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… (ahem!) … A screaming comes across the sky … (mumble) Today would be different. For him, at least. He was the product of an exclusive asphalt school, born with a silver plate in his head. Onto his itchy back he rolled again, and, reluctantly, opened his eyes. He stretched out his swollen ankles beneath the damp, mildewed sheets, sieving the twilit room through the baleen of his drooping eyelashes. His glottis snapped shut. Barred windows? Counting them, heartbeat by heartbeat. Long shadows on the wall, rocking passengers — a red porthole, like the back of his childhood Box Brownie. This train is bound for glory. Or the House of the Rising Sun. Idiot. Showing your bloody age, Phil. His ankles weren’t chained. Thoughts of the fungus growing on the sheets made him peer up at the ceiling instead. The shadows there recalled an adenoidal boy-scout buffing his boots on his calves (the twolegged sort). Phil relaxed a bit, despite the echo in his head, the fur on his tongue and in his arteries, the breathlessness of a starling attacked by a cat. It must be in medias res, if not later. It was surely before the time his Ayn Randish fairy godmother first packed him off to kindergarten at seventeen, dressed more or less as a colander. Now he was a grown man, a mean mannish boy of fifty-something, leader of a band, one bigger than Dick Trickle & the Trickledicks , or even the non-touring Der Füffelsingers. Though, he thought ruefully, no energy for a pull. He saw his blue sooty heart palpitate past itself, violating mathematical and physical principles of identity, so that anything was now possible, or at least permitted … the Pride of Erin with an oddly boyish, sweaty-palmed partner (the P.E. teacher, one white sock invitingly in mourning), her breath the odour of patchouli incense … the wheatfield he lay dying in with Van Gogh or R. Crumb before either guy was famous … the brief gleam of insight, satori, of Absolute Power … but his heart won this time. He was glad he was no gambler or the famed Wagnerian composeur and roof-tiler Thaddeus J. Offenpiszt. Truth would prevail (even on Wall Street), and they über Der Füffelsingers of Schloß Schnitzenpuffel! Stalin was no one’s fool! he screamed in italics, totally out of breath, convinced by a hasty re-reading of Darkness at Noon and The Trial. Of what, he had no idea. No, just dreaming again. He slept. An incandescent lightbulb, that invention of Joseph Wilson Swan, did not appear above his head. Nor an Andalusian Shepherd’s Carillon. Meeska Mooska Mouseketeer. Phil, who’d once had unnatural sexual relations with Annette Funicello, was no ordinary musician. Rather, apart from being a mathematical genius (useful, as Eartha Kitt put it, when counting his money), he was a snappy bluegrass player in the style of Earl Scruggs. Another dream began, Lumière et Son, December 28, 1895. Hoards of screaming fans, as of old, but this time they were running away. But, this was war! Duelin’ banjos! Wagner and Offenpiszt rampant! The fictive massacre on the Odessa steps! The beautiful, nay phantasmagorical, bombing of Dresden , a model for state terrorist city-busting ever since! (The military indeed seemed to abhor cities, having no doubt a placid yearning for some sort of rural arcadia.) Neighbours turned into cinders and soup! Revenge (he imagined) for Stalingrad. Not exactly the Summer of Love. And not what the words meant but who was to be Master! Something he was concerned about. Except
that he generally dropped some plonk and soon forgot it all. Philip Rumplestiltskin Groyne, this is your death. He also excelled at Flamenco-like frailing and the old clawhammer style, possibly due to the fact that he’d sold his soul to the devil (cheap). His one flaw (save duck-shoving) was that he could only play the instrument backwards while standing on the very point of his head. He was ghastly on the guitar (despite forced intakes of Manitas de Plata, Segovia, Paco Peña, Offenpiszt and Los Remeros while drying out at Odyssey House) in either direction or position, positions worthy of Bagram Air Base. Still, he was up to snap with this: Hair OF THE DOG on the G-string. © Phil. R. Groyne 2000 Adagio 1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a (etc..) | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | E- 2——————————-|-2——————————-| B- 3————————————|-3——————————-| G- 2——————————-|-4——————————-| D- 0——-0———————–|———————————| A —————-4——-4——-|-2——-2——-0——-0——-| E ———————————|———————————| Possibly he needed a phrenologist or a cartographer. Yet he alone could front the band as he had the face of an angel (lifted from Peter Frampton in 1968 and muchlifted over the ensuing decades), and the long persimmon hair to frame it. This lonely follicle had graced a hygroscopic museum in Jutland. Truly Art in the Service of the [insert colour] Revolution. He too — kind to animals when not eating them etc — was the one who thought of the band’s moniker, The Democratic Collective, a concept not unlike that of cottage pudding. They were an outfit of committed leftists who rose to fame (again) when they played their 24 minute outpouring Propaganda to a police riot in Genoa. In it they ignored the combined atrocities of capitalism from the Slave Trade to the Holocaust, and the dreadfully violent Russian Revolution and its defeat of mildmannered artist Adolf Hitler, etc: Wot, no Tylers? Shoot ‘em down like pheasants! We wouldn’t be Hingalish if we wasn’t fucken peasants Guantanamera aboard the Granma Ev’body gotta rally rahnd ar banner! Solution to dissolution is thuh Revolution … Such was their eclecticism that it was impossible to tell what they actually believed in. Phil, having rid himself of a cheesy mathematical career in which he outshone Gauss, Euler and Galois rolled into one (though his PhD — by distance education — focused on dipsomania and lechery at the uni bar and several Lebanese brothels in Cronulla), had always stood for a ‘sort’ of Prussian-helmeted socialism, but kept his Stalinist sympathies — and, er, vitalist notions of the Motherland statue on Mamayev Hill — to himself. Except of course when making love to the anarchist, ex-jug band keyboard player, Mandy the Whore of the Lane, indeed a walk down Mammary Lane, to whom he would recite Uncle Joe’s little-known poems in which the great leader would apostrophise
tractors and heavy industry generally. They brought her off every time: The rose opens her petals And embraces the violet. The lily too has awakened, They bare their heads in the zephyrs Of smoke from the chimneys Of the tractor factory. — J.V. Stalin. (The ending was a bit like a fart from a corpse.) Apart from Phil and Mandy (Benny, the so-called ‘Sixth Democrat’, had left the group in ’62 after being banned from the Reeperbahn for his sexual excesses), the other three members were the Pablo-ite non-drinking be-ringed Lesbian Lily White (a greater guitarist than Phil, an alleged expert on tablature and object of his artistic jealousies and racism), gay gas & water socialist Bruce (the wizened, lipsticked and chainsmoking drummer) and guild socialist Tom, the bass player. Tom was also a Yellow Socialist poet of the Yellow Press ranting about the Yellow Peril, tall, taciturn and supernally boring, as an ex-Australian Book Review critic had put it. He insisted on writing all their lyrics while wearing horn-rimmed black glasses and little else. Bruce modelled himself after Ginger Baker, and was about the same age. He’d learnt all his ‘chops’ off by heart. In between bouts of binge-drinking, ocarina soloing and rather cosmic DTs he managed to keep time but the bouts were getting longer and tended to stuff up their performances. “I wish you wouldn’t pass out on stage so much.” Phil growled on more than one occasion, sometimes hitting him with the bloodstained bust of his other hero, Sir Arthur Travers ‘Bomber’ Harris, who’d rendered Hamburg a hamburger. His own addictions had long been held in check by weekly meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. “Fuck off! The audiences love it.” Bruce would respond like the nancy-boy he was, rubbing his pockmarked Gogolian nose and picking strands of rotten banana out of his unkempt red locks. “How many other drummers have had cirrhosis of the liver for forty years? The ‘only justifiable war in history’ is ‘the war of the enslaved against their enslavers’.” he added, but that was lost on Phil, who this time smashed his ocarina over his head. Phil (who played the viola on the (left) side but detested the infamous violinist Benny Goodman whom he’d never met but who had made hysteria in 1938 at Carnegie Hall, along with that rhythmic rapscallion Gene Krupa — fuck Theodor Adorno, bei mir bist du shayn, he fancied them Andrews Sisters of Mercy and Liver Salts — was about to get back to his daydream bombing of Dresden again (for humanitarian reasons of course, take off the roofs with H.E. and send in the firesticks) — and who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays — Mandy had her theories but he plumped for Samuel Beckett — better than Dylan Thomas in Tape’s Last Crap, look you — when the alarm exploded and he thought for une móment that he might be in Grozny. But he knew they were staying in a shabby temperance inn on the outskirts of pristine Chelyabinsk, still called the ‘Hôtel de Ville’ after the Paris Commune of 1871. Their Russian tour had been a total failure: instead of rocketing up the charts again as in their halcyon days they were reduced to existing on hot borscht, or that home birther’s delicacy, placenta stew, cooked up by Lily and advertorialised on her Al Jazeera cooking programme (so much more civilised than Bomber Harris’s). (Better than the quicklime they’d had last week, thought Phil, completing another unit of his KUBARK correspondence course on Enhanced Interrogation with the School of the Americas.) “Bloody Russian crap. I hate b-<belch>-borscht. If only Comrade Stalin were still alive.” he would mutter amid dreams of a new and greater kakistocracy. (Along with his fantasy of living in a traditional Japanese paper house with no shortage of toilet tissue.) O Dnepropetrovsk, I salude your jimneys … he whispered sensually to Mandy, but she
snored all the louder, her sizeable breasts lolling out of her cheap Thai nightgown in a most un-Soviet manner. So this was globalisation. Despite her lack of a bath since the death of Elizabeth I she smelled like a rose to Phil. Phil woke again to ‘Juliet’, as he called the sun. (Hello, Our Juliet. You’re up early.) He threw the silent Xinhua alarm clock (emblazoned with 100 floral nooses) into the dry spittoon. The ‘red porthole’ was a glowing cigarette end on the single floorboard. Draining his wine, he struggled out of the flea-infested cot, tucked his singlet into his underpants and set about making himself a saucer of weak tea. (Unfortunately he had not quite mastered the samovar (or a flea circus) and there was soon a cheery puce fire in the middle of the room, Hey Rube!) He stood thoughtfully warming his skinny white legs in front of it, filling the squalid hotel with high explosive in the form of his own personal methane, famous throughout the galaxy and proof he felt of life on other planets. Then (unlike Nero) decided to put the fire out by pissing on it. Indeed, a woman might piss it out. It (a versatile word) might also be wise to do a bunk, he thought, like the Duke of Tintagel and Igraine. He tried to bring the cigarette butt into the line of fire with his bare toe, but it vanished through a crack. “Fuck!” The alarm clock made a gurgling noise and the others began to wake and complain about the rain. It was six a.m. They had been playing all night to an audience of three people, an unemployed ex-Commissar, the local Orthodox priest, and Tatiana the Town Bike. The Village Idiot had also made an appearance under the impression (due to Bruce’s syncopated pink tights) that it was a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet, but had not lingered. (They later found that all the proceeds had been lifted by the Russian Mafia.) Mandy stirred amidst her Janis Joplin (Phil hated all that late-60s shit) and Dolly Parton-filled blue-teared nightmares of screaming tractor factories running flaming and naked down the Seven Bridges Road during the Great Patriotic War — a thorough waste of time perhaps, considering — and after much yawning and belching eased her fleshy form out of the soiled bedclothes with the aid of a bottleopener. The hushed town could be heard breathing in the dreams of some Russian successor of Dylan Thomas, though not without an emphysemic wheeze of the sepulchral squalor that opens The Autumn of the Patriarch. She took a belt of the Gorbachev® vodka she had almost completely consumed last night. “Aaaaaaaaaaah. That’s better. I would of preferred a Tia Maria but.” She coughed paroxysmically and rubbed both her needle-tracked arms as it was freezing. The picture of Boris Yeltsin on the label winked through the smoke. “Our DVD’s in the Top Ten.” sprayed Phil, sipping his flea-infested tea as he pored over a purloined 20th century laptop locked onto the Iridium System. He’d lent Lily $500,000 won on a whippet and she’d bribed all their fake fan clubs to bulk-buy it and even upload it onto the ‘Golden Record’ on each of the Voyager spacecrafts. (He’d thought of acquiring more fame by faking his own death, but had been assured that he was already closer to it than James Dean and Janis Joplin. He was already on Find-a-Grave.) “Where? In D-neper-petrovsk?” snorted Mandy Rice-Davies, as he thought of her, igniting a black cigarette to go with the coke. She quoted from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner but he wasn’t listening. He’d done his best to strangle her intertextual genius in its infancy and for the rest of its bloody life. “No, London!” “Well let’s get back there then.” “Wiv what? We’re skint in’ we?” he said, affecting an East End accent. He felt a sudden itching over his whole body and sucked out the dregs of the cask. “Fuck you. Capitalism, Ariadne couldn’t find her way out of you.”, she declaimed
to the fanciful shadow on the ceiling. “Shoulda heard you talkin’ to yourself earlier on. And what have you been smokin’?” “Money.” he grinned. The smoke was so thick he was tempted to chew it. Mmm, roast flea. “Parasite. Well, you would of. Your ‘money’ your oxygen or your life. You value it more than your life. Want mine back you mathematical shitbag. Sell that bloody thing Phil the Dill. ‘Fix the clock’ again. For money, bits of paper trail I will later set fire to like King Arthur … you have sown the wind and you are going to reap the whirlwind …” She began to choke and cry and sneeze all at once, but coughed up several cheap varieties of phlegm. “Outhouse of the Patriarse! O Lord won’t you buy me a Volga Boatman or the ricepaper trumpet we all swallow once a summer. And the Scholastic Constitutions of the Untidy Strays of America going down the toilet while trying to take it over the torch above the Golden Door and of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, 25 million dead, Mother of All the Battling Fuckers. And shut that fucken window! ’s coolin’ me borscht.” “The phone won’t work properly then.” Ricepaper trumpet? She was going. “Anyhow, can’t you just ring the fucking record company?” “I’ll try.” he sighed. As Mandy stripped naked in front of the open window (she had noticed the crumpled Commissar watching from the bushes opposite), Phil angled the Tidbinbilla-sized dish, twisted the cat’s whisker and managed to contact Dung Recordings. Charles Sumner Tainter and Ezra Gilliland hadn’t invented the phonograph in Russia for nothing.
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