But Not For Me
Julian leant back in his chair. He steepled his fingers and looked thoughtful, smiling at the interviewer. He said,
"'Sometimes when we touch...'"
He was carefully spacing every syllable.
"'the honesty's too much...'"
"'and I have to close my eyes and hide.'"
The interviewer had already started laughing four words in. He was leaning into Julian and slapping the table.
"Dan Hill. It's one of my favourites."
"And were you ever tempted?"
"To just go for it. Come on: you must have been tempted. Didn't you look at "Albert" and think, 'If I try just a little bit harder I could write something really pretentious'?"
Irreverence was this interviewer's style; his mode. He was young – nineteen or twenty – with short, dishevelled hair and a long nose. When he talked, his adam's apple bobbed quickly up and down. The programme was called "Pop Stop" and they were sitting in front of a striped, primary coloured backing. Julian was in the almost transparent shirt that he had worn for the "Louise May" video. There was a diamond stud in his right ear and he had a medallion around his neck with a picture of Edith Piaf on it. He had, since he had started appearing on television, toned his gestures right down. More often than not, he seemed quiet, and coolly knowing. You could tell that Jake, the interviewer, was intimidated.
"Not really, no."
Jake waited for more but it wasn't forthcoming.
"Right", he said. "Fair enough."
He shuffled some papers.
"I mean, I would have. But that's, um. Moving swiftly on. That's not your number one is it? You've got something that's even more scarily horrific for us."
He bore down on the word "horrific" as though it were the punchline to a joke. Julian was smiling. Resting his chin on his hand, he left a long pause. Jake said,
"Should I guess?"
Still smiling, Julian leant across and patted him on the knee.
"It's Diana Ross", he said. "From 'I'm Still Waiting'."
Leaning back, he shook his hands at the wrists.
"I'll need a bit of space for this."
Jake gave him a drum roll, leaning his head close into the table. Julian cleared his throat.
"'He could tell I had no eyes so he left me'", he said.
He spread his arms out wide: Da-dah!
"That can't be right."
"It is. I listened to it last night. It gets me every time."
"I've never heard that!"
"Listen to it. I promise you."
"And when did you first hear it?"
Julian swatted at something – an invisible insect or dust mite – just above his knee.
"When I first started writing songs."
"And it was sort of a how not to."
"Oh, sure. It's bad, isn't it?"
"It's very very bad."
"And I never wanted to do it badly."
"The words are important to you, right? I mean, it sounds like you spend a lot of time over them."
"So do you want to talk us through the words on this clip?"
Julian shook his head. He smiled, mischievously.
"I prefer to let others do that for me", he said.
Jake laughed, or snuffled. It was a frustrated response. Turning to face the camera, he said,
"Right then. Here goes nothing. Exclusively for Pop Stop this is One Hand Clapping with 'Easier To Love You When You're Gone'".
They were in a bar, on stage. They were all in tuxes and had their bow ties undone. Clive had a double bass and Ian was on piano. Behind them, in the shadows, was a horn section. It was the usual One Hand Clapping video, the camera barely moving from Julian. There was a long shot at the beginning and at the end, but, in the middle, it seemed as though the band were hardly there. Julian, as usual, had been drenched in light.
The song was an attempt at jazz; it seemed to glide, then pause for breath, so that, sometimes, you felt like you were at the top swing of a roller coaster, waiting for the downward plunge. The bass line was an easy lope; a tune in itself. (Clive can't have been playing it.) The three-note organ figure was a horn line now. Ian filled in with five-fingered jazz chords. Desmond had been right: the transitional phase was over.
Their first single, "Julie Doesn't Mind", had been a rush, in two senses. It was a burst of energy – it sounded like it could barely contain itself – and you could hear it speeding up. They'd re-recorded it but it was the same sound as the live sound, heavy on the organ, with Julian pulled up in the mix. On the CD sleeve there was a picture of the five of them, including George. He was nondescript: tall and thin, with a nervous smile. They were all flanking Julian, who had lowered his head and was scowling. He had puffed his lower lip out. On anyone else it would have looked ridiculous.
It wasn't a hit but it got good enough reviews. They were a garage band, the press said, or else they were mod. Or something. They headlined at the Dublin Castle, in Camden Town, and were interviewed afterwards. Colin did nearly all the talking but it wasn't the words that you remembered, it was the picture that accompanied them. Wisely, the cameraman had ignored the cramped dimensions of the room. He had knelt at Julian's feet and made him look enormous, like a Soviet Realist sculpture. He had said one thing to the interviewer – some rubbish about not wanting to compromise himself; about being split between being an artist and having to be an entertainer – and the caption said "A Star Is Torn", just as though he were actually Judy Garland.
It became an iconic image. You can still see it, on T-shirts and posters. Their next single, "Dancing Cures Everything", was a hit. Colin had added a faster version of his normal beat and, by the time the band had finished with it, it sounded like it had been hurled into a washing machine. People loved it, though, and, even on Top Of The Pops, you could see the audience begin to have a good time. Up until then, they had looked as though they were aimlessly milling about even when they were meant to be dancing. The band's spot had been squeezed between a jokey instrumental and a trio of bewildered-looking girls but it was One Hand Clapping that you remembered. When the single leapt to number three there were interviews and articles everywhere.
The press were still trying to classify them. It was the New New Wave tag that finally stuck and, when "Some Other Girl" went straight into the top ten, the band appeared in drainpipe trousers and skinny ties. They toyed with what they obviously thought were New Wave mannerisms, Ian standing so that he looked knock-kneed and George, who had grown in confidence, taking tiny robotic steps. Julian, meanwhile, seemed aloof. He stared into the middle distance, or else he pouted, sulkily. Once or twice, he raised an eyebrow at the camera. That month, he gave an interview to The Face. It was seen as something of a coup ("Julian Speaks!") and, in it, he stressed his artistic aspirations. He encouraged the view that the band were only playing good time music temporarily; that he knew that he needed to build an audience but that, as a bisexual, he was struggling to find a means of expressing himself. He was, in fact, already expressing himself, but subtly, in little hints. He didn't say any of that in so many words; what he actually said was,
"Well, I'm bi, but I don't want to make a song and dance about it."
It was the interviewer who teased this out into a kind of manifesto and who asked the questions that Julian assented to. After a while, it became accepted wisdom. There was a type of journalist who loved the idea that Julian was a maverick; a subversive who was dropping in sly hints about his sexuality. He wasn't interested in Mills and Boon because he wanted a man. The title "Some Other Girl" was an admission that all girls seemed the same to him. The "booming room" in "Dancing Cures Everything" – the disco where people were "pressed tight against the bar" – was a gay club. And so on. The tabloids picked up on this and, soon, Julian was twice as famous as he had been before.
Their first album had been a fairly literal transcription of the live act. It was hectic and highly charged and it ended with a joke; a version of "Fluctuating With The Pound" that sounded like "The Stripper". The band were robotic-looking and knock-kneed up until their first tour ended, long enough to build a following. There was one more single in the prevailing style – a frantic version of "La La La" – and then it all went quiet. When, after eight months, they released "Louise May" the music press couldn't praise them enough. It was the old version – the version that had had to be speeded up – and Ian had been given free rein; he swooped up and down the keyboard just like a concert pianist. There was a horn section and a shiver of strings. It was as though they'd gone from black and white to technicolour. The video clinched it. It was something to do with the way that Julian's shirt was rippling in the wind; the way he teetered, gracefully, over a terrible drop. It stayed at number one for weeks. You couldn't go anywhere without hearing it. Julian was famous in a new way now. He was linked with starlets and aspiring divas and juvenile leads. He was seen at fashion shows, accompanied by Grant, his new manager. He was living on his own, in a flat that had wooden floors and sleek metallic shelving but in which there were no signs of pictures or comfortable furniture. "I don't like clutter", he said, and this was taken to be more evidence of his inherent stylishness. The new album, Albert, was considered a triumph. More, it was considered his triumph. The range of styles – jazz; Buddy Holly; Phil Spector – was seen as the natural consequence of a restless musical intelligence. "You Need Someone To Talk To" sounded like James Brown, and was almost as big a hit as "Louise May". Moreover, it wasn't gender specific; it seemed, again, to be a coded confession. Time Out loved it, especially the middle eight, which was a diminishing downwards spiral consisting of one sentence. They used it as a headline: "Just think of me as your doctor". In the picture that accompanied it, Julian was in slacks, without a shirt but sporting a stethoscope. He was being hailed as a songwriter of consequence. It was assumed that the Julian that immersed himself in the songs was the real Julian; that the kittenish flirtatiousness – the reckless way he sometimes flung himself into the audience – was temporary, like the New Wave stylings had been. He was in control, in other words.
Back in the studio, the song had ended. Jake nodded and said,
The bathos was deliberate; he didn't want to look too deferential. His grin, though, told you that he knew the word to be inadequate. Julian said,
He was still smiling.
"So", said Jake. "What's next? I mean, it's like you're about ten songwriters all welded into one."
Julian's mouth did what by now was becoming a trademark gesture; it went rapidly out, then in. When they drew a cartoon of him in the music press, it looked like a butterfly was resting underneath his nose. Jake said,
"Who are you going to be this week?"
Julian moved his shoulders slightly.
"It must be scary is it? Being all those people?"
He was smiling again but his eyes had withdrawn a little. Jake had hit a nerve. Julian had already been accused of being a dilettante – of being a dabbler in different styles – but no-one had yet suggested that he was fragmented.
Which, of course, he was. A little over three months later, he slapped a waiter in a restaurant in Clerkenwell. There hadn't been enough sauce, or something. He leapt up and the table went over. His companion, a famous television detective, had had his wine dumped in his lap. By the time the manager arrived Julian was incoherent. One of the diners said that he was gibbering. Grant was called and he escorted him into a taxi. The diner said that he was dragging him and holding him up at the same time. The next day, there was a statement to the effect that the strain of the last tour had left him tired and vulnerable. The press pretended to play along but there were suddenly an awful lot of pictures of Julian looking wan and withdrawn; of Julian taken with a telescopic lens, looking as though he was in whiteface; of Julian comatose on a beach somewhere; of Julian being buffeted along in the wake of one of his minders. The tabloids were after him now and, just after Christmas, they reported, gleefully, that he had flung a lighted cigarette into the face of an autograph hunter. Two days later, he bared his arse at waiting reporters and, a day after that, he was being flown home and driven straight to a detox clinic in Hampshire. He didn't stay long. He checked himself out and for a couple of weeks it felt as though a day didn't go by without Julian throwing a punch or falling over or garbling an interview or pretending to give a blow job to a hand-held microphone. This was on the Friday. He had left his flat, walked up to the waiting reporter, said "Hello Mum" and then all you could hear was the sound of something being devoured. On the Saturday, Grant and the rest of One Hand Clapping went to his flat. It was, according to the tabloids, a "tearful confrontation" and it ended in Julian returning to the clinic. This time, he stayed.
From the first day, the press were trying to get pictures of him over the wall. A reporter managed to get in, disguised as a caterer, and took one of him walking in the grounds. He was barefoot, in white pajamas; an ascetic. He was playing up his penance in exactly the same way he played up everything else. His room – they took a picture of it – was bare and unwelcoming, which was just the way he liked it. When he came out, he gave a press conference. He read a statement, thanking everyone for their support. He had lost weight and he had two black smudges under his eyes. But he was clearly relishing this. Somebody shouted,
"What are you going to do now?"
He batted his eyelashes over in their general direction.
"There's not much left for me to do, is there?"
There was laughter and some applause.
"I'm a child", he added. "What can I say?"
Afterwards, he didn't give individual interviews. He was "having a rest", the record company said. They had, however, decided to release "Albert". You would have thought that this video, at least, would feature someone other than Julian; that it would mirror the narrative with a narrative of its own. But, instead, he lay on the grass, barefoot and back in his white pyjamas, and looked up at a camera that had been suspended directly above him. There was no sign of the band. When he got to the chorus, you realised that he had co-opted the lyric. Making a big production out of narrowing his eyes (the sunlight, you were supposed to infer, was still a little too much for him) he sang,
"Hello there. How are you tonight?
You're looking well and she looks beautiful.
As I sing you both out of sight
Tell me who do you think I am?"
The last line was repeated, over and over. He was, the video was saying, both beautiful and doomed. There were rumbles of discontent in the music press (this was a joke, surely?) but it hardly mattered. By avoiding interviews and then releasing "Albert" Julian had managed, somehow, to add to his mystique. The combination of real suffering and shameless camp was irresistible. He was more popular than ever. What could be better than a tortured youth who was happy to sell himself as such? He was alienated, but in a good way; he was a mascot, or a poster boy, for alienation. Curled up in his designer whites, he made it look like a choice of lifestyle. There were Julian jumpers and Julian hats. You saw teenagers wearing badges that said, "Tell me who do you think I am?" and "I'm a child. What can I say?" When he announced an Autumn tour, the London venues sold out in an hour. He was a huge star now.
How did I feel? How do you think I felt? Look: put it this way. I had bought tickets for the tour. I was living at home now, with my parents. I had gained weight. I'd grown a beard. When I left for the station, I had my tickets in my left-hand pocket. There was a note at home, and, in my right-hand pocket, I had a gun.
Tom Raymond has already written two novels, The Conquest of the Incas and Rough Music.