SHITKICKS & DOUGHBALLS
1. Out To Lunch at the Art Class
His grey-green mac - OUT TO LUNCH emblazoned across the back in orthopedic pink - was flecked with drizzle by the time he made it from the bus, through the busy lunchtime traffic and into the hallway of the Holloway Art College. The moisture brought forth a waft of familiar camp-bed mustiness. A press of students, giggles, bubble-gum reek, glasses steaming-up in an instant. He pushed his way through the crowd to stand by the relative safety of a cordoned-off alcove, and proceeded to polish his glasses on an ostentatious polka-dot handkerchief.
Red, like OTL's fantasies of post-death temptations to reincarnation: the meat trick always dressed to impress. Pink pork chops on a bed of shredded nettles. A grey-green snotworm smeared the righthand lens. He caught it on a marginally-cleaner hem. If these sights could be frozen, they'd be zinging eye-candy masterpieces compared to the charcoal scrambles of the art class ahead. Careful to hold the glasses by their steel rims, he avoided pressing the lens from the frame, always a shameful blunder in company. The marble floor looked unforgiving; it wouldn't bounce back a dislodged optic in one piece.
`You here to do figure drawing?'. Laura. Shortish, pert, dark hair, fringe. Audio-dabbler, gossip. Danger.
`Yup. I've got my charcoal and my pad.'
`You know what women look like with no clothes on, you can get a free dose alone with a mirror anytime - why d'you bother?'
`Tension. The gaze. Tremulous moments of social hesitency. Actually, I'm making a tape recording and only pretending to draw.' She showed him the corner of a small black box she had hidden in her pocket.
`DAT or mini-disc?'
`A fucking Woolworths imitation Walkman, what d'you think?'. Laura made dance tracks, had released a few small-run CDs under the name `Nervous Trix'. But she was all for the delights of affordable technology.
`Analog on budget ferric,' OTL replied, `dig the sound of charcoal-points scratching and crumbling through mountains of lo-fi hiss. Loop it and hear voices from the dead. Redmeat pinpoints of life-temptation through the grey-green smudge ...'
`Colour? This is charcoal class - you brought pastels, perchance, by mistake?'
`Fruit pastels never fail to amuse, stellar antipasti raining down in bastard layers ...'
The idle pleasures of free-form gibberish - Laura was familiar with OTL's ersatz-Tzara associationism - were terminated; the doors to the class-room were flung open. Students pressed towards the bright light of pedagogy, fleeing the weakbulb parsimony of the hallway. Laura thrust the tape-recorder back into her repro-beatnik duffle-coat and joined the mele. OTL followed at a discreet distance, hoping to place himself among students that wouldn't chat. Gossip draws the poet's sting, spoils the opportunity for free-association disconnection. The rabbit-and-prunes he'd cooked earlier returned, searing the back of his throat with a surprisingly gamey mix of olive-oil, jugged rodent and Morrocan red. Of course they wouldn't let him smoke, but the charcoal should at least keep his fingers occupied (contrary to popular belief, digital wank needs no aid from Sony Corp). OTL reminded himself to write that long-planned tract on the mystic link between masturbation and anti-hierarchical thought. What delayed him was that he suspected some bugger had already written it in the guise of a biography of de Sade or de Quincey or some other de rigueur gigolo ...
2. The Model
Life-class models always make their entrance once everyone's settled. They do it to show that - even if they're shy - they're exhibitionists after all. Red meat for the ashen coals, the students' eyes on sticks. Of repressed, lazily voyeurist dynamite. Rows of petroleum jelly. This model sauntered in like the institutional linoleum was her personal cat-walk. Black hair. Black eye-liner. Black boots. Mascara'd pubic hair, probably, but we hadn't got to that yet. She was wearing jeans, a leather jacket, open, a silver latex cummerbund tight around her tits. Weird, thought Lunch, they usually emerge from some kind of anonymous/professional dressing-gown. This was almost striptease. The chattering ceased, people stopped fiddling with their charcoal and paper. Silence. Laura's hoped-for tension. He imagined he could hear the whirr of her ersatz Walkman. Hoped she'd got the mic poking up from her pocket the right way up.
The model's get-up screamed `Cleavage' - that titillating phenomenon last brought to the level of public controversy when some bright spark had telephotoed Lady Di's tits from the ceiling (before her crash had lengthened her name to Diana and rendered her virginal, uncloven). OTL knew enough about anatomy to know that Cleavage is a product of clothing, a sexual piquancy `cooked' rather than `raw'. Even Nell Gwynn couldn't do without the bodice that forced her breasts upwards and together like the cheeks of a comely, rosy arse. This session had been billed as `nude modelling'; the model had to take her clothes off. Was this beauty going to sacrifice her Cleavage on the altar of classical purism, her titties untramelled by the provocations of civilised restraint? What was her name anyway?
`I'm Roxette,' she announced, answering one of Lunch's speculations. Did she want to sound like a phone-card prostitute, or was this a veiled reference to Dr Feelgood's classic, where the pub-rockers showed up Miles Davis's rendition of the riff (`Ife', Slickaphonics In Concert at the New York Philharmonic) as the lamest example of patrician-funk dilettanteism? Roxette looked too young and clean to be a Lee Brilleaux fan, thought Lunch, but then everyone was young and clean back in 1975.
Roxette lay back on the couch and offed her spike high heels. Two expert movements. Her jeans were peeled off in an instant, likewise her leather jacket. She posed coyly, crossed legs, her hands resting 50s-style on her kneecaps, her silver bodice her sole garment, a fetishist's wet dream (like all fetishists' dreams). How did make her whole body look like a silvered patent-leather shoe? OTL felt his prick move against his trousers before he felt the faintest tinge of arousal, a tell-tale sign of the Id's independence. He almost gasped out loud when Roxette reached behind her back to undo her silver, Cleavage-causing garment, but contented himself with swallowing and readjusting himself where he sat. Were the other members of the art class as moved as he was? He didn't care. All he wanted was to gaze at that two-inch vertical slit in her flesh, that perfect conjuncture of breast, buttock and vagina symbols, that negative slot in the pink sheen. He could feel the herbal-verbals start to boil, trembling the lid of his pre-conscious.
Roxette looked like she'd just walked out of a Pat Califia gang-bang - and she wasn't even bleeding. Quickly discarding her `last garment' - that thrilling phrase that trembles in the weft of every tranche of serious pornographic prose - the virtually stark-raving nude Roxette lent over the arm of the couch and tipped herself over it. This was practised erotic ballet, a living sculpture. She'd managed to raise her arse in a tribute to Boucher's immortal Miss O'Murphy at the same time as prostrating herself on the floor! Her long, delicately articulated arms stretched before them, her artificially-lengthened eye-lashes plainly visible against pale cheeks, and - most impressive achievement of all - her breasts were now artfully arranged so that her nipples were hidden, pressed against the lino. Somehow she'd thereby pressed her breasts together. A genuine Cleavage - and at least fifty-five minutes left to contemplate same!
A hushed moment while the class ogled, then a furious scratching and scribbling as sublimated sexual energies pressed themselves into the production of execrable postmodernist porno-kitsch charcoals. OTL hoped Laura's ferric-oxide was successfully translating the scene into analogue magnetic-oxide wiggles. Unlike what was going down on paper, the sounds were abstract - and hence more furtive, more organic, more sexual - than anything this crew of hopeless dabblers could ever hope to achieve.
3. Roxette's Cleavage
Dr Gwendolyne Dworkin-Fishbait - one of the sternest of the teaching staff, and a stickler for unmixed metaphor and forthright stickwork - was policing the aisles. OTL had to do something to cover up for his poetico-sexual daydreams, to justify his pulsing erection. He began writing over his square of paper, a slanty, retro-art scrawl designed to imitate some kind of pathologically derivative gestural expressionism. However, the important thing was the words. Later, at home, after much close study of his feverish, overlapping scribbles, he managed to salvage the following heteroglossia:
The Masonic Egyptologist Karl Abel discovered that Ancient Egyptians had many words that mean one thing and also their opposite. The word for `strong' - stewp - was also the word for `weak'. In hieroglyphics, a `determinative' followed the sign for stewp (an upright, armed man for `strong'; a crouching, weary man for `weak'); Abel surmised that in speech the word was accompanied by a gesture. Abel's argument rested on the supposition that consciousness repressed the antithetical term. Sigmund Freud revived Abel's thesis: according to his paper, `The Antithetical Sense of Primal Words', the veteran philologist had stumbled upon the Syntax of Dreams - or, to say it OTL-weise, The Way Poetry Works. Think about it! In Latin, altus means both `high' and `deep'; sacer means both `holy' and `accursed'. In German, Boden means both `attic' and `ground floor'; b"s - `bad' - corresponds to bass - good. The Old Saxon bat - `good' - corresponds to the English bad; the English verb to lock corresponds to German Lcke or Loch - `hole'; in German kleben - `to stick, to cleave to' - corresponds to the English to cleave - `divide' - which can also of course mean `to cling to, to attach yourself, to LOVE'. Words also reversed their sound: in Egyptian `good' could be pronounced doog as well as good. German usage corroborates Freud: Topf (pot)-pot; boat-tub; wait-tuwen (wait); hurry-Ruhe (rest); care-reck; Balken (club)-Kloben (club).
As he scribbled these schizoid assertions over his drawing-paper, OTL's personal club rose beneath his dirty mac, a conceptual meat blush tenting its Christo-like grey-green. The verdant pastures of sex-madness allured him with their tender flame. Later, surveying a transcription from his mass of charcoal scribbles, OTL decided it constituted his K"nigstein Flash, a Faustian Moment of Cloven Truth. The club that cleaves is also the gnostic-garlic clove that vocals: Roxette's hypnotising Cleavage was riddled with messages. Was it like the runic ribbons the Ancients wound round the shaft of a spear, a text only revolutionaries and screw-brains could decipher? She lit him up as mute sap recall.
Hard at work among the other students, OTL's brain lit up with diagrams figured in lines of laser pink. Where they encroached on his hazel iris, he smelled scorch-marks, hi-tech burns directed by a larger mind. The atoms were speaking to him across time, leaping the conceptual split between inert rock and the living soul. Roxette's sexual charge had straddled the chasm between human flesh and the metal of motors. She kept completely still, her dramatic pose an alabster provocation, her Cleavage an inky slit. It spilled out words and concepts like an astrophysicist's darlingest black hole; OTL's Kolbenstange was kleberisch with sticky-juice as he attempted to understand the push-me-pull-you of the semantic shunt. Karl Abel's thesis wasn't just about the lowly verbal signifier: it warmed up concepts for that interpenetration of opposites Roxette's Cleavage was screaming at him.
OTL noted that Roxette's thighs were gripping the arm of the couch in a tell-tale vice; her locked crotch became a hole in which his image-maker fell, a lost-boy truant wailing down an endless well, the charred twig in his hand scrubbing mascara'd post-art sandwiches between her thighs. He cleaved to the bulk of her body with icy eye, as baulked desire sent wither-shivers up and down his nipped-bud spine, a clustered symptom screaming cleavacious vehicles, a soak-all laxative, a cure for puke-wrecked adolescence and all its damaged psyches. He wanted to shove his club in her Cleavage, guv'ner; he imagined lowering himself over her, unbuttoning, introducing his prick between her rosy breasts. Art class had never been like this before!
Abruptly, he felt a cold breath of disapproval waft across his face. Dr Dworkin-Fishbait was standing behind him, studying his text. He hoped it was sufficiently over-written, scrubbed, scribbled, scrabbled, scrambled - textured - to evade comprehension. He couldn't even remember if their were any obscenities hidden within it - the whole situation was shouting porno exclamations in livid pink.
`Your drawing ...', she began. He breathed a sigh of relief - at least she hadn't sussed the mess was words. `... it's promising, if rather over-stressed. You might find the eraser helps. Remember that, with charcoals, erasure is itself a tool.'
In other contexts, he might have relished such advice. The idea of flipping from black-on-white to white-on-black was in line with Freud's doctrine of antithetical sense. OTL recalled the optical illusion with three black verticals which suddenly flip to reveal two white posts on a black ground. Cocks flip out in the St Louis dawn, dew on the newts we got, rose wallpaper, smell of burning leaves. However, if he was ever to transcribe his spasm of verbal inspiration, he'd have to avoid using the india-rubber eraser she proferred him.
`Yuh', he gulped, `I get your point - I'll need to think about where to add in some light, though ...'.
But Dr Fishbait had moved on to the next student, whom she started to bawl out for being too `tentative'. OTL's concentration broken, he looked around to see where Laura was positioned. She was at the back of the room, by the discontinued, white-glossed fireplace. She caught his eye and smiled. He hoped her tape-recorder had caught Fishbait's `erasure is itself a tool', he could imagine the phrase dropped into one of Laura's puff-pant aural-sex retro-techno Moroder-trax. There'd be tons of hiss, but Laura had a way of using that to her advantage - sudden bursts of analogue interference within the freeze-dried digital beatscape.
OTL stood up, rolled up his paper and put his charcoals back in their tin. Fishbait came over.
Over her shoulder he could see Roxette and the dark slit between her breasts. He wanted to kneel down dressed in sackcloth and ashes - on a carpet of broken glass and cigarette butts and choc-ice wrappers - and place his tongue in her Cleavage slot. It would snap shut like the blow-holes of a chromatic harmonica. Lingual severance! He imagined writhing on the floor in a pool of blood, screaming wordless howls about sexual arousal and how it submerges the subject below language, below the level of self and survival we're supposed to cleave to.
Fishbait stood too close. He felt sure she'd notice his arousal, make him take his pants down, show everyone his cock, berate him in front of the class while holding his prick disdainfully between two fingers ... However, all she said was, `I know what you're up to, Lunch, I can see you've got something heavy and obscene rolled up in that paper. Have you ever heard of Rimshotz?'
`A night club?' he said, guessing jazz - drummers, hard bop, Art Blakey.
`Yes, you could describe it as a club, or maybe more as a situation.' She took out a card and handed it to him. Blue card with tiny, crudely-drawn stars printed in gold. `Camden Town, the D&G Fashion Walpurgis Nacht Ball. Be there. You've got some rimming to do, my boy ...'. She pronounced `rimming' strangely, as if it was `revisioning' or `rimmering', but he knew she meant analingus. How had she guessed OTL's secret vice, a predeliction for dereliction only known to a select sequence of girlfriends? He pocketed the card and made for the exit.
4. Homeward Bound
OTL walked home from Hackney Central station whistling atonal intervals through his teeth, his charcaol automatism rolled-up and placed, tramp-style, down one trouser-leg. As he reached the top of Mare Street, he noticed an illiterate placard promising a `boot sale': `clothes, CD's, book's, tape's, brick-a-brack, baby clothe's'. More erroneous apostrophes than you could shake a stick at. In short, a sign of genuine promise: an outbreak of egregious apo's invariably heralded retarded awareness of cultural value. Might be time for a bargain.
Tattered war books - swastikas and airplane wings - some dog-eared LPs too dreadful even for the most intrepid recyclers of parental error ... a table piled with clothes that all looked like scabies-on-contact. A deflated Mister Blobby, some empty Saki bottles, plaster cupids, a deer-stalker's hat, an orange plastic monstrosity designed to hold liquid carbohydrates for bicyclists or athletes. His eye fell on a dirty yellow pamphlet. Strange, it looked like an antique. The title was a macaronic, an ungainly mix of Latin and English: Quantulumcunque Concerning Money. Mentions of money always grab the eye, but `quantulumcunque'? OTL rifled through the sonic ricochets - cumulus cloud, capital accumulation, tumulus, tum-tum, rumpy-pumpy, cunt, cunnilingus, conk, bunk, cork ... Not bad, but it was the affront of the shift from the labials at the end of `quantulum' to the harsh click of `cunque' that got him going. `Juan's tool - yum! - cuntways,' he muttered. And then the dry, bureaucratic bathos of `concerning money' after that klangfest of erotical syllabia! He turned to the title page. `To the Lord Marquis of Halifax', 1682, `By William Petty'. Wow! This was surely the book namechecked by Marx in a footnote to Capital! Was this the very volume in which William Petty laid out the limitations of government control of the economy, and explained how control of the money supply could never be a wealth-creating mechanism? Marx considered most pronouncements by government ministers since then - including those of the philosopher John Locke - to be self-serving `dilutions' of Petty's founding theory. Latinate urtication of the poetic nerve-endings combined with Marxian-antiquarian status - the book was a must!
`How much for this?'
`It's not for sale.'
`What d'you mean - I'll give you a fiver!'
`You must be joking. That pamphlet's worth hundreds if not thousands, it's seventeenth-century. Careful with it, now, I shouldn't have left it out. I've got someone coming to see it later, a dealer.' The stall-holder snatched it back and stowed it away on a shelf at the back. Disappointed, OTL proceeded on his way.
Whatever, he'd taken the word with him, a gasper: `quantulumcunque'! He began to worry he wouldn't remember it right. OTL's route took him through Clapton Square. He ducked into the gardens and sat on a bench. He fished his pen out of his pocket, pulled the roll of paper up from his trousers and wrote the word on it in tiny capitals. A couple passed. Fattish guy in a stupid pullover - goatee, glasses - and a taller woman with thick red hair. They were talking about virtual reality and television. OTL's operation was evidently a little too actual for them - come to think of, he must have looked like he was pulling his plonker - and they kept their eyes averted as they passed.
When OTL got home, he looked up Petty in the glossary of his Stalinist edition of Capital, and there it was: Quantulumcunque Concerning Money. `Quantulumcunque', it explained, meant `a few words'. That's what he'd been tattooing on his penis (at least from the point of view of the couple discussing virtuality): `a few words' in Latin! But it was actually just one word. `Quantulumcunque' was an oroborus of self-description, a very nothing, a veritable apostrophe, a perfect symbol of art-wank play-without-end. Fantastic! `Quelconquerie!' as Apollinaire might have exclaimed, letting rip at those imbecile poets who write about clouds and angels because they think actuality is a sordid and temporary business. OTL, au contraire, was a Dietzgenite and knew that actuality was actually everything.
Fired up with the discovery of this extraordinary word, Lunch went to his desk, booted up his IBM-clone with a 286 chip and DOS operating system and Microsoft Word 5 bootlegged from his Dad. He then wrote what was - provided you counted the charcoal brain-storm in the art class - the Second Poem Of The Day.
Qual conkeries of impact that fascicules are made of
History mess upon a nested street, the verbals far and few
Where scribble seraphim invite my brainiac fingertudes
A whistling fortingale, a hokum ship of after-eights
The mucoid mandibles of geyser cheese
A plinth that asks you in and holds your breath
While dipsoid runs are painterly 'cross the fo'c'sle
He paused. Flat last line. A bit fucking nautical. Where had that come from? It was like Art, Bart & Fargo, the free-improvising trio whose posters he'd seen all round Leeds, who he'd never gone and seen because their name promised songs that would shiver your timbers and slip you the king's shilling and have you waking up in a banana bin with a jolly old crew singing sodding sea shanties - when all you wanted to hear was corkscrew saxophonics over a blatant battery of shredded bebop tom-toms.
After this spurt of high-wire poetical endeavour, OTL needed something reassuringly stupid, or at least a wank. Put on a record? Richard Berry singing `Next Time - What do you mean Next Time'? ... Iggy Pop's moronic classic `I'm Living on Dog Food' (the one he'd written for the inaugural Stooges album, but left off because, coupled with `Now he Wanna Be Your Dog', it would've appeared what he called `de trop')? ... Or maybe Louis Prima & his Gleeby Rhythm Orchestra on a hot rendition of `Gleeby Rhythm Is Born'? OTL's brain felt like a Gina Southgate free-improvised action-painting: semi-diaphonous, smeared and rutted, a cellophane riotscape pegged with extraneous soft-toys and gee-gaws. Then he remembered that despite the fact that he'd just bought four Louis Prima albums in quick succession, he still hadn't tracked down the song Nick Tosches had written about with such baroque enthusiasm he'd first thought Louis Prima was a figment of Tosches' own gleeby imagination. Until that fateful moment, drunk and slumped in an afternoon-matine cinema in Tottenham, OTL had raised his weary eyes and seen Louis Prima's name roll by on the credits to Walt Disney's Jungle Book ...
Music was out, he'd settle for a wank. He wanted to recall Roxette's Cleavage, imagine the art class immortalising his own rear-end Cleavage whilst he rutted the gap between her breasts. He needed something to get him going. Always best to shift to the Real Object Of Desire in midstream, like a cut by Nic Roeg, or one of Dogbiz from Crumpsall's artful segues where a Chuck Berry ring-a-ding guitar knocks you straight into a chromium egg-slicer, ouch. He scanned the bookshelves. Margaret Rothery Sheldon and Barbara Lockwood's Breeding From Your Poodle? No, he should give the poodles a rest ... oh, just a quick peek, then.
Appointment for Service - Preparation of Bitch - Payment of stud fee - Conditions of mating - Puppy in lieu of stud fee - Serving the Bitch - Difficulties in mating
`Fuck me!' This was rivetting! He'd forgotten how dependable poodles were ...
Making the appointment for Service: You will probably have decided on your choice of stud dog for your bitch some time before she is due in season. It is often difficult to make up one's mind about which dog is really going to suit the bitch best, and if in doubt it usually helps to get in touch with the breeder of the bitch and ask advice.
`A silky one with long black ears, please'; `One with a hot pink curly weenie'; etc etc ... No! No more splashing about with poodles, it's too much of a clich, Jeff Koons has done it to death, enough already! Let's find something sturdy and proletarian, something as totally unpostmodern as a four-post bolster, someone who looks like Karl Marx, for example, big black walrus moustache sprouting over a salt-and-pepper bib of a patriarchal beard, heroic socialist eyebrows, great big floppy cravat and an illegible scrawl of a signature ... yes, it's got to be Josef Dietzgen!
OTL picked up his mother-in-law's copy of The Positive Outcome of Philosophy, published in Chicago in the late 1920s. He opened it at random - and hit icicles straight away! Almost as good as a pneumatic, ice-maiden blonde squeezed into a silverised satin sheath-dress, her slim air-brushed-at-Athena breasts pressed against sheer fabric, a necklace of pre-come pearls glistening about her neck ...
The old logic treats things, the objects of knowledge, like rigid icicles, while the philosophically expanded logic considers such treatment adequate only for household use.
The frozen dildo of alienated knowledge creates intense excitements in the hots of the domestic bower! As Andr Breton - or Philippe Soupault (or was it Tom Raworth?) - said in Les Champs Magntiques, `Will the enormous hail-stones lying in his hand go on melting eternally?'. Or as Andr Breton said on the radio to Andr Parinaud in 1952, quoting Pierre Reverdy, `I wrote in an attic where the snow, falling through the cracks in the ceiling, turned blue ...'. OTL's own household wets froze hard in a chill breath of arctic sub-zero as he made his way to his personalised S&M chapel. He turned on the wind-machine and pulled on the dog-sleigh harness. Fingers blue with cold adjusted the straps and tightened the buckles. He triggered his favourite tape-loop - a pirate recording of Stephen Milligan's maiden speech at the House of Commons. As he pressed his trembling body against the chill tiles of his personalized, laid-for-prostration nave, he squeezed the bulbs of his perfume bottle-atomizer mousetrap invention: a heady scent of eau d'orange filled the air. This was going to be a good one. All he needed now was a successful image-segue from icebergs to dark slits, from phallic white to vaginal black, from the heroic hygiene of spanking-bright, pristine externality to the sultry caves of moist penetrables - chocolate crumbs, the mud cakes on discarded booties, balls of hairbrush-hairs caught in the handcream ...
The reader was spared this heroic attempt to express the unutterable - a burst of yolky yellow light, a rush, a dart, a hymn, a pulsing yellow trawl, Mel Cheren's ab-ex daub on the cover of Sonny Rollins' East Broadway Rundown - by an insistent electronic tinkle. The telephone! Before starting his ritual onanism, OTL had failed to switch on his answering-machine. No-one can concentrate on path-breaking erotic image-making when they're being pestered by a nerve-end wired to cyberspace. Certainly not Lunch! He buttoned up his trousers and reached for the receiver.
5. Phone call from `John'
`Hello. This is John.'
`Hello ... John.' He hoped `John' wouldn't note the dead tone that colours a greeting when you can't for the life-of-you remember which John - or Dave, or Lucy, or Andrea - is calling. Economics is a killer. It was unlikely, but this particular John might be about to offer some work, so OTL couldn't come clean and ask, Who the fuck are you?
`I hope he didn't interrupt anything - you sound out of breath.' OTL couldn't tell if the guy was being cheeky; when you don't know who someone is, it's hard to guage their level of humour. It was probably a musician. They never offer you anything with any money in it, so maybe Lunch should challenge him ...
`No, no - no problem.' Politeness on autodrive. The usual public front where anything, um, remotely disshevelled is concerned.
`Well, we were looking into the possibility of you doing the thing, and he must say a few of us found it quite intriguing, though we'd need some clarification about how much you're just hacking stuff together - you'll forgive the term - or actually turning out, you know, new copy.' Have to stall the bastard. Who the fuck knew what it was all about? This might possibly be something involving thousands of pounds. He must tread carefully. These alcohol-induced blackouts could be a real nuisance. Make a deal, follow it with a night on the tiles, and you can't remember who they are, let alone what you agreed to, or what the angle is. He spied the Dietzgen volume lying on the kickstool-on-rollers he used to reach his higher bookshelves. Dietzgen! Always good for a wobbler. Not too extreme - or as he'd say, not too `excessive' - but definitely a wild-card, and that's just what OTL needed at this juncture.
OTL opened it an random - though not quite as randomly as before, as he didn't want any of that icicle malarky, too arousing - and quoted a couple of lines.
`Well, what I've come to is this ... this quote from Josef Dietzgen I found kind of sums it up. Here, let me read it to you ...'. He ignored John's protests. `Now, according to Dietzgen ... It is a peculiarity of thought that it never remains by itself, but always digresses to other things. The thought is the point to which he should stick, but it is the nature of this point, not to be able to stick to it.' He paused. He reckoned the next sentence - `Thinking is a thing full of contradictions, a dialect secret' - was perhaps a bit over the top. `John' was evidently not someone who liked to admit when they're puzzled. Maybe he was bullshitting as much as he was? Two phonies on the phone - an endless mirroring of nonsense, a bad infinity of hints and guesses. Set up two salesmen and get them talking. That could create a semantic black-hole dense enough to swallow British Telecom.
`So?' John said.
Somewhat curtly, OTL thought. He let him have it: `Thinking is a thing full of contradictions, a dialect secret.'
`Indeed. Was this Dietzgen a contemporary of Karl Marx?' Aha, he could utter the M-word. Obviously not a producer from Radio 4. Couldn't be anyone in computing. Hardly likely to be a music-magazine editor either. Musicians only ever mention gigs and equipment and sexual gossip. That narrowed down the field. Postmodernism has made Marx unmentionable in the academy. Obviously either art or politics. But which?
`Indeed.' OTL replied. Giving out data was a way of stalling for time. `Dietzgen wrote the first German review of Capital, and a favourable one at that. Marx called to visit him soon after. A tanner by trade. The book I'm quoting from is called The Nature of Human Brain-work, Presented by a Working-Man. It's great, a really down-to-earth, blunt-spoken statement of dialectical philosophy - without a trace of that religio-mumble fantasy about being a member of the Elect and surpassing mere common-or-garden Understanding that you get in Hegel.'
`But you love Hegel!' `John' seemed to know Lunch, but who the hell was he?
OTL pressed on. `Yes, but when I read Dietzgen I feel I've been purified, a good scrub at the common pump to rid myself of the hermetic oils and churchy fumes of Critical Philosophy. It's bracing.'
`Bang goes Uncle Theodor too I suppose ...'
Had to be a poet. Possibility he hadn't considered. Too well-versed in Marxism to be a politico. John Riley's dead ... John Seed? John Welch? John Wilkinson? John James? Jonathan Jones? Johnny `Guitar' Watson? Far too many Johns. Never keep an address book by first-names, you run out of J-space straight away. Without even getting on to the Janes and Jeremies and Julias and Joels and Joannas. But why should a poet be pursuing him? Poets all thought he took the piss, with all the politics and stuff. Poets and politicos. Chalk and cheese. Oil and vinegar. Then you try and separate them, but you can't, they're always together, bitching and fussing in the dresssing room. Poetry's blue trade - `subjectivity' - is always going to infect Revolution's true blade - `objectivity'. And vice versa. According to Lunch. Though the separate coteries deny it, the two-way strop is simply unstoppable. Didn't mean they can ring you up all the time, though.
`'Fraid I've got to go. I'm copying a tape, and then I've got to go out.' That should bring `John' to the point.
`Well, it's about the programme notes for the new music drama by Mark-Anthony `Geezer' Garbage which we're staging at the South Bank. You were recommended by Joella McTrigger ...'
OTL gritted his teeth. Another J. The thing was out of control! Garbage-Geezer's fatuous genre `collisions' were about his least favourite show on earth. Ghastly plodding bigband jazz sprinkled with effects plundered from Iannis Xenakis. John Cummins? No, he wouldn't dare ... Surely it wasn't that anaemic classical-saxophone fraud John Harle? The voice at the other end of the phone plummeted into a word-salad of art-brochure buzzwords from the late 90s:
`Breaks boundaries ... opens up new vistas ... mixes high and low ... ballet and football ... jazz and folk ... improvisation and concentration camps ... bums on seats ... popular appeal ... Frank Zappa ... Brain Eno ... virtual equality ... fun for all the family ...'.
OTL was desperate! He turned to his collection of outjazz disobedience. The row of CDs put out by Cadence's Creative Improvised Music Projects, with their stern semaphore spines and intransigent titles, grabbed his eye immediately. CIMP by name, but neither `simp' or `symp' by nature, this was some of the most over-the-top, live-wire, never-say-die Free Jazz still screaming its lungs out at the bland boring administered world. CIMP muisic has soul, blues, big sound, raw nerves, NOISE, everything the postmodernists at the South Bank had done their best to bury under their shitloads of over-funded, mealy-mouthed, establishment-poodle, pin-stripe minimalist, pseudo-transgressive, ambient tonal `geezer' garbage ... OTL slipped Judgment Day by Sonny Simmons out of its jewel-case and into the CD-tray. The great free-jazz saxophonist said it in his sleevenote better than he could:
The music here represents a time of Great Spiritual Depression. The world will be judged by the Sound of Holy Music. Black hail is one of the forces that will be used for the judgment of all Mankind. It has been said, among some musicians, he can't play the tenor saxophone. So he am settling the score to silence these egotistical bastards for all time.
`You bureaucrats are legislating in the temple of truth!' he shouted down the phone. Sonny Simmons' tenor saxophone tore out of the speakers, a seething velocity spurred on by the Charles Moffett's unstoppable (except by death) drums and the slithery lithe blueness of Steve Neil's bass. `That's the Steve Neil, the bassist who's played with Pharoah Sanders and Johnny "Guitar" Watson, musicians with more soul in their little brown pinkies than you and Garbage Face will ever have! Your score-toady, careerist "sense of proportion" is a coward's excuse for living through misery, the comic-book mumble of a meagre survival! Open your ears to the fury of Black Hail, you scaly, loathsome classical imbricate!', OTL's over-stressed tonsils recalled Mark Greenway's Napalm Death `vocular armaggedon'. He placed the mouthpiece over the speaker cone and slid the volume control to max. After the title track - a mere fifteen-minute sax-drums holocaust - the wimp had hung up! Seems you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make the sucker drink.
After this altercation OTL came over all trembly. Out To Lunch was a sensitive soul at heart, and confrontation always left him drained. Harle's words left him de-energised, crest-fallen, stymied. He wasn't even good for a wank now. In retrospect, playing Sonny Simmons down the phone seemed puerile, a sonic version of throwing popcorn at the bad guy in the movie. OTL got out his box of scraps he use to construct his collages, a practice Old Ferris used to call `therapy', the bastard. Anyway, the results didn't look like aromatherapy visuals - as far as Lunch was concerned, they were punk versions of Kurt Schwitters, the method without the melding colours and floating forms. Protests at non-transcendence, a stunted dada dialectic that failed to click, yet tickled something somewhere in his speculum culturalis. As he scissored and pritted and tore and stained and sealing-waxed and safety-pinned and paper-clipped and burned and frottaged and transparencied and rubbed and smeared and contrasted and compared, he mumbled word-spells to encourage the results.
`No trodden spark shall be deemed too tiny for ME's hungry 'scope! All collective banners rely on the blow-up of detail, and only a onlooker giddy with the rush of the zoom-lens can breathe the ether of revolt!! As official science starts to mess with the genetic code, radical thought needs to prod the chromosomes of the dialectic with its spectral forceps. A porcelain spindle abuts the pulsing nucleus. Meoitic splits are recombined by tracing back the material chain of cause and effect: no Cleavage too wild, no cloven hoof too splayed for this steely retro-project. The savage lift is off the skirted plinth!'
Distracted by his incantation, OTL hadn't been aware of what he was making. He looked again. He'd laid a strip of silver cigarette paper across a piece of white toilet paper. Earlier he'd used it to blot up spilt ink after filling his fountain pen. The glue had caused the two-ply to come away, leaving two identical blotches. He'd placed them end-to-end on the postcard-size base, forming a symmetrical, thin, black oval. Now he saw what he'd done. He'd reproduced Roxette's Cleavage! That dark, shaded slit behind the silver bodice ... Jackson Pollock-style, OTL placed the card on the floor, then unbuttoned himself and lay on top of it. He aligned the tip of his penis with the dark mark and pressed himself against it. He came almost instantaneously. Oddly enough, he'd never used semen in a collage before. Using a forefinger, he smeared the white sticky glop to the edges of the card - which warped slightly with the moisture. Finished! He blu-tacked it to the wall along with the others. He felt calmer, now, almost peaceful.
Lunch was aware he'd engaged in an action that some would deem disreputable - psychotic, infantile, repellent. Still worse, it might be construed as ritualistic, even religious or mystical. However, OTL's studies of Schwitters, Höch, Malevich, Moholy-Nagy, Zappa, Crook, Dogbiz and Hemmings had not been in vain. He knew that he had actually engaged in militant gratificatory art-play, a blow to totalitarian systems of sacrifice and manipulation. There had been no theoretical up-puff, no pseudo-political bluster, no denunciatory rhetoric. No bullshit. The first art-class Cleavage had been dealt with.
On to Chapter Two