All around the world, the gays are dancing to Adeva. ‘It Shoulda Been Me’ is a cover of Yvonne Fair’s hit single, itself a cover of Gladys Knight’s version, itself a cover of Kim Weston’s original, written by Norman Westfield. Hell is a labyrinth.
Adeva’s cover is awful, but the gays like it because it’s faux-house, and all they play in this place is faux-house. It’s miserable. Suits me. No one else seems bothered; they’ll dance to anything. They’re having a billboard time. The L.A. isn’t a bad gay bar in early-nineties London—in fact, it’s one of the best.
But the music sucks.
The Angel of Death is sitting just beyond this dancefloor, on top of one of the speakers, reading Sylvia Plath with a torch. He sighs, and makes the black cloud above his head trickle, catching a little bitter rain on his tongue. Pretty bad vibe corner. It’s not easy, you know, walking around being the Angel of Death; having to style out not enjoying being the witness to life, finding obtuse ways of merriment that tickle only on the inside. Smiling Reaper: ruined symbol.
I get bored easily.
Now, sick of being ignored, I start to amuse myself by giving people bad trips; watching their bug-eyed, gurning, rushing faces slide and melt as I taps em on the shoulder, and hands em one of my special Tarot cards.
They aren’t actually Tarot; they’re a pack of baseball cards bought from Little Rickie’s on East 4th and First, but they’re still the stuff of divination for us. Cards with pictures on them, of the famous freaks from the carnies: Chang and Eng the Siamese Twins, Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy. Photos taken by Charles Eisenmann of people with deformities that the cunt P.T. Barnum used to exhibit for his profit. Our personal Tarot, our friends, mutants of all shapes and sizes, exploited for society’s gain. We sit in wait downstairs, a Gordian knot tightening to the muzak of the queers, until the punters are starting to really rush from their pills, then whiplash onto the dancefloor, tap one of the little wuvs on their back and shove a card in their face, in front of their eyes, and whisper, too close to their ear, ‘That’s you, that is.’ Then we step back and watch whilst their little looks of excitement at being witnessed turn to horror as they become the deformity they glimpse on the card and the freak enters their high, to eternally circle round this trip and, perhaps, if I done it right, all their subsequent ones.
As it bums out their mellow, the freaks are freed.
Back in bad vibe corner, we’re relaxing with a pint, watching the last queer we freaked crying and being comforted by two of their friends—‘You’re not a freak, dear, you’re not a freak’—when a clone comes and sits next to us. Except he’s too young to be a clone and all the clones died in the 80s. But since he’s there, and he certainly looks cunted, Death taps him on the shoulder and hands him his card—Koo-Koo, the Bird Girl, a brain-damaged woman who was made to wear a feathered outfit and bite the heads off live chickens for the audience’s amusement. This guy just looks at it and laughs. Really laughs.
A cursory intro—Hi. James. Hi. Phil—later and the eyes meet and it’s on. This one’s a bit thin—not AIDSy thin, just thin, which isn’t what we’d normally do, we prefers a bit more bounce to the ounce—but it’s on and we snogging, which is OK, but only semi material. It’s not gonna be the ride of a lifetime though that could be the speed, so snog and nightbus and soon we’re on the route back to Phil’s place on the Holloway Road. It’s an old fire station turned into a co-op by Circle 33. Zero 33. Their slogan is Enhancing Life Chances.
‘Nice jacket,’ says Phil.
And as we talk about the wings on my leathery back, we tell Phil that they’ve been painted by a guy called Crusty Chris who’s squatting the Bakery, and Phil goes:
‘Oh, wait, the Bakery?’
Then: ‘Between Clapham North and Brixton, right?’
There’s a moment of super-instant distrust—and it’s about to bloom into a nebula of full-blown paranoia, which Phil reads superbly, and just carries on the conversation, like that ill wind never blew, to ask if Chris has long dreads, and we’re all like:
‘Yeah, long dreads, bit full on, never takes his boots off, has to burn his laces off when he does.’
Before we can notice what’s happened, Phil is laughing, really laughing.
‘Hahahahahahah,’ says Phil. ‘Hahahahahahahaha.’
Phil’s still laughing as he says: ‘I’m his uncle.’
Then, don’t we all just laugh out a hysteria of coincidence, but that could be Phil’s excellent grass.
‘Hahahaha yes, you’re right, Chris is a bit full on,’ says Phil.
Then: ‘D’y’know why?’
Nope, we don’t. We don’t ask questions, we just blether on a story of our life which is becoming increasingly unbelievable to everyone, including ourselves. Chris, from where we sit, is a live wire. An expert snake, and, like a lot of the squatters, chaos—an avoidance mechanism. Toothpaste on the lovebites of life.
And, this fine day, we find out that the reason Chris is like he is—which is a brilliant, super-scurrying squatter, but fucking full on and borderline not nice— is Chris’s father: Phil’s brother. Chris’s-father-and-Phil’s-brother abused both of them; vicious abuse of the highest order. The guy was a monster, not the good kind. This guy tortured and sexually abused both his brother and his son.
Phil seems happy saying this to a stranger, albeit one who knows his nephew, which almost makes us one of the family—shudder—and he says all this perfunctorily, without the trembled lip of the ones who still struggle with flashbacks.
Phil’s bedroom is painted with sigils. We’re like, you should be careful of all that. We’re like, watch that chaos magic. He laughs again. Loud. His laughter really blurts when it comes out, bit too jittery, but strong.
We start the kissing thing as a prelim to the old jig-jag but something’s not clicking and it’s gonna be peripheral sex. We’re a bit twitched though, so, after a half-hearted snog, we redirect to another cigarette (sorry) and then it turns out that the thing at the periphery that’s hanging around—wanting an in—is strangulation.
Phil’s a bit heavy.
Fair enough, we think. Not our thing, but we’re all real decent people, aren’t we, and so we don’t even think to ask whether he’s like, y’know, Strangle Top or Strangle Bottom; we just presume and give his neck a bit of squeeze as he jazzes. Not our bag of spanners.
During the post-coital joint, it turns out that we totally misread the scene and Phil is like, Boss Strangle or a Throat Top or whatever. Not sure what to call him, not having done the Throat Thing before, and it feels like it would be rude to aks him what he calls himself, this Breath Master, this Neck Daddy, just in case he’s like a total tard gay Dr Who fan and he calls himself Thaaarg.
But everyone likes an erudite pervert, so we’re all hepped up as he’s rolling the next joint (please) and laying it down for us that, for him, Uncle Phil, his ultimate sexual fantasy would be if someone came to him as a willing victim. It would be someone who wanted to die, and Phil and the guy would realise each other’s fantasies. The guy would be all like, ‘Kill me, Phil, kill me, I want it, I want to die,’ and Phil would be all like, ‘Oh god, I’m going to kill you. I’m killing you. I’m fucking killing you. Oh god, I’m fucking killing you now.’
Or however death scenes go down.
It’s really late by now, but cos of the days being up and booze, and Death and knowledge of Death and desire for Death which just suck the life out of one, it’s so exhausting, and we know that when we crash, we’re really gonna crash, and even though Phil reassures us:
‘I won’t murder you unless you want me to.’
We’re all like: ‘I think I’m gonna hafta take a raincheck on that one, bubba.’
And Phil has to get up for work anyway and there ain’t no way we’re getting up tomorrow, so it all works out, and before leaving, Phil says:
‘I’m doing a performance tomorrow, would you like to come?’
And we’re like: ‘If we’re conscious.’
And then: ‘Really probably shouldn’t say that in front of you.’
The performance is a bit Thaaarg, to be honest, if Thaaarg can be another name for Satan. It’s always fascinating watching someone give themselves to Satan. One minute, you’re drinking beer and listening to Adeva; the next, you’re watching someone you just got off with perform a ritual onstage in front of a large crowd, and he’s definitely, definitely, pledging his soul to Satan in return for something or other. It’s hard to tell, but we’re pretty sure Phil is clear about what he wants, even if it’s not translating too well. That’s why people practise regular rituals. They’re the Powerpoint presentations of the occult.
Phil appears to be dedicating his life to the service of a, or The, Throat God, which we presume is Satan. We’re not sure if everyone else in the building is quite getting that Phil really is doing this, it’s not a performance like Marisa has just done, where she cracks eggs with her vagina as a symbolic thing. Phil is really doing it. It’s not symbolic. Phil appears to want this thing to speak through his own mouth, and is speaking to himself, and then it’s speaking through him, in a kinda-not-very-good death metal voice, which is probably exactly how Satan speaks.
Bit camper than he actually thinks he is.
See, Phil appears to want someone else to speak through his own mouth. He’s trying to be possessed, or maybe he is possessed and is showing it in public, or maybe he just wants a new language other than the one he’s been given, other than the language of abuser and victim. Phil appears to be asking The Throat God to take his soul if he can only strangle someone to death. The audience are the witnesses. Everyone needs a witness.
If each part of reality is represented by a symbol, then language is a model of reality. This is the essence of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy. It is also the essence of magic. Just saying it could even make it happen.
There’s a subtle change in air pressure during Phil’s performance.
We’re quite impressed.
The whole event is something to do with the Sex Maniacs Ball and we go backstage and Tuppy Owens is there talking about how much she likes getting fucked in the arse by builders, and Jona Lewie walks past, and we are sitting on the floor waiting for Phil to come out of the dressing room area and, as Jona Lewie walks past, we kick him in the shins, making it seem like an accident. That’s for ‘Stop The Cavalry’. Wanker. Jean-Paul Gaultier is there and our oldest friend Andrea is just about to push him down the stairs when Phil comes out of the dressing room and he’s really pleased to see us and we fuck his throat really hard in one of the toilets. We leave, looking at paintings without knowing the history of art.
It’s so hard to tell what people want.
We get to know each other well, Phil and me. Phil explains his philosophy of life—that everything is written under the sun, we just have to work out the words; how to read. Phil believes that if you just work out the correct order of things, you will know what’s coming to you. Just saying it could even make it happen.
Phil says that it has no choice; that the universe has no choice in these matters. Phil says that the universe has no choice, and you don’t, either. It’s just a matter of hearing that which is underlying, which is what makes people afraid. None of us reaaally wants to know what the universe has in store for us. Phil says you just have to listen harder, to hear your way, listen to what you should be doing. Everything is inevitable. If you listen, you’ll know what’s coming for you. If you know what’s coming for you, you’ll be prepared, and if you are prepared for eventualities, you can alter them. But you’ll always get what’s for you in the end.
We aks him, kinda therefore, why he does invocations and magic if what he’s going to get will happen to him anyway?
He says time is relative.
Even though he’s a civil servant, and civil servants are creepy, Phil’s a laugh to hang around. We play games with him—we let him make a death mask of us, face, eyes and mouth covered with bandages, straws in our nostrils. We know he’s masturbating as we sit there, blind, feeling the wet, musty plaster of Paris harden over our face. It seems like a nice thing to do for a friend.
Phil is an expert in music. He teaches us about the different periods in classical music, and he gets a puppy and calls it Spunk because he likes shouting ‘Spunk! Spunk! Spunk!’ when they are out walking on Finsbury Park. Some people externalise their voice through their pets.
What Phil is into is the idea that murder is the base note of humanity. He thinks that murder, the first murder, the primal murder, don’t murder for food, murder for fun, created consciousness in turning the universe’s universal Yes to a No. He thinks that murder is the first work of art and that all art aspires to the condition of magic. By working out how complex classical music forms are composed, he creates new pathways in his brain. And if his will is capable of neurogenesis like that through just listening to structures in music, then imagine what murder could do. He thinks that murder will burn such new synaptic paths in his hippocampus that he will be able to find his way out of the maze that was made for him when his brother abused him. It’s sacrifice of himself via another willing victim. Ethical murder. He wants renewal, like a soul transplant, like turning the big No he had as a child into a big Yes, and the sound of the universe breathing is Yes, so he’ll turn that into a No: renewal forever.
Phil’s a vegan.
I was never abused as a child, I don’t really know how to judge his thoughts, or if I can, or if I should. I don’t have the correct frame of reference. I don’t have an objection to death, obviously, like the Angel of Death could have, or maybe I could, but I can’t find any ethical argument against Phil’s logic. If I think euthanasia is correct, then I should think his desire is too. I guess.
The Angel of Death. He’s not really the Angel of Death. He just walks around, pretending to be, to get over the amount of people dying around me. He’s so omnipresent, it’s like he’s metastasised our personalities.
So you may as well glamorise the content.
We lose touch with Phil after a while, rivers become streams, then he rings up a coupla years later, out of the blue, asking us to come round to his flat because he has a business offer he’d like to make us, he wants us to go into business with him on a computer program which helps learning for O Levels. The Angel of Death is hardly business partner material, and we know next to nothing about teaching, but we do know about the inevitability of consequence—and so we go and we sit and we have Earl Grey tea, black, no milk, no sugar, and we listen to Debussy whilst discussing his plan.
‘Oh wait, I’ve got something to show you,’ says Phil, and we go out of his flat to one of the stairwells. It being an old fire station, the stairwells are completely sealed off, and there are fire doors in-between the corridors, creating air locks. Enhancing Life Chances.
We go down to the second floor. There’s a large, maybe eight or nine foot long, scorch mark, blackened onto the landing of one of the staircases.
The word immolation is from the Latin immolare, to sacrifice.
Everyone needs a witness.
‘Look,’ says Phil.
‘There’s been another fire.’