Three nineteen-year-olds: an Indian, a German and an African ´prince´, thrown together by fate, share a tiny Soho apartment in hippie London. There they enjoy their music and new found freedom until prejudice, the drug mafia, the Secret Service and the Summer of Love ruins it for them.
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Al Gromer Khan spent his early years in a small village in western Bavaria, in London, and later in Morocco and India. After seven years of study of Indian music, he began to develop his own compositional style. He has produced more than fifty music albums with contemplative new world music since 1980. From 1990 he wrote and produced radio broadcasts for various National Radio stations. In 2015 he was awarded the Tagore Cultural Prize. This is his fourth novel. He lives with his wife in Munich.
Al Gromer Khan
Kurt and Bongo
and the Hippies
Weiglstr. 12 ◦ D-80636 München
Copyright © Al Gromer Khan 2017 & Publisher
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher except in the case of postage quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
German National Library: http://dnb.d-nb.de
If there is an objective for this story, it is to show rare fates: the lives of those who are seldom mentioned, as they do not push into the limelight. They love life for its own sake, unalterable and with an uncertain outcome – the opposite of the Warhol philosophy, as it were. Memory should be preserved of such ´unimportant´ people and their inner states, when these run the risk of becoming oblivious through the endeavours of philistines.
This is not a memoir and I´m not Kurt. I might have been a kind of Kurt as I, too, went to London from a small Bavarian village at the age of nineteen. Fellini once said that in his work everything and nothing is autobiographical. I would agree with that.
The synchronism of events as described in this story was one of the peculiarities of the Summer of Love – a network of oscillations and vibrations in which a group of young individuals kept having repeated encounters in unexpected places. This may appear from today´s perspective like magical intervention, miraculous even, but for the young ones of that time and place it was taken more or less for granted.
The plot is fictitious and any similarity of the characters to real people with the same name would be pure coincidence. ´Fantasy´, however, blooms in quotation marks. Contrived fables make the reader´s interest wane, for nothing is as interesting as life itself. But how is life made?
Excerpts from the book of poems “But Somebody Loves Me” by Ute Lenz (Zustand Verlag, Munich, 2009) are used in this story. Reprinted with kind permission.
I often think I am stupid and wonder about my optimism – very often, in fact. Actually it's part of my nature, and with such a disposition I should never have been allowed to paint. I should have been, I don´t know, a con man, a thief, a prostitute … But I chose painting – by chance, and out of vanity.
The village near the great lake in Bhopal was so small that it did not even have a name. From there they went to Bombay – the whole family, where they lived in a kind of shed with a corrugated tin roof at the back of the house, just behind Byculla Bridge. This was their home now.
As a little boy he had been popular with everyone. Toby´s angelic appearance and his beautiful singing voice were helpful. He spent evenings alone, since during the day, he had to sew denim jackets for an American company in a poorly ventilated dismal room along with hundreds of other children, twelve hours at a stretch.
Tuma eka berie filim staara hogaa. His mother, who looked like the famous Thumree singer Begum Akhtar, was proud of her little son´s charm and his beautiful voice. When he was very small and still had no siblings, she dressed him like a doll, painted his toenails and fingernails and anointed him with jasmine and Khus. Amma said that one day he would surely be a movie star. At night he was allowed to cuddle in her bed.
Can´t Buy Me Love sang Toby´s white-skinned gods later. They became his English teachers and his idols. His father knew a little English. He said, Love can´t buy you money! The caste his family belonged to had no name. (Perhaps they did not even belong to a caste.) Toby never wanted to be a racing driver like the other boys at school; instead he was interested in beautiful things – clothes and objets d’art. And a movie hero he longed to be – but in the secret dreams of the night he longed for the movie hero. Hijrahs clad in garish robes frightened him, for they kidnapped small boys in infancy, only returning themfor a ransom fee, or else incorporated them into their own roving clan. Toby´s lonely fantasies were nobody´s business, and no one cared. One day, he decided, he would go to the West, to reinvent himself in London. And after his love was fulfilled, he would tell his true story.
After they had moved to Bombay, his father Lokhnath ordered him to look after the tap in the courtyard on Sunday mornings. This faucet supplied the useful wet for the entire neighbourhood. Only twice a day was there water for an hour, and on Sundays Toby had to ensure that there was enough for his own family and the community, enough for cooking, washing and tea. Early in the morning neighbours and strangers squatted around the water tap. Nobody knew where all these people had come from. New families constantly joined them; they appeared overnight, camped, and covered their naked children from head to toe with soap. Under Toby´s supervision there was hardly ever any dispute or jostling.
Amidst the heat, the stench, the odour of cheap incense, between children screaming, cheesy movie songs and street noise, Toby arbitrated disputes, trying to maintain order at the watering hole. His friendly nature and his beautiful face meant that he was respected by everyone: the chewing-tobacco seller called Paan Wallah with his stall, the ear cleaning man, and the tea vendor, who also had his own roadside stall. He was known as Chai Wallah.
By late afternoon the migrant families had usually disappeared, but some of them stayed and built new lean-tos, which gradually spilled out onto the outskirts of the courtyard. And so the slum in the yard constantly grew like a cancer, way across to Byculla Bridge.
Sometimes when his father started whistling unmelodic melodies to himself – ragas in bisura intonation – usually when he had been drinking, this strange mood emerged, and his father´s voice became loud. On these occasions Toby was brutally disciplined.
Lokhnath, his father, who had always been strict and unyielding, decided overnight to lose all interest in life and began to do justice to arak and the Fenny more frequently. He would return late and bawl until the street dogs began to bark, and the other gandee bastee residents grumbled in annoyance. Somewhere in the shack a bottle of Big Boss de Luxe was always hidden, and his father tottered hard-faced among the huts, apparently in the hope of finding something that was out of reach. ´Lokhnath´ meant ´Lord of all Worlds´, but in spite of his basic education, Toby´s father had renounced all Indian religions and regarded the belief in higher worlds as narrow-minded ignorance and superstition.
One day when his mother had gone to the market with his younger siblings, Toby had briefly absented himself from the faucet to assist a lady with carrying the water bucket. A short time later his father had arrived. His mood dark. He slapped Toby and pushed him onto the dirty mattress. Grabbing a bamboo stick, he ordered Toby to take off his pants and lie on his stomach. When his bottom was covered in deep red marks, Lokhnath reached for the can of ghee on the sideboard. What followed remained for the rest of Toby´s life just a small grey fragment within a large puzzle, which in the future he never allowed to take on either colour or shape.
Instead, Toby started his secret worship at the altar of the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi. This altar was situated in a corner of the corrugated metal hut. Gold pieces trickled from her hand. Not only was she the goddess of abundance, but also of harmony and beauty. Lakshmi was revered by housewives and, discreetly, even by Muslims, especially on Thursdays, which was the sacred Day of the Guru. This worship met his secret aspirations. Were women not beauty ideals? Lakshmi containing the English word ´Luck´, which meant happiness. To be lucky! Lucky To ... be. Lucky ... Toby!
The secret lies in never giving up. That, he´d once heard a blond long-haired man near the Gateway of India say. And that blond man had a beautiful German car. Never give up! Toby had not forgotten. To be prosperous. To be: Toby. And fair-skinned – well, black he wasn´t, no, not like some Indians! And well known. His daily prayers to the goddess of money were his vows, which according to the Indian tradition were meant to attract luck and prosperity. But he also wanted to sing, to play and to dance. Ever since he was five years old, adults, neighbours, acquaintances, had all claimed that in a far off country people with golden hair existed. Such rumours often occurred in relation to perfectly functioning shiny technical devices – a certain word was murmured appreciatively: German.
Other small boys at school were busily engaged with their Meccano Kits. ´Models´, they said, when he asked them what they made with their Meccano Kits. Models! But for Toby ´Model´ could only refer to Audrey Hepburn. Her picture was once depicted in the Times of India. All this made him terribly confused. And ´German´ stood for him henceforth for everything progressive, everything modern: the best of everything life had to offer.
His uncle Mohanlal had come back from there: from Germany. He now called himself John, because he had become wealthy and successful in Germany. However, his father said that Mohanlal – now John – had merely worked in a canning factory in Germany. But Toby did not care because Uncle Mohanlal – ´John´ – wore Mustang jeans and a yellow T-shirt with a cowboy on it. When you took a new name people in Germany respected you, that was what Uncle Mohanlal entrusted to him.
Toby´s actual name was Atmajiyoti, which meant ´Light of the Soul´. But Uncle Mohanlal said that nobody in the West would be able to pronounce it properly. It was a name the Western man would forget again within a minute. Uncle Mohanlal also taught him some German. Die größten Kritiker der Elche waren früher selber welche. The greatest critics of the elks were once elks themselves. Such mysterious words and rhymes fascinated Toby. These had to be something like the Vedas, the Upanishads or the like, recorded in the sacred Sanskrit language, except in German. That Mohanlal was now John … that Toby liked. Yes, one needed a memorable name.
When Toby was alone, he often dreamed of that distant country where everything was new and clean and cool, not like in Bombay where every day the white sun burned down mercilessly from a cloudless sky, and at night the mosquitoes buzzed incessantly. Toby fabricated stories that took place in that fabulous country, Germany. There, as he imagined, things were not merely repaired like in India, but made new – brand new, shiny and perfect. Unlike in Byculla under the bridge, where a leaking water pipe had caused a puddle across which a plank had been placed, and then for years and years everybody had to carefully totter over the flimsy board so as not to get their feet wet. Why didn´t anybody ever care in India?
The African tricked him, and probably made it with his girlfriend, his sweetest, his dearest Adele. Adele saved Kurt from a bad acid trip on a foggy London November evening. That´s Kurt´s cock-and-bull story, anyway. The black guy´s name was Bongo. He and Kurt had apparently been best friends. Bongo had even explained to him how the world should be understood, and how Kurt should find his way in the world. But, you see, Kurt never believed anything I said to him, me, Alois his best friend, his skiffle music friend, he had left behind in the village. Instead he follows some African who told him how he – Bongo – had come into the world.
“My mother imagined me,” Bongo said. “She sat herself down under a tree in Regent´s Park and listened inside. And then she waited. She waited for this song that I would sing to her. Only when she heard the song did she go out and look for the right father for me – a king.” These sort of hippie stories meant something to Kurt, it seems. Still do, I suppose. Philosophies removed from reality – to give ´certain aspects of life´ a perspective, that´s how he puts it. But for Toni and me the hippie culture meant turning away from God. It was the replacement of God by man and his pleasure. I mean humanity cannot fall lower than that. When man declares his pleasure as having dominion over God, Toni said to him, it is the worst perversion of all! And then, after decades, Kurt decides to come back to the village. Buys a house on the hill and disseminates these outrageous stories like he is some kind of celebrity. On stage with Thelonious Monk he´d danced … ja, natürlich! Holy people he´d met. Saints! Odd sort of saints, I should say! Shared a taxi once with William Burroughs … another ´saint´. Smoked joints with Barbara Hutton´s sixth husband. Well, if you want to believe this nonsense …
“You can´t just come home again,” I said to him, “Where it was nice once, and where we played as children. It doesn´t work that way – especially for one who has fallen from the Holy Catholic Church! Don´t you understand?”
“They had older players in their team – one even had a moustache!” Kurt grumbled, that time, way back, when we´d lost the football game against the neighbouring village, three-two. “Well, you should not have been having a wank on the outside-right position: ninety-eight, ninety-nine – hand-change!” I said to him, because he always had excuses ready, and was doing his boastful numbers. At school his German was terrible. I had to help him as early as elementary school because he started each and every class essay with these same words: ´It was twenty years ago today ... ´ And when he was questioned in history about the Thirty Years´ War, he informed the teacher that it was difficult to tell.
So – now I am nearly there. Little Kashmir he calls his hovel – in English as well! With all his clutter in the barn, the Bedouin head made of alabaster, the cosmic egg, the Seychelles coconut, his weird musical instruments. Tea insteadof beer.
I just cannot understand, still can´t understand why he left our skiffle group, our band, that time, when Toni and I always helped him along whenever he was in trouble. His father was police sergeant at the local police station. Well, until it all came out … that his father had, in fact, been a pimp. And his wife – Kurt´s mother – a prossie, a puta. You know what I mean? For village use.
Until one memorable Christmas morning: his parents were down in the basementpreparing the presents, and Kurt, a mere six years old, starts lighting the Christmas tree; the needles catch fire and the whole police station burns down. His father howled with rage, it was said. House of correction for Kurt. But now he has a completely different version of all of that; completely different in retrospect. He also claims that our friend Toni informed the military authorities about his desertion.
Kurt was kicked out of the Catholic boarding school because, apparently, he punched a nun in the tits. And on top of it all he had the nerve to make hints about the abbot wanting to share his bed with him. That´s how he put it, ´He wanted to share his bed with me.´ That is, the abbot had put it like that, he claimed. But the priest merely wanted to show him his statues of saints. The abbot had allegedly visited him at night in the dormitory to see what he – Kurt – did under the bed covers. All lies.
Before the Juvenile Court Kurt´s version was questioned. But then he claims that the abbot had allegedly shown him his one-eyed monk. And then he goes even further with his lies, that he was actually an orphan and that he had been forgotten in a wine bar at the age of three by his drunken parents, his real parents. So, you see ...
On Sundays in the village, after High Mass, things were usually somewhat grey and, yes I have to say, often a little boring, too. So we compared our penises, and Kurt showed us the nude photos of his mum, who was a beautiful woman. At thirteen you have to do the Holy Sacrament of confession because Kurt has again inveigled you to the horrible sin of self-hand fumble.
Toni Benz and I were older than Kurt. And because my father was the head physician at a hospital, we weren´t allowed to sleep in the same dormitory at boarding school. But he was allowed to sit with us older boys at the dining table. I remember it well: Toni Benz was heading the table and Kurt was allowed to feast … at our table! That´s when he told us about the abbot rubs. He should never actually breathe a word about them, about the abbot rubs (and the second cumming) he said, else he´d be kicked out of the boarding school. The abbot himself had made him swear, and Toni and I had to swear, likewise, to Kurt never to breathe a word about it. Kurt said he had to do it to be able to stay at boarding school because his parents were impoverished, and because he wanted to play in the skiffle group with us. The abbot imposed total silence – silentium – upon Kurt. So no one said anything.
And so, whenever Kurt spent the weekend at boarding school, he was allegedly summoned to the abbot. Abbot rubs. But later, by way of revenge, he nicked the rubber stamp from the abbot´s office desk (Abbot rubs … rubber stamps, you get it?) well, that was Kurt for you. And then he issued himself his Abitur with the help of the rubber stamp. Yes. And then ... then he was gone.
Kurt was the lead singer, and Toni Benz and I were his best friends. In fact, Toni was the one, the first one of us who could play the electric guitar. I can tell you that Kurt was totally blown away by the way I changed the chords from A major to D major: the transition to the subdominant chord, (and our harmony voices in the chorus). Toni was also the first to own an electric guitar (with amplifier and echo). And how absolutely smashing this guy Lonnie Donegan was, Kurt said. Yes, exactly: smashing, that´s what he said. Lonnie Donegan, the Irish skiffle singer. How he would surely get on smashing with him if they knew each other. That pissed Toni and me off a bit, I have to say, because we were the ones who showed him the chords on the guitar, and who took care of him when there was bother with the older bad monster bullies. That Lonnie Donegan was an Irishman, and not smashing, but a believing Catholic and practising Christian, of that Kurt wanted to know nothing. The same with Elvis: I told him that Elvis was the same name as mine: ´Alois´, and that the stupid Americans could not pronounce ´Alois´ properly, so they changed it to ´Elvis´. And besides, Alois traces back to Saint Aloysius of Gonzaga.
“Yes, yes – OK, sure,” Kurt just said.
Kurt never believed anything that Toni and I told him. He also started to dress differently: flared Jeans, Hawaiian shirts and stuff. And new words he used too. Meticulous, officialdom, masturbation. From the very beginning he was basically against everything and anything to do with boarding school and our religion. “The Pope is the Prince of Darkness!” That´s what he said, that´s how he expressed himself. I do not know where he got it from. I mean, why should the Holy Father be a prince of darkness!?
Supposedly Toni followed Kurt to London later on – and betrayed him … Kurt claims. And betrayed him in a Judas fashion. I mean, yes, Toni did, in fact, once travel to London to visit him. Yes, that's true as far as I know. And what he did, he had to do; to save Kurt from the bondage of sin in the hippie culture that is the true bondage of man. That is what we have learned from Abbot Johannes Franz. And Toni and I have tried repeatedly to get him to understand that the adoption of the hippie cult is, in fact, against the church, the teaching, the scriptures and the entire Catholic tradition. But then he comes up with ... how did he put it again? New Age. That´s right: the New Age, that of rebellion and emancipation instead of devotion. That this was now God's will ...
“Nonsense,” I said, “where´s your guitar … where do you keep it?!” But he has no guitar, just these strange Indian instruments. And he still speaks German with the same strange accent, like his parents, who had moved here before the war, come down from Wuppertal. Hömma, Alois, du ollen Eumel, wo bisse am bleiben heut Namitach!? That´s how he talks, still does, you see? Really weird.
And then Toni calls me from London: “I think I´ve overstayed my welcome. Kurt makes me feel like I´m a burden to him.” And that's why he made the appointment – had to – with the authorities. I mean, that Kurt wouldn´t be seen dead in the German army, so to speak, that was obvious from the start. He hated any kind of external control, he said. Yes, that´s how he expressed himself. Fremdbestimmung.
In London, it was said, he had mainly lived. Because of the fleeing clouds over the beautiful old buildings. And later India, I think – not America. (A kindergarten, he said, America is.) But he can talk! I mean, everybody has been to India, even in in those days. I mean, Abbot Johannes Franz was one of the very first to visit India! Bombay, Taj Mahal, Rajastan. The abbot had so many stories about India, and he told us that the great sage of India, Tagore, was actually a Christian.
Kurt was terribly spoiled. His mom was always there for him, or his older sister who did everything for him. Once I overheard how he called his father from London before contact had completely broken off and his father died. Kurt was crying on the telephone because in London there was no one there to wash his underwear. That time his father had wept in sympathy with him. On the telephone! Now do you understand what I mean?
And then the people of the village started talking about this and that: hash and so on. Kurt … gay, perhaps? Or had he become a terrorist, or was making his living as a thief? And if you ask him now what he actually did in London, he always answers, Oh, this and that. Just to annoy you. But that hashish thing is probably the worst: drugs!
I prayed for him then and I am praying for him now to bring him back into the Christian truth of the Church in the Holy Spirit, which redeems us from this fallen world, where saints are delivering us with their wounds to free us sinners from the world and of the world. This surpasses all other religions! Because finally the salvation of the people lies in their self-denial, not in their self-examination! Well, certainly not in acting out ´experiences´ as hippies. That is what we learned from Abbot Johannes Franz.
We were friends, Kurt, and Toni and I. Now some fifty years later, he reappears and tells me his fabulated stories. “Alois,” he says, “first of all Jesuscould not speak a word of Latin!” And then he tells me how he – Kurt, not Jesus – carried this one song around with him. How he had simply followed this song (instead of the True Faith). And that he just did everything this song asked of him. That´s what he says: What the song wanted ... Then he goes on about this song and the connection to the immaculate conception of his friend, the African Bongo. Ridiculous! “Look,” I said to him. “The bus is just leaving, and everybody who is interested in this nonsense is sitting in it!” (How I laughed. It is our German humour, you see.) Kurt told me everything, the whole story. And now I will tell it to you in my own humble way – I can try anyway.
Apparently it was that song, that tune, or whatever, that he was after, that he pursued, at first unwittingly, and then deliberately. Then I searched deeper and wider and more aware, he says. Apparently, it was given to him by some higher force, via the African boy, the Negro. And then this melody took possession of him to such a degree that he ultimately placed everything, his whole life, on it – like one single card in a card game – and how he finally found everything in this melody.
All my life I promised myself not to lament like an old man: that I might have done things differently in life. Should I, too, have gone away? As if I´d been short-changed, staying in the village! Well, there is one thing Kurt and I agree on: What you cannot find at home you will not find in the whole wide world.
It was good that Adele got a cab just on the corner of Berwick Street and Shaftesbury Avenue. Understandably, she wanted to get away from this horror, this stupid American crackpot teenie monster, as fast and as far away as possible. She leaned back into the hard leather upholstery of the London taxi and dug a small round mirror out of her handbag. With her little finger she corrected the smeared lipstick on the right corner of her mouth. A frightening sight: scratches, abrasions and a black eye turning to aubergine. And then there was this throbbing pain in her left foot. It had started to swell like right away.
Great! Two sessions on the agenda this afternoon … impossible even to think it … in this state ... Mm ... maybe to Nasir first? Nasir does have this weakness for tousled, or shall we say dishevelled, aspects of my femininity.
And Kurt … What am I going to do with Kurt, then? Mm … That I´d turned up at Wardour Street due to my, er … profession, I couldn´t possibly let on to him. Mentioning the game in front of him was a bit much … near the knuckle, as the English say. Yes, it was that. Shouldn´t have made it, really, that remark. Loves me, that boy – German, like me.
But now I need my own place, my own bathroom. I mean, no matter how well you get on with a girlfriend, eventually you overstay your welcome. And then it gets like – how shall I say? – awkward. I mean Yvonne´s really sweet. Black, second generation Jamaican. Sweet, like I say. And please do not overlook the quotation marks now: I got her turned on to ´The Job´.
And she is really funny with her direct ways. Couple of weeks and she got the hang of it (... and not a blooming climax at each and every session, haha). Anyway, Yvonne is so cool, but no matter how cool the friendship, you don´t want to put a strain on it, do you? It happens to be her flat. She´s inherited it from her dad, a doctor, who was killed during the Notting Hill race riots ten years ago. As I said, no one could be nicer than Yvonne. Only now I want my own apartment: wall-to-wall-carpeting, stereo, pot plants. Bathroom of course. And, yes: car. Little white Austin Healey Spitfire, or even better an MG Midget in this fiery red they do ... well a Mini Cooper will do! I mean, why can´t I, like, groove through life with everything my heart desires, hm? All the stuff people have nowadays – all the basics? Stuff that sets you off from the riff-raff. If you are from the Berlin suburb of Wedding, then you know what I am talking about. No wedding cake, I assure you, Berlin-Wedding isn´t. No, no – you need to split from there, that´s all. So you think let´s check out London. Flower power London, and all that ... OK? Kings Road Chelsea, Soho ... Much love and peace and music, OK? And then you turn the first corner at the Notting Hill Gate Tube station and there´s these three black schoolboys run past you, and one says, “I fuck you in the ass till you shit!” Nice. And the first damn caretaker in the first lousy dump in Kings Cross offers you a pound if you help him peel his banana. And then the guy doesn´t own a friggin´ handkerchief – or at least he doesn´t have it on him. So, where the hell am I here? I´m asking you. And where, may I enquire, please, are all the beautiful flower children? Gets you ruminating, that.
It took a little while till I had everything sorted out. Tried modelling first, you know, fashion and stuff. So OK, you´re in your early twenties, OK, late twenties, but then they go, like: weell yeah ... actually we are looking for a younger type. But Mister Smith of middle management may be able to do something for you. And there´s Mister Smith – see him coming on? With his off-the-peg suit from Selfridges, basically looking for a stupid cow vis-a-vis his free weekend delight in the horizontal.
The beginning was really hard. Me sitting there at Jimmy´s Cafe in Frith Street and this black guy at the next table looks at me. OK, so I whisper to him, Mush-mush? So the guy gives me funny looks. So I repeat: “Mush, mush?” And I think, OK, maybe my English is somehow wrong. But no, the guy understands perfectly well. Bastard whispers back: “Yes, cool! Who pays – you or me?” This is so typical London, I am telling you. Oh man! You can imagine who I´m talking about? Bongo, of course! The arsehole with the heavy equipment where it mounts and where it counts. (Please excuse the unintentional rhyme.) And of course he has got, as usual, a little business in mind. “Fiver”, he says. For a fiver he might know just the right little premises for me, just around the corner in Wardour Street here in the middle of Soho, just right for my kind of little business.
But ultimately it was the caretaker in Kings Cross who got me my first customers. Not without the occasional free peep show for Mr Caretaker, I might add. But listen: I mean, even for what I do, you need certain basics: clothes, cosmetics, lingerie for hotel work. Some jewellery like one or two beau-tiful solid gold pieces. But the most important thing is not to let your work ruin your sex, not to allow yourself to become disillusioned, not to become cold. A colleague, I think it was ... or was it in the newspaper? Yes the colleague it was who told me … about the … er … yes, suicide rate, with …er, well ... prostitutes.
In that respect it was good to know Kurt. I mean he is a kind of flower child if you like. He does like me, Kurt does. And like I said, perhaps even love me, whatever that means – who knows? Even if he is a little bit of a simpleton – an innocent little lamb. Quite sweet, really, and conveniently he lives in a first-floor flat in Wardour Street … together with a well-endowed Schwarzer lad who can give a nice young German lady a good seeing to, according to her ideas – if you're going to get hold of him. I mean, what is there for you otherwise? All these old geezers, these old farts with their money and their on-your-lap-sitting-and-titties-licking. And they always, always, always end up wanting to kiss you. I´m begging you, please! Who needs that?
In regard to Inspector Adams I have to think of something. Yes, I mean why do you think the police have so conveniently overlooked me doing my thing in Wardour Street? All well and good – till recently. I had agreed on twenty pounds in the hand and a freebie a week. But if you know the fucking coppers, it doesn´t get less, but rather … exactly. Talking of ´less´… I mean it´s not the money that bothers me – it´s that free number with Inspector Adams and his body odour. He can at any time let the authorities get wise, he says, about my little business, as he calls it in his phony upper-class English. That´s what he lets shine through, keeps hinting at. Something I have to think of, about the inspector.
I was actually looking for a, how should I say, a kind practice for my work. That was last year. Bongo had let on about it: There´s this young German, he has rented there. And then Kurt opens the door. And I – yes, I did find him sort of sweet. And I wanted to sort of know him, too. That´s why I invented the story about Aunt Anneliese from Charlottenburg. And that I was actually his cousin. Kurt sussed nothing, of course, in his flipped-out state, about the fact that there aren´t any relatives of his existing in Berlin. And in the end he even gets these terrible guilt feelings about incest, hahaha. Quite funny. But somehow I feel a bit guilty – and, yes, a bit sorry, too, for the boy.
But, please! Excuse me! What is an attractive, intelligent young lady supposed to do? Should I sit all day about behind ze fucking typewriter? Fraulein Adele for ze dictation, please! Or sell flowery shirts in Carnaby Street? In zat stupid Kleptomania shop zere? Can I assist you Madam / Sir? Would you like to try it on? We do have it ze size bigger ... Oh, you vant to zink about it, I see! And zen you can put the whole zing back on ze gottverdammten coat hanger. (And no commission, of course.) And zat whole number eight hours straight, while ze brand new Led Zeppelin LP screams in your ear at full volume ze whole time! No, no, no – zank you very much.
OK, I have calmed down again.I mean, you come into this world with a few extra endowments, with which you can do something to help you make ends meet – OK? In my case these bouncing bosoms that guys apparently find irresistible (when I wear the right bra). And of course my … um … pussy.
Marriage, of course … still a possibility. But not in the sense of giving free fucks to some geezer. And then stay home by the hearth with the children and so on. No, no, no, no! If marriage, then with, like, bread ... what is it the Cockney guys call it? Spandau … spandoolies … something. Don´t know.
But take the Nasir, for example. Guy comes into this world as a king. Just imagine: Filthy. Rich. Nannies, servants, slaves, always some sort of people who just wait until Mr King snaps his fingers. Has been going on since his childhood, that. Amazing. Anyway … Nasir has this crush on me. And if I play my cards right … OK, if let´s say … in terms of will and inheritance … (and life-expectancy), I would be in my late thirties, when Nasir ...
“Excuse me! Hello you! Driver! Will you stop at zis patisserie in Greek Street, what you call it in English? Sweet shop? Quick stop – yah?” The cab turned from Shaftesbury Avenue into Greek Street and stopped. Yes, I think a little pastry – chocolates or something would be good. Sweet tooth, Nasir has. It will put him in a good mood.
“Valerie's Patisserie?” The taxi driver pushed the glass partition aside and turned around to look at Adele. “That what you wanted, sweetheart?” (That is how they talk, the London Cabbies.) “Cause that´s in Old Compton Street …”
In daytime I sang with you
At night we slept in the same bed
Was day? Was night?
I thought I knew who I was.
But I was you.
JALAL UD-DIN RUMI
We ring our world with flowers,
while the other world decays.
On one of the early days of his immigration, during the turmoil that preceded the decline of the American empire and soon after his arrival in London, a young man of androgynous beauty turned to Kurt. The fact that the boy was black only enhanced the aesthetic impression for him. After a brief period of positive racism – I´ll trade ten white against one black – Kurt had become colourblind like most jazz fans. When he was ten years old he´d seen the first African of his life. Kurt and his elder sister had taken a bus from the village to the nearby town to find a shop where you could buy these new sort of pants – blue jeans.
“Look – a Negro!”
Indeed, on the other side of the road there was this African meandering along. But this tall black guy on this early spring day in London had perhaps been using a banned substance or something. How could one otherwise acquire such cool detachment?
That the sixties in the twentieth century were divided into two is a known fact. The first half – unforgiving and perennial – had merely served as a preparation for the second: one full of flowers and of a sweetness that would make you believe that the world belonged to Kurt and his kind. And this was obviously just the beginning of something even better – something that some called the New Age.
Through the spacious hall one entered the salon where the main attraction was a vermillion oriental rug of a kind that is rarely found in carpet shops nowadays. The house was located in Bramerton Street, near the River Thames, in Chelsea. An American had rented the whole house. Before Kurt left for England, his friend Toni had pushed a note with an address into his hand: compliments of Abbot Johannes Franz. As Kurt was artistically inclined, the abbot thought he might possibly get in with the art scene there.
A hint of cedar oil and Attar du Rose hung in the air, and through a crack in the worn velvet curtains filtered the reluctant afternoon sun of the clammy English spring. Tea mugs of different designs containing the remains of cold tea stood on a worn antique mahogany table. Books were stacked on the coffee table and up against the walls. From their tea stains and dog-ears one could surmise that they were often or repeatedly read. An ochre Indian Mughal miniature hung above the Victorian fireplace indicated that the American who lived here might perhaps possess a refined sense of colour. That he was involved in the drug and arms trade, Kurt could not possibly have known.
From the flickering black and white television in the corner, fragments of BBC News could be overheard. Prime Minister Harold Wilson assures that the devaluation of the British Pound against the gold standard means not less, but more in the pocket of the common man ... Israel launches military campaign against Egypt ... Omar Bongo Ondimba, originally Albert-Bernard Bongo, possible new President of the Republic of Gabon ...
The slender androgynous black boy with the Hendrix-hair, not older than eighteen or nineteen, had entered the room and turned up the television.
“B-bongo ...” he chuckled.
It was not yet four-thirty in the afternoon, but he greeted Kurt stammering, “G-g-good evening ...”
“B-b-bongo – that´s me!” he continued with some mischief.
Looking back and forth between the young African and the TV, Kurt felt a streak of confusion setting in.
“We are working on a b-brain-research project here,” the other continued. “We strive for optimum b-b-brain f-function. Would you like to be p-part of it?” He was a student at Cambridge and heir of a small, little-known African kingdom, he let on. But since on his left hand he was wearing an obviously valuable emerald ring set in thick and solid gold – possibly from antiquity – in combination with threadbare green velvet trousers, plus obviously handmade Beatles Boots in patent leather, he looked neither like a scientist nor a prince. Perhaps he belonged to a kind of heterogeneous new species, Kurt considered, recently created by Swinging London. This impression of inconsistency was reinforced by his English upper class accent.
“Who is ´we´?” Kurt ventured to enquire. However, his counter-question received no response from the other. Instead, Bongo continued with a high-faluting philosophy. “High p-p-principles turn into their opposites when they are handled by the wrong p-people.” He raised his right index finger to emphasize the particular importance of the following declaration: “… or if they are proclaimed too loudly. The ultimate and m-most important factor is the volume.” Noticing Kurt´s confusion, he asked him a simple question: “Are you a happy person?”
His real name was Prince Omar M'bandadingo, he claimed, and he had recently left the forestry department of Cambridge University. As his words resounded in the room, they caused further confusion in the young German, while the other´s vision seemed now lost somewhere in the middle distance. He used odd and pretentious English words such as ´subverted´ and ´dispensation´, words that Kurt had never heard before.
“There is the p-possibility now to open the third eye,” the black boy continued, stammering. “You simply d-drill a hole between your eyebrows into the skull ...” Kurt was shocked. The vague urge to be somewhere else set in. Not only the extravagant expressions of his counterpart were difficult for him, but also the thing that Bongo addressed connected in his mind with a mentality reminiscent of Doctor Mengele´s human experimentation and other brutal medical solutions in the Third Reich. But in reality the provocation and the ambiguity hovering in the air had a different function. How cool are you?
“M-modest attempt to place humour,” Bongo stammered with a sly giggle. “I can lay some excellent Lebanese charge on you, man!” Even though Kurt had always associated the smell of hash with healing or a sacrament, he knew that mind-altering substances were not for him. On the other hand, he would have loved to allow Bongo to pull a fast one on him – just to be part of this whole scene here where dealings with India or the Orient were going on, and hashish or opium were smoked instead of beer being drunk, and where literature and the new awareness were being discussed, and all this going on in Victorian houses decorated with such lavish antique nonchalance. Kurt had only recently left old and cold Germany. He had been a rebel, a mischief-maker in his native village, and now he learned that in these Chelsea circles, among the first long-haired young men, there existed for him new sorts of problems. The initial one being to appear as too´German´.
While from a remote room of the house scraps of language that he considered to be Indian echoed across – the landlord had obviously India or Pakistan on the line – Kurt tried to convince this ethereal black with the protruding Hendrix hair as diplomatically as possible that he was currently abstaining from artificial stimulants. To this Bongo did not respond. In fact, he stuttered to such a degree that it caused Kurt almost physical discomfort. Something about a concert, apparently. “Who will perform?” Kurt asked, stretching his torso and head forward quizzically.
“Some Rabbi, I b-believe ... Indian m-music. I do not know whether you have heard of him – at p-present everybody is into this Rabbi, man. George will probably be there, man ... and P-peter Sellers ... They´re all into t-t-tantra, man. Blow your mind, man!” After this flow of information, Bongo smiled complacently to himself. But before Kurt was able to inquire whether the musician really was a Jewish rabbi, or whether George Harrison of the Beatles really would, in fact, be there, the landlord came in, looking around restlessly, searching for something on the table, documents possibly. Bongo pointed in a slow benevolent gesture of spiritual dignitary towards the blond American who took no notice of the two boys.
“The c-cruel oppressor of the n-next Maharishi …” Bongo whispered, turning to Kurt. It was only much later that it became clear to Kurt that it wasn´t the arcane statement which had puzzled him so, but the fact that Bongo had this consistent little smile – a kind of gratuitous smile – on his face. I mean if you´re from Germany, Kurt considered, you don´t want to infringe the seismo-graphically tricky rules of behaviour of the English, plus that which is referred to in London as cool ... What could it mean, that smile? Or the lady in the stationery store who smiles and calls me darling? What is that all about? Can someone enlighten me, please? And when do you say ´sorry´, and when ´excuse me´? This is not so simple.
Some of these English I quite like, Kurt thought, even though they stubbornly speak English when in Berlin or Frankfurt – thinking if they speak louder and slower they will make us understand them. But you see, me, I don´t want to give off the vibe of the stern Teutonic German. That I´ve got to avoid – definitely avoid. I mean, just one mispronounced single ´well´, or a ´please´ articulated just slightly too loudly can very easily incur a ´rude´ by these people … And ´is´ in English is pronounced soft and vocalized; under no circumstances should it come off as ´iss´, else they immediately come out with Hitler and all that Nazi shit.
Early next morning there was a knock on the door. The African prince wanted in. Apparently supported by an unseen force or entity, he had found the address and had arrived just when the Beatles´ Doctor Robert (the song with Harrison´s sensational guitar riff) rang out from the radio. Like one of the three wise men he was bearing gifts: The Indian miniature painting from Bramerton Street (probably Kota master, late 18th century), a small Benin bronze, a decent piece of Red Lebanese and some brown rice.
“In Wardour street b-b- both sides are in the shade.”
With this remark Bongo, who immediately saw himself as a resident of the small apartment in Wardour Street, created confusion in Kurt´s mind. What is he telling me? What can he mean? Is this about the major movie studios with their flamboyant offices? Or the fashion shops, cafés and back rooms, the Jewish hat makers, the Chinese restaurants (with rows of red glazed ducks in the window), or the strip clubs where discrete and euphemistic hand-written notes were fastened with thumbtacks to door frames and referred to certain things that young women from Sheffield or Birmingham were willing to let you do with them if you cared to follow the arrows on the narrow, creaky wooden stairs up to the second or third floors. Men from Karachi or Dunstable hesitantly groped their way up, seeking something which only they knew. It was one of those narrow staircases that led up to the first floor apartment, to the hippie flat.
The year has begun to shine in golden hues, and on both sides of Hyde Park Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds resonates. During this year, which Marianne Faithfull later called ´The year One´, worn copies of The Lord of the Rings, the Autobiography of a Yogi, the Chinese Book of Changes and the Tibetan Book of the Dead turn into Holy Scriptures. A threadbare rug serves as camp and forum for magical gatherings. At night blankets are spread over the guests until they yawn and stretch in the morning, ready to move on. The floor slopes down somewhat towards the street, and the water stains disturb neither Kurt nor his co-residents. When he gets out of bed Kurt has to walk uphill a little. Visitors come and go as Casanova, Mozart, Vincent van Gogh, Karl Marx or Oscar Wilde had before them – all of these luminaries have resided here or in the immediate vicinity. There is a nostalgic comfort in the narrow flat, areconciliation with the cosmos; while outside Soho swings. Soho has always swung, not only since the Who, with their new weapon the electric guitar, have begun to spread the news. Kurt has seen Keith Richards once lift his Marshall into the van, and Keith Moon – the other Keith – taking away his battered drums. The Who and the Stones are busy destroying kitsch post cards.
From the window you can look out over Wardour Street from its upper end at Oxford Street almost completely down to St. Ann´s Church. The apartment is located on the first floor, opposite the Marquee Club. And even though the dwelling has certain shortcomings, like the noisy tavern in the basement, Wardour Street is a coveted address. Kurt is thus not surprised that after a time these quirky characters arrive, who, at night, through the influence of hemp, solidify into contemplative speechlessness. We´re Beats! they proclaim. Their hair reaches down to their shoulders, on some of the boys to their waist. They wear cloaks of black velvet; engraved silver knobs adorn their walking sticks.Although they look like Londoners of the early nineteenth century, they claim to be Celts or descendants of King Arthur. Their anthem is What´s that sound? They are in touch with forest ghosts and goblins, and they write poetry in diaries. Their velvet trousers in purple and blue exhibit unsightly burn holes above the knee from the little bits of glowing hash that have fallen down from their joints. Late in the evening they arrive, when the Duke of York pub closes. They smoke huge carrots and don´t mind being called ´freaks´. At night their palaver and mumble continues right through the nine-minute trumpet solo by Miles Davis on Sketches of Spain. But Kurt is lucky that the Jamaican with the German Shepherd let him have the flat right where it´s at.
I know, thinks Kurt – I know all that... Yes, the doors of perception, of consciousness, are now open and can no longer be closed. Aldous Huxley and William Blake have spoken: Once the doors of perception are cleansed, everything will appear to man as it is – infinite. The rules of persistent recreation of man are specified: psychic dirt has been protection, and LSD has swept it away. A new game has been launched. Someone has put the Doors on, but Kurt has to get up early to work in the bookshop and would now like to sleep now, please, thank you. But these peripatetic philosophers are about to paint kaleidoscopic images with their brains. They are forming a band, preparing a film, yeah, all of that … or none of it. Now in early summer, they are wrapped in Afghan sheepskin coats and constantly play runs on Fender guitars, dry – without sound. Their hair is about to become matted and enter into a hybrid amalgamation with their sheepskin coats. And lately they have begun to worship Bongo: the stuttering prophet.
When late spring turned to mid-summer Kurt was dismissed. The owner of the bookstore had walked into the apartment early one morning when he was still sleeping, rebuking Kurt. You should not have tried to sell a grass-joint to Peter Sellers when Peter had merely asked for a Playboy.
Lack of money was imminent; bills had begun piling up on the mantelpiece. Bongo disappeared after breakfast and returned in the afternoon with a valuable antique bible. Plus some newsworthy information: Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend are expected for the Pink Floyd concert at the Marquee Club opposite.
When the front door bell rang the next morning, Bongo ran down the stairs and out the back door as if his pants were on fire. This way of tackling pecuniary problems could, of course, only work for a certain time. The landlord made it clear that he would accept only one more week of postponement. Nevertheless, Bongo rented a television set on which rent was now due as well. This, however, did not stop him preaching. “Recent studies have shown that Sodom and G-g-gomorrah possess neither a geographical nor a historical reality b-b-but deal with the inner reality of those who lead intense lives. We can therefore assume that the sin of which is referred to here has nothing to do with any sexual aberration, but a breach of the unwritten law of hospitality to men and angels.” In which category he saw himself, he left in the sphere of ambiguity. Kurt pointed at Bongo´s naked, slightly sandy feet. “You should be proud of your toenails, man.” The African glanced down and laughed mildly, which he usually did in situations where others would have experienced stress. He operated swiftly and benignly, this ancient African wizard, reborn with a stuttering Oxford accent. Trouble? Trouble was swift in coming. This Arschloch simply doesn´t accept the idea that we´re out of money, Kurt thought angrily. I mean hospitality to angels, well and good, but … I mean, what if we´re kicked out? The idea of having to live without shelter in this huge metropolis made him shudder.
In the evening Bongo the magician was busy at the stove cutting kale. Gas was hissing. (John Lennon was now a vegetarian – been in the papers, hasn´t it?) He had been gone for a while, and now he let certain things become known, well, at least he did not deny it when it was conjectured that he had stayed with Lennon at Montague Square: Bongo was now a macrobiotic.
But Kurt had had enough of his friend´s relaxed ways. Now that the rent was due again, he tried to sell Kurt the rented portable television. This was two days after one of those rare cheques from Kurt´s mother had arrived in the mailbox. Otherwise Bongo had been unfazed and continued his daily betting on the horses. Out of compassion he took five pounds of Kurt´s money, put it on a limping horse and won over two hundred pounds. With this money he went to Allsopp, Brindle & Boyle and had an orange velvet jacket hand-tailored for one hundred and ten pounds. A week later the TV that now belonged to Kurt was gone. Bongo thought that was funny. “Africa is civilized to a d-degree,” he declared, “in so far that it has neglected developing ground-to-air m-missiles and space projects!”
Don´t turn round, man!
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