Hellraiser

Nelson Stanley has recently moved house, and now resides opposite the biggest graveyard in his town. It is, he tells us, quite the nicest thing one could wish to wake up to in the mornings. He has written rock journalism, interviews with authors, book and magazine reviews and his short fiction has been published by Wicked Hollow, Trunk Stories, and on the website www.fishnetmag.com. He has no pets, hardly any hobbies, and really doesn't like talking about himself in the third person, because "it makes me feel like there's someone else in the room".

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This is about a girl.

We saw the Smashing Pumpkins in Manchester; wrapped around each other, a tiny space of calm in the middle of the biggest moshpit I've ever seen while on stage four junkies wrestled enormous walls of feedback and distortion whilst a bald six-foot-tall Goth screamed in an impossibly effeminate, feline voice about angels and honey, bullets and butterfly wings, all for the last time.

 

Later, numb and shell-shocked from standing too close to the arena's speaker stacks she forced her tongue down my throat... The next thing I remember Jimmy Melvoin, the Pumpkins' keyboard player, had filled himself up with so much smack his heart stopped beating, left this world twitching and turning blue in a New York gutter while the rain washed the sidewalk.

That wasn't the first time, of course.

The first time I saw her was at the gig the Screaming Trees did at Kings Cross Water Rats, just before one of the brothers in the band became a recluse and the other one got locked up for punching out some other redneck in a bar somewhere. Mark Lanegan had his hair long -- down to his fucking knees -- and he looked like a hybrid of US Marine Corps Sergeant and a smack-and-Jack addled grizzly bear, but he sang to us in his great deep ugly bruise of a voice while I kissed her full upon the lips, the music like a chrome funeral cortege rolling endlessly down a velvet road. She slipped her hand inside my jeans in the middle of the dance-floor; I came as the guitars kicked in on the last chorus of Dollar Bill. I felt like the luckiest man alive.

The dates and bands blur in a swirl of feedback, a coil of smoke from one last joint, a maelstrom of overpriced lager falling from polystyrene cups like rain, a sea of sweating black-clad bodies.

Reading Festival, 1992: pogo-ing fifty feet from Kurt Cobain in a dress, as he directed the crowd from his wheelchair to shout "Fuck off" over the chorus to Smells Like Teen Spirit. When, eighteen months later, Kurt decided to add twenty-gauge Magnum shotgun rounds to his diet, I was getting kind of twitchy.

 

Believe it or not, we cried each other to sleep that night. Part of the world didn't really die that day, of course. That was just the day my generation realised that it was exactly like its reluctant poster boy: pathetic and doomed.

We stood at the front of the crowd for Blind Melon at the old Hammersmith Apollo, on the Soup tour. Their Byrds-y jangling stuck in some people's craw, but to us Shannon Hoon sounded like a scalded Janis Joplin. He moved around the stage with an endearing, puppyish lack of grace, and No Rain made every fucker in the house cry. Two weeks later Hoon was face down on his tour-bus, having ingested the equivalent of Bolivia's national debt in uncut cocaine.

She was with me when I saw Alice in Chains play their first gig in London, which was, correct me if I'm wrong, at the Borderline in Camden Lock; Layne Stayley was so far gone Jerry Cantrell had to sing vocals, Stayley clinging to the microphone as if he feared that he'd be swept away, barely able to shadow the guitarist on the choruses, sounding like the ghost he was. The venue itself smelled like all the others, of course: Lambert and Butler and sweat and old piss, but it got so fucking hot in there condensation poured down the walls like something from a Fellini film and Tony on the door sold Mitsies for five quid a pop, so that was all right.

Cut.

The years swirl in a spiral down the plug-hole. You ride them out the best you can, and then you look around one day and it's been years since anyone died, so you breathe a little easier, start to relax. Things slip back.

In 2002 Layne Stayley died. It took two weeks for them to find his corpse after he'd speed-balled himself to an early grave; by that time his skin had taken on an uneasy greenish tint and the apartment reeked of shit and rotting flesh. The only thing missing to complete the picture was a dachshund feasting on the lonely corpse.

Back then I was living, for want of a better word, on the second floor of a boarded up 1920s house that had been empty since the police chased the crack-heads and the whores out that summer. A Danish hippy chick named Mia lived across the hall, four feet of blonde hair streaming down her back and a penchant for long-sleeved kaftans, her eyes magnified behind enormous black-rimmed spectacles that looked like they'd been drawn on her face with a permanent marker. An old guy named Roy lived in the loft and sang himself to sleep at night with old Irish folk songs and purple cans of Tennants Super. When it got cold frost crystals grew silently along the inside of the windows until the glass looked like a lattice of spider's webs. The whole house smelled of lentil curries and cheap hashish, and we were happy for a time.

I had the radio on while making breakfast. As soon as I heard the news broadcast, I rushed into the lounge to tell her. She had been there a moment before, but now was gone. I walked from room to room; she seemed to fill it, her presence delineated by the thousands of gig tickets plastering the walls, the cardboard boxes we used for furniture, the dead flowers in the vase in the kitchen, the works littering the sofa. But she was gone.

I look at all that she left me: the scars spidering up my wasted arms, the ghosts of a thousand muddled dreams. And I cry, for I shall miss her.

 

 

(C) Nelson Stanley 2004

 

 

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