Sex, drugs – and yes …
ROCK and ROLL
… a soundtrack to a novel
New Zealand, 1998: the last throes of a turbulent century and the beginning of the fledgling digital age. (CD’s had been around since the early eighties, but only around 20% of the NZ population owned a cell-phone, google had only just been founded (September ’98), and music-focused online services like Napster, were still in the embryonic phase).
In the world of music, the once ultra-hip grunge was seemingly past its sell-by-date. Alternative Rock was the flavour of the year, but post-grunge bands were becoming increasingly popular, bands like Bush, Live, Fuel, and Foo Fighters. With my car radio tuned almost exclusively to the local Christchurch rock station, it was, by-an-large, these post-grunge heavyweights, along with some quality home-grown music, that I was regularly tuning into on my daily return drives to the city.
The great songs speak to you in the moment you’re in. A great song will rattle around your brain for weeks on end, popping up unexpectedly to define a particular mood; ameliorating – or exacerbating – critical tensions and crashing us out of the claustrophobia of our internal monologue.
Like many first novels, The last days at White Cloud Air is – to some extent – autobiographical. Here are the links to some of those great songs from 1998 featured in conjunction with excerpts from the book: a fitting soundtrack to a chaotic life.
… a stalking lizard …
We were used to a little bit of the local ganja, but this was something else. Our new friend gave up his seduction of my wife, rattled off something ostentatiously courteous and abruptly departed. I watched him striding across the sands down to the sea where he soaked his sandaled feet in the surf and raised his arms to the heavens. From the palm of his hand he gave up a large, luminous white moth which proceeded to flutter haplessly in the moonlight.
Somehow, Jenny and I got to our feet, and giggling like schoolgirls we stumbled the short distance to our beach chalet. Jenny went straight to bed in the lamplit room. I collapsed in a chair in the tiny courtyard outside the bedroom window, sucking on a bottle of beer and sinking into a semi-conscious oblivion. The moonlit moth fluttered against the glass of the windowpane; a stalking lizard crept stealthily along the ledge. Inside the room, a threatening shadow blocked out the light. I fell into a deep sleep.
Years passed. As Alex grew it became evident to me that despite my wife’s ‘native’ blood on her grandmother’s side, this olive-skinned boy with the deep brown eyes and jet-black hair, could not possibly be my son.
I never dreamt that one day I would have a family of my own, but how was it, I asked myself, I was raising the sons of other men? I donned the headphones and cranked up the music: You drink the water; I’ll drink the wine.
Dead Flowers: You drink the water, I'll drink the wine
… a nice bottle of pinot …
The great nationwide fire sale was ticking along nicely. The telephone company and the national bank had already been auctioned off to overseas companies and the national airline was rumoured to be next on the block.
At the meeting we collected our letters. I opened my envelope. “Listen to this. I’ve got an interview - for my own fucking job. Thursday at 10 a.m. immediately followed by a mandatory drugs test.”
“We’ll all have to knock off the weed,” said Vic, when the meeting had broken up. “I’ll get us some masking pills; the ones we used in the army.”
That night we all made sure we gathered extra perks to take home with us. Everything it seemed, was about to change; for the worse.
When I got home, Jenny and the children were gone. I opened a nice bottle of pinot noir I’d purloined from one of the afternoon’s flights and rolled a number. Picking-out Bush’s Razorblade Suitcase from my rack of CD’s, I selected track 5: Cold Contagious!
Razorblade Suitcase: Cold Contagious
… my adopted son’s psycho father …
I stumbled out of bed dying for a piss. The house was a bombsite. The sink was full of dishes, the washing basket overflowing, and there were children’s toys, books and clothes scattered from arsehole to breakfast. I put the kettle on and downed a couple of aspirins.
Through the kitchen window I spy a burly, uniformed figure.
“I don’t know if you heard the news this morning,” said Constable Black, “but there’s been a prison break up north. Four of them went over the wall last night and a certain John Duggan was one of them.”
“Shit, you mean Jarrod’s psycho father, right?”
“Every cop in the country is on the lookout. We’ll pick him up sooner or later.”
“Do you think he’s coming here?”
“Apparently he told his cellmate he was going to rescue his kidnapped son.”
I was running late for work so I put my foot down, the Watchmen’s Stereo blasting out over the radio.
Silent Radar: Stereo
… the macrocarpa lounge.
When we reached the back of the airport, we turned off the road and drove into the sheltered grove of trees affectionately known among airport workers as ‘the macrocarpa lounge.’ Once we checked there was no one around, we tossed the boys out of the van and on to the grass. Uncle Ron kept watch.
I placed the barrel of the gun against the boy’s temple and squeezed the trigger. The dull click confirmed that the chamber was empty.
We divvied up the spoils, such as they were. I came away with the switchblade, a pocketful of blue pills, and a handful of bullets.
I returned to my car and headed for home. I switched on the radio: “I’m DCW and this is Rattlesnake, Live on C83.”
Secret Samadhi: Rattlesnake
… a gun in your pocket?
"You won’t believe this, Danny boy. They’re putting up bloody great security gates front and back. There’s gonna be security guards on site and they’re even talking about cameras.”
I dozed off on the couch and then the phone was ringing again.
“Danny boy, it’s Kel. We’re off the hook with the bros. Big Roy’s been arrested for murder!”
“Remember that prick who let you inside the house with a gun in your pocket?”
“Big Roy’s only beaten him to death.”
I picked out a bottle of ‘Bingley Coin’ from my collection of airline wines, got necessarily stoned, and put on The Feelers’ Pressure Man. I turned up the sound and closed my eyes.
… must be those tight blue pants …
Kel backed up the truck to the front of the house while Vic broke a window, climbed inside and let us in through the front door. We took the lot: tables, chairs, paintings, books, artefacts; everything.
Two hours later, Kel’s SUV pulled up on the gravel drive outside the house. Kel stepped out of the car along with three uniformed figures.
“You know Debbie, Suzie, and Angela.”
“Of course. Aviation security’s finest. Straight from work I see.”
“Well you said you thought the uniform was sexy,” Kel said.
“Yeah, must be those tight blue pants.”
We passed the pipe, drank the beer, the wine, and the bourbon, and played the music – loud. The pulsating bass of Placebo's Pure Morning blasted out from the speakers.
Without you I'm nothing: Pure Morning
… take me far away …
Later, I lit the fire, collected the box of tapes and settled down with the rest of the bottle. Obviously, the CCTV network at the Smart man’s house was not only for external security. When I looked at some of the tapes labelled Swingers it was evident there were hidden cameras in just about every room in the house. It appeared there were two distinct gatherings; the casual after work parties which featured the boys and girls from the firm and then the more formal affairs organised for the influential men of Smart’s acquaintance.
There were scores of these parties on film and with a camera in every bedroom there was enough erotic footage to satisfy the most voracious of voyeuristic appetites.
Then there were the Seductions tapes. Jenny was by no means the only fly caught in the Smart man’s web. I picked out the tape marked Laura. She was so young, so pretty, and so desperately vulnerable. I switched off the set in disgust.
I got up, rolled a joint, put on the Foo Fighters, and let the classic, Everlong take me far away.
The Colour and the Shape: Everlong
A singer’s voice crackles over the radio.
I was suddenly, violently ill.
The empty bottle of bourbon on the mantelpiece the tell-tale culprit. I shined the torch at my reflection in the mirror. I saw a gaunt, emaciated countenance, its skin sallow beneath a prickly stubble, its shark-like eyes dull and uncomprehending. I stared transfixed until the face began to mutate into a ghastly apparition, an evil caricature of my own true self.
I tore myself away from the creature's gaze and emptied what was left from the bottom of my stomach.
I lit the remains of a joint I found in the ashtray and collapsed on to the blue velvet couch blowing smoke at the ceiling.
A singer’s voice crackles over the radio. The voice is mocking me; the Lotus is consumed.
I love this song …
“Look at you,” she remarked, “in your shades and your black leather gloves. You look like a right villain.”
“If the cap fits,” I said, fiddling with the gun in my overcoat pocket. “I’ll drive.”
“You’re scaring me again,” she chided, as I placed the gun in the glovebox on the passenger side.
We travelled the coastal route to the seaside suburb of Sumner and followed the road through the port tunnel to the harbour town of Lyttelton. We continued to follow the road as it wound its way around the bays and high up into the hills above the port.
“Almost there,” Liz said, as the road flattened out into a heavily wooded valley.
The radio news reported the sad and premature death of rock band Dragon's Marc Hunter. When they played April Sun in Cuba, Liz turned up the volume. “I love this song,” she said.
Running Free: April sun in Cuba
Some kind of psychotic hit man?
The deluge followed us south. “Christ, I’m sick of this weather,” Jenny said. I turned on the radio: “Christchurch police say two of their officers are missing and grave fears are held for their safety."
“My God,” Jenny breathed, visibly shocked. “I can’t believe it.”
“The same two cops you told me about?” I asked.
“Yes, the twins.”
“So, good riddance to bad rubbish.”
“First Duggan, then Emily, Doctor Fine, and now the cops. Who’s next, Danny?”
“How the hell should I know?”
“I think you know more than you’re letting on.”
“For chrissakes, Jenny, who do you think I am? Some kind of psychotic hit man?”
“I don’t know. Sometimes I don’t think I know you at all.”
I switched over to C83 and another Dragon classic: the highly appropriate, Rain.
Body and the Beat: Rain
… swallowed whole by the dorkland mafia …
“Keep in touch, Danny boy,” Kel said. “You should get yourself one of these,” he advised, waving his brand-new mobile phone. “Yeah,” I said, “when the devil gets his ice skates on.”
The first report came over the radio as I drove home:
“And in local news, Christchurch police are investigating the robbery of a Customs and Excise store at Christchurch Airport –” I switched over to C83:
“For those of you who haven’t heard, this is it for C83 FM. We’ve been swallowed whole by the dorkland mafia and I don’t know what that says so I’m not gonna tell you. So it’s RIP C83; goodbye from me, DCW, and just for old time’s sake here’s Big Wreck, and – That Song.”
Honourable mentions: Fuel: Shimmer, Days of the New: Shelf in the Room, Goo Goo Dolls: Iris, Everlast: What’s it Like?
What songs were you listening to in the nineties? Leave a comment below.
In loving memory of...: That Song
THE LAST DAYS AT WHITE CLOUD AIR
“I hadn’t gone there with the intention of killing him; it was the way he’d referred to my wife that had done the trick.”
New Zealand 1998. Eight years after eluding the British police, ex drug dealer Mark Mitchell has a new identity and a quiet life in a backwater Canterbury town. But when his wife is brutally attacked, Mark’s new life begins to seriously unravel.
Mark sets out for revenge, but he gets more than he bargained for when the hunt for his wife’s assailants leads to the discovery of a criminal conspiracy.
Set against the political background of the times, ‘The last days at White Cloud Air,’ is a tale of one man’s resolve in a deadly game of blackmail, extortion, and murder.