I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (1988)
By mark p
Gary had been a rebel, in his head at least, for long enough, about four years or so, and it was becoming boring.
At the ripe old age of 25, he decided that it was time for a change, as someone more famous than he had once opined in song, ‘the Times they are a’changin’.
It was time to raise his colours to the mast so to speak and return to the church his folks had dragged him along to in childhood, that of the Scottish Episcopal persuasion.
He had decided that Christianity was quite possibly cool, given that various singers and songwriters had professed to being religious or at least from a religious background, which had of course influenced their work. The latter was a slight influence, Gary would have admitted that if pushed to do so, but he was also prepared to admit that there was a higher power working in the world, and that while he wasn’t perfect, he felt that his faith was a constant struggle to be nearer saint than sinner, and that was not always easy, perhaps a work in progress would be an accurate description.
He still went drinking on Saturdays to Cameron’s and The Prince of Wales, and various music venues to see whatever bands the organisers had managed to throw on the stage. He would have five or six pints of lager and still have no hangover, though he ate mints on the way to kirk on Sunday lest his breath still reeked of the ‘demon’ drink.
Jake, one of his old school pals, had decried him as a ‘Bible Basher’ to others, but never to Gary’s face, which was a bit sad given that Gary despite his beliefs, had never come over sanctimonious or judgemental about anyone or thing, but then that was Jake for you, opening his mouth and spouting ill -thought out statements before engaging his brain.
The nearest Jake got to God was his mistaken impression that he was God’s gift to women.
Jake had an unfortunate predilection for dressing in black and an unhealthy obsession with Nazi imagery, he liked the style and smartness of it, he said.
He kept his dyed blond hair razor cut in a flattop style and scalped himself ‘down to the wood ‘on a regular basis.
He liked to think that he resembled one of the figures in propaganda posters, who posed with their heads turned aside whilst carrying flags, those who Hitler believed his followers to be, like himself, one of the ‘Master-Race’, whatever that meant. Jake was always battering on about it, it was almost his substitute for religion in a secular existence.
Later that year, Jake was ‘jumped’ on his drink fuelled walk home from one of his favourite night spots, he was at a loss as to why this happened , but if he had looked in the mirror, he would have seen the reason staring right back at him, the very fact that he was wearing a full length leather coat and jackboots, not to mention the ‘Bundeswehr’ vest with the emblem of the twin headed eagle thereon, and resembled a Nazi officer! He approached Gary sheepishly with dried blood staining his unshaven face, Gary wasn’t sure if he was expecting any sympathy, but his Christian charity, his caritas, was wearing thin for someone who was really the author of his own misfortune. The very fact he didn’t report this to the police spoke volumes!
One day at Jake’s house, he pointed out a picture of Allen Ginsberg to Gary, he’s one of your lot, the Beat Generation, he bloody looks like your old man, what with his shirt and tie and tweed jacket.
I thought you said the Beats were rebels, not establishment guys wearing suits and ties!
Gary countered this by saying that rebellion had nothing to do with the clothes you wear, it was what you thought and how you conducted yourself, what was in your head and heart rather than on the outside!
Everyone was ‘establishment’ in Jake’s opinion, but the laugh was that he was no more rebel than fly in the air! He claimed never to have voted, that he was apolitical, but why was that, his inability to decide or his perceived anti- everything, so-called subversive stance, he had held onto since leaving school? Gary’s Mum had expressed her doubts about Jake way back when he and Gary were still at school, she had deemed him to be ‘odd’ and ‘eccentric’, and she was spot on. To be honest Gary had recently thought that he would be better off without Jake as a friend. When the Piper Alpha disaster happened earlier in the year, he complained about not being able to sleep as the helicopters were coming and going at the Infirmary all night, it was typical of Jake to think like this, 167 men had lost their lives in the worst offshore disaster for many years, and here he was moaning about his lack of sleep. How selfish and insensitive could you get? His folks’ house backed on to the infirmary so they were used to the noise of helicopters, one would have thought! What’s more, he was someone who was always scrounging money, alcohol, and so on and so forth. He would, in the words of Gary’s Dad, make a saint swear. Jake was allegedly going to college, university or at least some institution of further education, the details of which were always rather sketchy, when he was pressed about it. One way or another Jake would be off, leaving Aberdeen, into his version of the Big Wide World, maybe the Big Weird World would be more appropriate! This could only be a good thing. Gary wouldn’t have to make excuses for his mate anymore. He had been an embarrassment back in 1984-85, when nicking freshly poured pints off the bar, professing that he had no money with him, and he would pay the amount back tomorrow! ‘Minesweeping’ was what he called it, theft would be more accurate. Gary would be off speaking to and flirting with Justine who sported her black newly crimped Siouxsie-ish hair, while her mates who were as Gothic looking, staggered around laughing and joking. Jake had just been an embarrassment, he would tell everyone how he had been brought up in the west end of the City and was, in his humble opinion, well-spoken, not posh, and how he kept his weight down by playing lots of football and drinking lots of water. This of course was rubbish, but Gary, like his Dad before him, kept a dignified silence on that subject. He had kept lots of dignified silences about Jake over the years since school.
Paul his other school pal had drifted out of touch, he frequented wine bars and wore a jacket and tie when he went out, he even went out for meals with colleagues, never friends, always colleagues, as if his work had taken over the role that his family and friends once had. Back in 1985, he still came out regularly with his old mates Gary and Jake, but now he was moving in other, more affluent circles, those in which oil rich Americans moved. Paul worked for an oil company in Aberdeen and though he was only a mail clerk, he talked as if he ran the company, he spoke of his senior American colleagues on first name terms and as if his salary and lifestyle, that of a ‘yuppie’ were compatible to theirs.
It was inevitable that they would all drift apart anyhow, as when it all came down to it, they just had their schooldays in common, and precious little else.
Gary had become increasingly aware of Paul’s materialism, his greed for more and more money, for a better car, better house and so on. Paul wasn’t even married but lived in a huge house outside the City which was more like a family house that one for a bachelor. He boasted about having a bar in his front room, but Gary wasn’t impressed, wasn’t there something in the Bible about the love of money being the root of all evil? Paul seemed a lot more egotistical since he was earning so much, he was always having a go at everyone else as he perceived them as unsuccessful. What would happen if the oil ever ran out and there was maybe an end to the good fortune perpetuated by the so-called ‘black gold’?
Meantime, Gary rekindled his love of singing and re-joined the church choir, he loved church music (something he had kept inside for some time) and had been a boy soprano back in the early 70s. He now sang bass, along with two of his Dad’s old mates and was really in his element when singing the bass part to ‘Bread of Heaven’ or ‘Hills of The North Rejoice’. There was a lot to be said for the words in some of the hymns, they were poetry if truth be told. It made him think of the music of Van Morrison, which occasionally had a hymnal, mystical feel to it. Like Van he would find himself ‘In Haunts of Ancient Peace’ when he was in the church and singing, perhaps losing himself in a psalm or mass setting, like Van also he sometimes even wore a tweed jacket, which also reminded him of Ginsberg’s jacket in the picture Jake had.
Gary’s job still did his head in, but he had knuckled down a bit in the last year or so, and things were looking better, Justine was just a memory of years ago, in what he would come to consider his ‘rebel years’. Justine had gone to pastures new workwise two years back and the rumour was that she was married with a couple of kids and living in Lincolnshire .He was never interested in being part of the ‘in-crowd’ and shunned any invites to nights out. He worked hard and tried not to let the office politics and bitching of colleagues get him down. The bosses from years back had moved on to better positions in different departments, left the ‘service’ as it was known, ‘under a cloud’, and in some cases had died. Maybe finding God was a good thing, Gary had been getting sick of getting drunk for the sake of it at the weekends and maybe the fact that he was a member of a church would keep him on the ‘straight and narrow’ so to speak.