The band are sat in Elton John’s dining room at a long, onyx black table set with Dior glasses and the daintiest cakes you’ve ever seen on the spindliest cake-stands; one end crowded with be-satcheled music execs, the other, Rocket Man, sat opposite us in crushed red velvet suit, drumming air piano on the table.
“So, you’re all married?” His presence is twitchy; ever since we were seated he’s been impressing his modish credentials upon us, how he gets the NME every week, buys x number of albums to keep tabs on fresh music etc. It’s disarming and completely at odds with his immaculate status, which zings from every facet of his home: the house is actually four, those beautiful Georgian townhouses all knocked into one a lá Beatles in Help, only its more like Mr Tumnus’ grotto, full of twinkling Hirst’s and Emin’s and impeccably shaded. There is an armed guard in the kitchen drinking tea, which is perfect.
It is a powerful room with EJ at its epicentre: management, song writing, production, touring. He covers the industry in an excitable whirl, recounts the speed writing of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, humorous anecdotes about George Michael et al and yet I’m bewitched with images of him alongside Bolan, Lennon and Bowie and my shy little heart bumps at the association.
Elton says he’s been buying copies of our second album and giving them away to friends, that he was told by our previous label we’d split up and that he’d rediscovered us by accident. He compliments us as writers, says he wants to help us in any way he can but proposes nothing specific (we later find out that he’d been looking to sign us to his management company but was unaware we already had management so backed off).
I find it difficult to hold Elton in my vision; he seems to bob apart like Max Headroom and I try to ignore the unnerving sensation that he is in fact an Elton John impersonator: I want to prod him whilst Aaron takes sly pictures of his splayed legs beneath the table with his phone.
The bands first gig was 11 years before this – in the bar of Horndean Football Club in front of 9 relatives, followed by an ecstatic lap of the unlit evening pitch. Then: dole, mental illness, dashed hopes, nascent internet labels, being dropped and second chances. It’s difficult not to view this moment as pivotal, maybe our last chance to grasp the firmament and there are surreal potentials on the table.
Elton picks up the demo of our as-yet-unreleased album and twirls it theatrically between his fingers: “If this doesn’t sell a million, you all deserve to be sacked!” to the execs, who giggle nervously: the four of us just look their way intently to underscore his point.
And without us knowing, there it is: some kind of zenith, at least in terms of proximity to the canonized; a peak moment that stands diametrically opposed to my current catastrophe, come and gone like a candle in the wind.
The fact we didn’t sell a million, that we were dropped and the execs are still at the label doesn’t sully the memory of its grand ambition: it’s a slice of thin altitude, but such rarefied heights come with a precipice and we started to slide out of the public gaze soon after.
I mean, I know why I would go there; how can I not compare, now to then? Now is stasis. I can no longer contemplate futures; they dissolve at the point of reaching so I must look back if I’m to look away.
This memory only highlights some piteous decline that culminates right here in this hospital bed. But like some dumb hound, I can feel my mind continue sniffing for comfort despite all the evidence of its absence.
What bubbles to the surface is more sensation than recall, a little meme of motion: I see legs striding across a bright park to a singular beat; I am the eyes of an eight-legged wave rolling through a prairie of summer, divested of fact, of detail. It is emotion as image.
I know this is a larval line-up of the band, one of several beginnings, so why is this significant among all the beginnings?
Our energy and excitement is too great to sit and play so we need to walk. The size of the park echoes our ambitions, where the expanse can hold us and everything bends to us in our intoxication: scent exists for us – grass, river, and cigarettes. The grass is a sound, the distance is a sound, the bordering trees – a green border – are a sound; noise is for us and through us, as if the very code of things has been revealed as noise, rhythm, melody. On our tongues, on our skin, melody we can only paw as clumsy novices.
It is the first flush of love and obsession and we see no flaws, will hear no critique: just consumed, happily consumed in the unattainable brilliance of our fantasy; we will never measure up – never could – to the dream we’ve manufactured, but it gives us magnetic north that will last forever.
We feel we are the very first band but also the end product of some miraculous passing; no tasks, just inhibitions to master.
We’re awful and we can’t play – had we been competent our confidence would’ve been a much lesser act of faith, diminishing its beauty – but it doesn’t matter because we have time.
And right now I feel gratitude to the cancer for re-energizing this fragment, for giving me back the immediacy of those steps.
It doesn’t go anywhere, this image; it’s just a stitch in a fragment of tapestry I feel pulling. But it leaves a hint of hope in a place just below my heart, a feeling like candyfloss: ecstatic, dissolving. What do I do with this echo of hope? I study it like a pinned butterfly; find it garish in this moment and place, almost sarcastic, yet knowing it existed means I can testify to its power.
From this, other images ripple, flickering past like wheel-spokes – clumsy, ham-fisted, thrilling, discordant; fingers as yet un-calloused straining to hold buzzing strings to the fret. But God, a door had opened and there was such an inrushing I couldn’t grab it all. Yes, yes, yes, I remember.
As a chronically unconfident teenager, I was in danger of folding in on myself but music forced me toward people. Maybe I’m looking for it to save me now: Save me Bolan, Prince, Beatles, Cocteau’s, Walker Bros! I gave you everything now ride over the horizon and lift me free of this.
Stace has gone: Do I feel alone? Not really. I feel boundless. A short pang when she leaves – everyone offered to stay, not sure how that would’ve been accommodated – all the hurdles are rushing toward me with no time to leap, so I’m smashing through one by one – morphine, anaesthetic, elevators and now sleeping in a strange place among strangers; an age-long anxiety, the pea beneath the mattresses. Not alone, I feel boundless, amorphous, undone.
Everything I’d so desperately held together now loosed and it feels something like relief, melting. Not alone, just an element on the ward. For now.