I remember the first time I met Jack. Although he was a small guy he filled the room with the exuberance of his soul. He possessed that thin, haunted face with that aura of electricity running through his bones, long blond hair to his waist, blue eyes and the mad laugh of a hyena on amphetamine sulphate; his whole being throbbed with life. As he talked his body and hands were animated with a super abundance of energy – jig-jig-jig, bob, dart and cackle. He was never still. Jack was high on living. Every second counted. You could see those glinty blue eyes were constantly peering into the depths of the universe and sucking meaning out of the mundane. To Jack everything had meaning; everything was alive, and Jack sucked that sense right out of everything and filled himself with it. I watched him from the side of the room with amazement. I had never witnessed anyone so vital. There was madness to it. I was drawn to that madness. He devoured the world and sucked it in until it seemed he would burst with it. He was so full of ideas and visions that he had trouble containing it. It welled up in him and threatened to choke him with its intensity and he just had to let it out or it’d kill him. It burst out in a crazy torrent. He didn’t so much talk to you as spout forth out loud in some ecstasy as his mind raged.
Man, he thrilled to it.
Yet people reeled from it. It was too big for them to handle. They had no answer to it. There was no room for them to get a word in. It cascaded over them like a tsunami of passion and they found themselves floundering in horror. It was too much they desperately tried to escape before they were buried.
All around him people retreated.
Yet Jack was oblivious. For him they did not exist. They were empty vessels, echo chambers, into which he allowed his thoughts to gush just so’s he could see them coming back at him.
They had to be thrilled by it too. They had to see it. It was so wild. It was so real.
You could see it in Jack’s wild evangelical eyes. He wrestled with the entire universe and would grapple it into submission with sheer energy. He was so full of it. He wanted to find out what it was all about and wrest every last moment out of it. He had to know. He had to experience it. He wanted to get to the bottom of everything. He needed to tell you all about it and find out what he knew, what you knew, and how to solve the riddles of all time. Nothing was holy. Everything was holy. Nothing mattered. Everything mattered. Life was a paradox. It was all straightforward. He clutched a battered copy of Bertrand Russell’s ‘History of Western Philosophy’ in his hand and waved it under your nose to emphasise a point. With anybody else it would have been pretentious bullshit but somehow with Jack it was real. The book was thumbed ragged. He quoted from it. He was stimulated by it as if it was a drug. He wrestled with paragraphs and wondered at others. Every page was an epiphany. He was amazed by it.
Surely everyone was as consumed by the wonder of this mad journey? Surely they had to know?
Jack was on a voyage and he wanted to experience every last bit. That book was his bible; he studied it. What was it about?
‘You know, man. We’re the luckiest generation in all time!’ Jack was expostulating to a tall, lanky bearded guy who was nodding in agreement and searching for an exit strategy. ‘We’ve got access to everything. We can go where we want. Travel the world. We can read what we want. We can read any book that’s been written, man. We have access to the greatest minds, the greatest fucking thoughts that man has ever thought. It’s all here, man!’
I watched with amusement as the scene played out.
I’d seen Jack many times at a distance at parties and gigs and heard him talk, intense, man, and laugh and laugh. It was obvious from first sight that he was crazy – strung out on craziness! I dunno why but crazy guys are so much more interesting, dangerous, thought provoking – just so much more alive! They connected you to that universal dynamo that made the whole heavens spin.
Jack did that.
I dug him for it.
Or perhaps it was that I was more than a little crazy myself. I had a bit of that need to burn. I had to know what set things spinning and how to wring the last bit of fun and truth out of it – how to strangle the dawn and cuddle sundown.
But I’d never met him.
Then, there we were, at Bede’s party, our eyes met and he laughed. He came over and shook my hand. It seemed old fashioned but somehow right.
“Seen you around, man,’ he grinned, gripping my hand tightly and staring into the depths of my eyes. And there I was finally getting to meet the guy. I gripped his hand right back at him and beamed a grin that was glowing with eager anticipation. I had finally got to meet him. Here I was staring into those blue dancing eyes. There were no words that I could say. I had craved this moment. I had been at a loss to know how to initiate it. I had no words to say. Yet this was destiny. ‘Been meaning to say hello. You must come round sometime.”
I nodded sagely, strangely speechless for once. I wasn’t used to this. I too had been touched by that evangelical flame. This was a new experience for me. Jack didn’t seem to care. Something electric had passed between us. There were no words necessary. He scribbled on a piece of paper and thrust it at me. It was kinda weird. It was like I was star-struck or something. My mind froze. My tongue was paralysed. It was as if this meeting was too important to mess up.
“Give me a bell.”
Then he was off. An’ that was it. We were like magnets for each other; meant to be. Well, you know what I mean, I don’t believe in destiny. From the moment I’d first seen him I’d known he was going to be an important part of my life. It was not destiny so much as our weirdnesses clicked. We hit it off. It was something you couldn’t put in words but our wavelengths were in tune. We were weirdly normal. We understood each other without having to speak.
That was the start. There was a lot more weirdness to come.
The party was weird too- one of Bede’s concoctions. We had been driving home in my beat up Ford. We’d been someplace I don’t know, man, – hanging out at some boring party. An’ I was driving him home. That was firstly because I was the less smashed of the two of us and secondly because it was my car. As we came up to this big old pub near his flat when the doors opened and all these crazy dudes started to spill out onto the pavement. It was so weird to be in the middle of nowhere and suddenly come across a herd of freaks. Bede saw someone he knew and shouted for me to pull over. I pulled in and there were a few cats I vaguely knew but no-one startling.
It was limbo time. That time when the day was held in suspense. The pub was chucking out and the town was dead. The car caused an instant focus. That might have been because of its luminous colour scheme. I’d hand painted with assorted gloss of tasteful orange, yellow, red, green and blue with a wide pink stripe down the middle. It was kinda fetching. It did kind of make a bold statement. Within seconds we were surrounded with a crowd with freaky cats and babes peering in through the windows to see if they knew us.
Before I knew it Bede had slipped out through the non-existent windscreen. I’d knocked it all out when a stone had shattered it, and did not have the money to replace it. Besides it kinda suited the ambience of the car, me and the times, even if it was a pain in the arse when it rained. He swung up on to the roof.
“Hipsters, Bipsters and crazy freaks!” He roared in his best Lord Buckley impression. “Happening time is about to happen!”
The crowd instantly thickened from nowhere so that the car began to rock with the press of bodies all around. Where did they all come from? This was show time. What the hell was going on? Still it had to be better than nothing.
I could see the two dents in the roof where Bede had planted his feet. I could see him, in my minds eye, standing up there with his fake brown fur coat and pink dot scarf, black white dot shirt, and bleached blond hair blowing in the warm Summer breeze, lapping it up. He could be very theatrical, could Bede. He always took great care of his red velvet flares.
“Party time!” he called out. “Get your arses into gear we’re gonna rock some ears!”
There was a roar. OK. This was party time. They could handle that. Where was the party?
We set off again with a string of cars in tow like a raucous circus parade. Bede’s flat was ten minutes away.
We arrived and stepped in through the open door into dark emptiness. Behind us the people spilled in. Trouble was that there were no sounds. A pile of albums were stacked in the corner but the stereo was bust. There was no food, drink or blow. There was very little furniture and no much of anything.
But hell, man, this was a happening, right? It was OK. The raucous mob were in. They took a few minutes examining the place, which mainly seemed to consist of a cursory glance at the piles of books stacked in the corner and a quick thumb through the albums. It was strangely quiet but an electric buzz of expectancy hung in the air. They sat in groups on the floor talking quietly and looking to us for when it was going to begin. It was a happening right! What was it? Bongo time? Like fuck was it going to be bongo time!
By this time there were about fifty people crammed in. We could do what we liked. I looked at Bede. Bede looked at me. We were up for it! Let the fun commence.
We grabbed books off the shelf and read aloud, theatrically, randomly. Reading alternate lines, jumping pages. Fitting stuff together and it jumped like crazy poetry, like every book was a Burroughs cut up job. And Bede’d yell out a line and I’d pick it up and throw it back and everyone laughed and clapped cos it was crazy. And although it was totally crazy it was working and the atmosphere just jumped and it was magic. We recited bits of Roy Harper poems mixed with liner notes. Dudes laughed and provided accompaniment by drumming or banging on furniture. Kitchen utensils and pans got passed around while we shouted ourselves hoarse making up spontaneous poems to shout across the rhythms and interspersing them with any stuff that came to hand or mind. Crazy, crazy, crazy.
Spliffs started circulating and wine appeared from nowhere. Then a stereo appeared like a mirage and things started rockin’. Everywhere people were dancin’, smooching, reading extracts of books uproariously an’ generally grinnin’. In the corner there was a rolling contest and first a fifteen skinner made the scene and then a twenty skinner and the room was filling with a blue haze an’ Bede and I sat in the corner grinnin’ and whoopin’ like idiots and yellin’ at each other that this had to be the best happening yet!
It went on and on and I was dancing with these two crazy chicks and Bede rushed through naked and soaking wet having decided to have a bath with this petite blond chick. He retired to his room and I never saw him again until noon. And gradually it died down and people started drifting off or crashing wherever they could find room on the floor. We were smooching real slow to some slow blues by Elmore James and I couldn’t decide which of the two I preferred but they didn’t seem bothered so that was OK with me.
It was then that I met Jack. I’d not seen him there. I don’t know when he’d arrived. He was just suddenly there in the room and though it was all running down he was like a dynamo and people around were just getting a buzz off him being there. His laugh was mad and his eyes flashed. He’d throw his head back and roar and it would tail off into a set of giggles that were contagious so that, even though you did not know what was being said, you picked up on the vibes and found yourself grinning. I was half trying to focus on what crazy conversation Jack was getting into, it sounded cool, and trying to think where might be a good place to direct these two babes off to, when our eyes met.