the beds, the floor where we sat and played Atari (what was it with that wood paneling on that plastic machine) and the house was a quiet jungle grove. With fleas. Hollowed out by Malcolm’s pain, funereal in the smell of decaying leaves. The mad panic to remove them when they were on their way home. We never told them about those leaves, because when they came back, with their dogs, the fleas returned. But I knew a secret about their house that they did not. Once it had been covered with leaves.
Kevin lived across the road and down one and was a year ahead of me in school. He had his own drum kit. We watched “My Bloody Valentine” on 16mm, as I was the projectionist at the library, I was the projectionist at my house, at Kevin’s, at anywhere in the neighborhood (My father was becoming unreliable, he had let a whole reel of a Bud Spencer & Terence Hill movie pour out of the projector in our upstairs room and spill down the stairs). That was when I noticed Kevin was growing apart from our little gang. He wasn’t the same guy who had put a nail in my sister’s head accidentally and lectured against girls. He was unusually diligent in decorating the garage because he was having people over, Carol Anne wasn’t allowed to attend. After band practice, we packed down the drum kit (How did he get that band together in the first place?) and decorated the garage. I was allowed to be there to operate the projector but once the movie was over I was to go home. There would be girls there. Once the movie ended I made myself useful changing records. Watching everyone get drunk on cheap punch and making out clumsily.
Because I had a computer and Kevin only a typewriter, it was more convenient for him to write the lyrics down for his band “EMPIRE RAGE” at my place. He was obsessed with Jim Kerr of the Simple Minds and thought U2 was a flash in the pan. But he copied Bono’s strut from the Sunday Bloody Sunday video, especially the New Years Day bit. This, him dictating, me typing and printing the lyrics led to my first intimacies with the making of music. I even tried to write a song, a hopeless pastiche of a Simple Minds number that I can’t remember, eventually Kevin was kind enough to include some of my lyrics in a verse of the some that became their second and less popular single. We slaved over that ZX 48k and that dot matrix printer. I started to attend band practices at Kevin’s place and then as the band grew, at a church in Pinetown on Saturday’s. I carried equipment and played with levels. I noticed when the girlfriends came to watch, their rapt fascination. I’m not sure if Kevin’s Wendy had arrived on the scene yet, but there were always girls. I wanted there to be girls that felt about me the way these girls felt about the band. The music was very average but I didn’t know it at that age. All I saw was the power of it.
The band had played once or twice before, but one afternoon it was renamed. In the same way I stole the rhythm of the Cure’s Japanese Whispers to make The Celtic Rumours, the same way I stole a piece of Simple Minds song to try make one of my own (I was embarrassed when Kevin spotted it), I have been stealing bits of style and tumbling phrases ever since. I am not a writer, I am thief. I have no problem with this. I’ve, since that moment when the band played on my parents veranda to a bunch of our friends, when Kevin thanked me from stage and everyone applauded, I’ve been prepared to do anything to win public approval, including discard actual singular approval from those I love and care about. I mean if they love me they’ll forgive my errors right? The public however is unforgiving. I knew that, but was to find out just how unforgiving later, when I thought that the people around me were my friends, when I didn’t realise that my whole life was a performance and everybody was my public. Soaking up the public approval then, I started transforming into the dancing monkey. I started tuning up to sing for my supper. I still do. I am right now.
I digress. Life with the band was great my duties were adulation and keeping Wendy away from band practice. And phoning Phil Wright and Barney Simon in a variety of different voices to request that they try hear the Celtic Rumours. This was in the days when, if a band was new, they couldn’t just record and put their music online. There was no online. I was prepping the DJ’s for the day when The Celtic Rumours demo was posted (yes ordinary in a brown paper bag with string and sealing wax post) to them. We phoned newspapers and created buzz, I was 14, I was a publicity machine. Phil Wright got the cassette tape, a Sony d90 with four songs on it. I had shortened the length of the tape so it was 2 songs per side, publicity machine, ensuring no silence, and he played it on air. Gigs followed. Kevin thanked me less and less from stage. After nearly 2 years of faithfulness Kevin matriculated and I was still stuck in school. That December we went to Johannesburg. I bought Smiths 12 inches in Small Street Mall, it was 1988, it was very hip and bohemian. The band played at the Thunderdome. Fifteen years later I lived in the Thunderdome as a homeless person, on the remnants of the stage, and I cried for the lost glory of that night.
We drove up to Joburg, it was the furtherest I’d ever been from home. I don’t remember where we stayed, I just remember the dressing room, meeting No Friends Of Harry and Phil Wright saying to me, “So you’re the kid that keeps phoning us and putting on funny voices”. It was heaven. Sure they were a support act, sure there were only 12 people on the dance floor, I was a one man mosh pit. With short hair and a New Romantic fringe.
Before I continue remember there are many days in a week and events happen in minutes not hours. I had other lives going on, even now as I separate them out for the telling I know they cannot be truly separated, although I have for all these years.
It was after the gig that I remember Kevin telling me that the band was going on tour. That because I was still in school I couldn’t come, that they had gotten themselves professional management, that they’d signed a record deal, that they had discarded me. It took a while for it to sink in. I wasn’t even considered to take the album cover photograph (And at that age in Standard 9 I was already an exhibited photographer) and it would be the first time that not being mentioned in the credits planted a seed of rage and revenge. Somehow this and my success as a DJ made me realise that I could no longer ride on other people’s fame. I could learn from them, like I was learning from Colin Frankie and Tony Goss how to dress and be a trendy, but my fame, my public I would have to create. I do not remember the ride home.
Friday, April 3, 2009
Vern Field and her audacious love of god and desire for purity was no match for my cousin Trevor’s insistence. My insistence that I had loved her at first sight and had seen her first seemed only to spur Trevor's interest. Vern was fascinated by his bad boyness, this is how we began our long telephone calls, she would phone me to find out about Trevor, but the calls would go on, for hours, we talked about everything, I read to her from my latest literary discoveries, there was no end to my want. Even when Trevor and Vern started going out, the phone calls continued, Trevor didn’t like me speaking to his girlfriend all the time, I couldn’t help myself, our phone calls and meetings became more and more clandestine, fleeting. Vern had a friend at youth group called Lauren, I took to phoning Lauren, to talk about Vern, in a slow weaning, a musical chairs that would I would follow the rest of my life, my affections began to shift. There was something in Vern’s slow undoing by Trevor, his confessions of how far they had gone, me talking to her, her hinting at how far, me knowing, that became sordid and somehow deeply satisfying. “I” would never have treated her this way, “I” was good, Trevor bad, Vern was slowly being taken over by an evil force, she became less attractive. And she pitied me, tried desperately to find someone else for me to pour my nascent love out onto, she had a friend, whose name I do not remember, that she pushed me toward, in my rebellion my embryonic hatred of her purity, her Christianity and its easy corruption, I found myself latching onto Lauren, Vern pitied me more. I stopped finding, excuses to go around, “Vern is going to teach me piano” or guitar or whatever, and started lusting after Lauren. But as the relationship shifted, I needed a new confidant and I found it in Fiona, the musical chairs shifted, Vern lost her seat.
And then I learnt that Vern was going to move to New Zealand. Lots of families were moving away, I never grasped the reason then. Somehow, I got real desperate, I needed affirmation, I began to discover, then, perhaps 15 by now, already sneaking out to nightclubs, trying to buy favor with the cooler boys, my ability to slowly coerce. 15 years later, the raw power of this ability was to render me impotent, but then I became fascinated with the slow torture of Vern. Of turning her on to her wrongs, to (before she left) bringing her to full Christian confusion. The details are scanty in my head, but after she had admitted to me that she had “done it” with Trevor, that it hadn’t been that nice, I turned the screws, phone calls and then bouts of ignoring her. Quoting the bible and telling her that Jesus would forgive her if she repented and left Trevor.
One night, two nights before she left, we went to a movie, probably “Young Sherlock Holmes” or some such derivative speilbergian crap that I was into then, and afterwards while we waited for her parents to pick her up, I twisted, she broke, we kissed, she cried, confused, she said some things that she probably didn’t mean, but they were enough. I was vindicated, I had conquered. The next day Trevor phoned me, he didn’t understand why his girlfriend was refusing to see him before she left. I felt that power keenly, that memory is very clear. Sitting on the wooden phone bench in the cool dark afternoon passage at my childhood home, alone, I put down the phone and did not know whether to laugh or cry, but none came naturally, just a feeling of being stunned of not fully knowing what I had been a part of, yet somehow knowing, in the core of me, that I had won something, that I no longer needed to fight for her.
Her letters from New Zealand, I replied to for a while, but her acquiesion to Christ and the Church the moment she got there, her constant chiding that I give my heart to Jesus, (Oh since then how many times I’ve recited the sinners payer, take me sweet Jesus, with fingers crossed). Well, I no longer needed to pretend for Vern. I had other things to concentrate on, she just inspired boredom. At Youth group I needed for them to believe in my commitment to the Lord, by then I had another purpose for them growing in my mind and I needed Jesus to be my patsy. I wanted to be popular. Like my sister was popular, I wanted to be invited to the nightclubs, not sneak my way in. And with my record collections, my subconscious machinations began.
Let me paint a picture with a thousand words. Count them. I grew up in a really big house. In part of my suburb that wasn’t considered rich. I didn’t have a lot of pocket money, but my parents indulged every whim. From guitars to BMX’s to film playback toys and view masters. Surrounded by bits of antique bric a braq from various great grand this or that’s. The subtle insinuations of lost honour and a huge lounge with a marble fireplace. Domestic staff and a top lawn a front lawn, a back lawn, a bottom lawn, a swimming pool, a greenhouse, a giant avocado tree and a vegetable garden/orchard, a shed, servants quarters, a separate TV room for my sister and I, my parents TV room had it’s own bar. As well as the liquor cabinet in the formal lounge. Yet apart from having to climb the avo tree to pick the fruit to then go and give away to the neighbors, I really only have, as memories or my parents, my mother driving me to school, my father taking me to his building sites and telling me how one day all this would be mine and together we would beat the competition, that is, his dad’s building company. They gave me complete freedom. Unabandoned freedom. Or more like abandoned freedom. To roam the nature reserve, the other kids houses. All that. But ours was the biggest on the block. At school I had no status, in the neighborhood, I did. Every evening, even though the TV in our TV room was bigger me and my sister would sit in the bar/TV room with my parents, I would watch the TV I wanted and every ad break pour my dad another drink. When he fell asleep, my mom would send us upstairs to the second floor to watch TV, while she smuggled him to their mauve bedroom. The only time I ever watched TV on my own upstairs was Saturday nights when my sister was out with her boyfriends. I’d shut the concertina Formica door at the top of the stairs and masturbate to the Solid Gold Dancers. Dizzy from the experience, knowing it was about the time my mom was shuffling my dad to bed, I’d put on Depeche Mode’s Broken frame or Duran’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger and dress in my sister’s underwear. Sometimes if my sister was getting home late, I’d sneak out into the suburban roads dressed in her training bra and panties, and spill my seed in various neighbor’s driveways. In one driveway in particular, as a voodoo charm to make the girl who lived their desire me. Not love me. I wanted raw sexual lust. It was an escape from all the other shit I had going on with girls. At home I had all the toys, all the privacy, all the power. At school, in Standard Six, I was a chubby nerd. I had chubby nerd friends and I desperately wanted to be cool, like my sister was cool. And all the cool kids had the best record collections, snuck out to discos. So I wanted that, so I always chose 2 records every time I went to Moola’s, one for me and one to impress them.
In Standard Seven, a church youth group regular, slipped from 6A to 7D because I chose art over Latin, I met Guy D. who introduced me to the coolest kids, Warren H. and Andrew G. The same Andrew who had slapped me for saying spastic 2 years earlier. It was my chance to become cool. I tried to figure out how to deliver. And the church youth group provided the perfect cover, as was to become pattern, all the precursors were becoming beacons and the pieces begun to slip into place.
Bugger, only 640 words, I told you I’d lie. But how about I make it up to you later?
“If your treat a man as he is, then he will be as he is, If you treat a man as he could be, he will become what could be.”- Goethe
Let’s start here, I am a charity case, I survive through the kindness of family and strangers (and a mysterious other force, call it third) . The dancing monkey at the cocktail party, I am bought out to show off other people’s kindness. I wouldn’t survive if it weren’t for X. Y has helped me so much. I’m so grateful, for the cheap rent, the food, the money I have to pay back. And yes I pay for all these things by being the dancing monkey, I constantly have to relive my downfalls, and the only way to do this is to quickly highlight, but never linger on my successes. It is perverse. To constantly remind me and place me constantly in the context of someone who used to live on the street in a cardboard box. I am no longer that person, no more than I am still the child who sought to impress with an extensive record collection. But with words I can be that and words travel, words have power, words shape other people’s perceptions of you. And what are we, if we exist in this world of people, other than the sum total of other people’s perceptions. Even if you are your own man, it is because you are perceived thus, the only option other, is solitude, divorce form the world. When I strike my hand upon a surface, I feel the material weight of my hand and the surface, I am therefore of this world and will therefore experience this world. This has always been my philosophy.
I always thought 10 months of no sleep would be the price, not chubbiness, bugger. I sit here. Rid of the desire. Feeling healthy in mind, but feeling the price I have paid in my body, and now this, chubbiness, jeans so tight as to cause striations on my hip skin. Enough of me. I will now try and bind your life to mine with music.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Divertimento – The Now
What fresh hell is this? There is nothing more gut wrenching than those first weeks off of smack, the pull of sheer habit, the boredom. Then sinks in the realization that you HAVE burnt all your bridges and you are going to have to build yourself up. Then comes the building up, the crappy jobs, the blows to your self esteem, these that you must endure, the fake promises, the constant smashing of hope. If you weren’t a Junkie before, the process of rebuilding your life after being one would turn you into one. People are only in it for themselves, no matter what they say, and they will protect their small castles with a vile vengeful self righteousness that shows that not only are people not will to teach a man to fish (or even to try grasp what that means) but unwilling to even let him see a fish.
There is nothing more gut wrenching, then the months of boredom that follows, the constant pushing that you must get real, get a real job, that you blew it and must give up on your dreams. Then why not be a junkie if I can’t have dreams. No wonder there are so many relapses. What I want is simple help. What I get is the constant pulling of being people’s plaything, that help comes with a condition. That, no, if you’re going to pay your rent late you can’t stay home and work on your book you must come out with me. Because I paid for your food this week, you cannot go to that shoot and earn money you must sit and listen to me complain about my girlfriend. It goes on. Help offered always comes with a price, the real help you need, no one will give it to you. You have to resort to Junkie tactics to get it, which brings you back into the Junkie mentality, which brings you closer to relapse. Which justifies everyone not helping you in the first place.
I am in a bar, filled with Characters out of the Simpsons’, girls with no chins, but not yellow, yellow boys with hair that’ll make a rehab counselor relapse. Do they know they’ve danced to the same song twice in the last half hour, do they know this track’s melodic structure is a rip off of an early nineties hit. Why must they tell me that they love Enrique Eglasias? A mixture of the very young and the very old all in common in their desperation, their manipulated tattiness. What ever it is you’re looking for it isn’t here. Said more to myself than to anyone else. Something about the music’s bangin’ness is akin to listening to Brahms on a 70’s car radio. Every one of these stalking mask wearing freaks should be put out of their misery, starting with the D.J and his over enthusiastically dancing girlfriend. Including myself as I lean against the bar, interrupting the waitresses celebration of a big tip by asking her for similes of desperation.
Part the Second
13yrs to 17yrs > 1985 to 1989
Born June 11th, 1972, I am a solid Gemini, diagnosed Bi-polar countless times, told by my father, I could not write because I was missing bones, short of breath because I only had one lung (knew this to be untrue but convinced myself to prevent myself ever taking up the vile habit of smoking), I have always been aware of the dual nature of man. The truth and the Lies, the good and the evil, but now looking back, become who I have, I must confess this. Firstly that if something created us, it is greater than us and therefore pointless to contemplate, but surely beyond man’s petty good and evil, which means we must be capable of at least trying to be beyond that. I for one dwell in two worlds still and side by side, yet constantly striving. On one hand to be pure and innocent and on the other to be moral (by my own inner compass) and knowledgeable (for one can never strive toward wisdom, only earn it for oneself, it in itself being unteachble untransmutable), and to be these things innocent and trusting in my own compass, constantly every day, to never lose sight of the past but to never be bitter or regret, this is of course impossible, I am human, less than perfect, and somehow because so, am perfect. All our adolescences are the loss of innocence, some times I scream out across the void to my little unformed self, wishing I had the depth of experience to look after him better back then, but there is no reply, only constant echoes.
“Cant really remember anything more opinionated - we were all quite sweet really.
I have a couple of old photos of Roger, aged 15 or so, wearing a baby-blue cardigan and white, school regulation, PE shorts with a large VHS video tape stuffed in one of the pockets. I don't actually remember this dress sense - just that he was eccentric. Roger was Kevin's overly-enthusiastic friend next door, and the band's first unofficial manager.
It was during one of the strategy meetings over at his place that Roger blurted out the name 'Celtic Rumours'. We'd decided that 'Empire Rage' wasn't quite cool enough, and that The Cure's song 'Japanese Whispers', with its elusive romanticism, had what we were looking for.
He also organised the band's launch party and first official gig on the veranda of his folk’s house for a bunch of our school friends. We felt like kings. Our dreams were big back then and Roger was right there with us.”
Ross Campbell, Celtic Rumours Drummer #1 (or #2)
“i don't remember our first meeting.
it must've been late '86. my parents were super strict and i wasn't allowed out, but eventually they let me go along to that church youth group with some girls from school. it was never about church, it was always about the unchaperoned time after our parents dropped us off, and before they picked us up. we made prank phone calls from the payphone downstairs, and learnt to smoke in a doorway round the corner.
somewhere along the way there was 'some guy' who knew and liked the same bands that i did.
the cure. the housemartins. the smiths. the the.
we'd mess about and talk during ...whatever youth group was supposed to be about. i thought you were funny and cool and creative.
at some point, you had to join the older kids in a different group and i didn't get to play with you any more. i stopped going apart from when they would have those discos.
at some point, you started phoning me.
i don't know which came first.
we used to spend hours on the phone. literally hours.
sometimes we'd meet when i got off the school bus near boys high.
sometimes your dad would bring you to my house.
but mostly we just talked on the phone.
we used to read smash hits for the retarded funny stuff, and every week there was part of a series of cut-out 'facts'. i thought you were hilarious because you actually saved them all and made the (tiny)book.
when did vern leave south africa? after you'd stopped talking about her, it was all about lauren. i fancied you by then, and was no longer friends with lauren so that was pretty annoying!
in may of 1987 my parents took me out of school for 2 months to go to england. you wrote to me while i was away, and you saved every copy of smash hits for me.
when i came home, you started coming round to the house more.
my parents used to tease me about "my boyfriend" and i was mortified because
we were just friends
i was at that age
i wasn't a "proper" girl
you were far too cool
some time later, there was a phone conversation.
something like; lauren had said that you should ask me out and what did i think?
i was furious that she was involved. i didn't know what you thought. were you actually asking me out? what did 'out' mean?
and so i said "no!"
and you said "thats what i thought"
and that was pretty much that.
over the next couple of years we saw each other out at gigs 'n things occasionally, but you were always really cold. i think i still fancied you despite the fact you were 'a trendy'.
the last mention of you in my diary is 30th november '88 ... last day of school, a concert at the exhibition centre in durban.
"saw roger! he is SO nice now" i dont know what that meant
Fiona Thomson First Love #2
My sisters boyfriends. All had cool motorbikes that smelt like bees dripped in macho-ness. She rode on the back without helmet, came home late, wore black; saw her once from my window vomiting predawn on Dad’s pristine precious lawn. My ideas of love maybe formed through her, maybe through the books I was devouring, let me try lay it out for you. When you are that age love is like hunger. We are seldom hungry, actually hungry, but we always eat to prevent it, we say we are hungry but actually we just know intellectually that to prevent hunger we should eat. At 14 we know that we should be seeking love, we desire love, but do we actually feel love, I can deny my body food, and I have had to deny my soul of love, but unlike food, love has been around every corner, ready to strike. The pain of adolescent love is very similar to the physical experiences I had later of actual hunger, of starving when living on the streets, but I ramble. Let me lay it all out for you.
Somewhere I started to read, often, twice three times a week after school I would go to library and just read (if William came with we would play on the wooden faux bus outside). I would devour six books a week. I was in the adult section before I hit 15. In standard six, the first year of High school I still had a newspaper route. Saturday and Sunday before sunrise I would pedal my bike round neighborhoods delivering the Sunday paper. I used the money I made to buy records. There was a record shop in town called Moola’s Music. My tastes were embryonic based on my sisters. Duran, Depeche, so on. I started to amass a huge record collection. I fell for The Smiths only later, when my little heart had been broken. Through smash hits magazine and Barney Simon I began to branch out and order from Moola’s imports, stuff not freely available, not locally pressed, these imports R40 instead of R20, were impressive things, gatefold sleeves, glossy inners covered with lyrics, secret messages scratched by engineers into the vinyl, never lost my love for vinyl. And big to my little hands. I will never love like I loved analogue. Moola’s smelt of vinyl, the racks of records took up so much space, thin you had to page through them, every shelf was a book of desire. Soon after Moola’s I discovered Adams book store, huge two storied rambling place, with seemingly no order, strange books not available in the library were found in piles seemingly discarded, unvarnished wooden floors, serious people, a buzz of chatter, not like a library and too, I discovered that if you liked a book you could discover what other books the author had written and you could order them. There were books that published lists of books. I went through these catalogues manically ordering anything with titles that seemed outrageous, it did not take me long to discover Kesey and Hunter S. Let me tell you Hunter S. to a 15 year old mind in apartheid Durban was a very dangerous thing. Very dangerous, how my mind leapt at the idea of his writing, then Ginsberg, and later Phillip H. introduced me to Burroughs, but I leap ahead.
At that age, in standard six I was a chubby nerd. I was in the nerd class, my friends were nerds, we listened to Queen and liked computers, I had a computer, ZX spectrum, sometimes I would, pixel by pixel recreate movie posters in glorious 16 bit color. We used to go to movies on a Saturday afternoon. Our parents would drop us off. Listen it was so safe back then, eerily safe that by the age of 15 I was hitching into Durban on Saturdays to buy my books and records. Hitching, I had discovered through Kerouac, was sweet freedom. But I was still a nerd, the height of my social activity was going to Russell T’s house to listen to Queen and wander through his parents amazing aviary. Or Church youth group on a Friday night. Or talking to the librarians at Westville library. I had such a crush on Jo-Anne the junior librarian, whatever she told me to read I would love, she introduced me to science fiction, essentially opening up the path to discovering Philip K Dick, I don’t know who is more dangerous to an unformed mind, Phillip K Dick, Kerouac or Thompson. The girls who went to youth group were either nerds or naughty girls whose parents were trying to hold them in check. I was a nerd who was looking for company, my cousins were sent because Terence had found the Lord and intended to not only keep him but share him with his twin Trevor who saw it as an opportunity to meet girls. Back then I spent so much time with my cousins that essentially Trevor was my best friend. It was there in Standard Seven, that I met Vern.