Another Entry In The Journal Of An Eternal Nocturnal.
(The stairwells – one already stripped of glass bricks – at the complex where I live)
For the fourth day on the trot I was rudely awakened, at 8.30am, by a loud, motorised buzzing noise as a hydraulic platform rose to the top of the stairwell which is on the Northern-western side of the gated enclave where I live in a so-called ‘gritty area’ (although now no doubt ‘up and coming’, being so close to Notting Hill), in North West London. This was followed by several, deafening thuds from a sledgehammer. A workman whooped as he threw the first of hundreds of dislodged glass bricks into a skip three stories below, with the inevitable, jarring crash of breaking glass. Despite my annoyance and irritation at this intrusion, I couldn’t help inwardly smirking as I recalled an unusual, hit song by Nick Lowe from the late 70s called ‘I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass’, featuring that most excellent and radically ‘different’, jagged piano solo, played, I think, by Chaz Jankel of The Blockheads. Correct me if I’m wrong (I’ve googled it big-time, but have been unable to find the answer).
I grabbed some pathetically ineffective orange (why?), foam earplugs from the bedside table and, despite the morning heat of the first day of August, closed the window, hoping that the ineffective double-glazing of my New York loft-style apartment – in an apparently jerry-built complex – might help shut out this appalling, galling, teeth-gnashing intrusion into my hitherto sweet dreams.
This being the journal of an eternal nocturnal, I’d been trying – with the help of some prescribed Zolpiden sleeping pills (having been previously informed about ‘ the upcoming works’ in a ’round-robin’ to all twenty five apartments) to adjust my body-clock back to what many disapproving ‘normal’ people would describe as ‘conventional’ hours – that is, going to sleep around midnight, or soon after, and waking up at around 8am. Hah! Dream on (as it were)!
I need lots of sleep because of my various illnesses (the main ones being chronic pancreatitis and emphysema), but – being an artistic polymath – there’s nothing I like more than dancing with my muses, when most of the world around me is asleep, and the spirits are buzzing like cicadas around a secluded, funky beach house in some imagined sub-tropical paradise – with no neighbours to complain about the noise.
The complex where I live was seemingly jerry-built about twelve years ago, as all the huge, external, steel frames and double, glass brick-clad stairwells of this U-shaped building (which acts as a natural amplifier of sound – any sound – like a residential, whispering gallery) are covered in rust. Major rust – not just little blemishes. This signifies, as my landlord explained when I moved-in just over four years ago (although the flat itself is my current apogee regarding my dream-home), that the company which constructed the building had obviously used cheap steel to save money and, that there was an ongoing, insurance claim taking place.
(My kitchen-dining area)
This was only recently settled – hence my peace now being disturbed – and it transpires that both stairwells are apparently going to be totally rebuilt and the work is scheduled to take TEN bloody weeks. Nightmare. Teeth-gnashing, angle-grinder hell to follow, no doubt. I have a horrible feeling that I’m about to morph into Dustin Hoffman being cruelly, dentally tortured by Lawrence Olivier in the film Marathon Man – for TEN, agonising weeks.
Then there’s also the sound of drilling and banging and crashing emanating from the flat next door, through the thin, breeze-block wall behind my bed- head. This is because another apparent corner-cutting aspect of the construction of these otherwise fabulous, spacious, apartments, with their high ceilings, etched-glass panels and industrial detailing, is that the walls separating each flat are only one block thick! This means that if there are any noisy sexual antics taking place on either side, then all parties can hear every grunt and gasp, or screams and wails.
(My living area)
So, with the ridiculous orange earplugs stuffed in my ears, I tried to grab maybe another hour of sleep. It didn’t work. The earplugs fell out (I’m a ‘tosser and a turner’, especially when aurally disturbed), and simply couldn’t go back to sleep because of all the noise around me. Was this a karmic punishment for some vile crime that I’d committed in a past life? Could I have been Hitler, Dracula, Attila The Hun, or other evil villains in history – or just just some badly-behaved, low-life scoundrel? Answers on a psychic postcard from beyond the grave please.
I threw on my favourite pair of Nike, pale-green swimming shorts – this meant that I would be going swimming in them later – a nice, refreshing thought – took my wake-up handful of meds washed down with effervescent vitamin C; inhaled twice from my steroid inhaler (two in the morning, two after dinner); fed almighty JJ the God-cat (he must have Egyptian roots); then fired-up my MAC PRO (about ten years old and slightly knackered – but still somehow, mostly rocking) and checked my emails.
Glad to be reminded that my Linkedin.com connections have passed well-over a thousand people (many of them seriously influential) and that I was in the top 5% of profiles viewed last year.
Before you jump down my throat with any figurative, judgmental disapproval about my braggocio; may I simply inform you (not justifying anything – I NEED this kind of feedback) that I am a songwriter who’s had much artistic and critical acclaim, but who has hardly ever made money out of this all-or-nothing career (despite covers from Roger Daltrey – he’s done four – Lulu and Hawkwind – how’s that for eclectic?). So, therefore I’m suffering under the possible illusion that online, social networking might help lead me to finally attaining some sort of ‘hit’ (via a cover version – I’m way too old) or enjoying having a big song in a hit movie. My songs tend be evocative and cinematic. Wide-screen. So, the latter is perhaps more probable.
I am sixty, after all. But I write songs right across the board, even R&B (are you shocked, maybe because I’m white? Why?). I am not hidebound by homogeny. Having said that, I suppose that my most successful song to date is ‘Shot Down In The Night’, from 1980, and I’m very proud of it. Did you know that there’s an excellent, brand new CGI video of my original version of the song (as opposed to Hawkwind’s cover version), which was created by the very talented Phil Gornal, on You Tube?
Talking of moving pictures, a few months ago, an American guy called Damon White inboxed me on Facebook and explained that he had written, and was also directing, a film called Holy Galileo, which he explained had been inspired to an extent by The Who singer Roger Daltrey’s cover version of my song ‘Martyrs And Madmen’, which was released in 1982 (along with my song ‘Treachery’, that were the two ‘bonus’ tracks on Daltrey’s compilation album ‘Best Bits’. The two songs also made it onto his ‘One Of The Boys’ compilation, when it was reissued in 2006).
Damon then added that he had been unaware of my original, 1980 recording until I’d recently added it to my soundcloud and ‘shared’ this on FB and Twitter. The remastered track was taken from my double CD The Lost Albums, which was released in 2012 on Flicknife Records. Damon stated that, having suddenly discovered it, he really liked my original version, and wondered if it would be possible to use it in ‘Holy Galileo’, which he was shooting in Texas, Pisa, Florence and LA. He also suggested that he’d like to interview me on-camera when he visited London in the fall, to capture my back-story about how the song came about and why the follow-up albums to my 1980 release Fresh Blood (now available on CD and iTunes folks!) were never released: for the documentary about the making of the movie.
I replied that, in principal, that would be fine, providing that we could sort out a mutually acceptable deal regarding him using the song in the film, and assured him that I could guarantee ‘fast clearance’, as I now owned 100% of the publishing.
This helps to explain why, as an artist, I tend to put so much faith in social media. How would Damon have come across my original version of the song (as sung by Daltrey), which helped inspire his script, if it weren’t for FB (Facebook)? How would I have collaborated with Jay Tausig in the US, and Pigs Of Oblivion in Canada were it not for FB? Many fresh opportunities are also arising through Linkedin.
As I continued my inadvertently early (thanks to the destruction of glass bricks), bleary-eyed, morning routine, I noted that I had 58 emails – mostly from peeps posting on Mixcloud (block-up my inbox, why don’t you?), along with notifications, messages and requests from my large number of friends on Facebook, including Damon White.
Being in Pilot (’76) and Hawkwind/Hawklords (’78) then getting my second major, solo record deal with Atco/WEA (Warner Music) in ’79 (I was signed in person by Doug Morris, who is now the all-powerful president of Sony Music), makes me wonder why good, even great, songs should not prevail in this corrupt and corrupted thing which we still refer to as ‘the music industry’.
All you need is one big CHART hit and then you’re set-up for life. Not me though. Still wishing and… hoping (as the great Dusty Springfield once sang).
Back in the real world…
Read/answered all my emails. Played with my Words With Friends ‘opponents’, then also online Scrabble; freerice.com (English vocabulary being my chosen field, starting at level 21); followed by Cryptoquote and Multipopword to wake up my brain – as is my wont – whilst drinking endless cups of black, minty tea (from a teapot, of course… I am British, after all).
I then checked my editing and proof-reading of Chapter Two of ‘Mitty In India’, the second volume of my mother’s most excellent historical trilogy (I’ve already edited the first – ‘Mitty’s Letter’ – which you can read chapter-by-chapter as a blog here.
Re-read the lyrics of ‘Damage Limitation’, my new transatlantic collaboration with Ralf Lenz, of Pigs Of Oblivion. What a wonderfully daft band name. I’m hoping to sing all the vocal parts in my digital, home studio tomorrow afternoon. The track is rocking. My lyrics are about an evil PR company called Cosmo Nought that exists only in space and is therefore beyond jurisdiction. Have I now invented vaguely poetic, political space rock?
Carried-on proof-reading Chapter 11 (will it be the final chapter?) of my good friend Thom Topham’s multimedia autoBLOGography ‘My Unplanned Obsolescence’. In this, he’s been taken to New York City for the first time by an Italian Count in the fall of 1979, and he lands a major record deal within three days, leading to the 1980 album ‘Torn Genes’. Thom is going to feature my 2010 remix of the title track in this chapter, he tells me.
This must have been the hottest day of the year so far. I put a clean towel, T-shirt and underpants into my new, Adidas knapsack (Argos – £17.99) and got lucky with the immediate arrival of the 206 bus, which stops right outside my home, and headed for Willesden Sports Centre. Ten Minutes.
(A random shot – nice back eh? – taken on my mobile phone outside the sports centre that day)
I didn’t need socks because I was wearing ten year-old, velcro-fastened-open-toed sandals that I bought in a shopping centre in Bangkok in 2003 for £3. ‘Woolfies’, as X , my ex-best-friend, had dubbed them, having insisted that I was evidently a German paedophile. Silly man. I miss him so much. But the ‘Wolfies’ are still going strong after ten years – unlike our previously, rocket-fuelled friendship, which he decided to end in 2009. Only he knows why: Cue sad shrug. I sincerely hope that all is well with him and his lovely dad. I wish that he misses me too.
Free bus ride (thanks to my over-sixty-Oyster-photo-pass card – or whatever it’s called). Free swimming (also thanks to being 60).
I headed for the male changing room, which was deserted apart from a grossly obese, hairy white man who was scrubbing his pubic area with long-handled brushes in the shower (obsessive or what?) and then took a shower myself, wondering why there are no sinks where you might shave, for instance, or something as obvious as drinking fountains. I guess the sports centre hopes to boost their meagre, municipal budget by selling mineral water from vending machines?
The faintly homoerotic smell of a male changing room – fresh sweat and socks – tripped my mind back to when I was a six year-old and used to go to the municipal swimming baths in, yes – Bath (the city) – most Saturdays. I usually went with my older brother Rob and sometimes on my own. Kids, it seems, were far less supervised in the oh-so-innocent, late 50s.
Audrey, my mother, had walked-out on the father of us three boys (I am the second), when I was five, in Handsworth Park in Birmingham, and had somewhat reluctantly, having no other viable option, taken us all to live with her parents – who lived their lives in some kind of eternal 1930s, Ivor Novello fantasy-land – in a spacious, three-bedroomed, third floor flat overlooking the Roman Baths, opposite a Chinese laundry, in Swallow Street, a narrow thoroughfare of tall, mostly warehouse-type buildings, in this beautiful city.
The laundry’s chimney constantly pumped-out strange-smelling – but not unpleasant – steam. My olfactory recall is one of cleanliness, but also a certain pungency. My aural recall is of my mother and my grandmother having endless, screaming rows.
Many years later, my mother and my stepfather Harold (whom she married about a year after our arrival in Bath) had ‘gone halves’ with Nana – who lived to receive the famous, signed card from The Queen when she passed her centenary (although these days you have to request it) – and GP, as our Grandpa was dubbed, to buy a capacious, ground floor flat in a classic Georgian house overlooking Victoria Park in Bath, as GP, who’d been a heavy smoker of ‘roll-ups’, was having difficulties with all the stairs leading up to the flat in Swallow Street, which they’d rented for years. My parents and grandparents had inherited £3000 each, after the death of an elderly, female relative in Bournmouth: this was a large deposit at the time. My brother Rob, having recently passed his driving test, got the ancient Austin 7 (therein lie many more exuberant teenaged tales – and this vintage car didn’t even have a clutch!).
After Nana died, my parents sold this centrally-located flat for a tidy sum.
This triggers another, more recent flashback. I was on tour with The Hawklords in 2011 – it was very heavy going for me because of my health issues – and I used to share hotel (well, Travel Lodge) rooms with Ron Tree, the singer. He’s from the Bath area, and is now living in the boho, arty town of Frome. I was reminiscing with him one night, as we drank red wine after a gig, about how fate had brought me to Bath at the age of five and told him about my grandparents’ flat in Bath, opposite the Chinese laundry and over-looking the Roman Baths. His eyes nearly popped out of his head as he said: ‘You’ll never guess who squatted in that flat for a few years, back in the day…’
‘You’re right, I said, I won’t.’
Well, it was me and a bunch of n’er-do-wells!’ Exclaimed Ron gleefully.
‘No! Coincidence or what? You really couldn’t make that up!’ I responded.
The municipal swimming baths in Bath were a short walk away, through elegant and visually-pleasing streets. I can distinctly remember admiring naked men in the changing rooms and finding them – well, some of them – attractive. Mostly the olive-skinned, brown-eyed, masculine and athletic-looking ones. My eyes were also drawn to their dicks (mind you, all men’s eyes always are, it’s only natural) and some kind of inner voice stated: ‘You seem to like men’. I just knew, even at that tender age (but only confirmed it to myself, as it were, when I was a pupil at The Bristol Cathedral School, aged fourteen, as I was now regularly having sex, of sorts, with school-friends and so forth. And girls. I was never short of admirers).
One man in particular – he rather resembled a young Sean Connery – used to encourage me to hitch a ride in the water on his muscular back, and seemed to enjoy my vague, boyish attempts at humping his pert, round, muscular bottom, as we did laps. I was a little… fucker! Looks like my preference was almost pre-determined. But I wasn’t abused per se at the pool… only on paper.
I enjoyed it – there was no trauma. It was almost as if was in control of the situation. Never under-estimate the power of precocious young boys who know in their hearts and souls that they’re ‘gay’ (in my case, way before the word was brought into general use in the late 70s).
After our saturday swims, me and my brother Rob would invariably head to Evan’s, a large fish and chip shop just off Abbey Green, around the corner from Nana and GP’s flat. We used to have chips, served ‘open’, in newspaper, and always asked for free ‘scrumps’, the crunchy bubbles of batter that had been left in the fat-drainers after the fish had been served. Freshly fried, hand-cut chips (and scrumps) always tasted doubly delicious after swimming, with salt, malt vinegar and tomato ketchup, when your skin tingled and you felt pleasingly hungry.
When fate decided many years later that my younger brother Frank would find himself living in a double-aspect, second-floor flat overlooking Evan’s chip shop on one side (Abbey Green was on the other) about twelve years ago, it was still there.
Sometimes we would be treated to a proper, ice-cream milkshake at Hand’s Dairy (which was also still going the last time I looked – maybe it still is), opposite the Abbey Churchyard, which was utter heaven for us kids. ‘Yum yum, pig’s bum!’ we used to chorus before noisily sucking the utterly delicious, creamy concoction through straws; then giggling as we reluctantly reached the bottom of the glasses and enjoyed deliberately exaggerating the loud, gurgling noises that we made sucking up the foamy dregs. My favourite flavour was strawberry.
There used to be a tiny antique/curio shop, with a bow window, in the pedestrian street to the side of Hand’s Dairy, which led into Abbey Green. I used to gaze longingly at a large, red crystal bauble which was in the centre of its window, which was displayed in an ivory-coloured, silk-lined case (I’d decided that it was definitely magical), and eventually saved up enough of my pocket money to buy it. It was all very Dickensian: maybe it was even called The Old Curiosity Shop. I do believe it might still be there.
As I disrobed in the bland changing room at the Sports Centre, I noticed a few, small, blue-ish-yellow bruises around my arms. Where the fuck did those come from, I wondered. Then I recalled that last Friday, after I’d invited six people – all immediate neighbours – over to dinner (emphatically NOT a dinner party, what a horribly bourgeois concept, but we had a wonderful night – I’d served my own-recipe, deluxe Shepherd’s Pie Provencal) – that way too much red wine had evidently over-reacted with my various medications and that I must have fallen over or something, after everyone had left.
The next day, I was surprised to find that what I’d dubbed the ‘Madmen (the cult TV show set in an advertising agency in New York in the 60s) tribute, 60s coffee table’ which I’d found in the street in Willesden Green in 2006 was smashed and my beloved Mathmos, rocket lava lamp was broken. No memories. Just bruises.
(My dinner guests, having ‘a fag break’ outside the flat next door)
This was not good. Luckily, I have another, fabulous retro-modern table – German, branded underneath as from 1960 – which I’d picked-up in a charity shop in West Hampstead in 2006, for £25. It has a black glass top, which is etched with thin strings of electric yellow and blue and is inset with tiny, jewel-like, iridescent rectangles of Nacre (more commonly known as mother-of-pearl).
(my ‘Madmen’ tribute table, mark two)
As I headed for the pool from the changing room, a squealing cacophony assailed my ears. Just what I need, I thought, after my unwanted, wake-up call of sledgehammers and broken glass.
The main area of the pool appeared to be packed-full of scores of very noisy little tadpoles – mostly black, but some brown and white, all squirming and splashing about and squealing.
There were two lanes for swimmers, such as myself, who wished to do laps. Medium and fast. Clockwise and anti-clockwise. All the ‘lane swimmers’ were, for some unknown reason, doing the opposite (had they recently arrived from Rumania or Latvia perchance?).
I clocked all my fave bodyguards and swimming teachers. There are at least four guys who work at the sports centre who tick my various boxes. It’s encouraging to have some eye-candy to spur-on your physical efforts, I always say, although I can only see fuzzy beauty without my glasses. I was vainly hoping that they might have been impressed by my backwards froggy-swim, which is quite original. I swim like a frog… on its back. But I don’t, or won’t, croak. Yet.
Then I always do a breast stoke for the next length, trying to remember to do that seemingly unnecessary dip-your-face-in-the-water-then–breathe-when-you-resurface thing. What’s that all about?
I’d swum ten lengths, and was sitting on the edge of the pool, thinking of leaving, when a beautiful black man, perhaps about twenty five years-old, swam towards me, then touched the pool’s edge beneath me, breathing heavily with evident triumph (perhaps he’d beaten his own record?), then smiled at me with warmth and… something.
Obviously, I grinned back at him, and he returned my grin.
You may have gathered, by now, that I’m mostly attracted to black, or mixed-race men. Don’t ask me why. It just evolved organically after I opened my first successful, polysexual-but-mostly gay, one-nighter The Lift, at the deservedly legendary Gargoyle Club in London’s Soho, in 1982. The music we played every Thursday night in this wonderfully wacky space (art deco-meets-60s) on the top two floors of a building on the corner of Dean and Meard streets, was a heady mixture of seriously streety black music (mostly American) and English Electro. The Lift was an instant hit and ran successfully for about five years in various venues, after The Gargoyle sadly closed down in 1983, despite the efforts of the various promoters (myself, The Mudd Club, The Language Lab, The Bat Cave etc) who ran nights there, tried unsuccessfully to raise the money – which was, as I recall, £75K – to buy the lease.
I swam another two lengths, perhaps in honour of the black swimmer’s fineness, noted that he’d disappeared, then headed back to the Spartan, pale-blue-tiled, male changing room, which was deserted, as ever (most people use the cubicles in the so-called ‘changing village’); then showered, dried-off, got dressed and wandered back home in the hot sunshine, feeling energized and refreshed, wondering what fate might have in store for me next time at the sports centre; now that I’ve vowed to go at least twice a week.
As I headed home, I was musing about surreptitiously putting a print-out over the new ‘do not enter’ signs on the three floors of the North-western stairwell.
It would have read: ‘People who live in stone houses should not throw glass (bricks)’.
But, wishing to preserve the peace (if not ‘my peaceful sleep’), I reluctantly decided against it.
© Steve Swindells. 2013. All rights reserved.