Tara Browne and Hugo Williams
i.m. Tara Browne (1945 – 1966)
I read the news today, oh boy,
about a lucky man who made the grade.
He blew his mind out in a car.
He didn’t notice that the lights had changed.
- The Beatles, "A Day in the Life"
If you'd apologised just once
for green shirts and amethyst cufflinks
you might have survived,
but who would have believed
that Irish-ironical "Sahrry, sahrry"’
as you fell about laughing?
You were only fifteen
when we followed you across Paris
after midnight, trying to keep up.
If our money ran out
you pretended to find a dix mille note
lying in the gutter – our student grant
for the further study of Bloody Marys and rock'n'roll.
You had the latest American singles
under your coat
in case the clubs weren't cool.
"Cut Across Shorty" by Eddie Cochran
was your signature tune
when you rubber-legged it across the floor
of the Club de l’Etoile,
smoking a Salem. After hours
we took your portable singles player
to the Aérogare des Invalides,
its photomat and coffee machine,
dancing for the cleaners:
"Summertime Blues", "C'mon Everybody".
Our faces of children
are squashed together fighting
in the faded photo-strips.
We were still dancing
when Eddie flew through the windscreen
of a British taxi, followed to heaven
by his precious flame-coloured Gretsch.
We all came home from the party
safe and sound, but you didn't come home.
You went on into the night,
dancing your crazy doodle-step
on the pedals of your turquoise Lotus Elan,
till the music stopped
in the middle of Redcliffe Gardens,
at midnight, December 17th, 1966.
It was the midway point
of a broken-backed decade.
Before it, the mini-skirt, the twist,
"I Wanna Hold Your Hand". After it,
long hair, old clothes, "A Day in the Life".
Tara, the day you died
your friends went out of date.
Now there's a thought
you would definitely have agreed with.
London had barely started
when you blew into town
with your charmed existence,
your cursed Lotus Elan.
You asked me once if I wanted to drive
and we changed places for a moment.
"Come on, Hugo, put your foot down!"
I touched the accelerator
and the thing took off like a bird
down the Kings Road.
I don't know where we were going
because I got out and walked.
You entered the 1964
Mercantile Credit Trophy, Formula Three,
but officials found fault
with your windscreen,
which wasn't laminated.
You knocked it through with your elbow
and turned your jacket back to front
to counter the headwind.
You won by three seconds,
"The sensation of the meeting" (Autosport).
It was the first lap
of a race to oblivion.
For a couple of multi-coloured years,
while "Help" turned into "Revolver",
life got in the way.
Your friend Brian Jones,
of Their Satanic Majesties,
was the prophet of your fate.
With identical blond pageboy
and Cheshire cat grin,
he was your pint-sized twin in negative.
He even rolled his E-type
and managed to escape
with his sickly glow intact.
From "Out of Our Heads" to "Aftermath"’,
you parked your pretty cars
outside the Scotch or Ad Lib club,
while the world dished out its favours
to a lucky few
who could dance all night
and sleep it off next day.
You danced on the accelerator.
You didn't notice that the lights had changed,
but spun the car around
to protect your girlfriend
and went to face the music on your own.
Hugo Williams worked at London Magazine from 1961 to 1970 and has also edited poetry for the New Statesman. He is the author of more than a dozen collections of poetry, including West End Final (2009), Collected Poems (2002), Billy’s Rain (1999), which won the T.S. Eliot Prize, and his Eric Gregory Award–winning debut, Symptoms of Loss (1965). A selection of his freelance writing appears in the essay collection Freelancing: Adventures of a Poet (1995). His additional honours include the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the Cholmondeley Award.