Authors: Gwyneth Jones
Copyright © Gwyneth Jones 2003, 2009
Frontispiece © Bryan Talbot
All rights reserved
The right of Gwyneth Jones to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in Great Britain in 2003 by
An imprint of the Orion Publishing Group
Orion House, 5 Upper St Martin’s Lane,
London WC2H 9EA
Second impression 2004
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library
ISBN 0 575 07470 1 (cased)
ISBN 0 575 07471 X (trade paperback)
Typeset by Deltatype Ltd, Birkenhead, Merseyside
Printed in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Jo Fletcher, Malcolm Edwards, Nick May, Bryan Talbot and Anne Sudworth, and my agent, Anthony Goff. Thanks to Peter Gwilliam and Gabriel Jones for full life support, to Stan Robinson and Karen J. Fowler for Californian hospitality, and to many other Californians who took the time to talk to me. Thanks to the community of Darwin, Inyo County, for standing in as Lavoisier; and to the Viridian Pope-Emperor for more information than you would believe possible. Grateful acknowledgement to the master filmmakers, especially John Huston and Ingmar Bergman, and to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, for a roadmovie soundtrack. This book is dedicated to all those who burn the Midnight Lamp.
For full credits, lists, pictures, anecdotes and the annotated
A rock is a rock, a tree is a tree,
Shoot it in Griffith Park
Sam Goldwyn (attrib)
Thanks for lunch, thanks for the green light, and you want something in writing. This is not a pitch. I don’t do pitches. I want to tell you a story. Have patience if I ramble.
In the beginning there was the crash, (which is my Big Bang, I cannot know what was before). Over here, our problems were and remain plain old economic. Anyone over twenty five thinks the price of gas is a crime against humanity, and poor people try to club you to death as you scurry from your cab into the airport. In Western Europe it went into a runaway chain reaction. They had penniless crash victims, mom and pop types included,
of them, turned nomadic, wandering around like lemmings. They had the anti-capitalist, anti-GM, pro-Gaia, pro-paganism, magic-murky, Save Our Planet thing growing into a monster
movement: shaping up to be the green nazis. They had lootin’ and a shootin’ and mad dog migrants from the poisoned lands. Governments fell. Armed forces and teachers and other useful persons just upped and quit. That’s the bgd.
Then the story begins. It’s the story of the man who would be king. He’s called Ax Preston. He was recruited, along with several other rather amazing people, to what the British government called their Countercultural Think Tank. He was a guitarist, at the time, with a chipper little band called the Chosen Few from Taunton, Somerset (=
in the sticks). He was twenty six. Next thing you know there was a blood-spattered coup, a veritable massacre in one of the royal parks, and Ax and his pals were hostages of the deranged hippie regime that had taken over England. They were kid rock musicians. One minute they were dreaming of a record deal, next thing, they were doused in the blood of revolution. But they were patriots. Ax told them they could use the music, and turn the awful situation round. And they did it! The catalogue of disasters that they beat would be unbelievable except it was all part of the same thing: collapse of the card house. It took Ax two years. When he was twenty eight he was the ruler of England, by the will of the people. I want to tell the story of how that happened. Ax Preston is a phenomenon of our times. I want to show him making hedonism and free will work, in a tsunami of brutish violence. But what makes it
is that it was all done with the music.
Ax would be king: but there’s more. There’s Fiorinda, the scary-smart babe-rocker with the abusive megastar dad. There’s Sage Pender, aka Aoxomoxoa, who needs no introduction. (Okay, you twisted my arm: introducing Sage. He’s the demon techno whose very existence
my youth. He’s regarded as the Antichrist, in many parts of the USA. He invented immersion code. He’s God, in my opinion). There’s the relationship between these three, which is very slippery. Suffice it to say, the guys compete like wolverines disputing a kill, they share the girl and that’s not all they share. I love it when beautiful guys love each other passionately, but they’re not gay (this is not a proposition, btb). It’s very rock and roll, very glamorous and it gives me an immense Jungian thrill, a masculine romance
with girls in it
And with guitar!
No, we’re not going to go into what happened to them last summer. Nor what’s happening in England now. I want to end on a note of valedictory glory, a triumph that foreknows its fall, a sense that great deeds are evanescent as a dream, and that’s the way greatness should be. The Japanese have a word for it, Bushido. Ax’s England blossomed and died, it was brief and perfect.
I’m sending you
, Ax’s only solo album, and not easy to get, even tho’ the fucking data quarantine has supposedly given up trying to isolate us from European Revolutionary Culture. (I’ve sent them, they’re on this letter, just press and play). You also have to hear the Aoxomoxoa and the Heads mix of
, which came about because one day Sage said to Ax, the reason why Jimi Hendrix is not revered like Beethoven, is because the mass market has to be turned on to something or it doesn’t survive, and you can’t dance to ‘Little Wing’. It is
It explains our whole global culture.
Please Marsh, let me make this movie in style, no scrimping, c’mon, c’mon. It’s surefire, fantastically good looking, and the best idea I ever had.
Yours, most respectfully and sincerely,
Enrico Ernesto Fortunato Curtis-Lopez de la Concha
It’s not a problem. I know he hasn’t returned a call since he resigned. I’m onto it. I can get hold of him. Don’t ask me how, because I can’t tell you, just trust me. Mr Preston is coming to Hollywood. It can be done, it will be done. I have an offer he can’t refuse, right here in my pocket.
On a beach on the Pacific coast of Baja, Mexico, two small boys were exercising the tourist-horses. Shore birds in bewildering variety played chicken with the waves, racing in and out above their reflections in the wet sand; over the dunes a turkey vulture coasted on broad black wings. All else was lost in a shining, opalescent haze. Into this stainless world there came a young woman, emerging from the mist as a stick-thin figure with a raggedy cloud of red hair, yellow suntan that gave up at the base of her throat, and an expression of dogged, mutinous calm. The boys galloped towards her, shouting in Spanish as they drew level, did she want a ride? ‘No!’ she shouted back, in English. ‘Not now, and not the other fifty times you asked me.’ The boys laughed, the big brown horses danced on the spot, wheeled around and thundered away.
Fiorinda continued her promenade, noting sandpipers, sanderlings, busy little dunlins, elegant terns, whimbrels, dowitchers and curlews; ooh, possibly a marbled godwit. The mist, parting ahead of her, disclosed three fishermen in shortie dry suits and parkas, hauling on a net. A handful of flip-flopping things glittered in the long expanse.
Plenty more fish in the sea
, she thought, is a concept to bemuse the children of this century.
Ideas and memories rose up and fell away like the spindrift. The pale sweep of the sands reminded her of Tyne and Wear, the cold north east coast of England, where she had found friends, acceptance, a reason for living; after she’d escaped from her hateful childhood. This beach at the end of the Western World was more beautiful and more desolate: and there went the pelicans, one, two, eight…fourteen of them today, in stately procession just above the blunt sawteeth, out where the ocean turned navy blue and solid. South in the morning, north in the evening, regl’r as clockwork. What do they do down there, she wondered? When I’ve lived here for a thousand years, I’ll take my shoes and follow them. But now she’d reached the upturned, derelict fishing boat which marked the end of her habitual stroll. She sat down in its shelter, and rubbed her cold bare toes.
So here I am back in the modern world, after seven years in fairyland. Traffic fumes, cable tv, air travel, internet connections, swimming pools, movies—and everything that happened to us vanishes like a dream. It must have been a dream. Our Crisis was real, part of the Global-Economic-Meltdown, but my boyfriend, my guitar-man with the delusions of responsibility for
everything in the world, ever
, was never the king of England. My father didn’t rip Sage to pieces, on the beach at Roaring Water Bay.
She debated with herself whether Ax had been celebrity enough to be a terrorist target, whether he’d really spent a year as the hostage of a drug cartel (bunch of crazies) in the Yucutan; and decided maybe yes, because here she was in Mexico, and she distinctly remembered the big aeroplane (first time she’d been on a big plane in her life). So Ax had made his deposition in Mexico City, and here they were on the Baja, very broke, having wandered across Mexico because Sage remembered surfing on this coast, long ago. There was no surf at this season. No swimming, because the water was ice cold. No scenery, and April weather like a chilly Spring in Margate, except for the fearsome UV.
But here they had come to rest.
Were we really the leaders of the Rock and Roll Reich? Did we hold all England, and then the whole world itself, in the palm of our eager, scrawny, calloused, Indie-musician hands?
Nah. That’s a nonsense story.
The flank of the old boat had sucked heat from the fierce morning sun, it was warm against her spine though the air was cold. She leaned back, with a sigh of deliberate content. A glimpse, out of the corner of her eye, forced itself on her attention. She must turn her head. She must see a crumpled heap lying on the sand, which had been smooth a moment before. It was her green and white kimono, which she’d worn the night she gave herself to the dead man, in trade for her friends’ lives. She was sure that gown had been burned, but there it was, large as life, sand clogging the skirts. The sight of it made her feel as if someone was pouring concrete down her throat.