The Disease

It began with a letter. The letter was a notification. The letter said there was to be a party. The letter said everyone in the hamlet was invited. The letter said there would be traffic on the long drive to the farm. The letter said there would be traffic on the lane. There would be traffic management, security, health and safety personnel. All were invited to join the party. All were invited to the family music festival and to contribute money for the Teenage Cancer Trust.

It was just getting dark as he slurped through his mushy breakfast of miso and steamed rice. Daylight was fading and the high walls of his pristine pink granite slabbed kitchen were in shadow. He watched the last birds moving across his view. Or were they bats, bats would be better. The miso and rice congealing in his bowl drew his attention back. Somewhere in his head he thought he heard a tune, a new tune. The rice was getting stickier and colder. He tried to hear the tune again, the new tune. But as he swallowed down the last of his food, he realised that it was an old tune. Like the time before. Always an old tune echoing in his head and pretending to be something new, a new invention. Even those old tunes weren’t really his invention he had to admit. But whose to know. Those early days, racing around the country in a small van, his mates singing stuff in the back. The stuff ended up in songs he claimed as his own and they were too high to argue and then it became the truth.

He got up and moved away from the wreckage of breakfast: miso and rice drying and slowly glazing the counter; green tea and orange juice spills; pills. He caught a glimpse of himself as he passed the uncurtained window. In his long black kurta he reminded himself of Uncle Fester, but knew that if he was Fester incarnate it would be without his charm or kindness. Charm is for fools who have no more clever ways to lie. His favoured black kurtas he believed created a favourable impression of heft and authority, a music industry legend like Daltry or McCartney. Or at least like them if they too had turned to fat. 

This would be a night for music. An album, something for the next tour, tickets already on sale so better get on with it. The studio was booked and getting dressed for rehearsals wouldn’t take so long. He just needed a couple of ideas. Nothing fancy or complicated but poppy and cool sounding. He sighed as he made his heavy way up the curved marble staircase to his bedroom. There he would begin his process of incarnation.

His bed was already made, a lifelong habit to keep his mum and dad happy. That need for opprobrium. When he wakes it’s almost a reflex to remind himself to make his bed. At his dressing table he would ring his eyes with his favourite Rimmel 51 Musee Red round and round right down to where his cheekbones used to be so gaunt and so prominent. He’d keeping ringing right up to the eyebrows, feeling sad. His still soulful eyes now looked out from puffy bags that filled his eyesockets with limp ashen flesh. His lips he marks out with an excess of black eyeliner, smeared to look like coal dust, as if he’s been eating Brazier Smokeless coke. It worked in the eighties and now here forty years on, for him it still works. Sort of. He would start on his hair. Washed before breakfast it was now drooping around his puffy face in thin, stringy black strands interspersed with grey. A felt tip liner for those. The backbrushing ritual is key to transformation from what he knew and understood deep down to be a musical run-of-the-mill, to superstardom. Superstardom. That shocking look with hair held high, eyes and mouth gaping wide. A handful of catchy tunes, and that relentless on stage stamina. He was there. But luck and novelty and a record company’s willingness to put in the money, counted for more than the look, the catchy tunes or the stamina.

He’d had a presence on stage for sure. Back then, tall and with high. narrow shoulders and those soulful eyes, his adolescent self had a yearning vulnerable quality that resonated with his fans. He was unattainable temptation, embellished in black and red. It had worked well. A whining adolescent singing of existential despair, of angst and acne, and the tedium of an uncurious mind. 

But now in his sixties the look was just rather silly. He had grown stooped and his shoulders shrank into his body, giving the impression of too much thick neck, rather like a pigeon hunched up against the cold. The once frail ribsy torso had filled out, unstoppable. He wasn’t so much fat as cylindrical. The flubbiness had grown slowly out from his ribs and back, reaching gradually down to meet his heavy hips and thighs. What was once a wild tangle of glossy dark hair was now a thinning mess of wispy old hair. There’s something that happens to hair as a person ages. It’s rarely the right balance of soft and dry, but instead becomes dull and flat and floppy. Occasionally it behaves as it once did and these moments are, for an old person, a depressing reminder of what has been lost.

When he looks at his hair in the mirror or tries unsuccessfully to run his fingers through it, he often wonders if it wouldn’t be best to shave his head. But that’s a diminution too far. When the stage lights shine on his hair it creates a rendition of the galaxy in monochrome or sometimes, depending on the colour of the lights, of the aurora borealis. This appeals to his sense of self-importance so shaving his head is not an option, despite the inconvenient but relentless loss of of his aging strands. When creating, rehearsing or performing, the hair is enhanced with all manner of gels and treatments. They shore up his genius. But with each passing year the hairs are fewer in number and their capacity to absorb gels and treatments ever more tenuous.

“Sir I have letters” he heard a small excited voice call from behind. He turned halfway up the stairs to see Sakura, slight and eager. She came scampering up, her  hand outstretched and bearing a selection of the day’s post. He marvelled at her energy and with envy at the bounce of her long dark hair as she skipped from step to step. How did she do that without appearing to watch where she was going? And how is Sakura so slender and agile? What had the years taken from him and given to her? As she reached him Sakura lowered her eyes and proffered her cargo. He took it and stared after her as she hurried back down to the kitchen which he knew would be immaculate before he’d even puffed his way to the top.

“Trace, are you up yet?” He continued slowly towards his own bedroom, wondering what this envelope without a stamp could be. But his wife had been up for many hours, not much bothered when her man would finish his snorty sleep and resurface into the remnants of the day. Unlike him, or perhaps because of him, Tracey Jones relishes the daylight, though she rarely leaves the house. Tracey spends hours looking out of her bedroom window, watching the trees sway, the occasional traffic on the lane in the distance. She didn’t answer but from a narrow gap in two neatly aligned doors watched her husband’s encounter on the stairs. She briefly saw his heavy tread as he ambled along the hallway leafing through the envelopes. She resubmerged up to her eyes in her bath, and focused on YouTube. She marvelled at the way it chose just what worked with brandy-laced screwdrivers. She knew he would be in to check on her after a while to ask her how the rowing and biking had gone. He would be regaled in his rehearsal finery and wouldn’t really want to know about her forty minute ordeal, made possible only with the promise of the bath and the Martell/Stoly magic. But he’d ask and she’d say fine and perhaps raise a dripping leg from the bubbles to show off a toned calf he had long since lost interest in. She knew she would comment to him on how the rehearsal look differed from his performance one only in degree and density. Tracey sank underwater to blow bubbles and avoid him for as long as possible. As she resurfaced for air she could hear him bellowing. Shouting the name of the nice young lawyer that was now handling some of their affairs.

“No. No, no, no, no no” Tracey heard, taking another swill before sinking back down into silence. He continued to bellow, surprised at the sensation of his heartbeat. Its thumping was loud and hard and his quivering flesh provoked curious sensations as his belly moved with the pounding. The letter vibrated delicately in his fingers. He wiped a hand across his face. “Stop it now. I want it stopped.” He closed his eyes to wait for some reply. At the other end of the ’phone Joshua fiddled with his golden bracelets. He looked out the window at the traffic passing languidly along Great Easter Street towards Spitalfields. In gentle slightly hushed tones he took the risk to disagree. “I understand the problem, but don’t you think it a little harsh? After all it’s a family event. Youngsters will be on stage, playing music for their friends.” Disagreeing had become a bit of a habit lately with this egomaniacal client whose considerable wealth Joshua’s firm was keen to enjoy via regular and hefty monthly billings.

Joshua had already been warned once, but despite his über cautious nature deep within there lurked a small demonThe demon was hitting an adolescent stride and whispered in his ear: “remind him that he got a start in the music business playing small gigs like this”. Joshua smiled a little. “No, I mean, my understanding is that the idea is for kids to play, local bands and the like. It’s over a couple of days, but the schedule’s only in the daytime from what you’ve read to me. Where’s the harm?” This last calculated to slightly annoy Joshua’s client, but slightly wasn’t an option. The explosion of sound and spit at the other end was of an intensity that made it impossible for Joshua to keep his phone to his ear. He grimaced at the image and could not resist the urge to wipe his ear. “What are the options to get this stopped? What do we have to do? It cannot go ahead. I don’t want hundreds of people coming down here. I don’t want any hassles.”

Joshua stood up and paced slowly behind his desk, seeing the traffic now crawling in the slow dribble of early spring rain. He was bored with this ego in black and his delusions, with the complicated arrangements needed for face to face meetings, the reminders of just how important he was. Such a cliché “mate, you do know who I am, right?” The trouble he was talking about was thirty years ago at the height of his band’s fame and when youngsters considered The Disease the voice of their generation. Or at least a limited and spotty adolescent cohort of that generation did. “We can get an injunction, if you’re really sure you want to go down that route.” “Get it.” More spit and venom.

How did he get to hate so much? Joshua pondered this as he replied with a short list of what it would require, the process, the cost in compensation, since this was a charity event. At this last his client said: “find out what they expected to raise and offer that”. “Do you want me to double it, to sweeten the pill?” “No I bloody don’t. Why would I do that? Who gives a shit about sweetening the fucking pill. Just do it.” And with that the now very sweaty man in black with the shiney face and the limp hair threw his phone across the room. It bounced impotent on the carpet, so he followed it and kicked it hard against the wall. Joshua heard the bangs and ended his side of the call. This could be one for someone else to follow up on. In Joshua’s head he ran through the likely wording. The nonsense that he concocted would go into a letter with a threat and a cheque and that might be enough to get the event stopped. He would point out the considerable costs involved in a challenge to an injunction and blah blah blah. In the end it wasn’t that hard to do. He could come up with the words. He could be confident that the threat and the generous cheque would be enough to persuade the farmers not to go ahead. More blah blah. More weasel words.

He’d start with a ’phone call, and some kind explanations, gentle agreement that it was very sad. Gentle agreement that it was unavoidable. Gentle agreement and let’s pretend there’s no anger, no loss, no disbelief, no alternative reality. Of course they understood that Mr Jones meant it, that his vanity knew no limits. That supporting and encouraging young musicians was not part of his playlist. They understood the weasel words.

So the plans for the little festival on the farm were stopped. As it started so it ended: with a letter. The letter said there was to be no party. The letter said everyone in the hamlet was no longer invited. The letter said there would not be traffic on the long drive to the farm. The letter said there would not be traffic on the lane. The letter said there would be no traffic management, no security, no health and safety personnel. None were invited to join the party. None were invited to play and none to contribute money for the Teenage Cancer Trust.

One thought on “The Disease

  1. It’s difficult to understand how anyone who has earned his fortune by playing on music festivals can block a music festival just because it’s near (but not very near) his own house. Crap actually, very, very poor.

    Like

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