Mazes

Uncle Petrovic came home from the foundry today waving a scrap of paper that the District Administrator had handed him with a grave look on half his face. A childhood accident involving strong glue had left the Administrator’s face with nerve damage in the left side; he couldn’t move the muscles there at all, and every expression seemed to betray an underlying apathy. His mother blamed herself for the accident, and each day she spent over the kitchen sink, making beet soup and rethreading used twine, was a day of atonement for an accident she could never have hoped to prevent. Her husband, the old cobblesmith, used to joke that by her ceaseless domestic labour she was mortifying her flesh in the style of Dominican monks. He himself lived a life of relative comfort having retired early with painful insteps, the inevitable lot of the cobblesmith, and was pursuing an interest in chess. He played regular games against the postman who was generally recognised to be the finest chess player in the village- apart from the village chess-smith, who cared little for the game since the death of his only son. The son, though a fine man and an outstanding tooth-grinder, had been a poor chess player, and had died in battle during the most recent war, struck down by a relatively minor soldier. His secret sweetheart was consequently engaged in a frantic search for a husband before her bump became too obvious and her unborn child was branded by the other villagers. Her front-runner was a pragmatic bank manager who understood the situation and who was still weighing the problematic ignominy of raising another man’s child against the acquisition of the beautiful young pregnant woman. Having known affection only once before, and briefly, in the arms of the dowager of the house upon the hill, he craved a woman as surely as the dowager herself craved the young gardener’s apprentice who worked her lesser shrubs with such fumbling care. The apprentice had not reached such an age to have had many thoughts on the subject, and the head gardener, with a cultivator’s instinct for husbandry, was keeping the boy as far away from the old spinster as seemed necessary. It was among his principal concerns, the foremost being the health of his ailing wife, a woman who, for forty-five years had formed the better half of his nature, and who was now visibly diminishing. Every evening he returned to her bedside, the dirt of the day crusted deep down in the lines of his hands, and fed her thin broths and milk. She was lucid a great deal of the time, and when she was not, he would hold her hand and quietly repeat her name until she returned. She shivered in any heat and told him, her voice cracked, that he led her back to the light. It took a little longer each time.

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No Tarantino

‘Fifty quid? Really?’

‘Best price around.’

‘You sure about that pal?’

‘Do I look like a man who suffers from uncertainty?’ Detch leaned a half step towards the ratty little man addressing him, shadowing the guy with his own quarter-back physique. ‘Do I seem unsure of myself?’

The rat-man seemed to have some sort of twitch about the left eye, which Detch liked to think he himself was causing.

‘No,’ he said , looking each way up the dark street as he spoke. ‘You seem to know what you’re about.’ 

‘So I don’t strike you as somebody who forgets the price of what he’s selling?’

‘No man, of course…’

‘Do you see any potatoes here? Any organically grown, winter garden essentials? Do you see a fuckin’ courgette?’

‘I… what?

‘I just want to make sure you haven’t confused me with the vegetable stand at your yuppie-fuckin farmer’s market.’

‘No man, I… c’mon dude…’

‘So you don’t think I’m likely to haggle?’

‘Oh. No, I guess not.’

‘You guess not? Bitch, this ain’t twenty questions, and you don’t get any guesses. I asked you if you’re at a farmer’s market, and if we’re gonna negotiate a price. Do either of those scenarios seem very likely to you at this juncture?’

Rat-man shrank into himself a little. ‘No.’

‘Then it’s fifty quid in my hand, or walk the fuck away from my block.’

A fumbled wallet materialized and the rat-man counted the notes into Detch’s hand. A figure emerged from the shadows behind Detch and passed a small bag of powder to the rat-man. Deal done, he scurried away with a muttered ‘thanks’ and the dark figure in the shadows chuckled.

‘Detch- question. When did you last watch a Tarantino movie?’

Detch turned around to face his partner and grinned. ‘Movie marathon last night with Amy. That obvious?’

‘You’re speaking like you swallowed half a dictionary and you using the F word as punctuation. Yeah, it’s pretty obvious.’

‘I like it. I think it makes me sound real.’

‘If anything it makes you sound fictional. I don’t know what kind of dope-slingers Tarantino hangs out with, but the real ones don’t jive-talk everyone they meet.’

‘Well I do.’ Detch banged a fist against his chest. ‘It’s life imitating art.’

Detch heard his partner’s laughter from the shadows.

‘You really want to imitate the characters in those movies? It never ends well.’ A match flared briefly, underlighting Jasper’s face as he lit a cigarette. ‘And I don’t want to get shot, or tortured, or raped by hillbillies, or any of the weird shit that goes on in Tarantino’s underworld.’

‘Me neither mate.’ There was a pause, and Detch rubbed his cold hands together, watching out for police or punters. ‘But you hear stuff sometimes.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah. You know, messed up stuff happens in this city man, movie stuff. I heard this one thing… doesn’t matter. Point is, it happens.’

Jasper leaned fractionally from the darkness, only his face visible.

‘Doesn’t matter? Now you’ve got to tell me.’

Detch shifted his weight from one foot to another, and ran a hand over his shaved head.

‘Alright, I’ll tell you a story, but it ain’t my fault if you lose sleep over this.’

Jasper laughed. ‘Let’s see.’

‘Ok. It was August- you know, the riots were going on, the whole city was out looting?’

Jasper grinned and pulled an expensive mobile phone out of his pocket. ‘Yeah, I remember that.’

‘Well there’s this guy I knew, a friend of Amy’s, low-life little shit really, called Dean. So he hears what’s going down, figures he’ll see what he can get. He heads over to Portland Street, where they’ve got all those electrical goods stores, there’s a JVC, and an Argos, erm, a Currys on the corner I think…’

‘It’s a Comet.’

‘Yeah, whatever, so he goes down that way, and that was one of the worst areas. Like, a bunch of the stores are already on fire, and a couple of cars, but the fire engines can’t make it into the city, so they’re burning away- but mainly people aren’t freaking out, except the people in the burning buildings, and it’s more like a carnival atmosphere you know? There’s not even that much violence at first cos’ most of the gangs are working together to haul as much shit out of the shops as they can. So Dean just lights up a joint right there on the street cos’, like, why the hell not, and he wanders into Argos, where the crowds have pulled up the metal shutters, and he starts browsing. And he’s doing that for a while, not even in a hurry cos’ the cops are nowhere to be seen, and he eventually decides that designer watches are his best bet, cos’ they’re small and worth good money. So, Dean’s got a rucksack with him, and he starts stuffing in a whole bunch of watches, when this guy walks up to him.’

‘Dean?’  Dean turns, seeing someone he knows but can’t quite place.

‘Erm, hi buddy. How goes it?’

They shake hands and the new guy takes a look in Dean’s bag.

‘Damn man, nice haul. And you brought a rucksack, holy shit you’re prepared huh?’

They both laugh, and Dean asks the guy if he’s got hold of anything good. 

‘Oh man, a whole load of stuff, seriously like five TV’s alone man, flatscreen beauts.’

‘Shit, are you hiding this stuff at your house? What are even gonna do with five TV’s?’

There’s an explosion outside and Dean ducks, covering his head with his arms, watches spilling out across the floor. The nameless friend is laughing as he drags Dean back up off the ground. ‘Don’t worry about it man, after the first hour you get used to the explosions.’

Wide-eyed, Dean blinks, tries to focus on the guy’s face.

‘You cool? Dean, you’re alright man, just breathe yeah?’

Unable to hear clearly through the ringing in his ears, Dean is nonetheless consoled, glad that he has a friend here.

‘You wanna get out of here, Dean? Maybe stash the loot somewhere?’ Dean nods and is led through the store by his elbow. They climb through the smashed window and, once outside, breathing evening-cool, petrol fumed air, his head feels a little clearer. He looks up into the concerned face of his anonymous friend.

‘What’s your name?’

The friend barks a laugh. ‘I’m Jez. From school yeah? You hit your head or something?’

‘I’m fine. Where shall we go?’

‘Wanna see how I got rid of all the stuff I grabbed tonight?’

Dean does want to see, and they’re moving fast through the streets, almost jogging, as Jez explains his scheme.

‘So there’s these guys, and they don’t want to get their hands dirty or something, so they’re not out tonight. But if you take them what you’ve got, it’s cash in hand.’

Dean likes the sound of this. He’s been having some trouble recently, and he knows he’s made some dumb mistakes; a little money in his pocket could only be a good thing, might be enough enough to make amends with his mother, and he doesn’t really have a plan for selling fifty or sixty watches. He follows Jez, who he still can’t really place, through the city and away from the riot zones.

‘It’s down here,’ Jez is saying, as the two of them turn down a blind alley. At the far end is a garage, just a regular single car garage set off the street. When they reach it, Jez taps lightly on the metal door, and the whole thing reverberates like a gong.

‘Yeah?’ The voice on the other side is deep, neutral.

‘It’s Jez- I’ve got one hot to trot.’

The two boys back away from the door as it opens slowly upwards and outwards, harsh halogen light casting long shadows behind them. They are ushered in and the door closes quietly behind them. Jez is immediately at the desk in the middle of the floor, speaking in hushed tones to an ashen forty-something who’s casually studying diamond bracelets, price tags still attached. Dean takes a moment to eye up the stacked televisions, stereos, electric razors, ipods, something for everyone, and carefully avoids making eye contact with the looming troll who guards the entrance.

Jez seems to have concluded whatever business he had with the man at the desk and is waving Dean over. Taking the rucksack from him, he empties the watches out.

‘Well?’ he says.

The man picks up a watch, stares intently at its face.

‘Time.’ His voice is hollow.

‘Yep. That’s what watches are for,’ says Dean, grinning at Jez. Jez doesn’t look at him.

‘Time. That’s what you’ve brought me. Not watches, which are the physical manifestation of time, time incarnate. People think that watches are just an observational tool, a measurement of time as it passes, but without measurement, without observation, is there any movement of time at all? How could we tell?’

His level stare brings a few beads of prespiration to Dean’s forehead.

‘No, watches don’t display time, they measure and create time, the accumulation of it or, as you might see it, its escape from you.’ He makes a small gesture and the door troll is at Dean’s back, locking his arms in a crushing embrace around his torso.

‘I hope you enjoyed the bit you were given, friend.’

Jez was already looking away, always looking away, but he is bending over the table now, stooping to collect the money for the watches, for his time.

Dean’s legs thrash impotently and knock aside some premium Japanese electronic goods, before he is thrown into an adjoining room, a very different room with a a wrong smell about it. The troll is entering too, and closing the door behind them.

‘Can I get a couple of grams lads?’

Detch flinched slightly; he didn’t see the punter approach, and his surprise manifested in the squeaky pitch of his voice.

‘What?’

The punter was leather bound, relaxed, but a slight frown passed over his face.

‘I hope I haven’t misread the situation but…’

‘…No,’

‘Look, can I just…’

‘…But you want some gear right? Sure, sorry, I was chatting away, erm…Two grams?’

Detch collected the cash and Jasper leaned out of the shadows, slipping two bags into the punters breast pocket. ‘Thanks very much boys,’ he said over his shoulder as he left.

‘Any time,’ said Detch.

They watched him disappear around the corner.

‘What’s the name of that smooth-talking Pulp Fiction character you like so much?’ asked Jasper.

‘Shut up.’

‘Vincent something, wasn’t it? Vincent Vegas?’

‘Vega. Vincent Vega.’

‘Well Vincent, I thought that was a very sharp exchange.’

‘Shut up man.’

‘Life imitating art,’ murmured Jasper, leaning back into the shadows. ‘Or are you taking your cues from the “yuppie-fuckin farmers market” now?’

Detch was silent.

‘You gonna finish your story then? I think you were getting to the bit I would lose sleep over.’  Silence. ‘Or are you gonna sulk?’

‘Ain’t sulking.’

‘Ok.’

‘I’m not.’

‘Cool. I am glad.’

‘Good.’

‘Good.’

Jasper’s expensive mobile phone buzzed and he flipped it open.

‘We’re nearly done; Jamal and Nathan will be here in five minutes to take over. Got plans for this evening?’

‘Probably gonna go to Amy’s. She said she might cook. You?’

‘Takeaway and some TV I guess. It’s a Monday.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Yeah.’

A Note from the Editor

I suppose I should start this foreword by explaining that the publication of the following text is in direct conflict with the advice of many lawyers, including my own, as well as my peers in the publishing industry, the Los Angeles Police Department, the friends and family of the author, and my own wife. I do not take the judgement of so many well-informed people and institutions lightly, nor do I claim to have any greater insight into the matter, save for my access to the unedited version of the text.

In my defence, I remind the reader that the interest and demand of the general public is the only force a successful publisher ever need respond to, especially in a case which has been so widely followed and yet for which so little reliable information is available; furthermore, in presenting this document to the world, I am following what may turn out to have been the last request of its author, an act with which I intend to honour his spectacular life as well as raise awareness of the unusual circumstances around his departure from the world stage. I can only hope that wherever he is, his explicit instructions to me concerning the release of his memoirs, if such they might be called, still marry with his desire that his adoring public understand the pressures under which he laboured for so long.

Billy Ray Jetson, more commonly known as ‘RayGun Jetson’ by his fans, began his rise to fame with soft rock band DarkThrob, which signed with Universal records in 1972, the same year in which Aerosmith were signed to Columbia records. This year was to be the start of hugely successful careers for both bands, as well as a temperamental and competitive relationship between the two. One of the many popular folk-tales of that era refers to the impossibility of having both bands on stage in the same night, owing to the refusal of each to open for the other; a lesser known but more strongly believed story suggests that RayGun refused to allow Universal Studios bosses to sign Aerosmith when their contract with Columbia ended, threatening to quit the label.

Such stories form the bedrock of a labyrinthine mythology spanning four decades, the same number of doomed marriages, several prolonged and ultimately futile periods in rehabilitation clinics, fights, flings, and nights in jail; his simultaneous relationships with three different Bond girls is still a favourite anecdote on the Sunset Strip, and the resulting catfight at the 1982 Oscar ceremony is YouTube’s highest rated video from any award ceremony ever. In this much at least, the elements, if not the scale, of RayGun Jetson’s story are entirely typical of any lead singer in a rock band at that time.

RayGun’s long-term drug addiction in particular brought him much unwanted attention from the press, largely due to his inability to perform on stage throughout the late 1980’s; Steve Tyler, RayGun’s counterpart in Aerosmith, commented in ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine in 1986: “It’s bullshit what some people are saying about RayGun Jetson man, making out that he’s some kind of wild drug fiend like no other… the only difference between him and me, or him and Slash, or him and the other guys in his own band… is that he can’t take drugs and just get on with it. He gets completely out of his mind, every time.” 1

There is a startling and heretofore unknown level of detail regarding this aspect of RayGun’s existence to be found in the following pages, with the details ‘blurred’ only so far as is necessary to protect the innocent. In fact, part of the extreme controversy surrounding the release of this material is due to RayGun’s uncompromising confessional style, not only unburdening himself but implicating swathes of the Hollywood elite in the most bizarre and improbable illicit practices. The resulting unrest among the L.A glitterazi, and their aforementioned hordes of legal representatives, has come close to preventing this publication and may yet prove to be the end of my career.

Of course, such wild lifestyles were very much the norm in the period of DarkThrob’s fame, a period which saw the drug and alcohol related deaths of Ian Curtis, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon and many others; nothing here is remarkable about RayGun Jetson, save perhaps that he didn’t die. Throughout the 1970’s and early 1980’s, when the band was still among the most commercially successful performing acts around, RayGun, though seriously endangering his health, managed to avoid the trend for overdosing; the band’s short-lived revival in the late 1990’s, which opened them up to a new generation of fans, was still marred by heavy drugs use which nonetheless did not seem to seriously incapacitate RayGun.

Little had been seen of him the singer after 2000, when he moved to Los Angeles; his only national media appearance revolved around a brief and controversial association with the Church of Scientology. It was in this period that I first met RayGun, at a time when he was bouncing between would-be publishers with the hope of sharing his written work with the world. Like most of my colleagues in the industry, I was initially excited by the prospect of that rare gem, a guaranteed commercial success; and, also like my colleagues in the industry, I was dismayed by the work RayGun had to show me. As I have mentioned, the age of his universal stardom was over, so while he still had the potential for popularity with an older generation of readers, his fame was not sufficient for me to overlook the glaring faults of his surreal and seemingly hallucinatory writings. I sometimes envy that younger, untroubled version of myself, the man with enough ambition to avoid the risk involved in being attached to this publication. I wonder if perhaps I wouldn’t be a happier man for obeying my first instinct, and binning the book, but I can only leave it to posterity to judge me as it will.

It is impossible for me to imagine that you, the reader, are unfamiliar with some of the more outlandish rumours which started receiving minor publicity, predominantly in the U.S.A., at the turn of the millennium. A story began to circulate that RayGun Jetson claimed to be able to see into the near future. Specifically, he insisted that he was always aware of the exact details of the next day of his life, and that he was able to alter events in order to make their outcome beneficial to him. This became public knowledge after RayGun discussed his ‘ability’ with an undercover music journalist at a party in Keith Richards L.A. Mansion, and later featured in an unflattering ‘Kerrang’2 column about ‘partied out’ musicians of the past.

The episode was seen by many as the inevitable consequence of the life RayGun had led, and on the face of it, seemed no stranger than the tales of his binge weeks with Ozzy Osbourne and Tommy Lee.

There was however a second article on the same theme, which, for reasons that shall become obvious, never made it to print. On the 10th of September 2001, RayGun appeared in a local office of the L.A.P..D., utterly inebriated and apparently terrified, raving about ‘attackers’. He became belligerent when asked to leave, and was quickly arrested after verbally abusing the desk Sergeant; a search revealed him to be in possession of three grams of crack cocaine, and he was detained overnight pending bail. The arrest report makes for interesting reading; it describes RayGun as being ‘… totally, almost incoherently intoxicated…’ and notes, with a hint of amusement, ‘…the detainee is convinced that the United States will come under attack within forty-eight hours.’

Obviously, the fallout of the September 11th attacks meant that no newspaper, even one on the West coast, was going to run a comic celebrity interest story, especially when that story raised such uncomfortable questions about how much RayGun knew of the terrible events which were to befall America.

Much has been made of this incident on certain online forums, and theories abound, often claiming that RayGun did indeed have some kind of precognitive ability. Many supporters of this theory point to RayGun’s strange behaviour during a 1992 appearance on ‘Tonight with Jay Leno’, when the singer seemed distracted and refused to talk about anything other than the DL State football game scheduled for the following day. Leno and the audience mocked RayGun’s certainty that Colorado would knock New York State out of the tournament in the first round, citing the one-hundred to one odds being offered by the bookies. As football fans will recall, Colorado won that game for the first time in a century, allowing RayGun to pocket a cool $200,000 from the insight.3

Likewise, great significance is leant to RayGun’s apparent aptitude for manipulating the stock market as, despite having no formal education or background in investment, he chose to organise the majority of the accumulated wealth of DarkThrob into risky portfolios on the one-day trading floor of NASDAQ; the band subsequently profited by unprecedented margins. These accounts, tied in with the retrospective analysis of album titles such as ‘Foresight’, ’24 Ahead’ and ‘Let me Tell you Tomorrow’ have birthed a tranche of conspiracy theories ranging from the thought-provoking to the downright wacky.

Whatever ‘evidence’ is bandied about is more likely to be the result of a very human desire for the inexplicable than a compelling argument for a seer-singer-songwriter; the book is composed of the largely verbatim writings of RayGun Jetson, and it contains many more such examples of his apparent precognition, some more and some less compelling than those I’ve already mentioned. I have read it many times, and spent long, wistful nights preoccupied with both the decision to print it and with the plausibility of its content, so I advise you to enter into it with a spirit of healthy scepticism; there is nothing to gain from either your disdain or your naivety, and at the very least the collection offers a fascinating insight into what an independent psychoanalyst has described as ‘…a quite standard, but abnormally resolute form of schizophrenia.’4 The content of this book seems to support that theory, but only as much as it supports any other; it’s rambling in places, obsessed with minor details and interactions with seemingly random people; most of the prophetic moments have lost their meaning now that the events they refer to have already occurred, and it’s often impossible to tell whether RayGun documented them before or after they actually happened. What we are left with is not quite a novel, nor a diary. Perhaps it is best viewed as a curiosity, presented to the world without an objective- but then again perhaps it is, as many have suggested, a kind of suicide note meant to further the cult of personality which built up around the performer in his latter years.

Billy ‘RayGun’ Jetson was last seen in the front garden of his Venice Hills house in California at 10:30am, on the 22nd of February 2012, by a neighbour who was leaving to walk his dog. One other person, his housekeeper, saw him earlier in the morning, but could not say whether his behaviour was more or less unusual than at any other time. He continued writing his compelling account of life with precognition until that same afternoon, at which point he seems to have vanished; nobody reports having seen him leave his house, his cars were safely locked away in the garage, and there were no personal effects missing from his home. Police on the scene could not identify any sign of violence or forced entry; extensive forensic investigation turned up only the wholly expected drugs caches; the only unusual thing in the entire house was a thick, hand written book on the kitchen table, an extended version of the copy he had brought to me some years before with a view to getting it published. There was a note attached, addressed to me, which simply said, “Wilco- today, I can’t see. It all ends at 2.42 pm. Publish it if you want to.” It would be vain of me to believe that RayGun gave me such a significant role in his end purely to punish me for my previous lack of faith in his work, although that was how I felt immediately after I was told, and how I still feel on occasion. The police ultimately decided that this note was sufficient grounds to assume suicide, and when a short search of the local area turned up nothing, the file on Bill ‘RayGun’ Jetson was closed.

So, if you’ve just picked up a copy of this book in your local store, and you’re still unsure whether or not it appeals to you, I recommend to you its grand themes: the ultimate party lifestyle, an unsolved mystery bigger than ‘Elvis Lives’, and a Cassandra complex rock’n’roller who disappeared off the face of the Earth. Enter this madhouse then, with my compliments.

Tom Wilco

September 2012

1 Terunga Elsapora, ‘Dude I’m Like, Totally…’, Kerrang, 312 (2001), 4-5.

2 Bobby Bozna, ‘Who’da Thunk It?’, Illustrated Sports Weekly, 189 (1992), 12-13.

3 Harry Maxwell, ‘Aerosmith and the 80’s’, Rolling Stone, 42 (1986), 22-26

4 Verity Westwode , PsychoUnlogical: The Uncharted Depths of the Human Mind-Maze (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 59.