Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Eighty-Two

While Mrs. Shimoda sat up in bed concentrating on Tsushima Yûko's Oma Monogatori, a book of ghost stories she'd found in the multilingual section of her local library, Amelia was standing across the street with Hugh looking at the old-fashioned multi-coloured Christmas lights around their living room window, large snow flakes falling around her, occasionally dissolving upon her face with a ticklish sensation, her thoughts drifting towards her concerns over Duncan who at that moment was standing on a sidewalk two miles away near Disques Deux Côtés looking back at his footsteps in the snow thinking they were like the repetitive solitary imprints of someone stranded upon a desert island, the shadowgraphs of an invisible man.

As he approached the window of his friend's secondhand record shop, Duncan heard the muted strains of She Sells Sanctuary by the Cult, and he paused to look through the window framed with its cedar garlands and blinking red and blue Christmas lights at the rather absurd spectacle of two grown men playing invisible instruments—Tom sitting on a stool drumming the cluttered counter top with yellow pencils, and Yves facing him, plying vigorous down strokes to an unseen low slung bass—and he imagined his brother Gavin strutting about with a microphone and himself on lead guitar but the shop just wasn't big enough for Gavin's stage presence and the vision faded. He stood there feeling like a chess piece that couldn't be moved, paradoxically stuck in the continuous present like a work of art, while a snow plow with its revolving orange light, rumbled and scraped the road behind him, angling the frigid accumulations of his life to the curbside into inverted furrows towards tomorrow.

“Well if it isn't Dunc the Monk,” Yves said, as Duncan entered the shop stamping his boots on the inside mat. “We were starting to get worried.”

“Sorry guys, I just stopped to pick these up,” and he withdrew a six pack of Maudite from a black cotton shopping bag. “I think they're already cold.” He winked.

Tom opened the box and withdrew three beers and handed them out. “I think the first toast should be to Dunc, a good friend who made it back from the brink . . . just so he could ask us to help him pack up his bookstore . . . and have a drink.”

They laughed and Duncan playfully tossed his bottle cap towards Tom. “Here, a cymbal for your drum kit.” He sipped his beer. “I really appreciate you guys helping me out next week. It shouldn't take too long.”

“Tabernac Dunc, we would have packed up your bookstore even if you hadn't come back from the brink,” Yves joked, throwing an arm around Duncan's shoulders and giving him a squeeze. “That's what friends are for, man. We can't wait to put your dusty books into the boxes, eh, and carry those heavy suckers down that narrow staircase!” He gave him another squeeze. “I'm a mean two handed slinger of packing-tape. I'll bring my own, fully loaded.”

Duncan laughed. “I should get you a special box for your tape dispensers, like the ones they have for duelling pistols.” The subject aroused a flurry of literary references in Duncan's mind, the duels in Lermontov, Conrad, Thomas Mann and Pushkin. “Once when Amelia and I rented the film Eugene Onegin based on the Alexander Pushkin book, which has a major duel in the story, the young store clerk, who was something right out of The Sopranos opened the case to check it was the right tape and confirm the title with us, pronouncing it U Gene One Gin.

“Sounds like a gun fighter from the old west who couldn't hold his liquor,” Tom offered.

“That's good, that's good. I like that,” Duncan said. “Amelia and I found it amusing and we laughed on the way home, but mispronunciations are interesting. They open the words up. You see them afresh. God knows I mispronounced enough names and words when I was younger.” He remembered embarrassing moments concerning Aeschylus and Goethe in front of classmates. “So,” thinking he was losing them, “that was a pretty good rendition of She Sells Sanctuary.”

Yves was about to say how great it would have been to have played it on stage, but seeing the song came out around the same time Duncan's brother died in a car crash and their band The Splices truly fell apart, he just nodded his head and said, “The Cult's still playing gigs. . . with every other bloody band since the creation of rock and roll!”

“When we grew up in the sixties and seventies,” Tom added, “rock stars died young. Brian Jones, Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison. I thought you either died young or went on to get a real job and grow old like the rest of humanity.”

“Mark Bolan,” Yves added. “Keith Moon, Gram Parsons and those are just a few, eh, colis.”

“Randy Rhoads,” Duncan chimed in. “I know, I know. Who could have predicted rock music would be a life-long career without retirement? To stay hip is to have a few hip replacements, a little tuck here, a bit of hair dye there, and Bob's your Monkey's uncle still jumping around the stage.”

They shook their heads, drank their beer and felt like they'd missed the last ship out of port.

Duncan broke the silence. “I've been busy going through files and papers of Lafcadio & Co., and Strand Cordage,” he said, as he searched the pockets of his winter coat, “and I came across some interesting items. Like this,” and he produced a wrinkled and folded piece of paper. “One of our set lists from late 1978. This is Gavin's. He used to tape it to the side of his electric piano.” He handed it to Yves.

“Colin de bin!” Yves said as he read the list. “Brings back memories, eh.”

“Holy crap,” Tom said, leaning over to read the list. “More cow bell please! I remember that set really worked well in the high schools, town halls, church basements and bars in the boonies. Wakefield, Sherbrooke, Grand Mère, Thetford Mines, Granby, Magog . . . .”

Yves shook his head with nostalgia. “And everywhere in between, cris.”

Set / October 1978 / Mascouche

  1. Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo / Derringer
  2. I Want You to Want Me / Cheap Trick
  3. Two Tickets to Paradise / Eddie Money
  4. Suffragette City / David Bowie
  5. Just What I Needed / The Cars
  6. My Best Friend's Girl / “ “
  7. Changes / David Bowie
  8. Lines On My Face / Peter Frampton
  9. Show Me The Way / “ “
  10. Don't Fear the Reaper / Blue Oyster Cult
  11. Rebel, Rebel / David Bowie
  12. Surrender / Cheap Trick

“Remember Gavin would use our band name in the opening song where it mentioned a fictional band named The Jokers.” Duncan said. “Always worked well. Personalized it.” Duncan's rhythm section agreed with him, touching his arm with affection as another silence befell them.

“Your voice was great for Lines On My Face, softer than Gavin's,” Tom said. “He was great on the electric piano though, wasn't he?”

“Yeah, good times, good times. Here's to Gavin,” Yves said, raising his beer. They clinked bottles and drank to Duncan's twin.

“November 1978 was near the end of our cover band days though. When Gavin and I went to England during the summer of 1979 to visit my Mother's side of the family, the Chadwicks, that was the turning point.”

“Yeah, where was that? Something 'field'? Ecclesfield?”

“Macclesfield,” Duncan corrected. “You remember Eccles because I came back to Montreal with an Eccles cake addiction and couldn't find any here, and was always going on and on about missing Eccles cakes, Eccles cake.”

“Right, right, oh God, don't remind us.”


“That's when Gavin came back with a Joy Division addiction,” Tom said.

Duncan hesitated to respond. The story of them having been dragged to Manchester by their second cousin to see a band they'd never heard of had been a key moment in Gavin's musical life. “Yes . . . Gavin could have written his name backwards after seeing that concert. It pulled him inside out.” He paused, feeling the pressure of an untold story rise up in him with the nausea of suppressed emotion. “I never told anyone this story before, but . . . I feel I have to tell it now. It might have died with me on the floor of my bookshop.” He took a long drink from his Maudite and continued. “I remember it was a Friday the thirteenth, July, and I didn't really want to travel with our second cousin in his Mini, but the three of us piled in and away we went. You can imagine the three of us smoking cigarettes in that little thing, God! Anyway, we arrive in Manchester and we buy our tickets and Duncan and Miles go into the bathroom to smoke weed which I didn't like to do, so I went outside for fresh air and I wandered around the building. Miles had warned me to be careful what with my Canadian accent and healthy tanned skin, I might be a target for local toughs. So I'm walking around the side of the place and make my way behind and I see a tall slim guy with shortish hair, dark dress pants and shirt grinding a cigarette out with the soul of his shoe and I sort of nod thinking he probably worked there as a stage manager or something, and he asks me if I have a cigarette. I say Yeah, sure, and open my pack of Bellevederes”

“You and your Bellevederes,” Tom said, “always that nice blue pack in you jean jacket pocket.”

“Yeah, I know, I liked that brand, my colour. Well, I offer him one and I strike a match for him, he holds his long fingered hands around mine to protect the flame, and after the first deep puff, he exhales and says, Bellevedere with a wistful tone, which was kind of ironic seeing we were standing in an environment of cracked pavements and brick dust. He asks me if I was American, and I tell him I was from Montreal, Canada, visiting family in Macclesfield. His eyes widened at this. They were rather intense and you felt they were looking through you at the same time they were looking inwards. At that moment a man came out and called him in. He looked at me and said thanks and walked away. I checked my watch, finished my cigarette and made my way back inside.”

“Wait a minute, are you telling us—”

“Yes, you can imagine I was kind of surprized when the guy who bummed a cigarette off me was standing there, centre stage, breaking into these dark emotive songs that seemed to have sprung from industrial wastelands. Their first song was just a wall of noise to me. I can't remember what it was. Didn't seem to have any lyrics.”

“Why didn't you tell us?” Yves asked.

Duncan sighed and rubbed his forehead. “It's complicated. First of all, there we were, healthy, sun-tanned twins from leafy, green pleasant Notre Dame-de-Grace, face to face with Manchester's grim and gritty conditions, the first months of Thatcherdom, and it all seemed unreal. It wasn't where I wanted to be, but Gavin, Gavin thought he'd found the motherlode, heard the music of his soul. He was bouncing up and down and shaking back and forth, loosing himself in the beat, and I sort of made my way to the side and watched from afar. It was amazing. When Ian Curtis went into his trance-like dance moves, it was bizarre. I'd never seen anything like it. Coming from Canada where the airwaves were awash in Barry Manilow, Kiss and Sean Cassidy, this new music just severed all the crap from us, but with Gavin it was like he shed a skin. After the concert he said he'd wished he'd been born in Manchester rather than Montreal, and he might have been up there on stage with something to sing about like that singer.”

“Gavin never mentioned your meeting Ian Curtis,” Tom said.

“That's just it. I never told him. That's sort of why I'm getting it off my chest now. He became so obsessed with the band right after the show, I couldn't tell him I shared a cigarette with the singer. It would have ruined it between us. So I let it go. And anyway, the band wasn't on any map we knew of. When the band became better known and Ian Curtis died, well, I definitely couldn't tell him. And when Gavin died it was almost like an unfinished link between us, something we had never shared, something to hold on to.”

Tom and Yves stood there, open mouthed, beers in hand. “Jesus Dunc, that's like an unexploded bomb just went off. Save the pieces as my Italian Mother says, save the pieces.”

“Our tastes were so different. In the late 70s I was discovering the great music on the ECM label, all Jan Gabarek, Ralph Towner, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, meanwhile Gavin was zeroing in on punk and post punk raunchiness. I remember thinking The Splices were already splitting as Gavin danced in that Manchester club.”

Yves went behind the counter and pulled out a CD, a compilation of Joy Division. “Any requests,” he asked.

Duncan thought for a bit. “I always liked Disorder,” he said.
They stood around drinking their beers, tapping their feet to the building momentum of the song as it filled the shop with its black and white palette, as fresh to his ears as a Paul-Emile Borduas composition was to his eyes. It had been a day of revelations. His life was shifting and spinning in the shadows towards an unknown future. Only that morning he'd discovered in the very old Strand Cordage Ltd. business papers that his paternal surname was not really Strand, but MacAdam. His Great-Grandfather having changed it when leaving Scotland. Something to do with debts. All those years he thought, all those years of believing in a mere name. He felt he was only Duncan now, and even that name he felt was shifting, as if the “C” in his first name had been reversed and he was sprawled in the concavity of its shape, stranded in the bottom of his given name, trying to climb out, dizzy with the beer, and the sound of Disorder.

© Ralph Patrick Mackay

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the product of my imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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