The Who - Quadrophenia The Prologue
In the dark room, as narrow as a railway carriage, sudden spotlights illuminated
the stage. Amplifiers, a web of wires to carry the live currents, the silver
edges of the drums gleaming bright, hi-hat and snare. They're almost here, he
thought, almost here. Feverish, feeling the amphetamine racing in his blood. High
and free, more pills in his pocket, thick smoke in the light, the hum and drone
of the amplifiers. Nearly here. People wedged him in, packing closer, tighter,
not restless but waiting, anticipating, willing the first harsh chord and the
violence of the moment, cut out of time. The moment in the rose garden. Waiting,
keenly watching, almost nervously, their faces tensed. Pills going down, feeding
them up, and the first shouts, louder now, speeding them towards release. The
waxing voices. Hemmed in and pushed closer, edging towards the empty stage, his
head screaming now, now, now, now, his eyes dazzled, blinded by the brilliant
lights. Nearly here. Back there now, somewhere out of sight, dressed and ready,
fingering strings. Any moment he thought. Any time. They're nearly here. Across
the room, head and shoulders above the rest, blonde hair swept back, he saw the
Face, patiently waiting, not seeking his audience now but part of it, part of the
sea of faces and sharing the vision, unselfconsciously eager. The crowd shuffled
forward, gaining inches, someone leaping, breaking clear for a second, dropping
back out of sight, like the failing salmon at the waterfall. He felt the dampness
under his arms, sweat on his face, rivulets coursing down his hot cheeks and
dripping, dripping from his chin. His arms were pinned and he couldn't free them
to wipe away the wet smears, but the discomfort quickly passed. It didn't
matter. His lips formed the words, rehearsing the moment:
"I can go anyway ... way I choose"
Daltrey leaning back, rocking back, arm raised, the microphone lead snaking
through his fingers. Crashing forward I can live anyhow win or lose
"I can go anywhere ... for something new
ANYWAY, ANYHOW ANYWHERE I CHOOSE"
Cajoling, threatening, teasing, knowing
"WHY DON'T YOU ALL F-F-F-FA-FA-FA-FADF, A-A-A-AWAY"
In the dark room, as narrow as a railway carriage, sudden spotlights illuminated the stage. Amplifiers, a web of wires to carry the live currents, the silver edges of the drums gleaming bright, hi-hat and snare. They're almost here, he thought, almost here. Feverish, feeling the amphetamine racing in his blood. High and free, more pills in his pocket, thick smoke in the light, the hum and drone of the amplifiers. Nearly here. People wedged him in, packing closer, tighter, not restless but waiting, anticipating, willing the first harsh chord and the violence of the moment, cut out of time. The moment in the rose garden. Waiting, keenly watching, almost nervously, their faces tensed. Pills going down, feeding them up, and the first shouts, louder now, speeding them towards release. The waxing voices. Hemmed in and pushed closer, edging towards the empty stage, his head screaming now, now, now, now, his eyes dazzled, blinded by the brilliant lights. Nearly here. Back there now, somewhere out of sight, dressed and ready, fingering strings. Any moment he thought. Any time. They're nearly here. Across the room, head and shoulders above the rest, blonde hair swept back, he saw the Face, patiently waiting, not seeking his audience now but part of it, part of the sea of faces and sharing the vision, unselfconsciously eager. The crowd shuffled forward, gaining inches, someone leaping, breaking clear for a second, dropping back out of sight, like the failing salmon at the waterfall. He felt the dampness under his arms, sweat on his face, rivulets coursing down his hot cheeks and dripping, dripping from his chin. His arms were pinned and he couldn't free them to wipe away the wet smears, but the discomfort quickly passed. It didn't matter. His lips formed the words, rehearsing the moment:
"I can go anyway ... way I choose"
Daltrey leaning back, rocking back, arm raised, the microphone lead snaking through his fingers. Crashing forward I can live anyhow win or lose
"I can go anywhere ... for something new ANYWAY, ANYHOW ANYWHERE I CHOOSE"
Cajoling, threatening, teasing, knowing
"WHY DON'T YOU ALL F-F-F-FA-FA-FA-FADF, A-A-A-AWAY"
Moments of vision. Almost here. Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle, Moon. The shape of ascending, spiraling sound, the windmilling, descending arms, the wild, free relentless drumming. Drunk with the music. Waiting, waiting, now, now, now, now. NOW. And then, at its climax, the guitar smashed and pulped and splintered against the boards, the electric scream of its dying, breaking open the amplifier, the loudest wound. The crush and chaos and then the screech and whistle of feed back, bleeding through the system endlessly.
"ANYWAY, ANYHOW ANYWHERE"
"NOTHING GETS IN MY WAY"
"NOT EVEN LOCKED DOORS"
"ANYWAY, ANYHOW ANYWHERE I CHOOSE"
The high harsh whistle of noise. Moon ripping, tearing, hacking, puncturing the tight skins. Tearing down the defences, letting in the sea. Anyway and anyhow. Nothing matters. Nothing beyond this room. Nothing out there in the night. Nothing, nothing, nothing. He felt the tightness in his throat. His limbs ached. They pushed him closer and nearer to the dream. It was time. They were here. Look at us, he thought. Look at us. We're out in the light.
P-people t-try to p-p-p-put us d-own
"This is m-my-my generation
"Why don't you all f-f-f-f-fade away
"J-j-just t-t-talk-in bout m-my gene-ra-ra-shun"
"This is my generation"
OUT IN THE LIGHT
"but I know sometimes I must get out in the light better leave her behind where the kids are alright The Kids Are Alright"
Jimmy Cooper lived in Shepherd's Bush, West London, barely a mile from the Goldhawk Social Club. He had left school and worked in the post room in an Advertising Agency in the West End. Like most of his contemporaries he earned decent money for his age - seventeen - and spent this, according to a strict hierarchy of necessity and choice, on a variety of things. His mother took board from him at two pounds a week. Then the rest of his £15 wages went on clothes, dancing, records, magazines and pills. Not aspirins or Victory Vs but pep pills: leapers, french blues, purple hearts and black bombers. Amphetamine, or Benzedrine, the stuff that dreams are made of. He also paid religiously the regular weekly installments on a hire purchase account. It was for a motor scooter, a Vespa, Gran Sportique. A G.S. The scooter had five spotlights, four mirrors, front and back racks, trimmed with fur, and chrome side panels. It had cost him half-a-crown a square inch to have them done but, looking at the burnished metal and the beauty of it, the expense seemed worthwhile. So did the money he'd lavished on appropriate clothing, like an authentic US Army Parka with fur-trimmed hood. The two went together and made him visible to the street. It was impossible not to notice what they meant and signified. Jimmy Cooper was a mod.
In 1964 the mods were an important, and very visible social force in English, and not just London life. Subsequently, for the most part, ignored or dismissed by cultural historians (perhaps because they lacked an explicit political programme, perhaps because, like most self-confessed movements in the sixties they enjoyed only a relatively brief life), they were nevertheless of extraordinary significance in their own right, and as catalysts of further change. The movement, with its dedication to fashion, music and pills, was the first massive, manifestation of youth culture, and formed the advance guard of the first truly post-war generation in England. Originating at street level, and always retaining their roots in the predominantly working-class environment, the mods displayed more than a taste for sharp clothes and American music, even though it was their appearance (and numbers) which seemed most directly to threaten existing social ideas and values. Their real importance lay in the phenomenal success with which they created and communicated an alternative, and in many ways subversive, culture in the midst of an increasingly affluent society.
Despite the fact that they lacked a political programme, the mods revolutionized a generation by making it conscious of itself. For all that, the mods were never an 'underground' movement, a secret society. They deliberately and very successfully advertised their presence on the streets. This visibility stemmed directly from their wide-ranging and essential commitment to style - styles of cool, elegant clothing, styles of talking and dancing, styles of music. Their musical tastes, increasingly esoteric, ranged from black soul music, old blues numbers adopted and adapted by emerging British groups like the Rolling Stones, the Who (earlier the High Numbers) and the Small Faces, rhythm-and-blues, and the kind of rock 'n' roll that showed itself open to such influences. Emotive and expressive, developing, mutating, (but very definitely the shape of things to come), with its deepest roots in an alien American culture, the music embodied new attitudes and alternatives. Moreover, in its language and mood, it seemed closer to the street, to actual and everyday experience, rejecting the romanticism and escapism of the fifties, and the notion that music simply existed as a form of entertainment. Like fashion, music composed a crucial and defining element of the mod experience.
The music of the Who and other British groups like the Small Faces, the real mod groups, reflected that experience, both lyrically (with songs like 'Can't Explain' and 'My Generation') and in performance, where improvisation, fashion and violence consorted on stage. The Who's celebrated habit of breaking their instruments on stage, a practice which originated by accident, was also an appropriate mod gesture since it registered the sense of frustration, outrage and anger (a frustration at the inadequacies of street vocabulary, or even of language itself, in 'Can't Explain'), and turned it into action, violence and performance, reflecting again what was happening outside. Clothes of course were central to mod culture, in the same way as pills, scooters and music. An early commentator on the movement, John Kreidl, defined mod as: 'a style of clothes - flash and plastic - a little hard, not soft, not natural. Mod comes from the English word Modernist. It means someone who has taken the uniform from technology and the elegance from the uniform and reacted to modern times this way. It is a cool aesthetic; a sun-glass aesthetic.' The mods were enormously self-conscious about what they wore and how they wore it, about the length of jacket-vents and acceptable materials, about colour (white was a favourite) and shape. Jackets were worn with only the top button fastened and hands (except for the thumbs) thrust into the pockets.
The thumbs stayed outside the flaps, pointing down towards the catch. Wide lapels had button-holes, slim lapels didn't, and the material might be either eighteen-ounce striped worsted or eleven-ounce Mohair, Perhaps with coloured linings treated for anti-static. A mod could tell whether a suit was bespoke or Burtons by feeling under the lapels. If he felt the sewn up ridge of a full collar it was bespoke and koshe. Above all, the clothes had to be neat and well-tailored, just as hairstyles had to be short and well-cut. Even so, there was never a single style. The 'look' changed, often within weeks, and often at the instigation of a 'Face', a self-appointed leader who deliberately re-fashioned the image, hatching new ideas from the material to hand. Commercial interests rarely dictated the fashions, though the Saturday squares and the back pages of the music papers often reflected the changes from bell-bottoms to parallels, training shoes to cuban heels. A number of magazines emerged directly catering for the mod market. The media at last couldn't afford to ignore what was happening in the streets. But the mods claimed its attention in other, more dramatic and sensational ways. The rivalry between the mods and the rockers - an English version of the American Hell's Angels - frequently expressed itself in confrontation and violence, the two sides coming together as if by agreement particularly around the south-east resorts. The violence displayed an element of ritual as important as the symbolic clothing, the scooters and the motor bikes, beyond the comprehension of the newspapers. The reports from Margate and Hastings, the scenes of many pitched battles between large gangs of mods and rockers, were typical of the incomprehension, unease and moral indignation felt by the establishment. It's worth quoting a selection (from The Times) in order to remember how it was, in the summer of 1964:
RESTAURANT MANAGERESS HURT IN FIGHT MARGATE,
There was further trouble here today. Gangs of youths and girls catcalled and threatened each other on the beach after a stabbing incident in the afternoon, and one group later roamed through the town attacking and threatening those thought to belong to rival gangs, and in some cases passers-by. Young people poured into the town throughout the day by motor cycle, scooter and train. The local police reinforced from other Kent forces, moved groups of young people along and attempted to prevent a clash. To a great extent they succeeded. The first incident occurred early in the morning at Margate railway station. Margate police said windows in the buffet were broken by young people and a fight followed. Mrs. Stott, manageress of the buffet, and Mrs. E. Green a cleaner who went to her assistance, were slightly injured. Mrs. Stott said: 'The boy who started it was so good looking and nicely dressed; you wouldn't have thought he was a nasty type.'
MARCH TO COURT
Around midday magistrates were dealing with charges arising from yesterday's disturbances. A crowd of 200 'Mods' marched to the Town Hall, where the court was sitting, chanting 'Come out you "Rockers"'. A police inspector and three other officers met them and the inspector called: 'Break them up'. As the police advanced, the 'Mods' scattered. Early this afternoon two youths, John Stewart, aged 17, and Michael Fenton, aged 18, were treated at Margate General Hospital after a stabbing incident. Both were discharged. An hour later there was a fight halving several youths on the beach. One of them emerged with four wounds on his back and leg, apparently inflicted by a razor or small knife. He described his opponents as 'Mody'. Ten police officers immediately attempted to clear young people from the surrounding beach. Before they could do so a group of about 50 'Rockers', nearly all wearing black leather jackets, moved from the promenade to the sands. The police prevented a clash and the group moved off along the beach and regained the promenade. The 'Rockers' were followed by a crowd of several hundred young people who taunted them with shouts of 'coward' and clapped rhythmically. Police formed a barrier along the promenade as the 'Rockers' recrossed it, to prevent the crowd following. The 'Rockers' then wandered through the town for several hours: one of them struck a passing car driver, and they forced a scooter rider off his machine in a car park next to the 'Dreamland' amusement park, where incidents occurred yesterday. The scooter rider received cuts and bruises from his fall. The 'Rockers' also ransacked a stationary scooter without injuring the owner. In another incident in the car park a youth punched another scooter owner who had appealed successfully for the return of his crash helmet. The blow was delivered from behind on the back of the neck. Four people were arrested by police during the disturbances. Two of them will appear in court tomorrow. The others, being under 17, will come before a juvenile court later. In conversation, the 'Rockers', many of whom said they lived in Margate, claimed they were defending the town against an alien invasion of 'Mods'. The 'Mods', who came largely from London and towns in Kent, said they had come to enjoy themselves at the seaside.
SPECIAL SQUAD ENDS FIGHTING BOURNEMOUTH, MAY 18
Between 40 and 50 youths were taken to police headquarters here today after a fight on the town's West Undercliff. Three went to hospital, but none was seriously hurt. All were local youths. No weapons were used. A preliminary police statement said: 'It is anticipated that charges will be preferred against some of the youths. Identification parades are being held.' The fight was ended by a special squad of 30 police who had been held in reserve in case of trouble.
BENCH SITS TWICE
Brighton Magistrates held two special sittings yesterday to deal with charges arising from incidents in the town over Whitsun. During the first sitting of the Bench yesterday morning the police were so busy controlling gangs in the resort that they had to ask for several remands. At Margate Dr. George Simpson, chairman of the magistrates referred to 'long-haired, mentally unstable petty little Sawdust Caesars' when about 50 youths and young men appeared before the Court.
ARRESTS REACH 70 AFTER HASTINGS CLASHES
After disturbances yesterday, police made a further 53 arrests at Hastings, bringing the total for the weekend to 70. Fifteen more arrests were made at Great Yarmouth.
HASTINGS, August 3
Police here went on the offensive this evening to clear the town and seafront of the hordes of youths who had spent the weekend fighting and terrorizing holidaymakers. Using completely new tactics, they herded the Mods, Rockers and their followers into groups of 75 to 500 and marched them three miles to the borough boundaries. Most of the groups departed readily, as they have become so used to marching sheepishly behind their leaders that few realized what was happening until they were well on the way to Rye. Youths attempting to get back into town by public transport were taken off the buses and were allowed back in small groups and on foot. The seafront was clear tonight for the first time for 72 hours, for most of those 'accompanied' out of town by the police chose not to return. Local residents, delighted at this new development, brought glasses of lemonade to the police escorting the groups. Mr. Donald Brown, the Chief Constable tonight said that this was 'an inspired piece of policemanship'.
'OPEN MIND' ON DEATH
Police here were still trying late tonight to identify the body of a youth aged between 15 and 17 which was washed up early today on the seafront. The body was found by a group of young people spending the night on the beach a few hours after some of the most unpleasant incidents of the weekend when screaming mobs attacked police, knocking one constable unconscious. The Chief Constable said he had an open mind about the death. There way no evidence to suggest foul play. Investigations were continuing. Tonight the 270 police from five forces, including 69 from the Metropolitan division flown from Northolt airport, had the situation well in hand. For the first time for 72 hours the Mods, Rockers and their followers were no longer threatening to cause new disturbances. A further 53 arrests today brought the weekend total to 70, including two girls.
GROUPS BROKEN UP
Outbreaks of hooliganism had been quickly broken up. The gangs were kept continuously on the move or were restricted to about 100 yards of beach at the far end of the town. The police plan, worked out weeks earlier at a conference of chief constables of the south-east district and senior officers from the Metropolitan force, was to have sufficient men on the ground from the start to break up groups while they were still small and not to make too many arrests in the early stages. The chief constables thought that without this plan the town might have been badly broken up. Nevertheless, behind them at Hastings the gangs have left broken windows, broken cars, one of their number drowned, four policemen injured, a child and several other young girls hurt by flying stones or bottles, and many arrested.
The first lesson to be learnt from this weekend is that the popular explanation of Mods and Rockers as the only troublemakers should be ended. The fact is that over three-quarters of the youngsters from 15-22 who descended on this town over the weekend, clearly admittedly knowing that there would be trouble, were to outward appearances at least perfectly ordinary. They did not come by scooter or motor cycle, they did not wear fancy clothes, nor did they have long hair. Of the 3000 to 5000 youths here over the holiday, fewer than 300 could be classed as Mods or Rockers. Whatever enlightened opinion in the rest of England may think, there is probably not an adult here but would welcome a return to the days when a good thrashing would have discouraged the young people's sheeplike hysteria and a massive display of childishness. In the hotels, cafes, public houses and shops along the seafront, there is complete agreement that this is the solution. For three days press, police and aimless hordes of youngsters have been marching slowly up and down the seafront. After breaking off at one o'clock this morning to catch a few hours sleep, the youngsters began the big walk again soon after breakfast with an occasional scuffle or outbreak of rock-throwing. The extraordinary thing is that none of them seems to know why they are doing this. They walk in gloomy silence or sit fully-clothed on the beach waiting for something to happen. Boredom is the likeliest explanation. None of them thinks of home as anything but a place to eat and sleep. 'We just go with the gang, two young lads said. 'No, we don't do much else cock. 'They couldn't want us home on a Bank holiday, would they? So we go wherever the gang is going'. Most of the scooter-riding youths are from clubs around London. All seemed to know that Hastings would be the centre of the August Bank holiday clashes. Most of them had arrived in groups of up to 30 and there way considerable mixing between the groups, so they all knew the general plan of campaign. The weekend pattern was simple. Early morning scuffles and minor incidents. By one o'clock with the public houses open and crowded with youths and girls, the incidents became suddenly more serious. A few drinks too many and someone would start Rocker-hunting or alternatively Mod-hunting. The pack would follow, growing in a few minutes to many hundreds.
'HERE FOR THE KICKS'
Parents are apparently not considered when it comes to holidays. Only a few of the youngsters were worried that their families might find that they were at Hastings or sleeping on the beach. They placed the blame on anyone but themselves. One youth spoken to as he lay with a crowd on the beach said: 'It's you bloody lot that are doing this.' Almost as he spoke he picked up a rock and hurled it over the heads of holidaymakers at a rival mob. 'We're here for the kicks, said a lad of 17 from Walthamstow. 'There's nothing to do at home, we go out looking for it.' Another said. 'We don't do nothing much, see; just dance halls, birds, that sort of thing.' 'No, I'm not enjoying myself, mate, replied another lad. 'You'll tell me something better to do then. I'm just waiting.' 'My old man doesn't mind what I do as long as I don't get put inside', said a long-haired youth. 'These bloody coppers are too rough - it was better at Margate', said the leader of another group. 'That one here's just clobbered my mate and he wasn't doing anything, and my bird here was pushed off the railings - she could have been hurt'. Asked why the pockets of his jeans were full of rocks this youth said: 'Just in case mate. You don't ever know, do you?'
WEEKENDS OF UPROAR
EASTER (March 27-30) - At Clacton.
WHITSUNTIDE (May 16-18) - At Brighton.
1964 was the year of the mod.
I was remembering Margate as I left home for the Goldhawk. Some jerk magistrate had called us 'long-haired, mentally unstable', which just showed how much he knew about it all. Long hair was a thing of the past and groups who still had it were relics, like the beats. You wouldn't have caught me in a fucking jazz club. Perhaps they couldn't afford a barber, lazy, unemployed bastards. I even preferred the grease to the beatniks; at least they cared about their transport. The beats weren't our kind. There was going to be a crowd at the Goldhawk. The line of scooters parked on the pavement outside proved it. There were plenty of mods around on the streets, too, some of them still sitting on their bikes, leaning against the finely-polished, tubular steel, fur-covered backrests, talking the language of machines and music, watching the new arrivals to check out their territories and admire the fashions.
Pete, Dave and Chalkie were there, looking cool and elegant, and so was Monkey, her short blonde hair drawing attention, dancing around, already pilled-up. Pete was wearing a full-length suede coat which was also being noticed and admired. Shit, he knew how to dress well. Shit. He could afford to. I parked the G.S. and joined them. I wasn't going to make a big impression, not tonight, but my clothes were alright. Monkey would notice them, but then she noticed anything in trousers. Anyone could have Monkey's undivided attention without earning it. I was rather hoping to have a taste of the girl in the striped blazer and white T shirt who was feeling the creases in Pete's parallels, but it wasn't likely. One of Pete's assets was a magnetic personality.
I preferred to think of it like the bit of jam in the glass jar left out, to catch wasps, but then I was simply jealous. I never had many wasps around me, except when I had pills to share out. 'Hi.' 'Hello, Jimmy.' 'Hello, Monkey.' Monkey grinned and put her arm through mine. She didn't really need an introduction. She was flying, you could see it in her eyes. I wanted to talk to Pete, tell him about the newspapers, the magistrate and that phrase about 'long-haired, mentally unstable petty little Sawdust Caesars'. It had become rather a favourite with my Dad, who didn't understand anything at the best of times, and probably hadn't a clue what the words meant. They served his purpose though. Life at home was piss-awful and getting worse. There were times when I wanted to leave, and times when I felt like reducing the place to a ruin, smashing and breaking everything in sight, doing what, the Who did at the end of every act. That was the most magical thing. A single identity. One and complete. Mods. Pete had turned away, typically. Monkey was still around, but Ray Davies had finished and I could hear the group inside beginning to warm up. It had started to rain too, softly, the water splashing on the chrome and lacquer of the scooters, brilliant under the streetlights. At least my G.S. was being admired. It was definitely one of the best machines in the whole fucking row. I wiped the moisture from the seat and went inside the club with Monkey. You never know, perhaps she had some blues, working in a chemist. I'd need some for Brighton; a whole shop full. I needed some now.Chapter Thirteen
BELL BOYS AND RAIN
He was glad he'd gone back, even to wander aimlessly through the streets and around the town, joining the last few holidaymakers along the promenade. The season was drawing towards its close. On the beach, a single deck chair looked like a curious relic of something that had happened once, but was over now, standing by itself in acres of shingle. The shingle stretched away to meet the sea in the blue distance. In the town there was no longer any evidence of the damage that had been done over the holiday. Repairs were complete and the restocked flower beds provided the finishing touches to the cosmetic. It was one and whole again, hiding the junk beneath, but a clean fresh place to be, at the land's end and in the salt air. Jimmy revisited all the places made memorable by the Bank holiday: the cafes, the amusements, the Aquarium - even the Courtroom. He found, after searching around, the basement where he'd taken Steph, and went down and stood for a moment in its darkness, touching the wall with his hands. His life was spread all over Brighton; it looked back at him, wherever he went. That night, by choice, he slept in the open air on the beach, shivering with cold but close to the sea. It lapped near him in the night and he woke, listening to its constant movements, its soothing hiss over the shingles. He went to sleep again, knowing he was safe from its tides.
He thought of nothing. The morning was hazy and the town quiet when he woke, his ears singing with the cries of the gulls. He walked up to the promenade and, for an hour, just gazed at the expanse of incoming water, watching the changing colours and churning foam. Seagulls swept across his vision and the air began to warm. He found a 'Seafare' cafe open early and sat in the window drinking coffee, watching people emerge on to the promenade. He was here, he thought, holding the edge of the table and comforted by its solidity. He was here. He was free. After breakfast he sat down on a bench. He didn't know what to do, but he could always walk around again and revisit the places he'd seen yesterday. He fished in his pockets for a couple of pills and washed them down with a mouthful of the gin he'd bought on arriving. Feeling chilled, he started walking towards the West pier, wondering whether he was bored, his Parka damp from the night on the beach. He decided against walking on the pier. It didn't seem worth it. He went back down to the beach, his feet crunching over the gravely shingle, his head slightly dizzy from the blues and gin. He threw stones into the deep water, and then went back up the steps to the promenade, wishing the scooter was there.
The wind-swept promenade was almost deserted and it felt cold there, the wind bitter. After a while, uncertain what to do, he stopped outside the Grand Hotel, its glass doors repaired, like everything else. He leaned against the railings and threw pieces of shingle at a lamppost, hearing the chink of flint on metal occasionally. He was bored and cold, so cold he was shaking. He looked back along the promenade and even Brighton looked dull and grey, a place like any other. Why? he thought. Why? He took another pull at the bottle and thought about the home he didn't have to go to, the friends he'd lost, the crushed scooter. There was nothing left, and now Brighton disappointed him. No bikes were going to come around the corner in convoy, nothing was going to happen. There were no concerts to go to, and in the cafes nobody played the Juke boxes or broke the chairs, or talked. Brighton was, after all, in the same world, just a little further along the tracks. He was tired, and there was nowhere to go. He'd reached the land's end.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The whole beach was grey. Wet and grey. It was strange how even old dears with piss-all to do would come and spend their Sunday's here, sitting in bloody shingle and watching the sea. Weird how the sea meant something to everyone. I left the railings and wandered along the concrete promenade again, checking the loose five bob in my Parka pocket, and feeling the cold wind. I still had some gin left, thank god, 'cos I was going to need it. The Parka felt like it was sticking to my back it was so wet. Even so, I couldn't understand why I felt so fucking miserable, except I was tired and I didn't know what to do or where to go. In fact there was nothing to feel happy about except the sea. And you can't live in the sea. Music was coming out of one of the record shops in the town: 'Heat Wave' by the Vandelles. I stopped outside and listened. Then 'Mickey's Monkey' by the Miracles. Mod music, but it didn't mean the same now, I felt a bit cheated with it all, now I was outside it. I was tired of moving with the fashions, trying to keep up, like struggling under water. I just felt tired somewhere inside, as if my guts had turned to slime. Perhaps it was the gin and the pills .. . but it wasn't really. It was another feeling, like waiting to be solid again and firm where the slime was inside, where the junk was. I couldn't seem to hold on to myself now, even when things were bad outside. I'd got my freedom. I didn't belong to anyone now, not my parents or Fulford, or even Steph. But now I was free, I didn't even seem to belong in the world any more. Soon I'd be like the tramp, a bit of junk on waste ground. I was frightened by that. I walked back towards the promenade and crossed the road again by the Grand Hotel. Then I saw the scooter and my heart started to pound.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Oh let me go back to the ocean
A wave crashed on to the beach with remarkable force. A fine mist of spray reached the promenade and the sound of stones clattering evenly down with the receding surf made a sound like sheet metal. it distracted him for a second, the silver-glinting sea, touched in pastel pinks and blues, but his gaze returned to the scooter with reverence and awe. Not a detail out of place, brilliantly gleaming and fully decorated, it stood against the old-fashioned wrought iron railings of the Grand Hotel, machine and symbol, in grace. His eyes shone as he walked towards it, wanting to touch and know it, to understand its power. And as he walked he realized too that it belonged to the one he revered above all others: the Ace, Gerry Stanley. Its burnished chrome reflected his glory, and he remembered. He ran his fingers gently over the fly screen, over the lamps and mirrors pointing out from the front rack and grasped the controls tightly in his hand. The movement, the feel of the steel-cold ironmongery of the bike, seemed to jolt his arm, like a mild electric shock; he couldn't release it. The noise of a taxi puffing up at the kerb with its tyres crunching on the grit in the gutter made him look up, as a man in grey uniform moved swiftly down the Hotel steps towards it. The Bell Boy collected the bags and suitcases from the taxi's boot and began to walk back up the stairs, preceded by the customer in his dark, city suit. Jimmy watched the performance, the whole pantomime of subservience, with disgust, glad again that he no longer served or carried. The Bell Boy glanced back with an ingratiating smile and Jimmy recognized him, feeling the nausea swell inside. The Bell Boy and the Hero, they were one and the same. The Ace and the Bell Boy. His body buckling slightly, stooping, under the weight of the bags he was carrying, smiling to please. There were no more heroes, they were lost in uniform. walking, climbing towards the glass doors, the ones he'd smashed and broken, the glass like confetti over the pavement. Jimmy saw, in the back of his minds the gun butt rap upon the door. He watched them enter the foyer, angry, ashamed and betrayed. Ashamed for the Bell Boy, the pity of it hurting his throat, emptying him again. He ran up to the doors, the sunlight glancing off the glass panels as they revolved slowly, reflecting him in each. He stared through into the high room, saw the sweep of the staircase and the marble floor, the greenery of palm plants, and the Bell Boy drop a suitcase in front of the doorman. The glass magnified the blue figure, ridiculously dressed, and the image filled the screen. 'Bell Boy! Bell Boy! Bell Boy! Bell Boy!'"Bell Boy Bell Boy Bell Boy BellBoy
Bell Boy Bell Boy Bell Boy
The sharp words screamed out and echoed somewhere, distantly. Savage and mocking and ashamed and desperate. The lonely voice, crying out pain and misunderstanding; what he couldn't explain, what he couldn't understand"Bellllllll booooooooyyyyyyyy
Echoing somewhere. He ran down the steps and past the railings, stopping by the scooter, no longer the same. He dug frantically into the pocket of his Parka to find his key ring, trying each key in the lock, watching the swing doors behind him. The key slipped home. He switched the petrol on and kicked the silver scooter into life, revving it viciously, exhaust smoke belching and pluming out behind him. The cable tightened as he yanked the throttle back, opening up the carb. Petrol and air flooded in, mixed, exploded and drove the scooter off its stand, the stand slapping under the boards. He drove it towards Rottingdean, the sea stretching away on one side of him, heathland on the other. The narrow strip of grey tarmac ran between them like a boundary, the cutting-edge. He held the throttle wide-open, the hot tyres biting into the road, the bike purring beneath him and the wind rushing by. The adrenaline raced like pills inside him on the open road, and felt good.
The sea glistened in the bright sunlight, white crests to the waves in the miles of deep water and its faint roar, as it broke around the cliffs, meeting him. He banked the scooter to the right, leaned into the turn and was on to the grass, verging the road and running to the edge of the chalk cliff, dropping away steeply. He weaved the bike, maintaining his speed, the throttle still open, pushing it towards the edge and then pulling away, throttling back, hearing the front suspension bottoming as he banked and turned, banked and turned. He stopped, letting the bike roll over on to the grass, faintly giddy and suddenly tired. He looked out at the sea, swelling beneath him and stretching away into the distance, and saw a rock jutting out from the headland, black and jagged and beautiful, alone in the sea. The sight of it affected him, he didn't know why, except that it seemed precious somehow, something to hold to ('the stone's in the midst of all'). He lay down on the grass and watched it, noticing gulls flying towards it, settling like specks on its black surface, then leaving again and circling, arcing down in steep flight. He remembered the Bell Boy, climbing the stairs and serving, and the thought sickened him. The memory seemed to break the last thin cord between him and the past, what he had been and what he had come back to Brighton to find. The final betrayal and the end of the promise. Even the heroes had fallen away and been lost, fitting themselves to the mould and no longer, like the rock, on the outside and the edge of everything, differently apart.
Just for a handful of silver he left us, Just for a riband to stick in his coat - Found the one gift of which fortune bereft us, Lost all the others she let us devote; They, with the gold to give, doled. out silver, So much was theirs who so little allowed: How all our copper had gone, for his service! Rags - were they purple, his heart had been proud! We that had loved him so, followed him, honoured him, Lived in his mild and magnificent eye, Learned his great language, caught his clear accents, Made him our pattern to live and to die!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
He alone breaks from the van and the freemen,
The last hero,
Into the fresh wind, gathering clouds.
Got a new job and I'm newly born,
I got to keep running now,
Rain started to fall, but very gently. Gently raining. It didn't trouble him. He laid his head in his arms, weary and hungry and lost and afraid and lonely, and began to weep. Behind him, out of sight, a rainbow arched over the heathland, the colours running together. He tried to stand, and collapsed back. He took the bottle of gin from his pocket, unscrewed the lid, and emptied it, throwing it over the cliff in a wide arc. He tried to hear it breaking below him.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I sort of followed the bottle over. I threw it high and wide like a cricket ball from the boundary. It sailed in the wind like a kite and I got to my feet and felt the ground fall away. At first it was just the release of pressure beneath my feet, my tired weary feet, then it was the actual weight of my legs hanging from my waist somehow. I moved to the edge and the ribbon of white chalk close to the edge suddenly widened and I went over. I was slow, falling slowly, dropping down the side of the chalk cliff, nearer to the sea and its sound. It changed colour as I fell. There was no noise. No sound at all, anywhere. But I knew it was real. I was falling in the thin rain, moving towards the sea. It felt warm. Comforting deep, folding me in, dosing over me. I sank in its greenness, and then rose, slowly still, breaking the surface and back in the light and the gentle rain. I saw something glinting and strange in the distance, through the mist, and I was swimming towards it. The scooter. It floated on the water, on its side, one chrome breast washed by the waves. I touched it, feeling along the lines, rubbing the chrome with my fingers. Then the tide swelled and took it away, into the mist. I lost sight of it.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When he opened his eyes the rain had thickened. It streamed on to his hair, down his face, drenching him. He looked up and saw a grey sky, the clouds gathering in and bunching. He waited until the rain had stopped. He lay down above the steep white, chalk-white cliff, and let the rain wash over him.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It was getting dark, but the rain had stopped. I didn't mind. I was drenched and the wind was cold and the grass wet, but none of it mattered any more. It was better this way, better that it happened when everything seemed worst, when it was cold and raining and dark and lonely; better that it happened at the edge of the land, with only the sea in front in the darkness. It was better like this because I knew it couldn't have happened anywhere else, couldn't have happened if I was somewhere warm, or with someone else. It couldn't have even happened if l had things to look forward to and somewhere to go. There was nothing here, and there was nothing behind. I was shivering and nervous; really nervous. And it wasn't the gin, or anything like that. It was out of my system. No, it was because I'd realized something at last. I realized what I wanted, what I'd looked for in the music and in heroes, what I gave and expected to receive from my mates, from the mods, what I even wanted from my mum and dad. It was really corny but I didn't give a fucking shit . . . it was love I wanted. I looked at the scooter lying there on the grass and thought of all the hours I'd spent lavishing love on my own, smashed up in a heap by the side of the road and probably stripped clean by now, like a carcass. I thought about Steph. I thought about the stupid cunt I was not just to say it, say 'Steph, I love you.' It didn't matter that she'd have laughed. It wouldn't have made any difference but at least it would have been the truth. It didn't make any difference that Steph didn't know what love was, that she wouldn't believe you loved her even if you brought her roses in the bog. It didn't matter. It was love I needed. Without it, everything was junk. I knew it. Everything was junk without love."ONLY LOVE CAN MAKE IT RAIN
THE WAY THE BEACH IS KISSED BY THE SEA
ONLY LOVE CAN MAKE IT RAIN
LIKE THE SWEAT OF LOVERS
LAYING IN THE FIELDS
LOVE, REIGN O'ER ME"
And, again, it began to rain, gently and persistently. He put his face up and felt it drum over the skin, running into his collar, over his hands. He climbed to his feet, overcoming the tiredness that almost paralysed his limbs, stiff from the cold. The scooter came off the floor after he'd heaved at it for several minutes, straining and sweating. It started and he revved it up, twisting the throttle. There was music in his head again, but not as it had been, harsh and discordant and violent. It was gentle as rain and soft, soft and swelling chords. He brought the G.S. up to forty and the engine whined at a steady pitch. The wheels slithered on the wet grass, but he leaned and righted it and weaved away, the speed mounting and the engine beginning to scream. He took it towards the edge, racing it down, the music increasing. Even through the blur and the rain he saw the green of the cliff top meet the band of white chalk along the boundary between earth, sky and sea, the land's end. He ran along it for a while, almost on the lip, then turned back, racing up the incline. At the road, he turned again. On the rocky beach below a crab scuttled under a rock. Seaweed lay draped across the rocks that were clear of the water waiting for the tide to claim it, as did the shellfish and molluscs scattered throughout the quiet world of the microscopic ten square feet of space where the scooter came to rest. As it hit the rocks the polished metal crumpled, great slabs of lacquer fell away, lamps shattered, the flyscreen buckled and cracked and the whole statuesque shape, the symbol of the mods splattered like a broken toy. An hour later it was under water.
"I'M RECALLING DISTANT MEMORIES
"LET ME FLOW INTO THE OCEAN
"People try to put us down
Talking bout my generation
Just because we get around
Talking bout my generation
Things they do look awful cold
Talking bout my generation
Hope I die before I get old
This is my generation
Why don't you all fade away
Talking bout my generation
Don't try and dig what we all say
Talking bout my generation
Not trying to cause a big sensation
Talking bout my generation
Just talking bout my generation
Return to top