the king, the princess and the jester (… and a professional. or the death of family… deaths?)

I felt a little bit down last week. Well, more towards the end of the week, really. I had the blues. And yet I didn’t feel alone; alone with my blues, I mean. That’s possibly – partly – why I had the blues in the first place…

I wonder how many of you in Britain recall our shock at the death of Princess Diana? More importantly, I wonder how many of you recall that pervasive sense of grief. I’m not only talking about its dissemination, the proliferation, how it appeared to cast its wide net and so keep a whole nation, but how that net managed to rivet its threads into the collective psyche.

A nation bewildered. An unexpected loss. An unexpected pain…

We loved Diana… didn’t we?

That’s how Phillip, my first person hero in my up-and-coming novel, Wood, Talc and Mr. J matters. Indeed, some of you may recall a scene from one of my previous posts on the significance of dreams; and Phillip’s wrestling with one in particular, out there in a No-man’s Land:

* * * * *

    ‘Would you marry me?’

   It was her fault: Lady Diana Spencer. Even when you closed your eyes she was the first thing to pop up. We men were envious of that Charlie fellow…

   But surely my very own princess was being rhetorical?

* * * * *

Personally, I don’t remember being in love with Princess Diana – there may have been the odd adolescent aestival crush, ’79 perhaps, I was seventeen years old, what would you expect! And yet, the week of her death, summer ’97, I took a train from Hastings to Buckingham Palace and placed my hand-written lyrics of a Francis Cabrel song before those famous gates; my note dissolved into a kaleidoscopic ocean, a multicoloured sea of… tangible loss:

« Je t’aimais, je t’aime et je t’aimerai »

I loved you, I love you, I’ll always love you…

And I meant it – I did; I still love her, as the song suggests. I was just unaware of it, until that fatal week… Anyhow, I’m not one for following crowds. Nor is Phillip, for that matter, and he’s just starting out.

There are a number of high profile deaths in the book, to make a mark on Phillip’s youth – John Lennon for one. Though none makes its mark like the death of Elvis – actually, it’s a day to remember for a whole host of reasons, but for this post I’ll stick with the grand farewell to The King of Rock n Roll:

* * * * *

 No sooner had young Sandy gotten her breath back, than they burst into Are You Lonesome Tonight; to begin with, it was just the two of them, like the very birth of a craze. And then folks of all ages, tugging at their drawers, hopping out of the haze; a hoary-headed woman in, patently, someone else’s long johns – even the newsagent bounded over his counter… up to the sun’s cracking of the clouds, dissolving our stupor and cotton-steel air, and doubly exposing Sandy’s baked nudity.

* * * * *

He’s only sixteen at the time, Phillip, and so clueless. He’s on holiday, England’s vibrant east coast – a hot one in ’77 – with mum, dad and co, although this time should be the last, given he’s just about made it to adulthood: our absolute beginner. Meantime, relaying the news – the death of a king – to one and all, he’ll allow cynical old dad to dictate how the world is:

* * * * *

   A deflated bearer of news, and yet being so dampened any ridiculous notion that might have otherwise developed. I recalled the abuse from the Teds. My dad’s reaction was a tad cold but not hypocritical. I therefore decided to leave out the part I’d played in the tearful rude awakening. I’d only participated for the sexual experience anyway, I told myself.

* * * * *

In those days, much different to these, you weren’t allowed to proclaim an undying love for Soul music and then, say, claim to be a fan of Elvis Presley. Again Phillip puts it best, when depicting the permanent stand-off between his faction and its antithesis, up in the local pub:

* * * * *

 The Hairies, or ‘Yetis’, were in truth an affable bunch, and Jed’s main brokers of funny cigarettes. And although we found them unsightly, mutual respect did exist. Like us, they had their scene, their Rock music, and were as devoted to it as we to ours. Theirs was a Sheffield central club, The Wapentake, which also boasted a region-wide clientele. They let us be as we did them, barring the odd joke about the jukebox and personal hygiene, or when they’d ‘head bang’ and we’d fret about things jumping from those tidal waves of hair. We in fact complemented one another, enhanced the opposite’s manner and appearance, each of us striving never to be mistaken for one of those middle grounders. Conversion either way would have paralleled the Americans going Communist. Yet being poles apart rendered us similar.

* * * * *

I guess, then, that Phillip had little say in the matter, about whether or not he might have appreciated Elvis’ music, his personality, respected him for being a real artist and perhaps black America’s greatest white friend – maybe he had no real knowledge of Elvis at all: better to keep your mouth shut… or go stand elsewhere.

Yes, Phillip, our absolute beginner, had – has – some growing up to do…

I, myself, reading the book again, can’t help but think that, were Phillip’s dad to keep his mouth shut, about the death of Elvis, Phillip might well find his way more easily.

For death is a soul searcher; and instinct is key… Yes, that’s what this post’s about, if it has to be about anything, but I’m thinking about how things may have changed since then, since Phillip’s youth, those ‘Golden Days of Rock n Roll’…

Actually, I’ve been thinking while writing this post – it helps: I still love Princess Diana.

I’ll get to my point, and to why the end of last week brought me down, gave me the blues. It was due to one line only, but one title thread I came upon, but again on Orwell’s facebook, reading: “R.I.P. Trigger” – it wasn’t even ‘R.I.P. Roger Lloyd-Pack’, but then I ask myself how many of us might then have replied: Who??

As with our princess, there was no warning – or at least not for my brother and me; he also hadn’t read anywhere of his illness. He was equally taken aback, when I related the gloom via sms; we were quite serious for a day – normally, our texts are neither serious nor repeatable to under-25s. But that day, we were solemn. And we both knew why. He summed it up best with a text reading: “Did you hear about Lewis Collins as well? Another bolt out of the blue, just like that one, another part of the furniture gone.” 

“Blue”. Mmm. “Another part of the furniture gone”. And no, I’d heard nothing about poor Lewis, either.

You see, for those too young to remember said persons first time round – satellite retro channels don’t count – both Trigger (actor Roger Lloyd-Pack) and ‘Bodie’ (actor Lewis Collins) skilfully made up what today is both literally and figuratively a dying breed – the big ‘C’, apparently, takes no prisoners – a dying concept. They formed part of a gang, comprising what we now think of as “classic television”; Roger in the comedy Only Fools and Horses and Lewis in the action detective drama The Professionals. Or, as my brother says, they were “part of the furniture”.

In fact, you could say that they, too, were equal players in The Golden Years of Rock n Roll; kings and queens of their turf, a royalty to have us unite in song, laughter, tears, love and hatred… and annoyance – I’m by no means saying they were all good, there was some bloody rubbish on the telly back then, too! But even the not-so-good played their part, made up the furniture, when, indeed, television was king.

We loved them all in some way, whether we liked them or not, we had to, they were, well, family. And my – our – favourite princess was well aware of the fact. She knew what she was doing… but she didn’t have to break my heart…

The death of any player, then, with whom we have grown, if without mutual exchange, but within mere feet, inches, is the death of our own, like that of a playful cousin, that elusive philanderer, our lovable rogue, whether we know/knew it or not. For household names belong to houses, such houses, that dying breed…

And yes, I know, too, that there are two sides to every coin. Some of you may have read my previous post on the death of childhood heroes, where I make the point that, since each of us is now, to degrees, entitled to a household name, for whatever the reason – by way of a plethora of insipid TV channels and social media, who cares for the reason! – the healthier aspect of Big Brother is that the celebrity – in both the old fashioned sense and that of today – is less able to hide behind a TV persona, if we can still think of such a thing as a TV persona…

But for this post at least, I don’t believe I’m talking about hero-worship. I’m talking about a deep appreciation of people for what they were good at, professionals, those to regularly “have us unite in song, laughter, tears, love and hatred… and annoyance”, even when, sometimes, we have recognised the fact but a little too late… as is often the case with family…

And so I raise my glass to you, the gang, the family, both to those still with us, and to those forever here in spirit.

Chris,

Chris Rose

Your literary, soulful friend

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