By Jude O'Flynn
(Chapter 4 of the formerly-known-as 'Crazy Diamond')
Before we arrived, the college sent us a list of books to read in the summer, including two Norton anthologies. These are huge doorstops made of Bible paper, otherwise known as emergency rizla material. I managed to get through a few pages of Chaucer but not in the way I was meant to. There are a few fag burns in the second anthology but at least I can say that it’s literally holy, and it means I have fewer words to read. Not that I’ll ever read them. I’m on the BEd English Literature with Education Studies course and I’m starting to question why. I doubt I’d be a good teacher and all I remember about my English A-level is being bored by Keats and Shakespeare. I think I might get into bother if I tell anyone here that Shakespeare is over-rated, but it isn’t compulsory to like anyone. I should know, as I don’t have any friends, unless you count Mad (Fuc)King George. So, here I am in HMV, and I am reading, though the text is Q magazine. I’m getting well into an article about REM when there's a tap on my shoulder.
‘Excuse me mate, this isn’t a library.’ I look up to see the name-badged jobsworth. In fairness, I have created a cosy nook for myself with my coat and the gap between two walls of CDs.
‘Oh, this isn’t the library? But I asked someone for the directions to the University Library and they sent me here.’
‘Just get out or pay for the magazine, OK?’ A couple of girls are giggling at my expense.
‘No thank you. I’ve read most of it anyway,’ and I put the magazine back where I found it and hurry out of the shop. The paleness soon returns and I try to remember why I came into town. Oh yes: books. But the jobsworth has put me in a foul mood, so I start to think about my set list for open mic night. I can’t sing and I can barely play guitar, but it’s statistically certain that there will be females in the audience. Hmm…’Mr Tambourine Man’ is three chords and everyone’s sure to have heard it. Mind you, it is a bit old, and I don’t want everyone to think that I’m not up to speed with modern trends. And I don’t want anyone to ever hear me utter the words ‘not up to speed with modern trends’, for there more humiliation lies. What am I going to play that is easy, modern, unanimously popular, and a gateway into other people’s hearts and beds? Whilst Coldplay aren’t deemed to be the most cutting-edge band, I haven’t heard a bad word said about ‘Yellow’, and it doesn’t sound too complicated for me to learn in a few hours. But done by me, it would probably sound like an homage to jaundice, so it’s off the shortlist already. ‘Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely’ by Backstreet Boys would win points for being a departure from the stodgy indie that others will surely perform on the night, though the title is too uncomfortably autobiographical for me to sing it without weeping in public. Likewise, ‘All the Small Things’ by Blink-182. Something a little bit older, perhaps? ‘Creep’? Nope, would only confirm the perception that I am one. What am I going to play? I endure this tussle until, as I approach the entrance to college, I have an idea that I accept with reluctance: I could ask George for help. I only have the afternoon to practise at least one song and he’s the only person I properly know here. On the way to halls, I see Rory enthusiastically telling a group of students what an amazing person he is. His eyes are stupidly wide and he’s holding his arms apart. I presume he’s giving an estimation of the size of his bookshelf and not his cock. Anyway, I get back ‘home’ and thankfully it doesn’t sound like anyone’s being stabbed. I knock on George’s door and keep my hands out of my pockets just in case I need a prompt shield. Pause. The door opens.
‘Hi. Can I come in?’
‘If you must.’
He’s still wearing that daft scarf. Maybe it’ll come in handy one day when I have to strangle him in self-defence. But I can’t let such thoughts write themselves on my face, as I need a favour from him, so for now it’s bend-over-backwards politeness.
‘Are you going to the open mic tonight?’ George is sitting on the chair by his desk. He hasn’t offered me a seat but I won’t mention this.
‘You know I’m not going, so why are you even asking?’
‘Well, I am, and I was actually thinking of performing.’
‘Good for you.’
‘Yes, but I don’t know what songs to play. In fact, I’d just like to play one song. Maybe, if it goes well, I could do another gig.’
‘Gig? Who do you think you are?’
‘Well,’ – must remain polite, must remain polite – ‘that’s kind of the point. I was thinking of writing my own song…’
‘Fantastic! I’m sure that’ll be so well-received. Because there aren’t thousands of much better songs to choose from, are there?’
‘Yes, but I can’t decide on one, so rather than do a terrible cover version, I thought I may as well do my own. Won’t do any harm.’ I cross my arms to signify that I’ve made my mind up, whilst also keeping them relatively free to protect myself against attack by this judgemental lunatic.
‘Won’t cause any harm? Except to everyone’s ears!’
Argh, the hypocrisy! ‘You’re one to talk, with your screaming track!’ and I unfold my arms and curl my fingers. He opens a drawer and pulls out…a pen and notepad.
‘Fine! I’m bored of reading Shelley anyway. We’ll jot down some song titles first,’ and that’s exactly what we do for an hour, except this involves going that one step further: potential names of songs and artist names. Here’s what we come up with:
Hitchcock Cameo – It's All Gone Metric
Power Station – Take the A Road
Sufficiently Rhythmical – Belle Epoque
Fake Triplets – Borrowing Good Practice
The British Society for Nursery Rhyme Reform – Human Bingo
‘So, let’s see which one I like best…’ I hate all of them. ‘…That’s the one for me!’ I say with all the forced emotion of someone who’s just been told that their big Christmas present is a pair of grey socks. ‘The third one.’ We need to write the song now and we’ve already wasted an hour. We waste another hour writing awful lyrics.
‘I’m not sure about these.’
‘What? You’re not trying to get a recording contract, are you? Do you really think an A&R man is going to be there waiting to sign up hot talent? It’s a bloody two-hour filler before everyone’s minds collapse in on themselves until the next day of drinking!’ George is getting wound up again so I should bring this to a close.
‘OK, OK. We haven’t even written the music yet and I need to rehearse it.’
‘Do you know any chords?’
‘Yes, A and E, which is convenient, given that this song is an absolute car crash waiting to happen.’
‘Very good. And obviously you’ll need a topline. Just borrow the phrasing of a couple of recent hits and you’ll be done.’
‘Thanks, George. You might as well hear the song. Socialise – you might enjoy yourself.’
‘How would I possibly enjoy myself listening to your shit song?’