“My Bloody Rickenbacker” by Mick Davidson
There’s four of us barrelling down the road as fast as the ’62 Mini will go. According to the speedometer this is somewhere beyond 80 mph, but in reality the little black and white rust box can barely do 70 fully loaded. It’s nearly midnight and we’ve hammered the car along the road for more than a mile to get as much velocity into its tiny wheels as possible before hitting our goal full tilt. The joints we’d been smoking all the way back from London had gotten us pretty stoked too; our thoughts and fears whipping through our brains faster than the broken white lines that disappeared into the night behind us.
The top of the hill appears and the descent begins: the twins in the back start to scream: Mark and I start laughing, our fear manifesting in a more macho way. He’s got his foot jammed down hard on the accelerator, his wild blonde hair whipping out off the back of his head. I’m wide-eyed, shouting and laughing as we fly down this empty road towards the roundabout less than a mile away.
As the road bottoms out Mark knocks the car out of gear and kills the engine and suddenly we are all quiet. All that’s left is the sound of black rubber skimming along black tarmac.
The road narrows just before the roundabout, we see headlights heading towards us but we do not slow down. We whip pass each other at a head-on speed of 120 mph but Mark holds the car straight, its big plastic wheel as sure in his hands as his blonde Telecaster. The Mini begins to slow but we urge it on leaning forward to connect car with momentum.
The roundabout looms out of the shadows, lit by feeble orange lights that hang over it like a gallows. We’re going too fast, and we know it: the twins scream again, I hang on to the thin metal door; Mark grips the wheel, totally focussed on the tiny road and our impending doom.
But he can’t brake: we need the speed.
I’m wild-eyed and terrified; I know we’re not going to get through, far too fast. I push my feet hard against the rotting red carpet: we’re all going to die.
Mark’s the boss, the brains in the band and behind the wheel: our experimental scientist leading us all into new adventures. I am The Stick, the bass player, keep things grounded inside and outside the band: the only one with a job. The twins, dark-haired identical beauties, share our adventures in music and life. We all live for the gigs.
The concrete barrier in the centre of the roundabout smiles with the scars left by recent encounters, and we’re heading straight for it. Mark whips the wheel left then right, tyres squealing in protest, the barrier whistles past his door. We’re all thrown sideways and then quickly back the other way as he jerks us back on course and out the other side, dancing around the kerb and dodging the signposts as they reach out to us with their friendly advice. Our screams die back to laughter as we continue into the night, our progress slowing at an ever-faster rate.
I look at my fingers as I drag a cheroot – every English would-be-cowboy’s smoke of choice – out and light up. The twins shout with horror: Mark and I smoke cheroots because we want to be from another place, another town; anywhere wilder and more exciting than this market town buried deep in the English countryside. We want to be cowboys, but are buried deep under moss and dead leaves and the weight of a million frustrated dreams. I pass Mark the cheroot and light up another, we open the windows to the cool night air. We hear nothing except the wheels as they gradually wind down to walking pace: another 100 yards and we’ll stop, our race over.
I look at my fingers and see specks of dried blood caught under the nail of my first finger of my right hand, the finger that bears the brunt and rasp of the thick metal strings on my red Model 4003 Rickenbacker. Both nail and finger are scraped back at an angle, worn down by the intense thrashing handed out to instruments when we let rip to our frenzied audiences. You can see the blood trails in the photos, two of them running across the white plastic pick guard. I bask in my hard-won street-cred: you can’t do more for your music than bleed. I’m pleased, now there’s more for people to talk to me about other than my monkish hair and skeletal body.
“Hi, I’m Mick, I’m the dead one in the band…”
We are almost at a stop when Mark restarts the engine: I mentally mark the spot we reached, then squabble like geese with the others over whether this is the same as last time or further. I think it’s about half a house more, but it’s a close call not made easier by the dim stares of the sporadically-spaced streetlights. Mark chucks the long gearstick into second and we start to gain speed, telescoping the distance home into a matter of minutes, London already a distant memory.
“Where did you get those orange lights you used on stage last night?” One of the twins asks the question the other was thinking. They do that a lot: one thinks it; the other says it. They take it turns to amuse themselves: one asking the other’s boyfriend about something they’d been discussing when the other sister was elsewhere. It’s very unnerving when you’re all together at home, each couple sprawled out together watching the TV and getting stoned.
“We stole them from road works a few nights ago,” I say, thinking back, thinking about how funny we’d been in stealing the lights, then putting them across a small country road, blocking it from both directions. Hilarious. We, the band, parked the drummer’s father’s Rover 2000 in a field a quarter of a mile away, and watched other drivers stopping and turning around at this mysterious yet seemingly genuine garrotting of their journey. At first they stopped, got out scratched their heads, then turned their cars around in the tiny road, forcing their headlights into scratchy hedges and wheels into muddy ditches. But then the mood changed – if a mood could exist between random and intermittent night drivers – and one or two started moving the lights out of the way so they could drive through, spoiling our game. Bastards.
We got bored and went back to recapture the lights. Orange, flashing lights. Orange, flashing lights that are beacons to passing police cars. We chucked them into the back and sped away, dirt flying up as we weaved crazily into the night. I was in the back with the lights, couldn’t find out how to turn them off, so pushed them on the floor and lay down on them. The sharp corners poked into my ribs as my face burst with orange light then sank back into the shadows. I tried covering them with my hands but it was useless. The car hurtled on, bouncing me around on my metal bed between the seats. Travel at its best. We buried the lights under tarpaulin in the singer’s father’s garage and disappeared back to the sanctuary of our homes.
“You stole them!?” the twins shriek back in unified horror. Until then we’d never given the consequences of our skulduggery a moment’s thought. The twins’ pointy voices showed us the light. Funnily enough, they’d never batted their teardrop eyes at the criminal activity of smoking the joints we passed them on a daily basis. And they positively willed us the break the speed limit for our irregular races down the hill towards the roundabout. Selective morals and compartmentalising already – the rest of us were just having fun.
The gig the previous night had been in a village hall in a place that seemed little than a collection of houses that had lain themselves along a road in the middle of nowhere just to make sure that stretch didn’t get too lonely. I mean, there was no reason to live there, no reason to stay – except for an inability to get out.
A crowd began drawing itself together not long after we’d arrived to set up. You could tell that nothing ever happened here by the fact that so many people were interested in just looking at us.
“Hey look, the freaks have arrived!” seemed to be the unifying theme of the conversations that whispered around our ears as we dragged huge 4 x 12 speaker cabs out the back of the old Bedford van. For a band that was 75% unemployed, we didn’t do too badly for the essentials. We had the van, a late ’60s CA model with sliding doors, a new PA and the drummer had a beautiful white Pearl kit. We did our best to look like any other poor kid in town, to blend in with the anti-establishment ethic that Punk demanded, but it was tricky given the overwhelming numbers of middle class musicians we had.
We finished getting the gear in and shut the villagers out of their hall while we set up and sound-checked. We had a good hour to go before we started. Long enough to relax and mingle with the ever-growing audience. Long enough to pick up on the vibe creeping around the back among the roughnecks. Violence was in the air, dark rumours arrived in the band-cave, tales of local bad boys planning to bring the gig to a violent end before it had begun.
A family name was mentioned: brothers, wasters, a trio of small-time criminals whose reputation on its own was hard enough to win a fight. The old wooden hall was creaking with tension as I dived into the crowd and sought them out.
I knew the brothers, vaguely, by reputation and stories passed down from some of the other residents of the children’s homes I used to be a guest in. I sought them out and I found them, catching them by surprise. They looked at me, The Stick, the reason they were here, the reason why they were going to fight tonight.
“I know you,” I said, “we met at South Wing, or was it Little Kimble?”
The magic words were spoken, and they were powerless. We may never have met, but we shared a common bond, forged in a dark world we all tried to smash our way out of. Now their world, their history was standing in front of them. They looked and smiled and laughed and we exchanged stories and then there was no longer any ‘us and them’, there was only ‘us’.
We tore through our first set: 40 minutes of speeding power chords delivered with all the subtlety of a flying hammer. We were tight to a fault and rip-roared through the second set, firing up the flashing lights and police car siren as we launched into it. The audience, so long starved of any cultural activity, leapt and danced their way through the night with demonic abandon, I bled over my Rickenbacker and, for a few short hours nothing else mattered, or existed.