I opened my eyes to silence and gloom. I felt hollow, but I wasn’t sure why. My head hurt for reasons I couldn’t entirely fathom. I sat up and saw that I was in a shack. Sunlight poked through a gap in the corrugated iron roof and a scrawny ginger girl sat on the bottom of my bed, sucking on a joint and studying me closely. She wiped her runny nose on her sleeve. ‘Where am I?’ I croaked and she spat on the straw floor. ‘Bolton?’ I asked. I distinctly remember that I was somewhere up north. I’d previously fried my brain with psychedelic sounds and slipped back and forth through time like a piece of flotsam on a cosmic tide.
‘Whatever,’ she said.
A horn honked outside. I jumped out of bed and sprinted to the door. There was a timeworn camper van parked in front and the pointy headed man was sitting behind the wheel. He looked like someone who had been waiting a long time, with his plastic skin glistening red in the morning sun. My heart sank at the sight of him and the endless expanse of sandy brown scrub all around us. ‘Oh shit. I’m pretty sure this isn’t Bolton,’ I said.
‘Get in,’ he growled. So I got in.
‘You’re not going to do that thing again, are you?’ I asked as he started up the engine on the second attempt. ‘You know, that thing you do with your chest?’ We began to drive away from the shack along a dusty brown track. ‘Because I don’t think I could handle that,’ I told him.
‘No, I’m not going to do that thing with my chest,’ he said and he stuffed a cassette into the camper van stereo.
‘Good,’ I said, as Byrdsian guitars began to jingle-jangle and I felt myself melting into the passenger seat. A magical voice mumbled, “It is what it is yes, no, yes, I don’t know…” ‘This song is speaking directly to me,’ I told the pointy headed man as we bumbled through the dust. ‘It’s lo-fi psychedelic imperfect perfection. The sort of song that you wish would turn up more often at jumble sales. I never find songs this good at jumble sales…’
‘Whatever,’ said a voice in the seat behind us, and I turned to see the scrawny ginger girl, in amongst all the blankets and crap, sitting forward and rolling another joint. I just about leapt out of my shoes in fright.
‘Who the fuck is that?’ I whispered to the pointy headed man.
‘Ezra,’ he said. ‘Or Bob. It may even be Interstellar Gamboge the Third for all I know. I have name blindness, you see. It’s like colour blindness, only with names instead of colours.’
Meanwhile my body was melding with the threadbare upholstery as canny shifts of pitch and tempo and telephonic ba-ba-bas filled the inside of the van. ‘It’s happening again,’ I muttered deliriously.
‘You can stop it at any time,’ said the pointy headed man, gesturing towards the stereo.
But we both knew I liked it too much. ‘What’s this one called?’ I ask the pointy headed man.
‘”Car Crash”,’ he told me.
‘Jesus,’ I said and sank as far into the seat as I could, watching the empty road ahead of us. I sort of half expected a cactus to come running out in our path and cause a head-on collision. I’d sunk so deep into the passenger seat that I virtually WAS the passenger seat.
The second song began and I let out a long drawn-out sigh as no cactus had materialised. “Johanna” the second song was called. Another mumbling psychedelic masterpiece with hand claps and raffish drums and a chorus that said the singer didn’t want to fall in love again. Which kinda sucked, but the melody was so good that I kinda didn’t care. ‘Who is this?’ I asked the pointy headed man.
‘Whatever,’ said Ezra from the back.
‘I wasn’t speaking to you,’ I said, irked by her presence.
The road wound on. “Let Go of My Heart” played. More 60′s guitar lines, chiming us along in the wake of an auspicious dream. The sun climbed high and we rolled the windows down. I didn’t know where I was or what I was listening to, but I loved it and life felt strangely good or goodly strange, either/or. ’By the way,’ said the pointy headed man, ‘your editor called.’
‘Moon Crumb Magazine.’
‘Moon Crumb Magazine?’
‘Are you just going to repeat everything I say?’ he asked me and pointed at the glove compartment. I opened it and there was a red telephone, one of the old fashioned ones with a dial in the middle. The cord was frayed like it had been yanked in a hurry from a wall. ‘You promised her one review a week for a year,’ he said.
I stared at the telephone and the telephone stared back.
And then we arrived at a little village in the middle of nowhere. And now I knew I wasn’t in Bolton, or anywhere near Bolton. The next song was called “Mexican Village” and I understood that the music had dislocated me and I was travelling again through space and time. ‘I know this song,’ I said. ‘It’s one of my favourite songs in the world, but I have no idea who wrote it. I don’t suppose that matters.’
‘Whatever,’ said Ezra, wiping her nose on the back of my seat and offering me the joint.
In the village square everyone started dancing to the song that was blasting from our camper van. And then they started smoking. And drinking tequila. There was a piñata and the pointy headed man was attacking it with an inflatable hammer. We rewound the tape and played “Mexican Village” over and over again, digging its wonderful guitar riff and happy hand claps and tambourine and the voice mumbling on melodically. Ezra got talking to some American girls. The moon and the sun swapped places and fairy lights got strung from village rooftops. When the tequila ran out and the song faded to a close, everyone piled into the camper van and we drove off into the desert. Like a great tidal wave of sound, the music was at our backs, moving us through the universe. ‘You still haven’t made the call!’ shouted the pointy headed man over the American girls who loved the cassette and wanted to know who it was. They screeched that they thought it was the love child of Brian Jones and Daniel Johnston, brought up by Beck and the Buzzcocks.
I said I didn’t think that was possible, but I sort of knew what they meant.
We parked at the edge of a cliff and “Girl Power” boomed from the speakers. Everyone was dancing again and I had a feeling that drugs were at work. I lay down in a patch of flowers. A patch of flowers on the edge of a cliff in the middle of the desert. The song itself was fuzzy and supercool. It reminded me of Bowie before he lost it. It reminded me of that excited feeling I got when I first heard Black Moth Super Rainbow and understood that you could go backwards to go forwards. I could have stayed in that patch of flowers forever. Only someone got it into their heads that we should all jump off the cliff. It was at that point I concluded drugs were definitely at work. ‘What!? That’s madness! We’ll die!’ I protested, but nobody was listening, they were all too swept up in the chorus. I looked up at the pointy headed man who was sitting with Ezra on the roof of the camper van. ‘Whatever,’ he said with a shrug, and one by one, everyone, except us, went over the edge.
The three of us got back in the camper van. “And Your Bird Won’t Sing” came on. It sounded like that Beatles riff, only inside out. More psychedelic sustenance. ‘I’m glad we didn’t jump,’ I tell them as the pointy headed man puts his foot down and we reverse off the cliff. And we fall with the guitar riff and the words and suddenly someone sits up from under the pile of blankets beside Ezra.
“Fight the Power” starts as we fall. One of my favourite gems on the record. The camper van plunged through the air towards the ocean and I looked in the rearview mirror at the old man with his wild white hair and his lab coat, shaking off the blankets, and frantically waving a clipboard around. ‘Marty! I’ve got it!’ he screams.
‘Marty?’ I scream back. ‘Who’s Marty!?’
‘My calculations indicate that “Fuzz Classics” is completely and utterly and unquestionably QUIXODELIC!’ he yells, totally ignoring us. ‘Now, if only I can cross check my analysis alongside samples of sonic tissue taken from The Real Burnouts and Zombie Girlfriend Hospital Attack Force, who knows what we might discover? Previously, I dismissed these individual entities as one-off musical mutations; the little guy armed with only instruments and ideas, beaming these out across the galaxy! And yet, here we have a third great shining manifestation of the same mutation! Do you know what this means, Marty!? It means we could conceivably be listening to the dawn of a MOVEMENT! And yet… the questions remain unanswered: Why the fuck are we falling off a cliff? Who made this legendary record? And what in god’s name have you done to my DeLorean!?’
‘Whatever,’ said Ezra, as we crashed violently into the sea.
The force of the camper van smashing into the water was enough to make me black out. The last thing I saw was a cactus on the sea bed, waving at me and laughing his prickly ass off. Due to me being unconscious, I missed the next song on the record “Earth Girl”. According to the pointy headed man, it was a “scuzzy, fuzzy, punk-psych hybrid with a catchy refrain urging us not to go to California.”
‘Why?’ I asked as we sat on the roof of the camper van, bobbing atop the ocean waves. We were drifting further and further away from the shoreline. Eventually all we could see was sea. ‘What’s so bad about California?’ I wanted to know. He looked at me like I’d finally cracked. ‘Where’s Ezra?’ I asked.
‘Who?’ he said.
‘You know, Ezra? Bob? Interstellar Gamboge III?’
He shook his pointy head as “Ezra” began to play. It was a slow, magical, bright-eyed, melodic ode to somebody else called Ezra. It was the sort of song that wedged itself between two parts of my brain and refused to budge for several days after. The scientist dude demanded to know which two parts it was wedged between. I told him I didn’t know, so he sketched a brain on his clipboard, only it looked nothing at all like a brain so it didn’t help. ‘What are all these parts?’ I asked him, jabbing my finger at various hipcampocogs and skullmotors sketched on the clipboard. ‘Do they even exist?’
‘Marty! I am NOT an artist! Nor am I a brain surgeon!’ he protested and huffily threw his clipboard into the sea.
It was at this point that I remembered I’d missed a second song during the black out. It was called “Hanging Out”, so that’s exactly what we did. We hung out. And the sun came up. And the sun went down. And the sun came up again. And the scientist dude sat with his back to us the whole time, arms folded across his chest. And the whole world seemed stoned because of the song.
Penultimate track “Camelot” played. More delirious effects laden golden chaos. A cloud in the shape of a knight passed over the sun. And it was at this point that I noticed Ezra hanging there in the sky above the camper van. ‘Shit,’ I said, pointing up, ‘how did she get up there?’
“It’s too weird, it’s too weird” sang the voice in the cabin below.
‘Did you call your editor?’ asked the pointy headed man.
‘Call?’ I asked. ‘My editor?’ I asked.
‘You’re in so much trouble,’ he said, shaking his head.
Last track, “Starting Over” began. It reminded me of hearing The Stone Roses’ bootlegs for the first time. Raw and gritty and great. It reminded me that we needed bands like this, whoever or whatever they might be. That our musical heroes shouldn’t be the Bonos or Chris Martins of the world, but guys like Syd Barrett, guys like this, doing their own thing, without a care in the world for what the world might actually think.
And then the ripped out red telephone began to ring.
‘You’d better answer that,’ said the pointy headed man. ‘That’ll be your editor. She’ll want to know where you are. That review was due on her desk yesterday and here you are on the roof of a camper van, in the middle of the ocean, unable to identify two brain parts.’
We searched around for the phone. And eventually we realised we didn’t have it. Ezra had it. And sure enough, there she was, floating in the sky, out of reach, clutching the telephone. The cassette ended, but the phone kept on ringing. ‘I don’t even LOOK like a brain surgeon!’ yelled the scientist dude.
I closed my eyes. ‘SO much trouble,’ said the pointy headed man. Just to ram home the point.
‘Whatever,’ I said.