But she won’t stake her life on you / How can life become her point of view

I remem­ber my good friend David Blyth, with whom I suf­fered my only year at Auck­land Gram­mar School (why, oh why do par­ents send their chil­dren to these psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly neu­ter­ing places – I despised the place and still do), say­ing to me about a decade ago that we seemed to be a charmed bunch. Of our – at the time – tight knit group, leav­ing school in the mid-sev­en­ties, all had sur­vived more or less intact. Sure, we’d had our share of divorces and parental loss, a cou­ple of sub­stance prob­lems, but as a whole, we had sur­vived. After sec­ondary school, through Uni­ver­si­ty and in the years that fol­lowed we’d been a close group; some had drift­ed off over­seas, some had sim­ply drift­ed off, but the bond, how­ev­er, stretched it became, was some­how always there and still is. Those par­ties, week­ends, reg­u­lar road trips to Coro­man­del and extend­ed peri­ods on Wai­heke, plus the odd tan­gled intra-group rela­tion­ship, pro­vid­ed a strong, unspo­ken, per­son­al link between us.

I thought about David’s obser­va­tion the oth­er week for the first time in many years, as I flew into Bali from Kuala Lumpur. I thought about it, and it sad­dened me that it’s no longer true. What trig­gered the thought was the song Lady Grin­ning Soul, the Bowie track off Aladdin Sane, a song that is clev­er­ly wrapped around Mike Gar­son’s cas­cad­ing piano.

It’s per­haps the most ele­gant David Bowie has ever been, a lilt­ing­ly per­fect, slight­ly cyn­i­cal, love song – a per­fect song from what in ret­ro­spect, despite the fact it meant so much at the time, is prob­a­bly his most less than per­fect album from his most per­fect decade. It was a decade when he was – and please don’t try and argue this, you can’t – the most impor­tant rock’n’roll star on the plan­et; the cat­a­lyst to almost every­thing that mat­tered in the decades to come. And some that per­haps should be for­got­ten: it was a long tum­ble to the self-humil­i­a­tion of the duet of Danc­ing in the Streets with Jag­ger, only a few years into the next decade.

But that’s beside the point of this post.

She comes / she goes /she lays belief on me

That line, which opens the lyric, seemed large­ly appro­pri­ate to my thoughts, and it forced my mind back to Decem­ber 1973, when I bought that par­tic­u­lar album. Thir­ty four years ago, give or take a month or four.

That day, I for­get the exact day of the month, although the 8th seems instinc­tive­ly right, I’d tak­en deliv­ery of my first car, a red Austin 850 Mini (CZ9598), which I’d bought from my moth­er. She in turn had inher­it­ed it from her moth­er, who’d bought it new from Seabrook Fowlds in Symonds Street in 1964. That morn­ing Mum had hand­ed me the keys.

I’d tak­en my new car to my girlfriend’s house. Jane Wil­son lived in Entri­can Avenue in Remuera, and there I went, proud­ly show­ing off, what was to a boy, a major pur­chase. Nobody else in my group had their own car – to sat­is­fy the cost of it I was work­ing three shifts a week at KFC in Pan­mure to pay it off.

After manoeu­vring past Jane’s moth­er we head­ed into the city, stop­ping in New­mar­ket to pick­up a new friend, Marc Baron. David Blyth had intro­duced me to Marc. He was from Whangarei, via a board­ing school in Hamil­ton, and was new to the city. I’d met him once before, Jane had not.

Any­way, we found Marc at the gate and head­ed into the city. We were on a mis­sion. We had decid­ed to buy, with some of my KFC funds, a copy of Aladdin Sane. It had for a part of our gen­er­a­tion, become the essen­tial sound­track in recent weeks, with god knows how many peo­ple paint­ing the dis­tinc­tive light­ning stripe across their face from time to time. Odd trib­al non­sense of course, but we were kids: Tony DeFries would have been thrilled …

So, from Direc­tion Records in Queens Arcade we bought it. Direc­tion, with their shop in Dar­by Street too, were the cool kids on the record retail block. Just being in the shop made one feel like you were slight­ly more switched on than the mass­es at the EMI Sore or the like, or – god for­bid – McKen­zies’ Record Bar in Vul­can Lane. They some­times had imports; they had their own label and mag­a­zine (the very influ­en­tial Hot Licks).

We head­ed back to Jane’s place. On the way, I offered the album to her as a gift, and she pro­duced a pre-print­ed stick­er from her bag, with her name and address on it and placed it neat­ly on the back cov­er.

Exhil­a­rat­ed, I turned down Shore Road, one of the steep­er inclines in Auck­land, and as we reached the bot­tom (prob­a­bly going a lit­tle faster than we should have been) a car stopped on the left turned out into me. We spun a full 360 before slid­ing to a dizzy halt. The woman in the oth­er car got out, mak­ing accusato­ry remarks about young hood­lums as she did so, before a pass­ing police car arrived on the scene; he ascer­tained that my car was still dri­vable, but hers was not and took details and names. we then – both shak­en and stirred – drove the wob­bling Mini up the hill to David Blyth’s place, where we made the nec­es­sary phone calls and sat, wait­ing for parental judge­ment, lis­ten­ing to Aladdin Sane over and over.

The upshot was that the women, a doc­tor, tried to press charges, but the police exon­er­at­ed me and instead charged her. The Mini was repairable (and indeed became The Sub­ur­ban Rep­tiles band car some three years lat­er, before being retired by me in 1979 after falling over a cliff in Par­nell – although that wasn’t the end: it was repaired, hand­ed back to my moth­er and sur­vived in the fam­i­ly for anoth­er five years before it was sold again).

Over the next few years, things evolved. About a year lat­er, Jane ran off with Marc (giv­ing me the album back) for a short-lived fling, before she head­ed off to Lon­don to become PA to the edi­tor of Melody Mak­er (and a fan­tas­tic source of ver­ba­tim punk gos­sip, records and triv­ia cir­ca 1976/77). Marc and I became very close friends. Oh, and he also intro­duced me to a girl, Claire, whom he was try­ing, rather unsuc­cess­ful­ly, to pur­sue. A year or two lat­er a cou­ple of us formed a band with Claire as the vocal­ist.

It went around …

Marc too left for Lon­don in 1976. Auck­land was always too small for him. I didn’t see him again, that is until 1983 when I moved to the city as well. We saw each oth­er a lot, but less and less as time passed. Lon­don, and sur­viv­ing with noth­ing there, had hard­ened him quite a bit; what was a charm­ing rogu­ish­ness in 1976, was a rather unscrupu­lous hard­ness in 1983, and I didn’t like it an awful lot. That said, there was always a bond. We went togeth­er to the Lon­don Pre­miere of David’s film, and there were times when we laughed a lot and did some crazy, crazy things. Although I was some­what less amused when my driver’s licence was used with­out my per­mis­sion to hire a vehi­cle that was not returned for many days.

I saw Marc once more in the very-ear­ly 90s when he came to Auck­land and that side of him was even more evi­dent. He stayed on my couch and did some fair­ly unpleas­ant things to oth­ers rather more trust­ing than me. It hurt.

After his return to the Unit­ed King­dom, he u-turned. Marc left the city and began work­ing with hors­es in Kent (he’d been a cham­pi­on rid­er in his youth), teach­ing and, by all accounts, exor­cised the demons of the pre­vi­ous years, mak­ing amends to some he’d wronged. We spoke once on the phone after that and the change was evi­dent.

Very sad­ly, some four years ago I had anoth­er phone call, but not from Marc. In Kent, he’d had an aneurism and died instant­ly, falling, I was told, from the sad­dle. We didn’t every find a way to ful­ly rec­on­cile – that hurts too.

Jane came back to Auck­land about 1978 and I saw a bit of her, just as friends; she even­tu­al­ly mar­ried (I was invitd to the wed­ding) and had a fam­i­ly, although there was some tragedy in that. How­ev­er, she was resilient and became quite a con­trib­u­tor towards children’s health in Auck­land. I’d only seen her once in the past decade, though, in a super­mar­ket – and then my moth­er emailed me in July last year to tell me she too had passed on, this time from can­cer. I was dev­as­tat­ed.

I still think about them both and that mixed morn­ing in ’73.

Why am I writ­ing this? I don’t real­ly know why. Maybe it’s age; maybe it’s that song; maybe I feel some urge to make sure my old friends are remem­bered some­where. A search of the net finds no ref­er­ence to either per­son, which, con­sid­er­ing how much they both meant in my life makes me sad. Why should I be doc­u­ment­ed and they not?

I still have the Aladdin Sane album we bought in 1973, and it still has her name on it.

For Marc and Jane:

She comes / she goes /she lays belief on me

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