Excerpt

This is Memorial Device

David Keenan

February 21, 2018 
The following is from David Keenan's novel, This is Memorial Device. A fictional oral history, the book follows misfits and musicians in 1970s western Scotland. At the center of it all is Memorial Device, a post-punk band of hard-partying visionaries. David Keenan is a Scottish music journalist and the author of England’s Hidden Reverse: A Secret History of the Esoteric Underworld.

Findlay and Alan were brothers and they lived with their parents, who were teachers, in Kenilworth Drive, just up from the old Kenilworth Hotel. They were eccentric kids. At the age of fourteen Findlay subscribed to Newsweek and Alan was a practising magician who, he claimed, had been initiated into a coven of witches that practised out of Katherine Park at night. Plus they both wore tracksuits with the bottoms pulled right up to their nipples. We were into comics; science fiction; war gaming; role playing; stuff like that. But then we started getting into music. It was Duncan who turned us on. His brother had some albums by The Ramones as well as the most amazing collection of heavy metal albums I have ever seen. Back then he must have had at least thirty LPs. When we would go round to hang out with Duncan, whose parents lived in the flats behind The Kings Cafe on the main street, we would sit in his brother’s room, which was completely wallpapered with pages from Sounds and NME and which had a snooker table in the middle and a permanently unmade bed with socks everywhere and cigarette stubs and which was always dark and creepy and grown up and we would play records and have games of snooker and paint lead figures or plan our next trip into Glasgow, which might as well have been the end of the world.

Duncan’s dad was unfortunately an alcoholic. Although he had a good job as the manager of a department store in Shettleston he refused to spend good money on anything except booze so the house was always in a state. There were bare bulbs in every room. I always remember the living room, which had a row of birthday cards on the window ledge from three years previous. His dad would drink at The Tavern, just across from Katherine Park—it’s long gone now, don’t try to look for it—and he would cycle there and back and once when I was doing my paper round I saw him cycle right into a hedge when he was half-cut. He would come home while we were playing records in the evening and we would hear him coming up the stairs shouting and cursing and Duncan would act embarrassed and say that his dad was pretending to be drunk again. He would pretend that he was just having a laugh and that it was all a big joke on his mother. I felt sorry for him. Duncan’s mother was Jewish and they had a combative relationship. Duncan bought a PLO T-shirt and when he put it in the laundry his mum said that she wouldn’t wash any of his clothes until he removed it, which he refused to do, so it was a constant stalemate and it meant that Duncan always stank as he had to keep taking the same dirty clothes out of the basket and wearing them all over again, which were normally skintight Adidas T-shirts and drainpipe denims.

It all changed when we discovered psychedelics. It was this guy called Scott who was kind of notorious on the scene; a heavy dealer. His nickname was Sore Arse because he had a series of operations on his arse for some syndrome or other so that’s how everyone referred to him. He got kind of friendly with us; he was into Tolkien and John Norman, the Gor books, all that sort of stuff. You couldn’t film those Gor books, he would say, those books would be triple-X in the cinema, it just isn’t possible. Then he would light a joint, with his shades on and his greasy hair, and we would stare at him like he was an oracle from the future; an oracle with a penis. Shit, I would think. This guy is on the edge. I’m holidaying in Erotica this year, he would say, and he would wink, and we wouldn’t even get it. But the point is he began dangling the idea of tripping in front of us. We came to psychedelics from the side on, in a way; kind of by accident. We went from superhero and fantasy stuff to underground comics, you know like Robert Crumb and Zap, stuff that you would hide under your bed in case your mum saw it. But expanding our minds, hell yeah we were all for that; we lived in our minds, the more room the better.

On the night of the first trip everyone met up at my mum’s house in Caldercruix. I had an empty. We sat in the living room and Duncan put on a Devo record and we each took half a tab to be safe. After a while I saw the curtains wobble a little and there was a drum break on the record that seemed to last forever but that was about the size of it. I heard a rumour that the batch had been cut with strychnine but I tried to keep my thoughts somewhere else even as I had to fight the idea of picking up the phone and asking Sore Arse if everything was okay. Findlay lay on the couch reading that book that Truffaut wrote about Hitchcock; this is back when Findlay was attending the cinema three times a day, crazy about films; a real nutcake. Suddenly I got this huge bulge in my pants; I thought I was going to explode. All I wanted to do was wank off; it was overwhelming. It felt like life was pulsing through me. I could feel the head bulging out, the skin peeling back. I went into the bathroom and dug up my stash of porno mags which I used to hide beneath a loose floorboard under the bath.

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Expanding our minds, hell yeah we were all for that; we lived in our minds, the more room the better.”

 

Her name was Ginny; I still remember her. She was lying with her legs spread on the bed with one hand holding onto the brass bedhead while wearing stockings and next to her this panty drawer was open and spilling over with lingerie. Oh my god, I said to myself. I looked between her legs and it was like two worlds colliding and it was like lingerie was the highest pinnacle of civilisation; everything we had been fighting for; in Gor and in Middle-earth and in reality. It was a profound moment of worship and afterwards I walked back through to the living room and it was like walking onto the command deck of a spaceship. I told them how great it was, that they should try masturbating on acid, and one by one—all except Findlay—they took their turn in the bathroom so that the magazine was soaked right through and I had to wrap it in a plastic bag and throw it in the bin in the morning. After that it was inevitable that we would form a band.

None of us could play a thing except for Alan who was a piano virtuoso and who had written a book on the history of minimalism when he was fifteen years old and then just stashed it in a cupboard; but we weren’t looking for technique and besides he was one of these guys that could play from a score fine but who couldn’t improvise to save his life. We were all like that, in a way. So we hit on this idea. Duncan’s dad had an endless supply of mannequins that he used in the windows of his store on the Baillieston Road. We decided to make tapes and then organise this show where we would have mannequins dressed up like us, like schoolboys, basically, but looking like rock stars, holding instruments and with wigs on, and we would play tapes of our music behind them like it was a gig. We came up with a name. At first it was Shooting Gallery; then Credible Ring; then Chinese Moon. We called up some bars, got the names of some clubs, but as soon as we explained what we wanted to do they hung up or refused or made some lame excuse. There was only one option. We said to Duncan, ask your dad if we can set up a window display. We’ll dress the mannequins and record these tapes and have a musical window in Shettleston. It was like an installation, but a gig too, even though we could go and watch it ourselves. His dad didn’t care, he said yes, he was drunk but he was a loving father, as far as I could see, even though Duncan felt embarrassed and obviously at home things were a bit strained.

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Everyone got to dress their dummy according to their tastes and personalities. Mine had an eyepatch and a khaki jumper with elbow pads and a pair of beige trousers and brown slip-on shoes and a black guitar—a Les Paul copy, it was all I could afford—and with this long black synthetic hair hanging down. Alan was on drums and he looked like a blue flame; his mannequin had all this make-up on, turquoise eyeliner and blue hair styled in an outrageous art-school quiff like Bryan Ferry on the first Roxy Music album but with a blazer and with grey trousers; it was like someone had set his head on fire or run it against sandpaper and his schoolboy mind had exploded. Findlay just looked like himself and he was the creepiest in a way; a blue tracksuit and a blonde bob and an exaggerated mouth holding a microphone like it was a gun he had just shot himself with. Duncan’s mannequin had a black boiler suit with military tags and he was wearing one of those furry Russian hats with a red star and a sickle on the front with this artificial hair hanging down and with painted nails and a bass guitar like a Flying V that he had made out of cardboard and that had a speaker built into the middle of it attached to a rack of Walkmans that would just keep looping the same few tracks so that the music was muted through the window when you walked past and sounded like it was under water; like we were playing drowned in a lit-up aquarium in the middle of the night in Shettleston. The window ran for about a week but then the store owner got a sniff of it and ordered it closed down. Still: what a week. In my memory it seems to stretch all the way across the summer of 1983 and I can still see it now as we approached it in the early hours of the morning; the golden light coming from the window and spilling over the pavement like a perfect dream and then hearing the music as you approached, low, with shouts of people from streets away in the background and the occasional taxi flashing past; and then walking up to it and seeing ourselves, suddenly, or our chosen representatives, more like, in this world and the next, in a way, like it was one step towards immortality or forgetfulness or whatever you want to call it; and the music was good, it was like the sound you hear when you wake up in the night and for a brief moment you are a receiver, like you have forgotten your role as a human being and for one second you catch this strange, high tone, this tone that is communicating on a level that you can only tune into in certain states; and as I looked at the window and heard this long, sustained tone, this slow off-kilter drum beat, I thought to myself, when I die let me wake up here, let me reincarnate into this picture; let me live in this moment forever.

Although we only lasted for a week—and to tell you the truth we had never thought of anything happening beyond that—we generated a lot of interest. People started to get in touch, enquiring inside the store, which is part of the reason it got shut down, I believe: too many crazies got wind of it that had no money to spend on menswear or the summer’s latest styles. Luckily Duncan’s dad was taking names and forwarding letters—he was very supportive in that way, almost to the point of embarrassment—and so very quickly we became part of this nexus of creative people and weirdos and freaks; which suited us to a T. I got letters from artists obsessed by body parts; a dominatrix; strange reclusive homosexuals; a professor studying robotics at Coatbridge College; people with fantasies about phantom limbs; amputees; lonely CB radio hams . . . but the letter that was the most interesting was from Lucas Black from Memorial Device.

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From This is Memorial Device. Used with permission of Faber & Faber. Copyright © 2017 by David Keenan.




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