By Richard Cabut
D. Erdos, International Times, has described Looking for a Kiss as ‘A Jarmanesque journey in Westwood heels,’ It’s an 80s post-punk, pop art, acid odyssey - teenage perversity, primal screams/scenes.
The book is a fabulous chronicle of speed, madness and flying saucers (Warhol/Edie Sedgwick reference) – punks adrift in 1980s London (and New York): strange sex, breakdown and breakup, the nature of melancholy, the Spectacle, clairvoyance, personality crises, the eternal quest for cool, and the crisis of success and damned failure…
Which is the subject of this excerpt from Chapter 7 - under the thrall of forgetting:
… Ultimately, Robert didn’t think of himself as a loser. In a way he was arrogant and entitled. People like him weren’t losers – of course they weren’t! They were, he liked to think, mavericks, free spirits, bohemians, nonconformists. Their lives were utterly extraordinary and enormous and dizzy. They were never poor or penniless. They could be standing in the road begging, it didn’t matter – they were completely superior to such mundanity – having zero makes it even easier to be foolish and facetious.
All that mattered to him was maintaining a solid sense of sprezzatura, an all-consuming cool.
Robert, along with Marlene, were eternal youngsters keen to live in a film, overwhelmed by the idea, but knowing that in one way it wasn’t real and would have to finish. The End. Credits.
At the start, Robert and Marlene were in lust with autonomy, abandon and deliverance.
They vibrated with youth – an economic design, not particularly calculable in age. They were amongst those who were through, for instance, apathy, disgust, drunkenness and disaffection omitted from the fiscal life of society, and who sometimes saw themselves as auguries of freedom from tradition, family, labour. Youth has nothing to lose but its sense of adventure.
They played like kids – not for nothing was one of Robert’s favourite books the hippie ideal for living Playpower – but felt like transformative agents, communicating to others the dangerous stultifying nature of everyday life.
They were in tune with their universe. There was no end to their thirst and hunger for desire. Their passion for the world – for their world – was limitless. Robert and Marlene thought they could see what real life could be offer; euphoria and elation. They lived on and for craving. Youth is all about wanting. Wanting what? What have you got?
They proceeded to attempt to achieve their dream of complete and permanent personal, cultural and spiritual intoxication and glory by… wasting time. They only picked at their art.
They also picked each other’s spots sometimes. The ones on their backs where the other could not reach. Black heads, white heads, red heads – so intense were these sessions they seemed to enjoy it more than giving (which was a given as far as Marlene was concerned) and getting head. Certainly, the spot picking sessions sometimes lasted for hours, much longer than their sex sessions – and were definitely more intense. They would go over each other’s clogged pores, searching for imperfections and eruptions. That Robert and Marlene marked/celebrated their coupledom in the context of purulence said something about their relationship – that it was pockmarked by the wrong sort of dirty. But picking their spots may have been preferable to picking on each other.
Robert and Marlene, the daydreamer and the idler, agitators and objectors to the world of the regular and the routine. They lived in some sort of self-exile, in an ivory tower. The mistake they made was building it on sand.
They thought they would be forever young, so to them time was of little consequence – however, it was the world which grew older around them.
Peter Pan said to me: Growing up, baby, means giving up your dreams.
Being an old has-been punk is a morbid thing, but being an atrophied never-was punk was worse.
And some would say that calling a life unorthodox is just a way of avoiding giving a harsher name to your defeats.
Robert and Marlene, after a while, became fearful about a non-existent future. They were both free, with free time – but, they wondered, free for what?
The couple had managed to suspend and set aside the impact of the unfolding years, the thought of which left them shaken and petrified.
Marlene demanded stardom.
Robert demanded recognition.
Both: for what, remained a constant mystery. Especially to themselves.
Outside, they recognised that the world had somehow, while they were dreaming of poetry and chaos, assumed its form of consumer and market culture – people, former friends, everyone except them seemingly, were getting on with their careers, signing record deals, book deals, becoming journalists on the nationals, advertising executives, fashion designers, models, furniture makers, jewellers. They were buying suits, flats, better drugs, travelling to New York regularly. Everyone was splashing around in the soothing bath of luxurious passivity and progress. People were following the cash and the party bash. It was the 80s after all.
Robert and Marlene were still playing. But in that context their play was no longer fun.
Failure became their default setting – and they made the mistake of glorying in their assumed roles of hapless also-rans – you could hear the exultation in their voices as they itemised hardship and calamity.
Attempts at creativity barely acted as reminders to the universe of their presence, but acted, nevertheless, as sincere prayers for succour and safety from a future they were unable to activate.
But usually, they were left unfulfilled, unsatisfied and sure that these prayer would remain unanswered.
In their hearts and souls they realised the truth: the blind universe doesn’t give a fucking shit, and nothing, absolutely nothing, exists until you yourself make it.
But they did not know how to make much apart from peril and pitfall for themselves. They suffered from paralysis. They could not reinvent themselves or fight back against a dangerous foe because the foe was, of course, themselves.
Their tightly sealed world – an airless chamber – in which, yes, all their ideas were the stuff of genius, and all their conversations were revelatory, and all their jokes were the most amusing anyone had ever heard – but only because no one else ever heard them – their gags were uttered and made sense only to themselves. And in the end not even they laughed at their own jokes.
Everything they had – shared beliefs and emotions – rested on and consisted of thin, rank, stale air. Theirs was not a life, but a retreat. Punk had glamorised concepts such as chaos and blankness. But when Robert and Marlene started living out the words that had previously been written in biro or felt tip on their T-shirts, they found it almost unbearable.
We Are Not In The Least Afraid Of The Ruins.
In fact, the ruins petrified them.
Robert, walking with Marlene to their Camden flat, knew that it would not be easy for the hapless couple to navigate themselves out from the debris of their own deflated dreams, to free themselves from their own story…
Buy your copy of Looking for a Kiss here.
Richard Cabut is the author of the books Looking for a Kiss (Sweat Drenched Press), Dark Entries (Cold Lips Press), co-editor/writer of the anthology Punk is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night (Zer0 Books), contributor to Ripped, Torn and Cut – Pop, Politics and Punk Fanzines From 1976 (Manchester University Press, 2018), Growing Up With Punk (Nice Time, 2018). He was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for the short story All I Want in 2016. For more information: https://www.richardcabut.com