18 October 2013

I don't know who he thought he was but I knew him as the best writer out there, at what he did anyway. He was so far ahead of the competition the rest were stuffed with imitators and haters. They all wished they could be like him, write like him, be where he'd been see what he'd seen, but none of them really liked him. Some really hated him and were certain to get their revenge one day and did.

I don't know where I fitted in except he had taken a momentary shine to me, let me into his tiny loft apartment in West London. He was already drunk and stoned when I got there, his thinny chick flitting about disapproving as yet more visitors arrived to goad him on. She especially hated it and would say so out loud in front of everybody whenever he offered to buy everybody dinner, or pay for all the drinks, which he always would once it got to that time of night.

"She doesn't understand," he told me. "All these people took care of me when I had nothing, when I was penniless and sleeping in their beds with them, sometimes four or five of us at a time. No sex. Just sleep. We hardly ever went to bed for years but when we did it was to blackout. Well, she never had that. Doesn't get it. And I hate her for it but what can I do? She took me in, gave me a pad to crash, a semi-permanent abode. I have to balance the crap she thinks with the stuff I know better..."

I nodded, accepted a big water glass of vodka.

He kept talking, playing records, drinking, smoking, listening to his own voice. Some time in, I asked: "Can I see where you work?"

He snickered. "Where I work? Fuck's sake..."

I followed him into the tiny bedroom with the sloping ceiling. There was a double bed and not much else. Then in one narrow corner, a rickety old chair and a tiny, single page desk, on which sat a typewriter, two ashtrays (full) and a box of tippex.

I couldn't believe it. All that stuff, all that colour and fun and fuck you fuckability came from... here?

He read my face and looked faintly embarrassed.

"Yep," he said.

"How do you manage? It must be... quite hard."

"Naw," he said. "It's easy." His face fell and his body bent over like a slow hook.

He tottered back into the lounge with the sloping ceiling. We had a competition. Who could find the heaviest song of all time from his collection. We all had a go. I chose Metallica. Joe went for Slayer. Wrong. Pete, who knew him better, tried with 'Sympathy For The Devil' by the Stones. Nearly.

"Turn it down a bit." Thinny Chick piped up. "It's past two in the morning. The neighbours will be going mad..."

He went over, fell over and nearly broke the turntable, rummaged through his piles and piles of records, mostly freebies, except for the good stuff at the back, then finally found it.

He put it on and turned the volume to maximum. Voices... a small crowd, some laughing... then a voice, like a Lenny Bruce or something. Finally after two or three minutes a piano and bass, drums, a little bitty guitar... oh. Lou Reed's Walk On The Wild Side... only different. It went on, no singing, just Reed talking, telling the audience, how sick he gets of playing the 'hits'... then how the only reason he's going to do it tonight is "not cos I like you but because now I'm not bored with it..."

It went on. Finally he sang one line, then stopped again and went back to the talking, giving them the real story...

"What is this shit?" said Derek. He got up and walked out, went to the tiny bedroom with the sloping ceiling to start another conversation with someone else.

It was like some sort of endurance test. After 16 or 17 minutes there was only me and him and Pete left in the room.

"You really like that?" I asked.

"It's one of my favourite all-time tracks from one of my favourite all-time albums," he said, apparently seriously.

"Definitely heavy," said Pete, smiling through it.

After that things began to wind down. I had to leave, asked if I could use the phone to call a cab. He was still sat there on the dirty white couch, drinking and smoking, talking to himself. He didn't look happy. Who did?