By Simon Barget
Everything was fine until the band. The band is: me, Jay Halpern, Joe Monk, Rom (Roman) Alprose. I don’t like the band. The band wanted me - not the other way round. But I said yes; I played along. Because you have to go with the flow and be at one with it all. Never resist. You have no choice anyway.
Maybe it’s just that I’m weak.
That interminable conversation with Alprose was how it all started. We were at Bug Bar for a friend’s 50th with all the other crusty old-timers jerking around to relentless 80’s classics. Immersed in the feelgood. A touch overdone. People having a boogie. For some reason the old crowd was doubling down to emphasise how much fun it was actually having. Whooping periodically. Who knows how they felt the moment before they walked in, bickering over nothing with their spouse. I hate to sound like a downer. That’s just not me.
Alprose was certainly not one of the feel-gooders. Whilst some are prepared to flail about at the slightest pretext, others can’t unwind ever ever. The vanguard of sad motionless bods formed a cordon sanitaire on the step just above the dance floor, presumably having fashioned this same stance ever since they first set foot in a club at fifteen. Men. Paralysis. Alprose appeared to be the most prominent. I felt pity but also a welling sense of superiority. Maybe because I used to be one of them and I’m not anymore, revelling doubly that I used to be isolated but managed to transcend it.
Alprose sports a 1950’s quiff with expansive bald patch. The bald patch is really the whole scalp with wisps of high thinning air at the front wafting over the top. He has a prominent fore-brow. He probably has bad breath. He speaks in those well-rounded tones we all came out of our school with. We can’t get away from it. Sometimes it’s nice to know you’re eloquent to a point, that you have a basic command of relative pronouns, know which prepositions to use where so that the eventual thing you come out with all holds together. The problem is always with the idea though, the content, the foundation and not the way it’s expressed. The problem is with a sort of disingenuousness behind the mouth, a talking for talking’s sake. I’m looking at your mouth Alprose and I’m waiting for some heart. I don’t see any heart. But I think it’s that same thing that stops him going out and letting loose on that crusty dance floor.
I didn’t dance that night either by the way But I was close, and I don’t even drink.
I have long wanted to leave London and that’s undeniable. I will go anywhere and be much much happier. And yet I stay here, disappointed. Mute almost. I stay in spite of my family (not even my very own nuclear family) and their dialling back everything to whether or not it yields money. I stay in spite of the stiff, formulaic I-don’t-even-know-what it is anymore. I say to myself its probably all in my head like everything just to try and mitigate it all. But it’s undeniable. I stay for no good reason.
I have been in bands all my life. So prevalent that it’s almost irrelevant. I have tried to contend with the internal engine of the band. I have tried my best. I have not wanted a particular role. Everyone appears to be either: leader, agreer, detractor, peace-maker. Perhaps there are really only two basic dynamics in the band, any band, for/against, going along/not going. And the reason I’m writing all of this is that I don’t want to go along or against. I mean I’m not trying to scupper the band, not unconsciously, sub-consciously, subliminally, I am not trying to make a big issue out of anything. But now there is war.
Maybe I can’t help myself.
Alprose was telling me he had heard I was good. The songs were now Wham’s I’m your Man and various Stones’ staples you can’t really dance to and Blondie and Hungry Like the Wolf and You Spin Me Right Round Baby and those old hits are undeniably good. And like I said, I half wanted to dance but I couldn’t extricate myself from his ego-stroking. Good on him for being able to do it. He wanted me in the band. But I had been happy out of a band for years. Just coming to terms with the fact that you’re never really in the band whatever you do. However much success. However well you gel or play together that Wednesday night in that cardboard rehearsal room. Even if everyone’s good and connecting . Even if everyone listens to you and values you, you are never truly a member of the band. You can ask any famous musician out there and they’ll tell you the same thing. What am I contributing by putting this downer on everything. Why can’t I just keep shtum.
Alprose is telling me I’m good and all my old band members are standing feet away. I am maligning them openly. Feeling myself back into that familiar field of victimhood. He is sympathising. He has played with them too. He has witnessed their self-interest. He sees my point of view. He plays back my gripes to me but evidently hasn’t quite got it I feel. People are always off the mark and you have to let being misunderstood go too. I want to fully let go of the idea there is something to get. But can I appeal to the older readers here? Can you ever truly do that?
Alprose sold the new band as they sell all new bands. It will be different. They don’t even play. They take a lot of breaks. It’s uber-relaxed. I was feeling revulsion for the lies. And yet in my bearing, because it’s just right to go along with the flow of it all, with that feeling in that very moment, because there’s that dichotomy all the time between thoughts and this bigger, huger all-encompassing thing you daren’t ever try to hold back from, I swallowed it.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I even felt bad talking there to Alprose, standing with our backs to the bar, standing by the bar, amongst all the over 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, amongst my former band members, amongst their wives and partners who were happy and smiling, amongst cheers and whooping, amongst all the sweat and the bottleneck heat of people pressing past me, amongst bending in and down to say something above the music into someone’s left ear. This Alprose conversation was very much part of the fabric. It wasn’t separate or shunted off. And Bug Bar is just such a shaggy, unapologetic, retro friendly place with a nice atmosphere.When I think back to it now it seems like a world away.
If anything I was rising up on this atmosphere and wanted to get away from he will never dance. I see now I was being drawn in to something that wasn’t just free and beset with complete drunken abandon. I see now that I was doing was what I always did: cowering to the idea of the band. I was being drawn down into stultifiedness just to please someone else. The genesis of the band is like fixing something with super glue and having to be careful to not fix your fingers to the bottle in the process.
The first defeat is the actual thing. The main one is when you have to write about it.
So I joined the band.
And then it was blindingly obvious - everyone’s as unhappy and blighted and muddling along as evasive, dissembling, faux-cheerful, forced-matey, everyone’s as messed up as the last one and you’re like: my god: you’re thinking: why do they bother when it must require so much effort, exert so much discomfort, be so icky and unnatural, so inauthentic, be such a burden to have to basically lie all the time. You’re thinking: my god, I was so happy before the band. I finally found out who I am, thank god. It took me the best bit of forty years. And now I have to contend with the band again and have all those things kicked up in the air again. That I cannot just respond how I want, when I want, in a way that I can trust won’t upset anyone. You’re thinking: you’re all fifty year old men. How can we propagate this band mentality. Can’t we all just come clean?
Of course you’re thinking: why do I propagate it? Why don’t I just ever fit in?