Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Back Up Against the Wall

“Paul, have you cleaned up your room?”

There he goes again, the stern voice from beyond my bedroom door. He’s a bright fella, my Pa, self-taught and all that, but, on his own, Bob was a bit lost, a bit too rigid. Clearly he misses my Ma, but she’s dead, right, and we all have to go on the best we can. For me, that means carrying on with no rules.

Not so for our Bob, who must be obeyed. I can’t believe his views. Today, he showed Norman and me his new system. A list of who would be responsible for which chore. Do the beds, vacuum the floor, mind the washing. And all pinned on a note to the kitchen door. He was no Martin Luther, I can tell you that. Pa’s 95 Theses were about doing the bloody laundry.

And Norman was right with him, my big brother trying to be a big man. Who’s he to boss me around? I’m already 14. It’s too bad I missed him when I threw the kitchen knife at him.

The door swung open.

“Paul, did you buy the dinner like I asked you?” Pa was steaming; he didn’t even knock before he entered my cupboard sized box-room.

“Could you knock first? I could be busy, you know?” That’s not how to talk to the old man; I know that, but what of it? Who was he after all? A postal clerk who didn’t listen anyway. Oh, he’d go on about “Gerry this and Gerry that” from the office, but if I had something to say, something important, he was a brick wall. And if I talked back, he’d erupt, like the time I was ten and he locked me in my room. He could be an ass, for sure.

“It’s my house and as long as that is the case, I have no need of knocking.”

OK, fine, it was going to be that way. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of looking his way. Instead, I faced the floor, running my hands through my hair. If I closed my eyes could I make him go away?

“Paul, I know it’s been difficult for you since your Ma passed, difficult for all of us, but we need to come together as a family and you are not doing your part to help. Your brother Norman is working, I’m working and you need to care for the house. We’re….”

Ah, he keeps prattling on. I tuned him out. What a bore. Just like a Catholic, with their arbitrary rules and orders and guilt. Why’d a nice Church of Ireland girl marry a Papist and endure the wrath of her family and mates? My Ma was so sweet and gentle. She deserved so much better than Bob. Though Dublin’s no Belfast, it didn’t do me any good to come from a mixed marriage like that. I’m glad she brought me up the way she did. Let Bob Hewson go to Mass alone. He deserved it. Ma’s death was a punch in the gut and, when I gulped for air, my eyes widened and saw everything clearly. For the first time really.


“Will you just shut up, you bloody Fenian.” The words just came out. Not loud, not screaming. Cold and calm.

My Pa turned white as a sheet, though I hadn’t seen a clean sheet in weeks. Laundry was another one of my chores.

“What did you call me?” Oh, he heard me loud and clear and didn’t like it.

“Fenian. Well, you are aren’t you?”

Bob went from pale to scarlet in a flash.

“Listen you little whelp. Iris and I suffered enough at the hands of our parents and so-called friends when we married. I will not hear it from a snot-nosed little boy, even if that boy happens to be my son.”

I never thought about their struggles, not once, but I saw in the moment that my mother was wrong to marry a Catholic, that the troubles outside raging were the fault of Catholics looking to overthrow the rightful government in the north. And old Bob Hewson, my Da, he was one of them. I’d had enough of it.

“Ma was right to bring us up Anglican. That’s who she was and that’s who I am.” It was time for my own Reformation. “The Protestant Ulstermen are right.”

Pa’s ruddy face blanched. He seemed to shrink a tad.

“You’re part me, you may have noticed,” he put forth without passion.

I thought on that a moment. He was wrong.

“Nah, not really. I can’t imagine the life of a postman, shuffling papers and waiting to have a pint and a singsong with my mates on Friday night. There are big things out there, big causes, and I’m going to find them out.” I stood up and there you have it.

“You’re a 14-year-old schoolboy. I forbid you to leave this house.”

I surprised myself when I pushed him aside from the doorway he blocked. I’d read about the Ulster Young Militants, the youth wing of the Ulster Defence Association. I wasn’t quite sure how I’d find my way North and, even if I got there, how I’d find the loyalist sons of the land.

“You’ll regret this son. I swear on your Mother’s memory that you’ll be back. And when the day’s come that you return, don’t be so sure you’ll be welcomed with open arms.” That was my Pa, strict and cocksure, to the very end.

“You’re wrong there,” I answered, giving him a steely look. “Someday, Bobby, someday, you’ll get yours.”

He was dead silent as I brushed by him. My new passion overcame me and I spun around, fist upraised.

“No fockin’ surrender! Remember 1690!” And I was gone.

Paul Hewson, the youngest son of Bob and Iris Hewson, grew up in Dublin, the child of a mixed marriage. Though Dublin wasn’t victimized by the religious violence of the Northern “Troubles,” his parents mixed marriage (Bob was Catholic and Iris was Protestant), caused young Paul much uncertainty and confusion. After the sudden death of his mother in September 1974, Paul rebelled against father. Though Iris had taken Paul and his older brother Norman to Church of Ireland services, Paul had no religious affinity as a result of his parents differing religions. Soon after his mother’s death, Paul found a religious awakening in the early “Charismatic” movement at Mount Temple School. Now known around school as Bono Vox, Paul answered a note posted at school by Larry Mullen, looking for kids who wanted to start a band. David Evans (The Edge) and Adam Clayton also responded to the post and in the fall of 1976, these schoolboys were on their road to becoming U2.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

2000 Light Years from Home

Like a sunrise, the top of Brian’s strawberry-blonde head peeked out over the black and white issue of Rolling Stone. Sunken into the couch, surrounded by Moroccan cushions, he was almost invisible but for his hair and hands. The long lounge room was still until Keith shattered the quiet.

“What does it say?” At the other end of the sofa, Keith stared intently at the cover, four headlines straight down the center screaming in capital letters about Pigpen, The Beatles, Monterey and The Doors. Framing the stories were photos of Jim Morrison.

“Well, he writes that our status is in jeopardy. That it’s an insecure album with poor production. Let’s see, ‘amorphous, aimless.’ We mistook the new for the advanced. And Mick can’t sing consistently well.” Brian hissed his “S’s” slightly, and lowered the magazine slowly to reveal a devilish grin. He relished a good poke at Mick.

“What’s that ‘amorphous’ bit mean?” asked Keith, his dark brows knitted with confusion.

From his spot alone on the hearth, Mick snidely commented. “It means without form. No substance.” He stood to remove his green velvet jacket.

Keith, his hair a wild, angry mass of strands attempting to escape from their roots in every which direction, turned to face Mick.

“I bloody well told you we shouldn’t have done it! I knew we couldn’t pull it off. The Rolling Stones? Flower power? Nobody would believe we love anyone! ‘We love you.’ Bah!”

“Look, Keith,” Mick spoke coolly, calmly and collected, as if addressing a dim schoolboy, “I told you that psychedelic music is where the money is at,” Mick said condescendingly, shaking his shoulder length hair. “Their Satanic Majesties Request is selling, isn’t it?”

“I don’t give a fuck about that, man. You’re not at the London School of Economics anymore. We ain’t the Beatles, baby. You have Beatles on the brain.”

“What of it? We haven’t gone very wrong following them, have we? They took from America, we took. They sold a lot of records, we sold a lot of records. They got into drugs, we got into drugs. Now they’re into peace and love and so are we. It’s not so very complicated.”

“None of that means monkeys to me,” Keith snarled. “You’re not a poet, you’re not John Lennon. You’re a middle class bloke from Dartford, a white blues singer. And not a very good one based on what Brian just read us.” Keith looked back at Brian and they shared a giggle.

“Well, Sgt. Pepper was a gas. I never said I liked what we recorded, it just made sense to go with the flow.” Mick protested mildly.

“That’s a lie. You said you loved it, that you were happy with it,” countered Keith.

Brian jumped up, mouth opened wide, pointing. “You did say that! You did!” He turned to Keith. “He did say that.” Then he fell back into the warmth of the pillows, pulled his fur-collared Afghan coat tightly around his chin and closed his eyes.

“And now we are right fucked.” Keith picked up a stack of papers and read the quotes.

“Disastrous.” He dropped the tabloid to the fur-carpeted floor.

“As unfortunate a recording as any for any group in the world.” Splat.

“Pretentious, non-musical, boring, insignificant, self-conscious, worthless.” Another fell on the pile.

“Junk masquerading as meaningful.” The last one fluttered to earth. Keith glared at Mick, the heat from his stare scorching Mick like the fire from behind.

“You led us into a little Sgt. Pepper trap, didn’t you,” Keith spat. He bent over to grab a review. “Look at this one, ‘concepts too large and too advanced for them.’ We’re bloody fools.”

“Well, I hated it. I told you it would bomb,” Brian chirped.

Mick would have none of it. True, he did like the songs, though he didn’t think they were much good. The effects, the electronics, it all made for a pleasant sound experience. And it was where the cash was.

Mick spoke soothingly. “We’re progressing. We’re just changing.”

“NO!” Keith yelled. “We don’t progress, we don’t change. We’re The Rolling Stones! We play rock, we play blues, and we don’t make ‘art.’” Keith dripped sarcasm. “I didn’t fancy art school when I was there, you know.”

Mick thought on it for a second. “Well, what shall we do about it then? Are we going to be a bunch of London wankers playing old Chicago blues songs ‘til we’re 70 years old, or a hugely successful pop group that changes based on what’s happening all around us?”

“Ooh, wait, he wrote about that,” Brian interrupted as he thumbed through the Rolling Stone. “Yes, here it is. ‘An identity crisis of the first order and it is one that will have to be resolved.’”

“How shall we resolve it then?” intoned Mick, the hand of fate holding each word. He’d known Keith for years, since they were kids, and knew it was impossible to win him back after he’d made up his mind. There was a chill in the room, like the February cold outside.

Keith felt it too. He picked up the new album and stared at the eye-bending 3D cover. It was atrocious, a contrived bit of gaudy self-mockery. Look at me, he thought, a clown in a floppy hat holding a lute, or something. And Mick, a bloody wizard! A clown, taken in by Mick’s greedy logic. It won’t happen again. Not to me.

“Sorry mate, back to basics for me, Chuck Berry, Elmore James.” Keith faced Brian. Remember when we met you at the Ealing Club? You were playing slide guitar. Never saw anything like it before. It knocked me out.”

Brian rubbed his face, smoothing out the bags that hung deeply. “Ah, those were fun days. I’d like to get back to that, play the blues, Chuck Berry, those blokes.”

Keith and Brian chatted about the old days, as if they were decades passed, not six years earlier. But it felt like so long ago, before the fame, the girls, the drugs, the harassment from the law. They were oblivious to Mick’s presence. As they reconnected, Mick stood by the fire, the flames burning his ass.

As he left without a word, he could hear an old bit of music where Brian and Keith play seamlessly together, as if they were one. He chuckled to himself as the ending strains of “It’s All Over Now” ran through his head.

Brian Jones hated the Rolling Stones’ entry into psychedelic music. Though Their Satanic Majesties Request would “ship gold” upon its December 1967 release and make its way to #2 on the US album charts, it was the most critically savaged record of the Stones’ career and led to a crisis for the band. That year saw the potential end of the group with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ arrest following a drug raid at Richards’ Redlands home. Mick would spend two nights in jail. In a separate case, Jones pled guilty to smoking pot and was remanded to Wormwood Scrubs.

The Stones rebounded in 1968 with Beggars Banquet and survived well past Jones’ 1969 death. Mick and Keith would eventually break up the band during the second half of the 1980’s, before reuniting.