It’s a funny thing being a protagonist in your own book.
I recently met up with a total stranger in a pub who said ‘ I’ve read your book. I thought you were a total c**t at first but now I quite like you’. This sort of thing has been repeated several times. My favourite is ‘ God your not as good looking as you are in the book’. Others have tried to force whiskey on me at two in the afternoon or with a knowing wink told me to stay away from their daughters – which I fully intended to do without being bid to do so. All of this putting me in mind of a brilliant Ray Davies quote – ‘ I wish I was as good as Waterloo Sunset’ – not that I would ever rank my own work alongside his genius.
Now Here This is most definitely a novel and I am keen that it is treated as such. It is however very much an account of the personal lives of myself, friends and fellow musicians.
Taken from a large series of journals that I kept over the course of a few years while touring and travelling between England, France and America – the plot and characters have more or less jumped on to the page without much bidding from myself. I dearly love them all and have very much enjoyed my time living within this book. I hope you will too if you decide to read it and that you will also enjoy the playlist and original music that accompanies it.
The following passage begins after a long, hot and chaotic drive across America. The protagonist and a girl called Odessa, having met at SXSW festival a few days before, are about to enter Las Vegas.
DESSIE V.S DEGAS
Dess is all freaked. ‘What the fuck! It’s one in the fucking morning, we’re not gonna see anything!’. But just then we come around the bend and pass over the Hoover Dam. There is not one other car on the road. It such an alien experience that it quiets us both. The concrete and watch towers, the turrets and search lights are almost Soviet. It feels like crossing over some great castle with a vast moat below.
On the other side a slowly shifting neon cowboy is rocking idiotically back and forth under the desert stars with a never-changing expression. Then there is nothing again until suddenly, out of nowhere, we come over the brink of the hill and there, from out of the blackness, is Las Vegas.
The city’s vast: lights, lights, lights, lights, lights. A flat plain of endless lights. Neat strips of lights; pools, waterfalls, oceans of lights. I’m fumbling with the iPod and I’ve got ‘Venus in Furs’ lined up for when we hit the main drag. Within seconds we are on it. Pyramids, skyscrapers, Venetian canals, Disney-style enchanted castles: everything that the boozed and crazed American imagination can summon up on one long strip. Sex, sex, sex and money, everywhere! The place oozes it, secreting dimes from every god-awful neon orifice.
We’d been expecting some cheap motel. Instead we walk past the Eiffel Tower, wide-eyed under the bright-blue painted Parisian skies, and go up to the gilded check-in desk, keeping a grip on each other like two nervous kids who have lost their parents at a theme park. They give us the key and up we go in the gold and marble-mirrored elevator, down the red-carpeted corridor and into our deluxe suite. ‘Oh… my… god,’ says Dess.
Walking through Vegas casinos with your dick hanging out is a somewhat disconcerting experience I can tell you. There is still a huge whole in the crutch of my jeans from when I leaped up on that boulder at the Canyon. Luckily I have that big long stripy jumper I bought on tour in Sicily. I button up my black suede jacket, brush my hair back and, catching my reflection in the mirror, decide I look dapper enough to pass at a table. I take Odessa by the arm and we saunter off through the aisles of blinking, twitching machines and solemn card tables. No one in the world would guess that we woke up in the desert this morning and just stepped out of a Dunkin’ Donuts van after about four thousand miles of driving. That said after ordering two Long Island Iced Teas at the bar with our very swarvest manner I instantly spill and smash them all over the bar. We have to leave. As we go the loudspeaker is trying to teach us chat up lines in French, ‘Repeat after me: You look fine this evening … that dress matches your eyes … I am staying in room 102 …’
Leaving the Paris hotel we have our first experience of the near impossibility of navigating the strip. You cannot just cross roads. Stairways and escalators take you over and if you’re not careful lead you straight into some casino you didn’t even want to go into, then down yet another flight of stairs. Eventually you just give up and start emptying your pockets in what ever golden room you happen to end up in, but don’t worry! There are cash machines everywhere.
So onwards we go sliding across the static carpets on auto pilot, past the shifting granny-arms on fruit machines, past the giant fish tanks in which lazy and bewildered sea creatures go cruising round in circles over and over again. At the fish bar we sit with garish yellow cocktails. Our talk is a little slurred but full of grandeur, just like all new arrivals to Las Vegas I imagine. I go to the bathroom. When I get back a group of guys have Odessa surrounded, four of them, all in shorts with crew cuts, wonky eyes and slobbering chins. ‘Sssssaaay, where you goin’? Give me your nuuumber … Cooome on, give me your hand, give me some o’ thaaat!’ ‘Yeh! Come ooon!’ ‘Yeh, come on Pocahontas … ’
You see Dessie is dressed in this yellow dress with a strip of tights around her head as a headband and she is wearing mockaskin boots. And we get that all night, everywhere we go. ‘Hey Pocahontas, where you going?’ ‘Hey Pocahontas, give me some lovin’ … Fine! Walk away then, BITCH!’ And then to me, who has decided not to get into a fight with some pissed boys from L.A., ‘What the fuck you looking at?’
It’s just turned 2.00 and people are literally crawling in and out of these casinos now, sliding past the huge white apes who man the doors in regal top hats. Out on the street big bulky boys are sliding on their bellies down the strip, taking great runs and painful dives at the paving stones: great big greased seals sliding down into watery pools of booze and silver dimes.
We are drunk now, but not in the way that Dessie wants us to be drunk. Not wild, crazy, ‘Who gives a fuckin damn, we do what the fuck we want!’ drunk. No, we are Vegas, bleary, mixed-liquor drunk; swilling in that dreamy golden-light trance that the whole city is slurping on. Pretty soon all we can see is light, light and gold and a sky of neon stars, while we get tugged from casino to casino, on an invisible rope, and pig-like faces gorge themselves on metre long hot-dogs, their features merge with the air-brushed billboards of ageing crooners. There goes Elvis on his way home from the night shift past the pink 24 hour wedding salon. Some kids to go to hi – five him but back away at the last moment leaving his hand floating through thin air.
There are moats to cross, even boats to take. Huge fountains spring up out of nowhere, tunnels intertwine with staircases up turrets, lifts that seem to take you to nowhere but another walkway, and all the time, ‘Heeeey, Pocahontas, where you gooin’ … ?’ Rented tuxedos falling apart at the seam are now stained with vomit. Poor Dess is getting more and more frustrated. I’m just resigned to the drift, to the swirling spectacle of it all, but Odessa is fighting back and is going, ‘Come on, wake up! I wanna have a good time!’ but time just drifts away, slipping by at an accelerated pace, and there are no clocks in Vegas: no opening, no closing, and the artificial daylight keeps on beaming.
So here we sit, right before the dawn, calm and sorry, alone together on the empty steps that lead into the great temple. Ghostly, unmanned gondolas drift below us in the glistening waters, and the big false-stone archways tower above us.
Luckily, for once, I am in a very calm mood. It’s a funny thing. I couldn’t even say why but in the midst of all this lunacy, this highly ordered chaos, despite the swill of different boozes, I feel very sturdy, very steady. The long days of driving and tussling with myself have cleared my mind, as did that long gaze into the empty canyon this morning. Now, quietly sitting on the steps of this great Cathedral to Excess, I feel an almost spiritual calm. I take it in from a pace back and this is how it appears to me: as if the whole glowing spectacle where only a mirage, or else perfectly real and yet about to disappear and melt away at any given moment. This vast unholy Mecca of passing kicks, this great monument to transience itself! It will vanish at any minute, sucked back into the sands of the empty, windswept desert upon which it was built, to sit like the ruins of other past civilisations, like the Mayans in the jungle, the ghostly shells of a lost age that could never have lasted, was never meant to. All at once it seems like a great garish symbol of our times: a neon prophecy, stained on the Nevada night. And here we sit, Odessa and I, at the peak, the crest. You can almost see it go now! Imploding in one big bang of screaming light, echoing into the desert, ‘Heeeeeey, Pocahonntiiiiss … Wheeeeere you goooooooin’ … ?’
When I wake up grey morning light is seeping through the windows and Odessa is in the same position, like a petrified figure from Pompeii. The first rays of light have frozen her, a glass still in her hand. An over-enthusiastic weatherman on TV is saying, ‘It’s gonna be a scorcher folks, get ready!’ I get up and close the curtains. Then I take the drink from Odessa’s hand and put it on the table next to her. I curl her up on to the bed, fold her stiff legs in and pull the covers over her and wrap her up a little cocoon.
I walk over to the big windows and pull back the velvet curtains a little. Vegas looks different in the day. Behind all those lights is nothing but concrete and beige. It looks pale, washy and colourless. The Eiffel tower is switched off. A few people are filing into Bellagios, a couple of cars drift down the main drag. I am filled with a curious joy.
You can buy Now Here This by Nat Jenkins HERE