“You`re so happy now you can hardly stand.”
I`m on campus looking up at blue skies and jewels of green that are being toyed with by an early Autumn breeze. The sun is definitely shining. I`m walking down past the library. Doing my best to ignore the `70s architecture, that must have seemed futuristic to someone at the time. A factory on an alien moon, linked by a lattice of walkways and tunnels. I`m lost. It`s the first day of term. I got the dates wrong and missed the whole of “Freshers` Week”. Everyone appears to know each other already. Talking in groups. On the wide paved street between the Student Union and the Textiles Building. Making plans. Fair hair catching sunlight. Translucent haloes. White teeth. Laughter and smiles. Human noise I`m not close enough to translate.
I haven`t met anybody on my course. The science block looks like a fish tank. The lecture theatre looks like a housing estate in collapse. A leaning tower of learning. The sun is definitely shining. The lecture theatre lift is a kind of conveyor belt. There`s a trick to getting on and off. I watch. Carefully. Mum and Dad cried when left me in my room in the Halls Of Residence. When it was getting late and they better be getting back. It was a five-hour drive.
Dreaming spires. Isn`t that what you`re supposed to do? I am not spinning, arms out, my face titled towards the heavens, eyes shut, in celebration. But in memory my heart could burst.
The sun is shining. I am lost. But I am free, and I am ready.
The first person that talks to me is a female rugby player.
Lloyd`s was a self-consciously literary Pop. He`d switched from Law to Major in English and Philosophy, and his beloved books, and their imagery, saturated his own prose and verse. It was an American art that he aspired to. The symbolism within Joan Didion`s Play It As It Lays provided Rattlesnakes with its title. Speedboat credited Renata Adler`s novel of the same name. Jay McInnery`s Bright Lights, Big City became Cole`s new best friend when he moved to Manhattan and the cocaine Blues, the multi-story snowstorms of My Bag.
“Meet me in the john, John”.
Lloyd sang about Norman Mailer, Simone De Beauvoir, Truman Capote, and themes raised by Carson McCullers. The science of love. You gotta work up to loving a woman. Get some practice in. Try a tree, a rock, a cloud. Charlotte Street articulated a dream he`d of meeting a beautiful girl in a library. Even when he was trying to be simple and direct I don`t think he could help himself. His lyrics cited films by Elia Kazan and Bob Rafelson, stage-plays by Sam Shepard, the records of Arthur Lee, Leonard Cohen and Nancy Sinatra. His writing rang with the street poetry, the eye for everyday madness, of Lou Reed. Its depiction of well-observed character ticks, kinda dampened down Lou`s. In the same way that Reed had himself lessened the horrors of Hubert Selby Jr. and Nelson Algren. Lloyd`s was a walk on the not so wild side. Musically, Cole and his Commotions were the Velvet Underground`s Sweet Jane, mixed with Country jangle, and when introspection took them, the Neville Brothers` New Orleans moon viewed through the strip blinds of a cheap motel room. Accompanied by a Noir blue horn. They borrowed a bass line from Laurie Anderson and when rushed into a second LP too soon they ripped off Iggy`s Passenger for Lost Weekend. Cole`s relocation to New York lead to firsthand brushes with Times Square and a chance to indulge in the sleepless lifestyles of those original Beats. Of Herbert Huncke and midnight cowboys. While the band wrote their debut drunk on Dylan`s Subterranean Homesick Blues. Swapping Bob`s dig at Edie Sedgwick`s Leopard-Skin Pill Box Hat for a “daimante crocodile”. Cole seemed to have fallen hard for that lie of the great American boozehound, and his songs had him at the mercy of both crazy women and the bottle.
“Spin, spin, whiskey and gin, I suffer for my art.”
In photographs he would frown his sad puppy dog look through his floppy undergrad fringe as if hungover. I later heard him say that he thought he was ugly when he smiled.
Lloyd seemed to get old quick. Within three years the debut`s exuberance was lost and he seemed preoccupied with youth`s passing. With a guilt at feeling no pain, an intellectual`s struggle with faith, and a hungover resignation. Running, jogging baby, not chasing anything. Not looking back, heading down a long open road to who knows where. As the lines and wrinkles began to show on his protagonists. As their beauty hardened. He quit the band and hooked up with Lou`s old mates, Robert Quinne and Fred Maher. Asking himself that if without the commotion would he sound different? He didn`t.
Lloyd`s songs were short stories. Small vignettes. Sketches from a pocket notebook of chance meetings, basement flats and cheap lodgings. Their choruses like punch-lines. Like the payoffs in the work of Raymond Carver.
“Hell, it`s hard to say but I was hoping you might stick around `til morning.”
They echoed the way my distracted heart dragged me around campus. Stalker. From crush to crush.
“Say we shouldn`t even know each other and it will be undone.”
was the improbability that I felt at finding myself at university. The feeling that at any moment the error might be discovered and I`d be going home. Nobody I met came from where I came from. I was punching above my weight. Dating out of my class. Pretty sure that none of it would last.
“Must you tell me all your secrets when it`s hard enough to love you knowing nothing.”
Every night I`d find myself surrounded by the brick-a-brack of somebody new`s life so far. Having its history breathlessly explained to me. While wondering when she would shut up long enough for me to kiss her.
“I`ve been blown around so long I don`t know which senses to trust.”
romanticised a state of disorientation that I`m not sure I aimed for but managed to achieve. As I fell into drinking full time. My road of excess en route to some palace of wisdom and poetry. That I attempted to justify by stealing any quote along the way:
“He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”
– Samuel Johnson via Hunter S. Thompson.
Rattlesnakes was Anna smiling and laughing. Telling me her plans, her future. Assured of it. Chewing gum and cocky. Convincing me.
Ice Cream Girl was the swagger of when first I thought that Jo loved me.
“Can a dollar love a dime?”
Long Way Down describes the walls I put up, as I slipped from using to penny ante dealing. A total tough guy pretence. After my parents` divorce. After university.
I Hate To See You Baby, Doing That Stuff applied to all of us, as I watched my friends destroy themselves.
But Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?…I was young and I had a fresh start. Despite a crippling lack of confidence, I felt immortal, and indestructible.