Wednesday, 11 May 2011
Phillips: The Performance Years
Breakfast at Southville Deli
You don’t know this but last night
I lay awake and watched you sleeping,
Heard the soft scrape and wheeze of your breathing,
Felt the warmth of your body and thought:
‘What on earth are you doing here?
I’m not married to you, Audrey Hepburn,
And I’ve never eaten breakfast
Outside a downtown jewellery shop.’
Politely, Miss Golightly tossed and turned
Till the milkman’s electric go-cart squeaked.
It was never meant to be. She spurned
My offer of staying the rest of the week.
Which, all things considered, is just as well.
Manhattan fantasies are nothing but rot
For drunken fools who are over the hill
And believe there’s more than they’ve got.
There isn’t. Love simply changes its hue.
Sometimes, it pulses a deep, vibrant red,
Sometimes it’s insufferably blue.
Whatever. The amorous film stars are dead.
Which means, my love, there’s more to life
Than what passes for it on the telly.
Audrey Hepburn would never be my wife
Or do breakfast at Southville Deli.
Before the second summer of love
Looking into the face of the wrinkled hippy
Is like staring at a leathery elephant’s arse.
In fact the elephant’s arse
Would smell much nicer and talk more sense.
But hey, man, we’re at Glastonbury and all
The blessed children of the sun/moon/earth/stars
Have abandoned their two-tone semis for Pilton’s New Jerusalem.
The scrotum-cheeked one gabs on and on
While the Cure grind out some dodgy gothic blues.
“The 60s,” he says, “were mind expansion.
Festivals. Peace. Free love.” And I’m thinking,
Back in the 60s, mate, the only free love
In this field was bovine rape: the bull
Entertaining half the diary herd.
Hippies are just ramblers in disguise,
Dumbly sentimental for the countryside.
This one claims Jerry Garcia is Jesus and nobody
Will ever be as good as Hawkwind or Pink Floyd.
Next thing you know he’s recreating Hendrix riffs
With a strand of pubic hair and an empty flagon of cider.
Something about his I-ching-rebirthed-tantric being
Makes me want to puke. Maybe it’s his rainbow flares.
His nasal whine. Or the aura of patchouli
Like the stench of old socks left overnight
In a bucket of dead carnations.
He believes I’m a cynic but my heart is good.
He’s more naïve than I thought.
“Vietnam,” he says, “now that gave us a cause.”
As if he was glad that war broke out
So he could blather into the small hours.
He thinks he’s revolutionary:
He makes Norman Tebbit sound like Karl Marx.
There was no great flowering of love in the 60s,
Just the contraceptive pill and a lot
Of teenagers up in their rooms
With photos of Twiggy and a large box of Kleenex:
Tofu-guzzling guru-hunters shafting sheep
At bongo communes in deepest Wales.
My Glastonbury relic had a mystic experience
Somewhere outside Carmarthen. Gandalf
And Bilbo took him on a trip – but the randy hobbit
Started feeling up the elves and the wizard went off in a huff.
The relic claims he knows the secrets of the cosmos
Before asking me the bus times back to Bristol.
He didn’t want to leave his car all weekend in a field.
“It’s new. It’s the firm’s. You know how it is.”
Oh, yes, I know how it is. Nostalgia for someone he never was
Oozes from him like ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ oozed
From every hi-fi back in 1971. And whatever ideals
He didn’t have are deader than Elvis Presley.
I wish I could think of something witty
But instead resort to “Fucking hypocrite hippy!”
And the crystal-wearing peace-loving crowd
Oblige by beating me to a pulp.
Life is shit
When your fag gets caught on your underlip
And burns the tips of two fingers;
When the cat’s had a crap in your favourite shoes;
When the last place left to drink is full of suits
And kebabs just look like alien beings;
When the taxi queue’s so long you won’t get a cab
Until this time tomorrow – and there’d be a bloodbath
On the streets of Yate, if only the population of Yate
Wasn’t kicking the shit out of each other in Bristol;
When you’ve finally made it home on foot
And woken the street by puking in your surprisingly resonant bin;
When you’ve tried to regain equilibrium
With one last tin of Stella and David Bowie’s ‘Low’
But found the lager’s flat and the CD’s scratched;
When you’ve tumbled into bed and wished
You’d never eaten those digestives;
When you’re flat out but the room’s still spinning;
When you’re alone and facing the prospect of a dawn
So dissonant it makes Swedish death metal sound tuneful
And you’d pop your head beneath the pillow and scream
If your brain wasn’t rattling round your skull like a pinball;
When the hangover has finally struck and the only thing
On telly are the Tweenies and the bodybags
Coming home from Baghdad; it is tempting to admit
That life is shit and go out in search of what compensates for it:
The almost-missed daisies like fireflies in the park,
The perfect lover glimpsed in the corner of your eye,
That conversation you had, that anecdote,
A poem, a photo, a painting, a blinding shag,
The insufferable persistence of beauty
In waterfalls, trees, clifftops and beaches,
The insufferable simplicity of breathing.
Only, this isn’t the eighteenth century and Wordsworth is dead.
This isn’t the Industrial Revolution.
It’s the Post-Industrial Revolution.
It’s the post-post-post-modern revolution:
Bill Gates, Big Mac, Bush and Brown,
‘I’m a Celebrity – get me out of here’,
‘Shaun Of The Dead’, ‘Dawn Of The Dead’,
and, in the dead of the dawn,
there’s only one conclusion to draw:
life is fabulously, beautifully, gloriously shit
and you’ve got one choice:
neck that Bloody Mary,
deep breath, face it.