Friday, July 10, 2009
The Beginning (One Version Anyway)
A restored versiuon of the title portion of the scroll.
ALL WRITERS ARE DEMONS. Boz Baker was the new journalist mentioned by Cream King Trove researcher Lynn Wyler. He was a new journalist who prided himself on venturing into places he didn't belong to get a story no one else could get. But this is not one of the works about Punk City that turned up after his untimely death in his papers. It's merely attributed to him in another partial manuscript in the Cream King Trove itself. Which, given the punk writers' propensity for parody -- or what they called "writing through other voices" -- could be a total fraud. No one knows.
There are those who insist that it's a punk satire of the new journalists who claimed to understand cultural phenomena nothing in their superabundant educations had prepared them to penetrate. There are also those who see this as an authentic work in which Baker is satirizing himself -- that he is the Zack of the story, acknowledging the tide of 'spontaneous' drivel that followed in his wake. And there are those who regard this piece as real history, enlivened by the hint of self-recognition that the author was not so far different from the Zack who inspired the punks to do better than his own sorry example. No one knows.
But here's the fragment recorded on the damaged parchment scroll recovered under the Cream King Dairy Building in 1991.
0.From the writings of the author Boz, who visited Punk City more than once, and died as a result. This he wrote the first time, after a sentence as Alice Hate’s dog, which was a warning he ignored.
1.At length I heard the story, the punk story the way the punks remembered it.
2 It stayed with me like a song that won’t leave your head, but settles in for the long haul, its narcotic rhythm winding through your day to surface at a stoplight or invade your dreams so that you wake up with its pesky rhymes on your lips. I had , after all, lived a week with the punks, carted from place to place on a leash, given the dog’s eye view of a world that was as baffling to me as if I had been in fact a hostage taken from some other species.
3 Once safely back in Boston, I hurried to set it down as soon as I had the chance, not word for word the way I heard it, because my sense of it went beyond the words—to the feeling and smell and the taste of it, which I absorbed from being there—in hopes of capturing them alive and whole, not like so many butterflies nailed to a corkboard.
2.In the time before the writer punks, there were music punks, who played their pain on electric guitars. Theirs was a drugged out world, a sea of drowning souls who wore their leathers like dayglo life jackets, wanting to be noticed and rescued and restored to some sense of safety and comfort. Their rebellion was, as the punk writers proclaim in their set pieces on the subject, “skin s’pity full, and mosty for graves.”
2 The biggest band on South Street was a group called the Flaming A’holes, who had elided their name in hopes of securing a record contract that was supposed to lead to tours and limos and Hollywood ever after. The lead singer and songwriter of the A’holes was a pimpled delinquent named Buttface who set the tone for all of South Street.
3 It was Buttface who courted the polished chicks from condo-land and made it acceptable, even a status symbol, for punk musicians to take money from foolish, horny, well heeled women. Endowed with an unerring instinct for finding the walking wounded who actually craved abuse, Buttface made it fashionable for punk rockers to supplement their mohawks and torn tee shirts with Italian leathers, Japanese sports cars, and clinging females—provided the latter were skilled at concealing bruises under Lancôme makeup and Hermès scarves.
3.Even then, though, there were some punks of a different stripe, whose pain was inflamed by a growing anger, an irrational conviction that punk music was not the answer to any question, but a rallying cry that should lead to action, if there were only some action to take.
2 Among these were the faceless unknowns who would one day become Ripp Starr, Kassander, Liz Smack, Zero Daze, Cadillac Mope, Kobra Jones, Johnny Dodge, Slash Frazzle, and the King of Punk City.
3 In time they drifted together, became after hours regulars at a bar owned by a friend of the one who would be Kassander. It was not their intention to be dissidents. No, these were the disappointed ones, the ones who were slowly discovering that outlandish clothes and hairstyles did not change the world or eliminate your fears.
4 They mostly drank, bottom shelf bourbon and the kind of tequila that makes your throat recoil in horror on every gulp. When they got drunk enough, they made vague plans to become superstars. The ones who would become Kobra and Kassander started hit songs on damp napkins, dreaming of a new sound called punk funk that would send them rocketing past Buttface to ‘nucular’ celebrity.
5 But no one ever heard so much as a bar of punk funk, because Kobra couldn’t play a lick and Kassander had already hocked his guitar for tequila money.
4.Still, without real prospects or plans or ideas, they hung on, possibly because they had nowhere to go—and possibly because they had come to believe that South Street was the place where they were supposed to be.
2 And for whatever reason, they all felt that the saloon called Gobb's was special. It was one of those exceptionally deep Victorian era storefronts, with a twenty foot ceiling and a long paneled bar with a polished brass rail. The hardwood floors gleamed with a dozen coats of marine shellack, and the antique mirror behind the counter was like a window into a mysterious shadow world where one might be able to live forever if one knew the way in.
3 None of them could articulate it, but Gobb’s made them all feel different, maybe even important.
4 To some it was a ship, moored temporarily on South Street but scheduled to set sail at a moment’s notice for some unimaginable destination, floorboards creaking, bottles clinking, the lash and weight of the sea outside, and all the regulars safely on board.
5 To others it was an anteroom, filled with an unexplainable sense of expectancy, as if some door were concealed there, and you could pass through it if you were there when it chanced to open.
6 The punks’ account of themselves rarely detours into such flights of fancy, but their descriptions of Gobb’s in the earliest days have a deeply prophetic flavor, as if they had been marinated for months in the knowledge of what was to come.
7 For the punks believe that this small purposeless band of outsiders, the outcasts of an outcast world, were given a messenger, who as if directed by unseen forces, arrived at Gobb’s to point the way to a new life.
5.He is called Zack in the official punk history and depicted as an old wise man with a lantern, albeit a lantern of the kind manufactured by Smirnoff’s, filled with heavy, hundred-proof light.
2 He arrived on South Street one day in autumn and, without attracting much notice one way or the other, became a kind of fixture in several of the loudest punk nightclubs.
3 He is described, with perfect accuracy, as a tweedy bald eagle smelling strongly of pipe tobacco and alcohol, who sat in the back corner of every club with a bottle and an air of complete indifference to whatever was occurring on the dance floor or on the stage.
4 He drank steadily till last call, then had to be awakened to stagger out the door to a waiting taxi that he had, apparently, had the foresight to engage before setting out on his night’s festivities.
5 I have affirmed the accuracy of the description because I know who this man was, and I can readily understand how he might have reacted to the punk music scene on South Street.
6 I will not share his real name, which was not Zack and is not important, although I will say that he was, in his day, an immensely talented writer who never got over the savaging his first three novels took from the critics. And so, like many others, he drank, and drank, until he could only earn a living by whoring his talent to desperate magazine editors.
7 It is pathetically easy for me to picture him, drinking up his advance in one South Street dive after another, hearing the same million-decibel nonsense night after night, only half wondering how he was going to turn this meaningless crap into an insightful article for Esquire.
8 I can see him entering Gobb’s at last, legs wobbling inside their tweed bags, down to his last twenty dollars, with absolutely no funds reserved for anything as trivial as his hotel bill at the Four Seasons.
9 He drank in the corner, the history says, ‘without a woman or a word.’ That was his custom, and he must have been a figure of some intrigue at Gobb’s, so out of place that even the ‘outcasts of outcasts’ might have sensed his apartness and his distance from the world they knew.
10 And the outcasts were there that night, all of them closing in on last call while the Eddy Pig Band played out their string of noisy complaints about life.
11 Then something significant happened. He spoke. The lights were coming on, the big drinkers were shouting their last-second orders at the barmaid, the outcast punks were drifting to their usual table, and the messenger Zack spoke to the assembled patrons of Gobb’s.
12 “What a bunch of shit,” he said in a loud, slurred voice. “I’ll bet you call that shit truth. But you don’t know shit about truth. You wanna know the truth? Somebody buy me a f____ing drink, and I’ll tell you about truth.”
6.Yes, and by Boz, I could tell you a thing or two about the truth myself.
2 Boz is become a dog on a leash, in payment for wanting to do a true story about the punk writers of Philadelphia.
3 And dear old Zack is a punk hero, the stuff of legend, because he happened to run out of booze money in exactly the right dive at exactly the right moment.
4 Einstein can claim all he wants that God doesn’t play dice, but you’ll never prove it this way, when all the power and fury of Punk City can be traced to one sardonic boozehound’s graceless attempt to cadge another drink.
5 But they bought it, his act and his drink, and they crowded around him, initially no doubt in wonder at his brazen tactlessness, but then because he said some things they’d never heard before.
6 “What’s the truth, old man?” asked the punk who would become king of Punk City.
7 “Who the hell are you?” retorted Zack, his hand wrapped safely around a brand new bottle.
8 “A guy who wants to know.”
9 “The truth,” said Zack, “is that you’re nobodies with nowhere to go. You’re nothing. Doesn’t matter how many of you, you’re nothing. Nothing multiply by a million is nothing. That’s you. Satisfied?”
10 “Just because you don’t like our music—“ began the girl who would become Liz Smack, but Zack cut her short.
11 “That’s not music, sweetie. It’s nothing. And don’t think it’s just cause I’m old. I’m old, all right. But I know nothing when I hear it."
12 The punk who would become king pulled his chair closer to Zack's and wrapped his hand tightly around the drunkard’s frail wrist.
13 “Tell us what something is, old man.”
14 Zack peered at his questioner. Despite the booze, he must have seen that the question was sincere and that credence would be placed in the answer. He sagged a bit and sipped at his vodka.
15 “I don’t know, boy,” he said. “Think I’d be drinking here with you if I knew? I’m just an old fart, been around the block too many times.”
16 “No. You can’t get off that easy,” said the one who would be king of Punk City. “Talk to us. We don’t want to be nothing. You’re an old wreck, but you’re not nothing. Talk to us.”
7.And so Zack talked to the punks, making it up as he went, almost certainly, but also without pretending that he was Moses with the ten commandments tucked under his arm.
2 “All right,” he said. “I’ll babble for you. You won’t understand what I say, but I don’t mean any insult by talking over your heads. Answer some questions for me first, just so I know where you think you are. What’s this music thing all about?”
3 The outcasts explained that punk music was a statement, that it stood for living your life the way you wanted to, because none of the ways they wanted you to live your life made any sense at all.
4 “Who’s they?”
5 “Them. The ones in charge,” he was told. “The ones that has the power and makes up the rules for everybody, that wants everybody to live in a little piece of shit house in the suburbs and not do drugs and sex, but go to work and church and like that.”
6 Zack shook his head sadly. “That’s the problem right there, ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “You think you’re rebelling. You feel like rebels. But you’re not rebels. You’re just losers. Like me. You see, rebels stand for something, something more than just f___ing and drinking when they feel like it. That’s not a rebel creed.”
7 “What’s a creed?”
8 “Something people believe in. Something they believe in enough to fight for.”
9 “You mean the war thing,” replied the one who would be Ripp Starr. “That’s what we’re against. We don’t believe in dying in somebody else’s piece of shit war. That’s the kind of shit history’s full of, which is why we don’t want to play in that game. That’s our creed.”
10 “That’s bullshit,” said Zack. “You don’t know anything about war or history or anything else. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”
11 “We know enough about war to know that we don’t have to go get killed for some bullshit political excuse that doesn’t have nothing to do with us.”
12 Zack drank deeply. “Son,” he said kindly, “I told you you wouldn’t understand, and I don’t want to be insulting. You said you wanted some truth, and I’m trying to give it to you. It’s not much, but it’s the best I’ve got.”
13 “Let him talk,” someone said.
14 “Okay?” asked Zack, and receiving nods all around, continued.
8.My question back to you is this: What does have anything to do with you?
2 “The answer is—nothing. Nothing has anything to do with you. How could it? You don’t know anything.
3 “You don’t know anything about your country. You don’t know anything about the world. You don’t know anything about current events in the state and city where you reside. You don’t know anything about history. You don’t know anything about the cultural and philosophical foundations of the time you live in. Not only do you know nothing of poetry and literature and scripture—you don’t know your own native tongue well enough to put together a coherent thought. You don’t know anything about anything.
4 “You don’t even know the things you think you know. Absolutely nothing is anything like the way you think it is.
5 “You think your heads contain some kind of information about the things I’ve been talking about. But what’s in there isn’t information. It’s no more than a pile of blurry snapshots of random TV images.
6 “Such images have no names and no relation to one another, no underlying structure of any kind, which means you can’t do anything with them—except recognize something that seems kind of familiar if someone else mentions it. But that sense of vague familiarity you experience is not knowledge. It’s nothing wearing camouflage.
7 “Haven’t you noticed that it’s hard to write good rebellious songs for your punk music? Why is that? It’s because you don’t know enough about what you’re mad at to think of anything to say about it.”
9.“I say we give this bum a hard ride back uptown,” said the punk who would become Slash Frazzle. “I’ve heard about all of this shit I want to.”
2 “No,” said the one would become Cadillac Mope. “You might not like it. I might not like it. But it’s the truth. He’s telling us the truth. It’s true. We don’t know shit.”
3 “Columbus discovered America in 1492,” said the one would become Liz Smack. “And President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.”
4 “Who was Columbus, my dear?” Zack inquired. Receiving a blush for his answer, he went on. “What else did Lincoln do?”
5 “He was born in a log cabin. He was president of the Civil War. He got shot in the head.”
6 “When? What year?”
7 There was a long pause. “I don’t know.”
8 “Nor do you know anything at all about who he was, what his beliefs were, or why he became so important an historical figure that someone decided it was necessary to force feed his name into your unformed mind. Now, does anyone want to talk about John Locke, or Plato, or Nietzche, or Lenin, or Kafka, or Lyndon Johnson or Woodrow Wilson or Jimmy Carter, or the Old Testament or the Constitution of the United States or the Industrial Revolution or anything at all that doesn’t have anything to do with drinking or f___ing or doing drugs?”
10.There was a long silence.
2 Zack drank vodka and waited.
3 The punks sat there, presumably thinking.
4 Then, finally, the one who would become Kassander spoke to the old man. “Are you saying there’s nothing wrong with the way things are? Like we should be quiet and behave and try to get jobs and like that?”
5 Zack laughed out loud. “Hell no! I’m not saying anything like that. I’m saying if you want to be rebels, if you want to make a statement, then do it right. Go do some work. Figure out what it is that’s pissing you off. Understand how it got that way, why it’s wrong, what to do about it. Then fight like hell for what you’ve learned to believe in. You want to shake up the world, you got to be prepared to work your ass off, which isn’t quite the same thing as jacking off with electric guitars.”
6 “But how do you start, especially if we don’t know nothing, like you keep saying?”
11.Zack smiled, the kind sweet smile of the ruined drunk.
2 “I suppose you could start anywhere, at a library or museum maybe, or by really reading the newspaper, but the thing is, that’s probably not going to happen.
3 “Here we are, it’s two o’clock in the morning, a bunch of kids talking to an old man, and that’s all there is to it, just talk.
4 “You and me, we’re a lot alike, too far to go, too many strikes against us. We blew it already, a long time ago, before we ever had any idea what was at stake.
5 “Tomorrow, I’ll be just a dim, drunken memory, an old man talking shit about maybe’s and might have been’s and could be’s that just won’t ever be.
6 “I’ll die in the drunk ward, coughing into a bloody towel with a tube in my arm, like as not, and you’ll die by degrees, the hard way, like a prizefighter that’s out cold on his feet and doesn’t know enough to go down.
7 “I feel sorry for you. I wish I could give you hope, which is what you need, but when you’re dead already you don’t get anything—unless you’ve got the kind of rage burning in you that nobody does anymore. The kind of rage that feeds on itself and consumes you, turns you into a warrior. But you wouldn’t know anything about that either.
8 “It takes belief, a belief like a religion, and your real enemies, the ones you don’t even have an inkling that they exist, your enemies have seen to it that you’ve got no f___ing way to believe in anything, no knowledge to build beliefs with, and not even a real self to transform into a warrior. You’re up shit creek, and that’s a fact.”
12.Zack stood up to go, very unsteadily.
2 The punk who would become the leader of the Spraycans put his hand on Zack’s coat.
3 Afraid he was being detained, Zack said, “No hard feelings, my friends. You’ve been kind to me. And I thank you for the drinks, but my cab is waiting.”
4 “What if you’re wrong about us?” asked the one who would become king. “What if we do have rage?”
5 With an effort, Zack focused on the eyes that were boring into his. Was there something in those eyes? Was there? “That would be different,” he answered at last. “If you had rage, and I say if because it’s an incredibly f___ing rare thing, that kind of rage, then it would be different.”
6 “How different?”
7 “If you have rage, then nothing can stop you from doing what you have to. Nothing but death.”
8 “Thank you, old man.”
9 Zack smiled. “I’ll buy you all a drink in a few years,” he said. “In... Avalon.” He laughed out loud, then tottered out to his waiting cab.
10 The punks walked out of Gobb’s into a changed world, somehow convinced that the door had opened, the mirror behind
The bar had given up its secrets, the ship had sailed, and they were on board.
11 Their mission was rage, and they knew so little of how little they knew that the way forward seemed clear.
13.This the story of the very beginning as I heard it from Alice, and while I cannot doubt it in several important regards, it seems to explain little, settle nothing.
2 Every conflagration is born from some spark, and I have reason to know that the flames of Punk City’s passions are tall as the redwoods, real as the collar and leash that bind me to the foot of Alice’s bed, and so I can’t be surprised that there is this tale, which gives us a sodden Prometheus bearing his gift of fire, and I am hard pressed not to believe it because all this had to start somehow, somewhere, and I have even met their tweedy Titan in the flesh, and yet... I am not convinced.
3 I try, but I cannot picture St. Nuke supine in the face of any man’s contempt. These punks are hard, hard as the rocks and sledges of hard time in hell, and I cannot conceive that they would let any man escape alive, drunk or sober, who had told them a truth like the truth of their Zack.
4 And when does something come from nothing, ever? We are asked to see the nothings that were there before the punks put on their masks and their manufactured tongue.
5 Like ghosts, they glide through the Gobb’s of legend, latent shadows waiting for light to give them dimension, the cipher who would be St. Nuke, the nullity who would wear the greatcoat of Johnny Dodge, the zero who would rise to power as Zero Daze. A parade of nothings bound for glory, marching to the music of a red-eyed, rum-soaked basket case whose spark went out for good in 1968.
14.Lashed to the bed within reach of the water bowl, Boz wags this whopper of a tale in his head as he lowers it to drink. The water is warm and flecked with grit, but it tastes... good.
2 Here in Alice’s department, Boz is reduced to nothing, a joke with a chain link punchline, so insignificant as to be invisible, his presence no more an invasion of female modesty than the chair on which Alice’s girls hang their dirty underwear.
3 While his tongue flaps at the water in the bowl, his eyes are allowed to drink in all the boobage and buttage and bushage they will: it matters nothing to the Fetal Circus.
4 Sue Yoo lounges bareass on her skinny mattress, legs splayed, long and lovely, her jaws grinding gum under a pierced nose that never points at Boz.
5 Sally Vomit is naked and hairless as an egg, sound asleep on soiled sheets, an incubating woman child with breasts like unripe fruit.
6 Not to mention Alice.
7 Alice Hate, she-god of the punks, whose body is the pagan incarnation of divine poetic madness, rhythmic dance of pathos, eros, thanatos, the beckoning end of every quest, no matter how dark or desperate.
8 She is change without end, a shifting perfection that is transformed anew with every shaft of light, every shadow, every breath.
9 Within this chamber, she wears no clothes at all. Her jewelry lies in a glittering mountain at her bedside, necklaces, diamonds, gold, bracelets, rings, and rubies, no more bright beside her than a pebble on the shore.
10 She wears no clothes, no jewelry, no makeup, no mask, and she is never less than punk pure and pure panther. I could swear her eyes glow in the dark, and no part of my soul would rise to call me a liar.
11 She is a witch, a sorceress, a punk high priestess, and I could write whole volumes about how she looks lying half asleep in bed with a vial of blue.
12 And what about Boz? How does he respond to this impossible smorgasbord of temptation? Does he bay at the moon? Does he hump the chair leg? Does he whine and strain at the leash to bury his nose in doggy heaven?
13 Alas, no. For all intents and purposes, in spite of Alice and her Fetal Circus and all their abundant and intoxicating charms, Boz has somehow ceased to be a man. He scratches, eats, sleeps, pants, and yips like a spayed animal, trapped inside the perfect humiliation of his humanity.
14 He is nothing, it would seem, a placid, water-lapping neutered brute, and yet he is not, can never be quite nothing.
15 There was, is, the Boz who was a writer, whose lights cannot be completely doused till death, whose experience still lives within the unwashed carcass of Alice’s pro tem pet.
15.The proof of this is thought, the thought of Boz, which circles the plaid mat once, and again, before settling in with a long sigh and a groan of realization.
2 This is all an artifice. Boz is no dog. Zack is no Prometheus. St. Nuke is no idiot.
3 No human being can be an utter nothing. The senses take in information, which resides inside a human brain, the raw material of thought. And what becomes of it then, no one can say with certainty.
4 We have, each of us, genes, an exhaustive blueprint of capabilities, potentials, in-born talents, and which of us can determine whether Einstein’s genius first caught fire in a patent office daydream or in the climbing double spiral of a lowly toenail cell?
5 Yes, even proto-punks have genes, and there may have been some kind of twisted genius seeded in the chromosomes of South Street’s nascent stars.
6 Before there was St. Nuke, there was a child, who had a mother, who may have read him bedtime stories, which might have lain inert and waiting, buried memories of heroes that never were.
7 Through the years this tinder may have waited, desiccating all the while, through dismal classroom monotones, through light years of cathode rays, through countless shards of parched and partial conversations overheard, through the dry falling leaves of daily headlines, through miles of unemployment lines and roads not taken and bitter dusty trails to nowhere...
8 Until the night that night has fallen prematurely, and the fiery genes of one sad boy reach out to clutch an old man’s memory of the sun. One such remembrance, held close to the baking bones of once upon a time, might light a fire, a blaze to waken stillborn brilliance, illuminate a half-baked map to someone’s kingdom come.
9 Not from nothing but from nearly nothing, then, the punks would learn to burn, using their own flat cancelled hopes for fuel.
10 First a torch, and then a dozen, and then a howling mob carrying their pine knots and their hatreds to the locked and impenetrable gates of the castle.
16.Whose castle though?
2 Which monster had they come to kill?
3 They did not know.
4 In her rendering of the mythic past of punk, Alice does not disguise the pain and emptiness of their dawning recognition. She wails it as an affirmation, this first glimpse of the abyss, called not knowing, which even proto-punks could not abridge.
5 They took to meeting at Gobb’s more often, the story says. They argued about the old man’s message again and again, sometimes violently and always with a passion that grew and would not subside.
6 Armed with Zack’s opinions, they listened attentively to punk music and declared that it was nothing.
7 They took an inventory of their own accomplishments, their own accumulated store of knowledge, and found that it all added up to nothing.
8 They ventured downtown to the Philadelphia Art Museum, where culture was nailed to the walls and acknowledged to one another that they understood nothing of it, except for one statue in an out of the way building that reminded them of their mentor Zack.
17.It was a head and body that uncannily suggested a bird of prey, and although they failed to note that it was Rodin’s bust of Balzac, this one valid connection with the world of culture proved to be a turning point.
2 What if, they asked, they should feel the same kind of recognition and understanding of the rest of the art at the Zeum?
3 What if the books they couldn’t read in the library should make them feel other emotions, like the deep sense of beauty and mystery and menace that flowed from inside the statue?
4 What if the unreadable stuff in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Wall Street Journal should really mean something to them, make them glad or mad or sad?
5 They returned to the Rodin museum, bent on studying the mystery statue, learning its secrets. But a guard threw them out when one punk hand reached out to experience the feel of that noble head.
6 And in this moment, one blazing red bud of rage bloomed in the belly of the punk whose hand had trespassed in the forbidden world of art, and he felt the first infant pulse of the power that a warrior can command.
Which is how it all began, unless that's not how it all began.