This book was my attempt at producing an ‘On the Road’ for the 1960s. I collected the anecdotes from a variety of sources and loosely based the central character Jack on Roy Harper in his wild younger days. I had done a fair bit of hitch hiking and travelling around Europe and the USA in old vans, greyhound buses and beat up cars. I wanted to pull it all together into a novel.
This is an extract from that novel. I hope you like it.
Goofin’ with the cosmic freaks
I remember the first time I met Jack. Although he was a small guy he filled the room with the exuberance of his soul. He possessed that thin, haunted face with that aura of electricity running through his bones, long blond hair to his waist, blue eyes and the mad laugh of a hyena on amphetamine sulphate; his whole being throbbed with life. As he talked his body and hands were animated with a super abundance of energy – jig-jig-jig, bob, dart and cackle. He was never still. Jack was high on living. Every second counted. You could see those glinty blue eyes were constantly peering into the depths of the universe and sucking meaning out of the mundane. To Jack everything had meaning; everything was alive, and Jack sucked that sense right out of everything and filled himself with it. I watched him from the side of the room with amazement. I had never witnessed anyone so vital. There was madness to it. I was drawn to that madness. He devoured the world and sucked it in until it seemed he would burst with it. He was so full of ideas and visions that he had trouble containing it. It welled up in him and threatened to choke him with its intensity and he just had to let it out or it’d kill him. It burst out in a crazy torrent. He didn’t so much talk to you as spout forth out loud in some ecstasy as his mind raged.
Man, he thrilled to it.
Yet people reeled from it. It was too big for them to handle. They had no answer to it. There was no room for them to get a word in. It cascaded over them like a tsunami of passion and they found themselves floundering in horror. It was too much they desperately tried to escape before they were buried.
All around him people retreated.
Yet Jack was oblivious. For him they did not exist. They were empty vessels, echo chambers, into which he allowed his thoughts to gush just so’s he could see them coming back at him.
They had to be thrilled by it too. They had to see it. It was so wild. It was so real.
You could see it in Jack’s wild evangelical eyes. He wrestled with the entire universe and would grapple it into submission with sheer energy. He was so full of it. He wanted to find out what it was all about and wrest every last moment out of it. He had to know. He had to experience it. He wanted to get to the bottom of everything. He needed to tell you all about it and find out what he knew, what you knew, and how to solve the riddles of all time. Nothing was holy. Everything was holy. Nothing mattered. Everything mattered. Life was a paradox. It was all straightforward. He clutched a battered copy of Bertrand Russel’s ‘History of Western Philosophy’ in his hand and waved it under your nose to emphasise a point. With anybody else it would have been pretentious bullshit but somehow with Jack it was real. The book was thumbed ragged. He quoted from it. He was stimulated by it as if it was a drug. He wrestled with paragraphs and wondered at others. Ebvery page was n epiphany. He was amazed by it.
Surely everyone was as consumed by the wonder of this mad journey? Surely they had to know?
Jack was on a voyage and he wanted to experience every last bit. That book was his bible; he studied it. What was it about?
‘You know, man. We’re the luckiest generation in all time!’ Jack was expostulating to a tall, lanky bearded guy who was nodding in agreement and searching for an exit strategy. ‘We’ve got access to everything. We can go where we want. Travel the world. We can read what we want. We can read any book that’s been written, man. We have access to the greatest minds, the greatest fucking thoughts that man has ever thought. It’s all here, man!’
I watched with amusement as the scene played out.
I’d seen Jack many times at a distance at parties and gigs and heard him talk, intense, man, and laugh and laugh. It was obvious from first sight that he was crazy – strung out on craziness! I dunno why but crazy guys are so much more interesting, dangerous, thought provoking – just so much more alive! They connected you to that universal dynamo that made the whole heavens spin.
Jack did that.
I dug him for it.
Or perhaps it was that I was more than a little crazy myself. I had a bit of that need to burn. I had to know what set things spinning and how to wring the last bit of fun and truth out of it – how to strangle the dawn and cuddle sundown.
But I’d never met him.
Then, there we were, at Bede’s party, our eyes met and he laughed. He came over and shook my hand. It seemed old fashioned but somehow right.
“Seen you around, man,’ he grinned, gripping my hand tightly and staring into the depths of my eyes. And there I was finally getting to meet the guy. I gripped his hand right back at him and beamed a grin that was glowing with eager anticipation. I had finally got to meet him. Here I was staring into those blue dancing eyes. There were no words that I could say. I had craved this moment. I had been at a loss to know how to initiate it. I had no words to say. Yet this was destiny. ‘Been meaning to say hello. You must come round sometime.”
I nodded sagely, strangely speechless for once. I wasn’t used to this. I too had been touched by that evangelical flame. This was a new experience for me. Jack didn’t seem to care. Something electric had passed between us. There were no words necessary. He scribbled on a piece of paper and thrust it at me. It was kinda weird. It was like I was star-struck or something. My mind froze. My tongue was paralysed. It was as if this meeting was too important to mess up.
“Give me a bell.”
Then he was off. An’ that was it. We were like magnets for each other; meant to be. Well, you know what I mean, I don’t believe in destiny. From the moment I’d first seen him I’d known he was going to be an important part of my life. It was not destiny so much as our weirdnesses clicked. We hit it off. It was something you couldn’t put in words but our wavelengths were in tune. We were weirdly normal. We understood each other without having to speak.
That was the start. There was a lot more weirdness to come.
The party was weird too- one of Bede’s concoctions. We had been driving home in my beat up Ford. We’d been someplace I don’t know, man, – hanging out at some boring party. An’ I was driving him home. That was firstly because I was the less smashed of the two of us and secondly because it was my car. As we came up to this big old pub near his flat when the doors opened and all these crazy dudes started to spill out onto the pavement. It was so weird to be in the middle of nowhere and suddenly come across a herd of freaks. Bede saw someone he knew and shouted for me to pull over. I pulled in and there were a few cats I vaguely knew but no-one startling.
It was limbo time. That time when the day was held in suspense. The pub was chucking out and the town was dead. The car caused an instant focus. That might have been because of its luminous colour scheme. I’d hand painted with assorted gloss of tasteful orange, yellow, red, green and blue with a wide pink stripe down the middle. Was kinda fetching. It did kind of make a bold statement. Within seconds we were surrounded with a crowd with freaky cats and babes peering in through the windows to see if they knew us.
Before I knew it Bede had slipped out through the non-existent windscreen. I’d knocked it all out when a stone had shattered it, and did not have the money to replace it. Besides it kinda suited the ambience of the car, me and the times, even if it was a pain in the arse when it rained. He swung up on to the roof.
“Hipsters, Bipsters and crazy freaks!” He roared in his best Lord Buckley impression. “Happening time is about to happen!”
The crowd instantly thickened from nowhere so that the car began to rock with the press of bodies all around. Where did they all come from? This was show time. What the hell was going on? Still it had to be better than nothing.
I could see the two dents in the roof where Bede had planted his feet. I could see him, in my minds eye, standing up there with his fake brown fur coat and pink dot scarf, black white dot shirt, and bleached blond hair blowing in the warm Summer breeze, lapping it up. He could be very theatrical, could Bede. He always took great care of his red velvet flares.
“Party time!” he called out. “Get your arses into gear we’re gonna rock some ears!”
There was a roar. OK. This was party time. They could handle that. Where was the party?
We set off again with a string of cars in tow like a raucous circus parade. Bede’s flat was ten minutes away.
We arrived and stepped in through the open door into dark emptiness. Behind us the people spilled in. Trouble was that there were no sounds. A pile of albums were stacked in the corner but the stereo was bust. There was no food, drink or blow. There was very little furniture and no much of anything.
But hell, man, this was a happening, right? It was OK. The raucous mob were in. They took a few minutes examining the place, which mainly seemed to consist of a cursory glance at the piles of books stacked in the corner and a quick thumb through the albums. It was strangely quiet but an electric buzz of expectancy hung in the air. They sat in groups on the floor talking quietly and looking to us for when it was going to begin. It was a happening right! What was it? Bongo time? Like fuck was it going to be bongo time!
By this time there were about fifty people crammed in. We could do what we liked. I looked at Bede. Bede looked at me. We were up for it! Let the fun commence.
We grabbed books off the shelf and read aloud, theatrically, randomly. Reading alternate lines, jumping pages. Fitting stuff together and it jumped like crazy poetry, like every book was a Burroughs cut up job. And Bede’d yell out a line and I’d pick it up and throw it back and everyone laughed and clapped cos it was crazy. And although it was totally crazy it was working and the atmosphere just jumped and it was magic. We recited bits of Roy Harper poems mixed with liner notes. Dudes laughed and provided accompaniment by drumming or banging on furniture. Kitchen utensils and pans got passed around while we shouted ourselves hoarse making up spontaneous poems to shout across the rhythms and interspersing them with any stuff that came to hand or mind. Crazy, crazy, crazy.
Spliffs started circulating and wine appeared from nowhere. Then a stereo appeared like a mirage and things started rockin’. Everywhere people were dancin’, smoochin, reading extracts of books uproariously an’ generally grinnin’. In the corner there was a rolling contest and first a fifteen skinner made the scene and then a twenty skinner and the room was filling with a blue haze an’ Bede and I sat in the corner grinnin’ and whoopin’ like idiots and yellin’ at each other that this had to be the best happening yet!
It went on and on and I was dancing with these two crazy chicks and Bede rushed through naked and soaking wet having decided to have a bath with this petite blond chick. He retired to his room and I never saw him again until noon. And gradually it died down and people started drifting off or crashing wherever they could find room on the floor. We were smooching real slow to some slow blues by Elmore James and I couldn’t decide which of the two I preferred but they didn’t seem bothered so that was OK with me.
It was then that I met Jack. I’d not seen him there. I don’t know when he’d arrived. He was just suddenly there in the room and though it was all running down he was like a dynamo and people around were just getting a buzz off him being there. His laugh was mad and his eyes flashed. He’d throw his head back and roar and it would tail off into a set of giggles that were contagious so that, even though you did not know what was being said, you picked up on the vibes and found yourself grinning. I was half trying to focus on what crazy conversation Jack was getting into, it sounded cool, and trying to think where might be a good place to direct these two babes off to, when our eyes met.
In the days before Lanky and Geof got into smack they were quite a laugh. In the fifth year, a year ahead of me, they made quite a splash. There was a zany little group of them who got quite far out. Snitch and Snatch, Stiff, Lanky, Sten, Geof and Malc. They dropped out in a big way despite being among the brightest in the year. Refusal to compete meant sport was out and veggy power meant school meals were out. In fact it was quite apparent that they had some ideological opposition to most of the school curriculum, dress code, punishment system and ethos. The prefect system suffered most and the R.E. teacher, a poor innocent rather liberal Christian, suffered a breakdown trying to rationally deal with the logics of Eastern metaphysics. They were out of control and aloof from the whole system and rapidly became a law unto themselves. The school was not equipped to cope with it. Their hair sprouted and set a new standard. Their uniform disintegrated to a travesty and their refusal to accept the discipline system, especially when administered by he prefects, made a mockery. It was no wonder I gravitated towards them rather than the staid conformity of my own year. I don’t think the school was geared up to it. They did not know how to cope with it. These were heady days of revolution, man. There was student power in the air. They probably did not want to precipitate a rebellion. Instead they tried to accommodate them and failed miserably. Soon they came and went as they liked. In 66 it was openly smoking dope on the school field with the teachers and vast majority of the kids being so naive they had no idea what was going on. In those days it was mainly hash and speed apart from Geof’s penchant for Collis Browns cough medicine. In those days you could buy it over the counter in any amount, no prescription necessary, despite the fact that the main ingredients seemed to be morphine and heroin. Trouble was Geof had no sense of moderation. He’d drink three or four bottles and become incoherent and pass out. Nobody thought too much of it at the time. We were all doing it. That and booze. But it was a bit of a chilling start when he came round from a binge to find himself completely blind. That shook us. It lasted for three days but he recovered and got on with things.
Over the years we had all stayed good friends. Lanky used to have these cosy little get togethers round his house that usually sort of grew into unusually quiet parties. Maybe that was jut the effect of the dope or the Mayer/Harriet Indo-jazz fusions, Ken Nordine, or Paul Horn albums that he always had on. Either that or the mellow effect of the old farmhouse that he lived in with its rustic ivy and great gnarled old oak beams.
Next time I saw Jack was at one of these.
We were sitting around on the floor in the front room in front of a big log fire sharing from a home-made bong. The fire was quite unnecessary as it was a nice warm summer’s night but it seemed right. It added that organic atmosphere. The bong was one of Lanky’s plaster of paris designs. Lanky had gone into Art college and seemed to spend his time designing psychedelic bongs. This particular one was based around a plaster cast from a rubber glove. He had moulded it so that the thumb was what you drew the smoke through and the first two fingers were sticking up. As you lifted it to take a toke you were symbolically sticking two fingers up at the world. It sat atop a glass jar and was all painted in wavy psychedelic colours like a solidified light show from A Pink Floyd or Jefferson Airplane gig. It was quite satisfying to handle and pass round. Had a nice vibe. Felt good in the hand. Looked good. Seemed to signify the right attitude.
“Reincarnation is where it’s at,” Snatch was explaining. “I mean, man, I was reading in these Vedic scriptures, man. You come here to learn a lesson, a specific lesson – something you failed to understand in a past life – maybe you did something wrong and have to atone for it – an you come back, man, to have the chance to put it right.”
People nodded. Seemed reasonable.
“It’s like your Karma, man. You build up bad Karma from the deeds you do an’ you have to come back, man, to work it off. You are on a journey to understand life and there’s all these lessons that you have to go through to gain insight and achieve perfect understanding.”
“Yeah,” Malc agreed, nodding. “Yeah, I was reading about this Atman and Brahman. The God within and the God without. It’s like you’ve got this God-head inside you leading you on towards the experiences you need. And there’s this God outside that’s perfect understanding, like a white light of knowledge.”
“That’s what the Incredible String Band are on about!” Lanky added.
“I thought they were Christians, man? Scientologists?” Snatch asked aloud.
“I think they’re into it all,” I put my bit in. “I mean it’s all one thing anyway, right? Whatever religion. It’s just trying to describe the same stuff. Trying to work out what it’s all about. That’s what the Incredibles are about. They’re mixing it all up.”
The bong made another round and Jack came in.
“Hi Jack,” Lanky said in his laid back manner. “Have a hit on this.” He passed the bong on. “You’re just in time, we’re nearly out.”
Jack took the bong and pulled on it. He swayed about a lot and had obviously been drinking quite heavily. His eyes didn’t seem to focus too well.
“Anyone got any pills? Speed?” he asked. “I’m feelin’ down. Need a bit of perkin’ up.” He laughed.
Didn’t exactly sound too down.
“No, sorry, man,” Lanky said. “Outa pills, outta dope, outta wine. We’re outta everything, man.”
Jack finished the last of the dope and studied the ash in the bowl on the multicoloured middle finger. “Jeez,” he muttered. “I’ll see what I can do.”
He strolled out and we went back to our stoned conversation on the nature of Karma, reincarnation and purpose of life.
After an hour or so with no sign of Jack I was getting a little restless. Everyone had settled into a drowsy trance staring into the flickering flames and glowing embers of the fire. It was kinda hypnotic.
“Think I’ll split,” I announced. I slipped on my favourite pale green cotton jacket and got to my feet and set off.
It was the early hours of the morning and the air was warm and clear. Overhead the stars peppered the sky. I strolled through town and it was completely deserted so that your footsteps bounced back at you off the walls like you were walking along with someone who was keeping in perfect step with you. I was still a little stoned and feeling mellow, humming to myself. It was that catchy little number about acid on that new Roy Harper album – Gheghis Smith – “Gave my love a daisy, a third in my mind. Turned crazy dearest, to see what we could find.” I couldn’t get the tune out of my head. ‘All you need is’. I was humming it and musing over the words trying to wring all the meaning out of it. There was so much in there. It was definitely about an acid trip. But then it was about relationships and life.
I got level with the chemists and nearly shit a brick when the door suddenly opened and this figure staggers out.
“Jesus, Jack! – You scared the fuck out of me!”
He stood there swaying slightly with a trickle of blood running down the side of his face.
“What have you been doing?” I looked down at his hands to see that he was grasping two great huge jars to his chest. One of them was full to the brim with pennies and the other was full of purple hearts. It was the biggest fucking bottle of pills I had ever seen in my life. There must have been thousands of them in there.
“Had a bit of an accident, man,” he chuckled. “Thought I’d get us a something to help the night along.”
He raised up the jar with the coins in to show me a big gash on his hand that was busily dripping blood.
“Climbed up on the roof to see if I could break in through the skylight into the offy to get a few bottles of wine or maybe something a bit stronger. Couldn’t fuckin’ move it. So I jumped on it!”
He chuckled again. “Went straight through, man!”
I was a bit disturbed by the amount of blood that was dripping down his jeans and forming a little pool on the pavement outside.
“Was pitch black in there, man. Like the black hole of Calcutta. Could’ve hit anything. Fell like a brick. Fortunately I landed right on the counter and rolled off. There was glass everywhere! Went off like a fucking explosion. Straight through. I mean, wow!”
I noticed he had packets of condoms stuffed in every pocket. He’d blown some of them up and had them limply dangling.
“Thing was man, it wasn’t even the fucking offy! It was the chemist.” He roared. “Can you believe that? I jumped straight into a fucking chemist, man. Well I mean, I couldn’t waste that, could I man? I had to check it out. You would not believe it, man.”
He seemed almost hysterical and still more than a little pissed. I wondered how many of the uppers he’d already consumed.
“The place was full of stuff. Like an Alladin’s cave in there. I got my lighter out an’ checked it all out. You would not believe it. I didn’t even have to break into the drugs cabinet. They were all on the shelves, man. Qualudes, Mandies, Amphetamine, Methedrine, Barbs. You name it, man and it was there. I didn’t need to break in. I’m not into that smack shit. I’ve seen too much of that. Fucks you up real bad. So I picked the biggest jar I could find and had a rummage round the shop. Amazing, man. No alarm. Nothing. I found this jar of pennies.” He lifted up the jar of pennies again.
I was getting a little conscious that we standing having this conversation in the streetlight outside a chemist with a wide open door. Anyone, like a jamjar of fuzz, cruising by would see a couple of hairy freaks, dripping blood, standing there with two huge jars outside an open chemist’s in the middle of the night. I mean, we were hardly inconspicuous or unsuspicious looking. The plods pulled you in for nowt at the best of times.
“Come on, man,” I said, coaxing him into motion. I pulled the door shut and set off down the high street.
“What about the others, man?” He asked. “We’re going in the wrong direction. We could really get the place rockin’ with these!”
“No, man. I think they’ve crashed. They’re all right. Let’s take a walk down the sea-front.”
It was a beautiful night. We lay on our backs on the sand looking up at the billions of stars. I bathed the cut on his hand with sea-water and tied it up with a handkerchief. It looked a bit ragged and nasty but at least it didn’t seem to be bleeding too badly any more. Jack threw back a handful of pills and passed me the jar. I was a little more conservative. I could feel them straight away. My mind cleared from the dope and I was wide awake – buzzin’. My mind flitting here and there. The Milky Way was a broad band of smoke. The whole sky was alight. There was no inch of space. It was just different degrees of brightness. We watched for shooting stars.
“Look at that man. Look at those jewels.”
“And all those fuckers asleep man. Never seeing it. What a waste. What a terrible waste.”
“Can you imagine ever getting a job and settling down?”
He chuckled. “No, man. Not me. It’d kill me. It’d eat my soul away. I gotta be free.”
“Neither me,” I murmured. “Has to be something more to living than that, man. I mean, look at this mystery, man. Just look at that! Infinity, man.”
“That fucking sky goes on forever. An’ we’re here with one short life trying to make sense of it. So short a time an’ so much to think an’ do, man. Who the fuck’s got time for work and shit like that. I mean, look at that sky!”
“Think, man. All those zillions of stars! Zillions and zillions of worlds! And some of them are galaxies! Zillions of galaxies. And each galaxy has more stars than there are grains of sand on every beach in all the world. And there’s more galaxies that grains of sand.”
We both got a little preoccupied with running sand through our fingers. A shooting star flashed overhead and we watched it. It seemed to have significance.
“Just think, man. All those worlds are pinpricks of light. Reduced to that, man. Just pinpricks.”
“An’ we’re a tiny pinprick.”
“Well you’re a tiny prick, man,” He chuckled. “A real tiny prick.”
“I guess.” I laughed. “We’re all just tiny, tiny pricks.”
“Right now there’s probably millions of people just like us lying back on those pinpricks looking up at our little prick.”
We looked up at the zillions of pricks, some twinkling, some bright and glaring. We studied them. In that light were people just like us. Maybe aliens so different to us that we couldn’t even imagine what they looked like. Looking back at the pinprick that was us with organs that saw differently – and we both wondered.
“What do you think the sky looks like to them?”
“Yeah, different — but just as fucking amazing!”
We tried to imagine that. It looked fucking amazing.
“We’re looking at infinity, man.”
The sky was so clear and swirly that you felt you could fall into it.
“You know, if only a tiny, tiny fraction of a tiny fraction of those galaxies have planets, and only a tiny fraction of a tiny fraction of them have life. That’s one fuck of a lot of life!”
“In an infinite system there’s infinite possibility and anything that is possible exists.”
“And that means that we are out there, or at least, beings just like us, identical to us are lying on a beach on a planet just like this having this exact conversation an infinite number of times in all directions from here.”
“Yeah,” I laughed. “And if you travel forwards and backwards in time there are beings like us having this conversation on this very spot in space an infinite number of times.”
Another shooting star scorched across the sky followed quickly by a third. We lay there staring up and allowing our imaginations to try to understand infinity. It was fantastic. Too fantastic to speak about.
Then Jack sat up. He unscrewed the lid of the huge penny jar and reached in and grabbed a handful of coins and tossed them in the air. They spun and glinted in the bright starlight and fell down in a big arc. They seemed to fall in slow motion but that was most probably the effect of the speed.
We got up and walked down to the sea’s edge. The waves were gently lapping and glistening in the light. It was so bright. So clear. Like it was daylight but with a strangely stark blue light, like all the reds had been drained away and everything was full of contrast, like when you turned the contrast button all the way up on the telly.
Jack tossed another handful into the air and they arced and splattered into the sea, creating mini silver explosion each of which set up a series of ripples.
We took turns at flinging them up and watching them fall and splatter like sparkling rain into the gentle surface of the undulating sea. They were like stars falling from the sky. It all seemed to come together with some mystical significance – something well beyond the scope of words to explain.
When the coins were all gone we threw the empty jar into the sea and watched it slowly bob and sink. We stood and watched the surface undulate and glisten. Then we retrieved the big jar of pills, secured the lid and strolled off into the night.
“Too late to go home,” Jack said. The pills were wearing off now and we both needed to crash. The night was catching up with us.
We made our way up to the top of the beach among the dunes and found a patch of evening primrose. We both had the same idea and started grabbing them, uprooting them, breaking them off and throwing them into a pile. Then we crawled inside and went to sleep.
The makeshift bed was not too comfortable and did not do too much to keep the cold off either. The crushed leaves made the air damp and we dozed fitfully for a few hours but it was enough. Dawn found us sitting on the heap of dead plants watching the sun come up over the dunes and sending orange tracts across the purple sea towards us. It was pretty spectacular.
“Wow, man, that’s something special.”
“I wonder how many other eyes have sat here and watched that sight?”
“First ones, man.” He replied. “That sunrise has never existed before. Different each time. Unique. We’re the first and only. That sunrise might look similar but ………… well.”