Wednesday, 21 December 2016

And At The End Of the Day..

Things never end the way you want, do they, Neil?" Chris mused. "I don't mean to be negative, but.."It's okay, replied Neil."We're all allowed to do some reflecting. As long as it doesn't devolve into a "Pity Party."

They both laughed. "Who would have thought that we could actually build a career in the music business," Neil reflected.

The two were then interrupted by an unusually loud phone ring. "You answer it, Neil. You're closer."

"Okay. But don't make this an every day habit."

Neil grabbed the receiver. "Hello?" There was silence at the other end. "Hello," he repeated, getting a bit annoyed. "Is there someone there?"

Suddenly, he heard someone crying in the background--almost a wailing weeping that was disturbing, to say the least. "What's going on?" Neil was growing alarmed.

Just then, a weak, wavering voice got on the other end of the phone. "Is this Neil Tennant?"

"Yes it is," Neil responded. But I'm having a hard time hearing you. Could you speak up a bit?"

"This is Brian. You and I met at that day camp we both hated. Called White Bear Ranch. Do you remember?"

Neil suddenly knew exactly who he was talking to. Brian Harrison. "Yes, of course I remember. You and I got into a lot of trouble, didn't we?"

"You bet. Can you believe that was twenty-three years ago! And now it's 1982 already. Time has a way of sneaking up on you."

"If you don't mind me asking, Brian, "Who is that poor soul crying his or her head off?"

Brian hesitated and then told Neil that his sister had had a miscarriage and then was told that she couldn't have another baby. "I don't know how to comfort her, Neil. I don't have a clue."

"How long has she been here?" Neil asked. "Since she got that awful news. Or does she live with you?"

Just then he heard the sound of glass breaking noisily. "Debbie, what the hell are you doing?" Then Brian dropped the phone and didn't get back on.

Neil turned to Chris. "I've got to get over there. It sounds horrible.''

"I'll go with you," he responded. "We can take the Tube," Neil said, putting his coat on."

"It'll get us there faster if we take my car. Don't you agree?"

"I'll agree because if the emergency is as dire as it sounds, we can't afford to waste any time."

The two of them got into Chris's car and sped off. "Hey, Neil, do you know where we're going? Have you been at his flat before? I sure hope so."

Of course. Bri has been living in the same flat since we graduated high school. The place is a dump, but my friend has had a very difficult life and has more demons than most."

"How so," asked Chris.

"Well, he got into the drug scene at 13, starting with glue sniffing, then progressing to pot, graduating to LSD and then mainlining heroin. It wouldn't surprise me if he's currently using Chrystal Meth. I have never seen him straight. He can only function while high as a kite, I guess. Quite depressing, actually."

They found Brian's flat: A shoddy, unsavoury dump. "I wonder if they even have electricity or heat?" Chris felt badly for Neil's buddy.

"I doubt it." Neil sighed, "He never could hang onto money. And those drugs aren't cheap."

Suddenly, they heard a woman screaming and sounding as if she was trashing the place. "

"Deb! Stop this! You have to get hold of yourself."

Neil and Chris entered the rundown flat that smelled of stale tobacco and Deb immediately grabbed Neil and dug her fingernails into his neck. "Neil. Please! Get me out of here!!  Brian pulled her off and planted her emaciated bottom back on the couch. "See what I've been living with?" Brian looked as if he hadn't had a good night's sleep or a meal in days. Heavy bags under his eyes and an almost scull-like face had aged him. He and Neil were the same age, but Brian looked as if he could be his friend's father. Neil was dismayed at what Brian and Debbie's had sunk to--what had become of an outgoing kid with a penchant for getting in trouble, always happy and when he got home from school as a kid, he was in his bedroom doing complicated crossword puzzles, making a volcano out of paper mashe and paste and had so much potential that his parents put money away so that their brilliant son could go to university. Everyone thought he'd rule the world someday.

Where was that child with all the dreams? Why did he go from popular student to a bedraggled glue sniffer?  When and why did he destroy the God-given future and end up in a dump? Nobody knows.

Neil and Chris stared at the broken sliding glass window. "What happened here?" Chris asked, not sure if he wanted to know.

"Debbie stood up again and pointed her finger to her chest. "I broke the damned thing! Didn't you hear it when you were on the phone, Neil?"

"Yes, he replied, growing more and more despondent that Brian had chosen such a self-destructive and angry woman to marry. She was pretty enough, with blonde hair, albeit in a tousled mat, large green eyes, full lips and petite build. Neil could see that he would Brian had seen in her, never knowing that she would take him down into the bowels of hell, not many years later.

Neil asked the pair if they wanted to go out to a restaurant and have dinner. "You need to get out of here for awhile, guys. Just clean up a bit, brush your hair and put something else on."

Brian looked hesitant. I don't know, Neil. "I haven't been in a restaurant for two years now. Deb and I got kicked out on several different occasions and then nobody would let us come in."

"What do the two of you eat?" Chris asked, looking around for the kitchen. Don't you have a stove or fridge? This is so depressing."

"We had to sell everything to get drug money. Oh, we do have a toilet and sink. We aren't that far gone."
"Why did you want us to come over here? You sounded frantic on the phone. And the two of you act as if having a glass door smashed to bits and nothing to cook with is no big deal. Is it money that you need?" Neil should have suspected that much earlier, He figured that if he and Chris came over and saw the pitiful squalor his former friend's was living in, then getting them over was a ploy Brian used to keep at least a smidgen of dignity. Or that's what Neil was thinking--even though it was rather cruel and insensitive thing to feel about a school boy who was reaching out for a life preserver in a choppy, angry ocean of self-hatred and hopelessness.

Chris was fidgeting, eager to get going anywhere instead of standing around awkwardly, trying not to stare at Brian and skeletal Debbie. "Hey, Neil, we'd better get going. He glanced at his watch. "It's six thirty. We've been here over an hour now. If they want to come with us, it's fine. But I'm not going to spend the night here."

Brian told Chris and Neil that they might as well leave, as they seemed to be ashamed of how they appeared to other strangers in restaurants and bars. "Okay then." Neil reached into his pocket and gave his wayward friend all the bills and change he had. He handed it to Debbie, as Brian had disappeared. "Thanks, Neil," said Deb. "We appreciate any kindness."

Neil had to ask: "Why won't you two try to get clean, once and for all. It's not too late--we're still young and strong----or somewhat strong. I will support you. You don't have to do this alone. Yes, you have your wife, but she needs the same healing as you do."

Debbie smiled weakly, tears in her eyes, "It's too late, Neil. "It's been too late for years now. The two of us have been hanging on by our bootstraps and the rope is starting to fray."

"But you're smart. I know that the two friends I've known for a very long time. You can get clean and realise your dreams for writing a novel. You were attracted to each other because you wanted the same things: To be happy and contribute something significant to give to the world. Think of this as a bump in the road, girl."

Debbie slowly shook her head. No. It's far too late. Brian and I have been doing drugs steadily for a very long time now. Our brains are pretty much fried. Look around you. Do you and Chris think we are deliberately existing this way? That makes no sense at all. It has just been too, too long. How many times do I have to tell you this? Face it, we made our opium beds and now we have to sink into them. There's a little part of my heart that longs to overcome this wretched existence, but I don't know how. Neither does Brian. Please, will you and Chris just leave us now. Please."

Chris tugged on Neil's jacket. "I think this is our cue to get out of here. There's nothing more we can possibly do. If they don't want to do the incredibly hard work it will take them to get clean, then there is no recourse. You tried, Neil. Let's go. Perhaps they will come around. You know, that as long as there's light, there's hope."

"I don't think it goes like that,Chris."

Both of them stopped into a pub and had a few pints, doing their best to put that long and dismal visit behind them. But no matter how much they drank, the two of them could not think back to their school days and that Brian was touted "The most likely to succeed."

"Sometimes I think that title can be a curse of sorts" Chris mused.

"How so?"

"Well, it always felt as though anyone branded with it, ended up being the least likely."

"That's deep." Neil managed a smile.


They went home after a few hours had passed, taking a taxi, as neither one of them was up to driving.

The next morning, as Neil was getting ready for work at Smash Hits, Chris came banging at the door in a state of panic and horror.

"What's the matter? You're white as a sheet."

Instead of answering, a shaking Chris handed the newspaper to his friend. The headline screamed at them. There was a picture of a fire engulfing a house where they had gone to visit Brian and Debbie. Neil felt his heart falling into his shoes. Who or why would they do this? Had they gotten really stoned and the blaze was accidental? Or was it deliberate? And how could anyone determine that.

Neil turned and looked out the window. Shoving his hands into the pockets of  his trousers, he found a wadded up piece of paper. Unfolding it, he could see that Debbie had written a note and slipped it into his pocket when Neil was looking the other way. Chris said, "Open that piece of paper up, Neil."
Reluctantly, he carefully unfolded the paper and saw that there was something written on it. Gathering all the mental strength he could summon, Neil read it with numbed lips. "By the time you read this, Brian and I will be dead. I covered the flat with petrol, then lit a match. We hugged each other as the flames wrapped around our depleted bodies. We just wanted to see you and Chris one last time. Of course, we couldn't say anything to you or you'd make sure we stayed safe. Go forward and do something wonderful with your lives. You deserve it. Love, Deb."

There were no words from either of them, just a gnawing pain, spiked with sadness and anger. Chris put his arm around his friend. "Come on, mate. Let's go home.

                 Some Haikus                        

Before you gave up.                              
Nobody says it
Just what are they afraid of?
Words can move mountains.

Friendship's can falter                            Disembodied hearts
Even if you rescue them                      Only bleed for those who care
                                                               The rest die of thirst

I'm not one to laugh
It hurts my stomach muscles
I have an excuse.

Monday, 19 December 2016

The Lyrics Of Pet Shop Boys Neil

I'm sure that most, if not all of you, are wondering if I am playing with a full deck when I posted this rather odd story.  

I likely have only fifty-one cards in my hands, but just take a look and see if you either agree or disagree with me. 

I once read a fascinating book called, The Picture Of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde and then watched both Hollywood versions: The film starring Hurd Hatfield, from 1945 was in black and white and, personally, I believe that it didn`t pack as much punch than the technicolor edition with a gorgeous actor, in the role of the decadent Gray, produced in 1973 and featuring Shane Briant and Kim Richards (Well before her troubles began). That is not to say that technicolor itself made the movie so powerful, but rather, the portrait didn't look anywhere near as scary as the updated film. It was definitely not terrifying in the least. Not only that, but actor Hatfield hadn't the acting chops to pull Wilde's book off. He wasn't even that good looking and it was obvious that he was hired because he embodied the character as a vain and stilted human being and thus, was able to transcend the relatively plain and unremarkable Hatfield.

I have been an ardent fan of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, who, together are known as the Pet Shop Boys and their unique and intelligent take on life with beautifully complex songs for many years. Tennant writes the bulk of the lyrics and Lowe is quite talented and handles the music end of things spectacularly.

Neil has always fascinated and influenced me and as a poet and budding novelist, I often find his words relatable, multi-layered and rife with a heavy dose of irony and a refusal to be pigeon-hold into a safety nook of sorts. Those who believe that their genre of synth pop music is in any way dated, past its prime and antiquated just shows that not many have been paying attention and is does a gross disservice to Tennant and Lowe. And if you compare them to the often autotuned, teeny bopper fare that propels the music of today, well, I don't think any of the Disney pop tarts can hold a candle to the Golden Age of popular music of the 1980's and 1990's. It's quite unsettling when you think about it. 

The reason I am comparing Neil Tennant with Dorian Gray isn't as troubling as it sounds. Gray was a monster, who took advantage of everyone in his life and was ultimately hoisted on his own pitard, to quote my late father. It just means that Dorian Gray gets his comeuppance in the end, as well he should. My essay is not about the two men's personalities, physical appearances, backgrounds and everything that makes them tick. Instead, you will discover just how many artists cope with the sadness and despair, the ability for acts of kindness and compassion and just what happens that will ultimately be the transfer of pain and loss into their work. But there is one performer who pulls this off with such genius and determination.

Dorian Gray was given a painting whose purpose was to take on and absorb all the results of aging, allowing him to remain as young and vibrant as he was at the time. Gray appreciated the gift and kept it tucked away in the attic. This young man had a very dark side. He was often violent, abusive and intent on getting revenge against anyone who dared to cross him. He was surprised that he always managed to cover his tracks and suffered no ill effects. The years progressed, but Dorian Gray remained young and handsome, while everyone around him aged and gradually grew old and feeble. He had seemingly found a delightful method of living his life to the fullest, which, regrettably, meant committing increasingly savage attacks on those who displeased him and finally graduating to murder. So the painting, still stored in the attic, was not only growing old, but had taken on a sinister and repulsive mien. When Gray went upstairs to look at his portrait, he was appalled at the extreme ugliness and disfiguring that marred the picture, but at the same time, he took comfort in the fact that nobody but he had access to the attic and he was still young, handsome and still prone to violent outbursts. Years pass and Dorian Gray is still youthful, strong and every bit as handsome as he ever was.

His pleasure would be cut short when he checked out his portrait and screamed in terror, for the painting had become disturbingly distorted and covered in warts, hideous lumps--an incredibly repulsive portrait. Gray was horrified when he finally saw the goulish picture an it was disfigured and angry and so he picked up a sword and destroyed it. His wife discovers him dead on the floor, a skeletal corpse, but the portrait is intact and shows Dorian as young and handsome.
Well, that's a brief description of the novel and two adaptations that were culled from Oscar Wilde's vivid and powerful philosophical masterpiece. Time to move on. 
Neil Tennant is an unusually sensitive man with a very kind heart and a strong capacity to want to help others. For example, he has a drawer full of projects that fans have given to him and Chris and Neil keeps them because of all the work they have done and he doesn't want to toss them out. I can tell you that this kindness is rare in the music business. But then, Neil Tennant isn't your typical, entitled and indulged pop star.

He has lost friends to AIDS and suicide. Too many. He grew concerned about a friend who had been going through a pretty bad depression and wrote Si Avida to cheer him up. He didn't fit in at the Catholic school, St. Cuthberts and struggled to break away from the constant scrutiny of the nuns and the never-ending guilt tripping that goes hand in hand with confusing and overly judgemental headmasters. This is brilliantly captured in This Must Be the Place I Waited Years To 

Leave and the defiant and conflicted It's A Sin.
I can't begin to imagine how hard it must have been for Neil to come out of the closet as he approached forty years of age. I am certain he had been considering to do that for a long time before actually talking about it in Attitude magazine, a publication for and about being gay. It's my belief that he weighed the pros and cons and most likely found more of the former. It would have been a very hard time hiding his sexuality when the Pet Shop Boys burst onto the music scene in the 1980's. A lot of fans were somewhat curious and others, myself included, just assumed that Neil was gay from the outset. That's one of the things I find so endearing about him. He has guts and I admire that.

How liberating it must have been for Tennant to finally be able to stop dodging questions and having to keep one step ahead of the persistent rumours and feel comfortable in his own skin. He is much happier now and can let his guard down. I strongly suspect that one of the reasons for coming out is to become an activist and a support system for those who had been treated terribly because of being gay--particularly school boys and girls who had no-one to relate to and were bullied horribly by nasty, narrow-minded bigots. 

I suppose some of you are wondering where I am going with this. Well, like Dorian Gray, Neil uses his songwriting to illustrate the pain and despair that had defined him for so long. Of course, there are many differences between Oscar Wilde's novel and Neil Tennant's songs. But Neil's uncanny ability to transcend his strong and devastatingly emotional hell by allowing his lyrics to absorb the pain and leaving him able to go about life unfettered. I'm not sure if that makes a lot of sense, but all one has to do is listen to the Pet Shop Boys songs and watch the accompanying videos to realise the incredible angst and terrible emotional upheaval and it becomes quite clear that Neil is able to remain relatively unscathed and can go about his life unfettered by the truly depressing aspects of a life lived in a kind of pirhana-infested horror show. It can never be easy, but if you are disciplined enough and your instinct for survival is strong enough, it can be done. But it is far from easy. 

I wish I could meet him one of these days so I can tell him how amazing he is. I can easily relate to his situation. I'm not gay, but have been diagnosed with BiPolar disorder and have felt the suffocating stigma that goes hand in hand with mental illness. A close relative was afraid of me for years, which was ludicrous. I'm not sure if she still harbours any ill will, but frankly, it doesn't bother me anymore. 

I was forced to work in a dive bar because there just weren't any other jobs and I had to make money to pay for my university education. One of the waitresses was having a lot of trouble with depression and with some trepidation, I confided to her that I had been sent to a mental hospital and that there wasn't any shame in having emotional troubles. That turned out to be a huge miscalculation, because she told all the other waitresses and bar tenders that I'd been in a "nuthouse" and was basically little more than a freak. They made fun of me in front of the customers and I overheard the woman I'd confided in say, "Don't turn your back. She'll try to knife you." This was followed by peals of laughter. I couldn't quit because I needed the money, so I just tried to block out the taunts and jeers as best as I could. But I hated working there and never really regained my footing. So I have a good idea of what it is like to be treated as if I was subhuman by ignorant, meanspirited people.


Saturday, 17 December 2016

Adding To the Mix Of Content Here

Along with my short stories, this blog will be featuring poems, essays and varying degrees of ramblings with Pet Shop Boys slant of course