Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The Michael Collins Syndrome

You don't have to fly especially high to become detached from humanity. Try climbing a tall building and looking down. A couple floors up, the once easily discernable facial features of your fellow humans will begin to blur. Their faces might turn into indiscriminate blobs. Climb the equivalent of another storey or two and you will no longer be able to hear their voices. From a very tall building, you might not pick out individual cars. The hum of the city might start to drift away.

When taking off in an airliner, the process is speeded up. Within seconds, the world will have fallen away to such a degree that you might have a job to identify even major landmarks and cityscapes. It will seem like you have entered another world - even though you know it is the same place.

From his capsule, Michael Collins would have been able to watch the lunar module descend to the surface of the moon. But Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin might just as easily have been a whole galaxy away. Similarly, the shimmering blue planet Earth must have borne scant relevance to the voices on the radio from Houston.

And the same must go for time. A distance of a few years might not make a whole load of difference to your worldview, but look back over a decade and see what happens. Consider a lifetime before your own and you're suddenly staring into an abyss - a great unknown, full of mystery and educated guesswork.

It would be wonderful to see through time. And, just as telescopes and microscopes allow us a peek into different spatial dimensions, maybe one day we will be able to do just that. In the meantime, all we can do is follow the vague treasure map that history has left us.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Knee jerk

I have a terrible affliction. Sometimes my legs simply cease to function. When in the throes of an attack, the muscles may still be tensed but the limbs themselves are immovable dead weight. With superhuman effort, I can occasionally latch the palms of my hands onto the top of a knee, give it a good tug, and somehow swivel my body forward a foot or so. But apart from that, I am completely paralysed. I find myself welded to the spot, knees bent like an athlete at the starting blocks, unable to beat the gravity that ties me to my place. Try as I might, I cannot push forward.

It becomes particularly tough when I try to run. All the energy I expend in trying to make that first step seems to anchor me to the ground with even more force. My body is tensed and going nowhere. It's a nasty, debilitating condition that has afflicted me for years. And there is no cure.

It would be hugely depressing, except none of the above is true. Or to be more precise, none of this affects my waking life. But it happens a lot in my dreams - and has done over many years. It became so realistic that for a long time I was actually convinced that I had such a condition in my waking life. Rather than just being the stuff of dreams, I would go about my daily business convinced that at any random moment I could be stricken once more.

Last night I had another dream in which my legs refused to work. This time, however, I came prepared with the subconscious wisdom that this kind of thing only happens to me when I dream. A man came to my assistance as I lay immobile on soft, black tarmac near a junction, unable to walk to the pavement next to me. I was almost there - but needed his help to make that last physical step.

I said to my dream rescuer: "I used to think this kind of thing happened in real life, you know. Then I came to realise that it only happened in my dreams."

He looked at me quizzically and I thought about it a little more. "But now I can see that it DOES happen in real life too, right?"

He nodded his agreement and helped me limp to the path. Some time after that, I woke up. Confused.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Iggy's Bogies

I've always loved Iggy Pop. I don't think I could ever really trust anybody who doesn't. So when an opportunity rose to meet the man himself some 18 or 19 years ago, I took it.

Iggy was charming and warm. A little fella with a big heart. And though my meeting with him was brief, it was sweet and memorable. I had my photograph taken with him and I got him to sign my copy of his then-current LP, "Brick By Brick".

The picture from that meeting remains a great personal favourite. My friends Pete and Alison are in the snap, and Iggy has his arms draped over our shoulders. He is half scowling, half beaming in a fashion that is entirely his. He looks so cool - and we don't look too bad either. My LP cover was signed 'To Andy, Iggy Pop x' and featured a little drawing of a face and curly bogies drooping from each of Iggy's nostrils on the back cover photograph. An Osterberg embellishment in dazzling blue ink.

It looked cool enough to hang, so shortly after I got it home I put it in a frame and stuck it on a wall close to the large bay window in my lounge. Pride of place.

The summer of 1991 came and went, and all the while my treasured Iggy autograph shone proudly from my wall. A friend came to visit one day and sauntered over for a look. "Hey, why have you got this Iggy Pop LP in a frame on your wall?" he asked.

"Oh, that's been signed by Iggy. Check out the bogies! He added them himself."

"What bogies? What autograph?"

I raced to Iggy's wall. My friend was right. This was an Iggy Pop LP sleeve with nothing special on it. At all. All trace of signature and hand-daubed bogie squiggle had vanished. The sunlight had bleached the watery ink into a big pile of nothingness. Not a trace of Iggy's customisation remained.

Sadly, I took the frame from the wall and removed the Iggy sleeve. I put it back in the record rack where it now belonged - it was just another LP cover once more. I found something else to hang on the wall in its place. Something less special.

Fast forward a few years to the 'American Caesar' album. Not a bad record at all. 'Wild America', a mid-90s blues/punk rant against the red, white an' blue is an Iggy classic for sure. I got it on release day and devoured the copious sleeve notes as I played it. On the first page was the facsimile of a hand-written note from Iggy himself. It said something like: "I am not a rock star, I am a human being like you. If you want to write to me, feel free. Here is my address. If you write to me, I will reply."

So I put my little story down on paper. I kept it respectfully brief, but told Iggy how I once had his autograph, how it was blasted into a vacuum by sunlight, how I hoped to meet him again one day. I wished him well for the future and thanked him for the music, I put the envelope in the post to the States and forgot all about it.

A good few years later, an A4 card-backed envelope dropped onto my doormat. It had a New York City postmark. So much time had passed, but when I opened the flap and pulled out the 8x10" black and white promo photo of Iggy Pop I knew instantly what it was about. Iggy had signed it "To Andy, Iggy Pop x" and had drawn a little face. And from each nostril drooped a curly hand-drawn bogie... in permanent black ink.