Revolution No 9
He wanted only to enjoy the muted darkness.
During the day his vision is assaulted by psychedelic colours every shade of the rainbow. The same music is played over and over again. His life feels like a record going round, repeating the same colours, same music and the same outlook. But mornings are dark, especially in Winter. His bedroom is painted light grey, and the blandness feels like an oasis.
John always wakes before the alarm, his body has always been wired that way. Roughly twenty minutes before it goes off he lies awake appreciating the silence. Some mornings he plays around with a piece of music he has composed, others he lies in his bed and hopes that the world takes a step back towards the path that it got parted from.
Paul McCartney, resplendent in his Sgt Pepper outfit, points his short arm at the seven and his long arm at the eleven. It is getting closer to the big yellow bass guitar sitting at the twelve, when his alarm will sound. Five minutes to hope the world can pull itself out of the social rut into which it has fallen.
Yesterday The Beach Boys were mentioned at school. It was just a comparison to other, inferior work that had been produced, but still a reference to another band. It had been months since John had even heard mention of another recorded, professional bands name. He spent the rest of the day giddy with anticipation.
The arm swung closer to the midday point, he held his breath without realising he was doing it. His heart started to beat faster. These anxiety attacks are not a healthy way to start the day.
The clock strikes seven o’clock and starts it’s bell ringing. The small vibrations making Paul look like he was doing some kind of disco dance. It echoed through his room and out into his house, will raise a shout to shut it off from his parents room in next few seconds, as was the usual pattern. He let it sound until his parents lost their temper, glad that the first sound he heard was not composed by one of the Beatles. A sad ironic thought then surfaced in John’s mind; That it would be a matter of time before one of the Beatles took credit for composing the sound of ringing bells in an alarm clock.
No complaints were shouted through the walls. His dad was usually very grumpy when woken up. He started most days with a hangover, which loosened the already very loose grip he had on his temper. John knew exactly how far to push the alarm rebellion before his dad lost control.
The lack of shouting almost felt like a battle lost to him. He turned the clock off and lay back on his bed. The room reset back to silence again and bathed in a gloomy darkness. His womb where he felt relaxed, where he felt sane.
Music started to play downstairs. It had probably been playing for a while, but after hearing his alarm, his mother decided she could turn it up. It was muffled and tinny when it reached John, having to make the journey through the walls and doors, but John identified it instantly. Norwegian Wood released on the 1965 album Rubber Soul.
Nothing has changed.
Reluctantly he got up out of bed. Took a deep breath, held it, released it, and opened the curtains.
He recoiled instantly from the window. The multicoloured street sent a shock to his eyes that felt like someone had shone a high powered torch directly in his face. The physical pain quickly subsided and he gazed out of his window. Houses painted in every colour of the rainbow. Cars and bikes striped and spotted were going by on a road painted bright yellow. Every morning it seemed to John that his street had achieved a new level of garish colours through the night. A multicoloured street was supposed to be the height of freedom and inspiration. The vibrant colours giving positive energies to anyone that looked upon them. But there were no positive feeling here for John To him it only inspired depression and disappointment.
Once during a recreational drug class in school, John was given, and reluctantly took, Lucy’s Sky Diamond. His little rebellious acts were starting to add up and there was talk of suspension or even possibly expulsion. His father would not handle either of those outcomes very well so the absorbent tab containing the hallucinogenic drug was swallowed like an aspirin and he waited for the effects as the teacher put on the Yellow Submarine album.
His cognition and perception were altered to the point where he thought the brightly coloured classroom was bleeding and in pain. That is how his street looks now. In pain.
Retreating from the window he made his way to the family bathroom. The song being played from downstairs changed to Lady Madonna. A favorite of his moms, emphasised by the volume being turned up.
Listening to his mothers off key rendition of the song for what must be the thousandth time felt like torture. Music, for some reason, came easy to John. He was wired to understand it on a base level. The same way some autistic people can understand math at a level that is beyond everyone else. But this ability was also the cause of his depression, as he is forced to listen to the same four hundred and eleven songs over and over again.
The singing from downstairs went up a notch in volume.
Her sour vocals reminded John of dog his father had once hit with his car. High on whatever the ‘in’ drug was, George Banks was all over the road. Swerving their battered Ford Escort from left to right like a ship caught in a storm at sea. The dog was a stray and had taken the wrong moment to go wandering into the road.
They both got out to see the aftermath and it’s painful howling was bone chilling. It’s legs were broken, you could tell by the jagged bones sticking out of the bloody mess that used to be it’s hind quarters. His father could barely stand without swaying like a drunk, but he had enough clear thought left to get a claw hammer from the car and put the dog out of it’s misery.
The Ford Escort, as was befitting for Beatleologists, was painted pink with silver spots of varying sizes. When his father had managed to get the killer shot on target it was pink with silver and red spots. The dog howled everytime he missed, as he was too juiced up to swing a hammer and hit his target. The fear and the pain in those howls had chilled John to his core. But the sounds, guttural and animal in origin, were comparable to his mothers elongated notes as she sang along to Lady Madonna.
“Wonders how you manage to make ends meeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiittt” high pitched whine from downstairs could be heard over the music. Just needs the dull thud of a hammer hitting flesh to make the comparison complete.
Washed, he made his way back to his room to change. When done he looked in his full length mirror. He saw a young man, in the prime of his life and the hollow look of depression in his eyes, dressed in a bright pink officer replica uniform like the one Ringo Starr wore while promoting the Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
A deep breath, with slow a exhale. Once more into the technicolour dream land. Maybe tomorrow we’ll wake up. His mantra.
The smell of lightly toasted bread had started to follow the radio upstairs and was making him hungry. On the way down, the smell of buttery toast was joined by a sickly sweet smell. Downstairs it was like walking through an atmosphere of cloying sweet smoke. His dad had started his day on soma again, the ‘in’ drug in with the Beatles at the moment.
The aroma was worse in the dining room where his father was sat at the table, eyes closed smiling moronically. Unfortunately soma, and marijuana before that, was one of those things you had to get used to. There didn’t appear to be any passive effect for him, except for the disgusting smell, like rotting meat covered in spun sugar. Once enough was inhaled it shut down your thought process, turning you into a zombie. But it’s saving grace was it wasn’t addictive like heroin or base, and the effects wore off faster. In roughly thirty minutes George Banks would be ready to leave the house and do a days work. Whatever the fab four said should be tried, his father tried. There have been some pretty dark days in the Banks household, and in comparison soma wasn’t that bad.
“Morning Da,” John said, his thick Liverpool accent and slang unhideable.
“Ah John,” his father seemed to wake from the dozy state the soma had put him in, “good morning, good morning, good morning ah.” His dad considered putting lyrics into sentences the height of wit. Even if he had been recycling that particular salutation for nearly ten years.
He was sitting at the breakfast table in his bright blue overalls. Plumbers were just like everyone else and couldn’t escape the influence of Beatlemania. His soma pipe resting on the yellow submarine ash tray, on the bright yellow table cloth set up in the neon green living room.
“How you feeling today son?”
John shrugged his shoulders, “Same as always. Depressed, secluded, alone, uninspired and restricted.” He sat down at the small table opposite his dad.
His father frowned. Shaking his head he reached for his soma pipe. “You don’t know how lucky you really are. Of all the times to be alive throughout human history, now has to truly be the greatest.”
Words which John could tell were truly believed by his dad, were almost comical to him. But his dad was making an effort and he didn’t want to start another argument. His life had been nothing but conflict.
“I remember a time before the Beatles. Depression and wars, no enlightenment. Everyone was bored and spiritually locked.” His father started to shake his head, showing his visible disappointment at such recent history. “Those were bad times. And now we have ‘The Beatles’ and you don’t give a damn! They saved humanity.”
It was John that started to shake his head now, visibly disagreeing. A look of confused offence on his face. “What about China and Japan? They have human beings there with humanity and they seem to be getting along fine without the Beatles presence.”
A frown was dawned on his fathers face. Foreign countries, and the Beatles presence in them, almost an offensive subject. “John Lennon. The John Lennon. Has said that those countries are populated by a mainly subhuman species. Music and art don’t have the same kind of effect that it has here in the west.”
“They are not subhuman da,” a patronising tone had slipped into his voice that John had no control over. “Japan claim to have a new vaccine for cancer. All forms of cancer.”
His father,s frown remained, his features almost twisting into disgust. It was hopeless. John Lennon could walk in and gun down his family, then tell George Banks to dispose of the bodies, and he would gladly do it. He was too far gone in the Beatlemania movement. He was lost.
“They have been working hard there da. Not just waiting for a new poem from some seventy three year old to brighten their day.”
“Death is a way of things, it’s natural. Cancer serves a purpose. If those Japanese don’t get the Beatles teaching and music then they are stupid.”
“If George Harrison developed cancer, would you want him to try this vaccine from Japan?”
“The Beatles are eternal. They can never die. Especially from a disease like cancer. Their auras are strong and powerful. No disease could affect a Beatle.”
The frown had turned into smug smile. Confident that he had quashed his sons little debate again, and that he had won it. How could he not win? He followed The Beatles after all and the Beatles were divine. It was mornings like this everyday that fed John’s depression and despair like servant girl bestowing grapes onto an already fat emperor.
This is Liverpool, the birthplace of the phenomenon. Walk down any street at any time and the first person you meet would be willing to die for the Beatles. Everyone except John Banks of course.
Religions offer an answer to death. They offer hope to the insecure that death is just a step to a more fulfilling existence. They offer comfort and acceptance in the name of a deity or community. Beatleology has gotten to that point. Using their popularity like handful of sweets to entice people to buy into their ideals. What the closed minded people didn’t realise was that the other hand was hiding behind their back. And this hand was holding handcuffs.
“There is a rumor that Paul McCartney is dead,” John ventured is a casual way.
A sly smile broke out across his fathers face like dry earth cracking under the scorching sun. Confidently he started to retort “I’ve heard these rumours son. All because he wasn’t wearing shoes…”
“No, no da, I mean recently. When was the last time you saw him? When was the last time he released a new song?”
The smile faded almost a quickly as it appeared. In it’s place was anger. “You shut the fuck up talking that way about the Paul,” he spat through clenched teeth. “You shut the fuck up or I’ll make you shut up.”
“What’s all the shouting?” Mother the peacekeeper, runs in to see what’s happening. She is still dressed in her pyjamas and gown.
“He’s talking about Japan and China again.”
“John, don’t wind your parents up like this,” trying to reason with him.
“Oh, and apparently Paul McCartney is dead according to him,” his father stabs a finger at John.
“John?” she says shocked. Like John had just admitted killing someone.
“I honestly don’t want to argue, I’m just saying there are interesting things happening around the world which aren’t anything to do with the Beatles.”
His father looked like a coiled snake ready to shoot out across the table and grab John. His mother laid a hand on his chest to placate him. Her gentle features radiated when she smiled, her eyes seemed to smile along with her mouth. This was not the first fire she had stopped turning into a blaze. Her actions were her natural reaction, a fire blanket smothering the start of an argument.
“He is just rebellious dear. Remember ‘The John’ used to be just like him.” A direct reference between John Lennon and their son usually filled his father with pride. It just depended upon how much soma he had taken today. His mother picked up the soma pipe and started to refill it.
“John, you know how we and the Beatles feel about the unenlightened? Please stop provoking us. They are lost causes. Their language is so unpoetic.” Handing the loaded pipe back she reaches for the cigarette lighter shaped like a yellow submarine. The mouthpiece disappears under George’s thick black moustache. Jean, his mother, lights the pipe and smiles again as she watched his features soften. The anger already had the edge removed.
He knew his father loved him. That fact was was as instinctually known to him like the fact that his body needs oxygen. And if asked to put his hand on a copy of Rubber Soul and swear in the name of the Beatles, he would admit to loving his father in some small way. But did he like him? He had been thinking that it was a tragic time to be alive. Parents should always be the default for young man to turn too. They should be able to listen to him at the least. Instead his parents listened to the music of The Beatles and took whatever drug they told them to take.
His father inhaled deeply, held it, then blew out the light yellow smoke whilst sighing. Sickly sweet, the room again filled with the burnt smell of soma. John and his mother watched in silence as he repeated the process and blew a thin jet of yellow smoke at John. Whatever malice was present in his father would now be rinsed off him like warm water in a shower.
“You should try some of this,” his father said. “It’s in with the Beatles right now,” his voice thinned out at the end of his sentence like his windpipe had narrowed. He closed his eyes and coughed, and they only opened half way when he was finished.
“No thanks da, that’s not for me.”
The moronic smile was back on his fathers face, almost smothered by the George Harrison like moustache. But it was his eyes. You could tell through the eyes. His father was now half the world away.
His mother went back to the kitchen and brought back a plate of toast. “Here you are John.”
She took out a normal cigarette and lit it using the same yellow submarine lighter. To John’s mind that action summed up the state of life currently. The Beatles were slowing killing you. He grabbed a piece of toast and started to butter it while his mom watched him.
She glanced quickly at her husband and then back to John. “You can talk to me John, you know that don’t you?”
“Yeah, yeah mom I know.”
She looked sad. The cigarette she demurely held was snaking twirling lines of white smoke up into the air in front of her. Elegant in way, like the smoke was dancing around her.
“I know you find life hard sometimes,” she said as she made eye contact through the smoke. “But I know that this is just a phase. Life will get better when you stop rebelling and accept what’s on offer.”
She smiled and reached out to cover his hand with hers. It was a gesture that felt hollow, as her eyes darted to the pipe hanging limply from his fathers bushy moustache and then back again. Talking was pointless, the confrontation that had just happened proved that, so he just resigned himself to keeping quiet.
“I’ll be OK ma,” he said as she quickly stubbed out her cigarette in an ashtray, then quickly grabbed the pipe hanging which had made it’s way into his fathers limp hand. The old saying like taking candy from a baby was really no comparison to taking a pipe from someone in a soma state.
His mother took a deep inhale, not a leisurely puff, not wanting the soma to burn out. Watching his mother inhale the sick smoke reminded him of the way she drank cool tea. If left for a few minutes, she would grab a cup and down it like it was water and she had been exercising hard. Not wanting the tea to lose anymore heat. She was inhaling with the soma with the same urgency now. Only tea didn’t turn your brain off or make you act odd.
Wives and children of alcoholics tend to know when to go on guard. They can identify what moods the person will be in and act accordingly. Sending their kids off to friends or grandparents when the signs point to a bad mood. When his mother hit the soma it was a sign to go. It was still one hour until school, and it was only a fifteen minute walk. But waiting around on your own was better than being home when his parents were high.
Once, when going to bed, he went to peck his mom on the cheek. She was high on what he thought was soma at the time, and she turned her head quickly and he caught her on the lips. She held his head with one hand and forced her tongue into his mouth, the other hand was trying to get down the front his jeans. He managed to wriggle free and looked at her in complete shock. There was nothing building up to it, it came completely out of the blue.
“Don’t you want your mommy?” She asked as the trauma set in. The sickly sweet taste she had left in his mouth making him feel sick. His father sat opposite them barely moving except for a little laugh. He ran upstairs and locked his room, a ritual he has done every night since.
The next day, it was back to what some would call normal. They both acted like nothing had happened. They had probably forgotten, too high for the memory faculties to work. But John’s memory was scarred like a foot prints in a fresh snowfall.
“Don’t you want your mommy?”
It was better to wait at the school gates on your own. So he grabbed his guitar and left without saying goodbye. Neither parent would have heard him, even if he did.
No one was around at West Derby School. The giant wrought iron gates were closed and chained shut. On more than one occasion John had been here to see John the caretaker — nearly every male was named either John, Paul, George or Ringo — open the gates and let him into the school grounds.
The air was cool and clean. He couldn’t appreciate it whilst walking, but now he had stopped he took deep breaths. Filling his lungs with air and slowly releasing it was relaxing. He leant against the wall at the gates and closed his eyes. Birds were singing somewhere behind him. Probably in the apple tree that was growing in the school courtyard.
The bird song was a high pitched warble in varying bars. A refreshing change to hear something that the megalomaniac Beatles had no control over. But it would probably be a matter of time before one of them decided they didn’t like being out done by a bird song and ordered all birds to be killed on site. It would be like the time there were massive bonfires in every available space across the country, burning all the records, cassettes and CDs which were not recorded by the Beatles. Only instead of records, this time it would be bonfire stoked with the small bodies of birds.
Another deep breath helped the mental image of the huge landfills he saw on the TV, already crammed with the different music formats, having bulldozers push piles of brightly coloured dead birds on top.
Dead birds and vinyl.
His eyes shot open, the mental image was striking. Muse came whenever it wanted, sometimes when you thought of love and peace, and sometimes when you thought of avian genocide.
Your controls become final, See dead birds and vinyl.
A quick look at his guitar case. School bags, books and pens were no longer needed. Instruments, paints and pencils were what the Beatle syllabus demanded. A battered, black guitar case was leaning against the wall next him. Inside was his beautiful rosewood Newporter pro custom nestling in the plush red cushioning.
Oh how he was dying to strum a few chords and see where his muse would lead him. A quick look over his shoulder showed an empty courtyard. John is probably in his shed high on soma. He won’t be out until the last minute. A look either side of the street West Derby School was on showed no living soul.
What the hell, if I strum using the pad of my thumb, no one will hear unless they are on top of me.
If caught with a playing non Beatles music, either written by you or someone else, you ran the risk of branding and social exclusion. But the temptation was too great. His guitar felt like it was telepathically seducing him. In a flash John had his guitar out of it’s case and the strap over his shoulder.
As was second nature, he started to play the tune up sequence he had developed. A few notes on each string was all he needed to be able to tell if the string was in tune. The birds in the apple tree seemed to like the tune up and more of them started to sing. It brought to mind the start of Across The Universe on the Past Masters album, which started with birdsong.
Where the Beatles had sound engineers and endless recordings of birds to sample and rearrange, I have a natural backing group.
He started playing. Just a few simple chords. A risk that John had taken before, but there weren’t many people that knew each chord progression from every Beatles song like he did. If asked he could usually bluff his way out of it.
He knew how Adam and Eve felt in their forbidden garden. He was breaking a huge social taboo playing an original composition, but it felt so right. The chords seemed to blend with the birdsong. Without realising it was happening he started to hum. He played a chord progression a few times then like a puppet being controlled by the music he started to sing under his breath.
The guitar part seemed to evolve during the song. What started of as a simple chord progression was quickly becoming more complex, but it sounded good.
The song was dictating how it wanted to be played and sang. Lyrics were jumping out of thin air into John’s head seconds before he sang them. His voice gradually rising to keep a steady level with the guitar. He didn’t realise it had happened but he was no longer leant against the wall. He was stood gently bobbing with the tune he was playing. The guitar tune wound down and stopped, leaving only John’s vocals.
“When you see the dead birds,” John sang out loud to the guitar notes slowly fading from audibility.
That was great. Where’s my plectrum?
John felt through his pockets for one of his plectrums. His euphoria, like a drug, was overflowing. He forgot about the Beatles, about the taboo, he even forgot about his parents, such was the effect music had on him. He felt coins with in his left pocket.
Too tinny, shouldn’t sound tinny.
He started digging in his right side pocket and felt a hard rounded triangle of plastic. As he pulled the plectrum out of his pocket he heard the blood chilling sound of the a heavy chain being pulled free from the gates behind him.
He came crashing back down to earth. His heart jumped and his hands started to shake. He slowly turned around to see John the caretaker stood looking at him with a small rolled cigarette dangling from his mouth and the gate chain gripped in his right hand.
Neither of them spoke for what seemed like an eternity to John.
“What was that?” The caretaker asked from the corner of his mouth. Balancing the cigarette in the other corner.
John was frozen and couldn’t answer. His mind was reeling with consequence and excuses.
“What?” He asked stalling for time.
John the caretaker spat out his cigarette and rubbed his sleeve across his mouth. He wore glasses which magnified his eyes to a disproportionate size and gave his face a comical look. Usually a carefree man that had slapped John on the shoulder a number of times for his contribution to the Beatles songs they performed at school.
Even though the eyes were magnified there was nothing comical about them today. They were filled with hate. His grip of the chain tightened.
“I said,” he flung one of the gates open and took a step towards John, “What the FUCK WAS THAT?”
John was sat at home in his living room, staring at the bright yellow walls. His father at work, his mother upstairs sleeping. The recent news about John playing an original composition was enough to make her reach for the valium. She washed down four pills with water then retreated to her bedroom. Having nowhere else to go, John was forced to sit and watch her do it.
“I can’t believe you would do this John,” she said through tears, “your father will be so disappointed.”
He doesn’t give a shit about anything other than the Beatles.
His mom looked like she had been told that one of the Beatles had died suddenly. Seeing her distraught did make him feel a little guilty. Any child doesn’t like to upset their mother. But the shame only lasted a few minutes after she had left the room. The bright yellow of their lounge, and the lime green sofa he was sat on, underlines what was wrong. This world was mad. Fucking insane. Why would people decorate their houses and buy furniture in colours that you had to be high to cope with everyday? Why would we shun every musical advance that wasn’t related to The Beatles? Why restrict themselves and elevate four mop topped scouser’s to the height of Gods and lavish worship upon them?
John was getting angry. His fists was clenching in his lap. He knew that his father would probably beat him. Not having enough intellect to communicate his disappointment and anger he would either lash out, or play one of The Beatles sadder songs to him like ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.
Why should I conform? Why should I be sorry for doing something that feels so natural?
He was asking himself questions that he had no answer to. He took a deep breath, filling each of his lungs, then breathed out. His usual relaxing technique. His fists unclenched.
Then he remembered what the fallout from school. Being pushed and shoved quite violently by John the caretaker, all the way to the headmaster office. Feeling too confident of his encyclopaedic knowledge of music being able to get him out of this trouble, John started to laugh as he was being harangued by the caretaker.
“Stop fucking laughing this ain’t funny you little shit,” the caretaker almost spat out as another hard shove came from behind.
“You’re going to look stupid when we get to the headmaster. That was a Beatles composition. Part of the chorus to ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’. I’m a beatlesesque you know?”
The shoving stopped. The caretaker stopped. “You’re not the only one.” John stopped and turned around slowly, confused. “You think I don’t know shit cause I clean the toilets?” The confusion remained as there was no way to tell what this unshaven, scruffy man was on about. He often thought that if it wasn’t for the school, John the caretaker would be John the bum. Living rough under a bridge, begging for enough money to buy cheap vodka. Standing as close to a shop or house as allowed, trying to over hear the music from the fab four.
Then he shocked John more than any shove in the back could have. “The chorus to ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ starts in F# and leads into C# or F. You played C# major which lead into C.” The muscles in Johns face went slack and his mouth gaped open. He looked he was watching a miracle, which is what the caretakers musical knowledge probably amounted to.
“You’re not the only one that has encyclopaedic knowledge of The Beatles songs. Your arrogance blinds you if you think you are the only Beatleesque.” He took a step closed so that John could smell his tobacco breath when he exhaled. “You were playing an original composition and you know how The Beatles feel about that. You are a lying anti-Beatle.” He took another step closer and now their noses were almost touching. If it wasn’t for the fear blanking his thoughts, John would be cowering in the mans shadow.
With his warm tobacco breath and yellow teeth with kissing distance the caretaker whispered “If I had taken just a little more coke this morning to wake me up, you would have been beaten to a pulp with your own guitar by now.” Then he slapped John in the face so hard the he spun around.
The headmaster had been just as bad. Not as clever as the caretaker, but just as horrified by his actions. He had been expelled on the spot, not welcome to study at West Derby School anymore. He was disappointed in someone that could play the work of the Beatles so well. The caretaker harried him to the gates and threw him on to the ground. His guitar quickly followed, flying over his head. As if his guitar was just as guilty as he was.
He was feeling something between depression, fear and anger. He knew his father was going to come home and not understand the basic need he felt in his soul to create music, to play his music. His father would probably beat him. Take his belt and swing it like a hammer thrower, bringing it down in stinging blows. He felt ashamed, he knew it was wrong, that people were disgusted with him. But he also knew that he was right. That music is one of the things that makes life worth living. Limiting the creative process and playing the same shit over and over again is a pointless existence.
John started pacing around the gaudy living room. Still unable to settle himself with his breathing exercises. Taking a cigarette from his mothers pack he lit it with the yellow submarine lighter. At this point the metaphor felt right, but John was past caring. Just a shame there wasn’t something that worked faster.
He lit it and let out a sputtered cough. He didn’t smoke much, despite his parents and teachers pleadings, and his lungs were coughing in their protest. He started pacing again, the cigarette leaving a little trail of smoke like a train. The room started to feel small. He looked over in the corner and saw his guitar leaning against the wall by the coat hooks. His partner in crime.
The temptation was almost overwhelming. He walked over to it and touched the case. Should I play it? Make a statement? His thoughts were cut short as he detected a the first faint trails of soma. Even over the cigarette smoke, he could make out the sweet smell and his stomach turned.
His coat and his guitar were right here, all he needed. He could grab them and be gone from this life forever. Leave this house now, leave this stupid city and just see where life takes him.
“John,” his mother called from upstairs. There was no sadness in that voice, it had taken on a soft, almost mischievous tone. Soma was always good at calming people down, but John didn’t want to go upstairs. He had a pretty good idea of why his mother was calling him. Going upstairs when she was obviously taking soma and his dad was out at work had bad idea written all over it.
“John come here baby.” Jean Banks words fell seductively down the stairway into an empty living room. John was gone, and so was his guitar.
He had walked for two hours to get to the pier head. Through the dazzling streets of psychedelic colours that seemed to press in on him as he walked past. The bright green, blue, purple and red buildings looming over him like a Lego city eager to oust a musical criminal.
The pier stretched out across the River Mersey and was mainly used for construction. The small buildings and sheds were built out of old weather beaten wood and had somehow managed to escape the Beatle movement. Instead of the gaudy colours and patterns that were painted on every other surface in this city, these sheds remained coated in cheap flecked and peeling white paint.
Apart from his bedroom, which his parents had allowed him to decorate on his own, this was the only place left in the whole city of Liverpool which looked like it was from the fifties. From a time before the Beatles movement. This place let John know that there was sanity in the world before he was born. Strange how chipped white paint and rusted iron railings had a soothing effect.
During the launch of their fifteenth album, called ‘What God But Us?’, the streets were full of decorating parades. Specially converted buses and coaches were driving down roads spraying jets of multi-coloured paint onto every surface. Every inch of road driven over was left yellow or green or red. All to the tune of the Beatles catch pop hooks.
John had used to have nightmares he was running from these coaches. Cowering in alleys behind huge dumpsters. Listening to the Beatles music playing in the streets ahead. Knowing that if he was hit by a paint jet, he would not only change colour, but he would forever be a dedicated follower of Beatleology. Freshly painted he would march on with the rest of madness, dancing and throwing out handfuls of flowers like the rest of the city.
He made his way out to the end of the pier and took a deep lungful of breath. The air — although not fresh — felt cleansing. It smelt bitter and crisp, with a faint undertone of oil. With his eyes closed he slowly released the air. A relaxation technique that had helped through the years. Forget the mantras and basic pop hits, a deep breath was a way to clear your head of troublesome thoughts.
But the Mersey’s river air went in and out of Johns lungs a few times, but the his troubles remained. His mind a chaotic spider web of electric thoughts shooting in all directions. Original compositions were banned. Mr Sunday assured him he would inform the authorities, which meant that he would probably be branded and have his instruments confiscated.
He had no desire to be temporarily tattooed with the word ‘Meanie’ across his forehead, which is what the punishment branding entailed. The tattoo lasted between ten and twelve months, depending upon the amount of scrubbing you did. But he would rather have his whole body tattooed with sacrilegious obscenities that have his guitar taken off him. That would be like having the last piece of sanity removed, his last refuse gone.
His beautiful Newporter, half shield and half conspirator. It was his most treasured possession, but was more than a physical object. It was a extension of him. He played track after track of Beatles music. The music flowed like water from tap and in some cases sounded better from his Fender Newporter.
Just resting his hands on the smooth rosewood neck could inspire him. It was like the guitar itself was telepathically controlling his fingers. It wanted to be played, to create music with John and only with John. No other guitar he had played felt the same, and some instinctive intuition told him no one else could play his guitar the way he could. Even George Harrison wouldn’t be able to play it like he could.
Without this guitar, he would surely crack. His last life line cruelly cut, plunging him into Beatles madness. A lot like Winston Smith in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four. A defiant rebel until they found his weakness was rats. Winston’s mind was snapped like a pencil. He betrayed, he confessed and worst of all he conformed. Without his Newporter, John would follow in Winstons footsteps.
There were usually a few people collecting their thoughts on this pier, or one of the other walkways from the docks. Rivers and oceans have always had a soothing effect on mankind. A the Mersey had played agony aunt to many people over the years. Today though, it was deserted.
John had sometimes seen a young man wearing a black raincoat sitting on the next walkway along, his legs dangling over the edge. His black shaggy hair hanging in his eyes. Head down staring past his black converse into the dark waters of the Mersey beneath him.
He didn’t know anything about this guy, except that he had a haircut like John Lennon from late 1960’s and had a cool style about him. On more than one occasion, this strangers depression seemed to outweigh his own, and John thought he should go over and chat. A problem shared is a problem halved. Maybe they could help each other realise that it isn’t everyone that swallowed the insanity currently being served around the world. Hell, maybe they could start a band and knock the Fab Four of their thrones and show the world how music should be.
The idle daydreams of a romantic rebel.
But this stranger, always seemed to intense. His depression maybe too dark for anyone to shine a light on. The small walkway where this stranger sat didn’t look like the safest place to go anyway. These docks were as old as the city itself, and some of the piers and small walkways had been standing in the flow of the river Mersey for a long time. Besides, John had his own problems to deal with, and so the stranger was left to deal with his.
But today was different. John had crossed the line and couldn’t go back. There was no home or school. Instead there was beatings and ridicule. The second that John closed the front door of his house, his trusty Newporter safe in it’s case by his side, he knew that he wasn’t going back.
He made up his mind to go where the stranger usually sat. To see what he see’s. If dangling your legs over the Mersey on a decrepit narrow pier could help sort out one person cracked psych then maybe it would help him decide what to do next. And if the stranger turned up for his next therapy session, maybe they could talk?
He made his way over and was surprised to find the little creaky walkway was a lot more solid than it looked. John walked out to the end and stood where the other man usually sat. The river looked angrier here, the current faster and the swells more violent.
He rested his guitar case against the railings. The image of his battered guitar case resting against an equally battered iron railing was almost too perfect an image.
That would be my album cover.
He took a deep breath again, and stared into the Mersey. The undulating rhythm almost hypnotic, like naked flame can sometimes momentarily hypnotize you. For a second, it worked. For a split second his mind was blank, given over to perfect oblivion. His troubles forgotten and Beatlemania was null.
Then his eyes moved from the water to something which had been scratched into one of the planks of wood which made up the walkway floor. John knelt for closer inspection. Into one of the faded weather beaten planks of wood someone had inscribed a few lines.
I loved so much. I had so little.
At first John though the word Mersey was Mercy, and that was some artistic statement written anonymously by some like minded spirit for others to find. Hidden away at the end of pier, scratched into an unorthodox medium, a direct defiance of Beatleology but right here in Liverpool the city that birthed it. A little bread crumb, maybe to lead others to like minded people that were unhappy with the current regime.
But, on closer inspection he could make out the crude ‘s’ which had been lightly scratched before the misshapen ‘e’.
His mind felt like a coach had just crashed into his thoughts. The romantic notion of an underground movement, of rebellious artists standing against the Beatles lay in the burning wreckage. This was not a piece of anti-Beatle graffiti. This was from the brooding stranger John had seen a few times before. He knew this was his work as sure as he knew what it meant. He often thought the stranger looked like an arty bohemian. That he was suffering just like John was, and this message proved it.
The thought was astonishing in it gravity. Right below him the fast churning Mersey had swallowed a person in conflict with this world just like John. And here was his poetic suicide note.
John was surprised to find that he felt no sadness about this. This tortured soul was free. His work was no longer despised, he was no longer forced to listen to the music of aging pop stars. With his body in the Mersey he wouldn’t even be at his own funeral to listen to the procession of hits played instead of hymns.
There was definitely no going back, but was this the way forward for him too?
He took another deep breath and reached for his guitar. It came out of it’s case willingly enough, but it felt cold. It felt sad.
He started playing a piece of music he wrote last year. One that he had composed in his head and had kept their like a caged bird. It was out now stretching its wings and it sounded beautiful. The note progression sounded natural.
When John had finished he had tears welling in his eyes. He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.
One more time.
Ringo and George were just putting away the paint cans in the storage shed. The work was going to take a long time, but would be worth it when it was done. The docks were going to be just as bright and colourful as the rest of the city.
Working outside didn’t bother Ringo, he felt closer to nature. He didn’t even mind working in the rain. The Beatles said nothing changed in the rain, and he always liked that line. George didn’t seem to mind working in any condition as long as he wasn’t on his own. His low intelligence manifested itself in panic attacks if he found himself alone.
They has just started to decorate the docks, a big project, but a noble one. They had made plans for every building and shed whilst they were lying on the end of the pier one day high on LSD. They also planned to pour orange dye into the river so that it would flow with a marmalade colour. Where the dye would come from or even how it would work were problems to the future. Now they just needed to paint the buildings.
“You hear that Ringo?” George asked in his slow Liverpool accent.
“Hear what mate?”
“Music,” he spun his head from side to side slowly. George did everything slowly. “It was beautiful.”
“Music eh?” George nodded enthusiastically like a toddler. “Turn it up mate,” Ringo shouted “we can hardly hear it.”
They both stopped moving the paint cans and stood quiet listening. Their eyes and heads darting about trying to identify the direction the music was coming from. Then they heard it. Gentle acoustic guitar notes very faintly in the distance.
“Ssshhh,” Ringo admonished with his finger across his lips. George fell silent, listening again. They both heard it, still just as faint. Like a fragile snow flake that would melt away if not handled with care.
“It’s beautiful,” Ringo said.
“Is it Beatles Ringo?”
“I don’t know mate. Whatever it is, it gets my vote.”
They spent a time in silence listening. George kept smiling inanely cupping his hand over his mouth. Ringo actually closed his eyes at one point and seemed to sway with flow of the music. Then it stopped. George’s child like wonder diminished and was replaced with is usual vacant look. Ringo nodded.
“Well come on then mate, these can’s ain’t put themselves away now are they?”
“OK Ringo,” George said as he bent to pick up the nearest paint cans. “Hey that music was great wasn’t it. I bet it was something from George Harrison.”
“You always say that. Just because your name is George.”
Just as delicate as the music which had been played, George thought he heard a splash. He looked around in the direction he thought it had come from concerned. His body straightening outof the stoop he was in.
“Oi, oi watch it la. You’re gonna spill that everywhere.”
“Sorry Ringo, I thought I herd…”
“Let’s just get these cans in and we can go. Come on mate, pass them to me.”
George passed the paint cans to Ringo one at a time. Stacking them away with their rollers and tarpaulins, whistling the recent tune he had just heard.