We were listening to, ‘Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart’ by Julee Cruise in 1989.
It was from the appropriately named album ‘Floating into the Night’, and it sits very comfortably in the genre of Dream Pop.
Wistful and beautiful, the song was created by David Lynch of Twin Peaks fame. Like most Lynch projects, the song and the accompanying video have a surreal, dreamlike quality.
The song is tightly bound to memories of a friend of mine named Paul Kennedy.
Any song by Big Country will remind me of Paul (especially, ‘Chance’). Another (quite dodgy) song called, ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ – no, not the Rick Astley one – by Musical Youth (remember, ‘Pass the Dutchie’?) was another of his favourites and always brings him to mind.
He also haunts the corridors of the two OMD albums, ‘Junk Culture’ and ‘Crush’.
But when I hear ‘Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart’, it puts him back in the room with me and I can see him blissing out to the child-like Julee Cruise vocal. The song blew Paul’s mind.
Paul passed away in 2017. For years before he died we were no longer bosom buddies – like many, down the years we’d developed different interests and our paths had diverged (also, I became an anti-social hermit). But whenever we bumped into each other, we’d enjoy catching up.
As youngsters though, we had been joined at the hip. From primary school, through high school, through the army years and into young adulthood, we were two peas in a pod.
Our parents were expat drinking friends – his Liverpudlian, mine Glaswegian. His parents and mine were lured to South Africa by a 1970’s emigration/recruitment campaign in Britain that invited people to, ‘come to sunny South Africa for the time of your life!’
I think many came for the sunshine, and then stayed to gorge on the cheap booze and meat. As kids our playgrounds were the streets around the Alberton and Newmarket hotels, our parents favourite watering holes.
Obviously, after years of friendship I have a thousand memories of Paul. I’ll recount just a few here that always bring a smile to my face.
Early memories would have been around 1978/79 – at the end of primary school, going into high school. Semi-regularly, on Sunday nights Paul would stay over at my house and we’d listen to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 countdown radio show.
At that time, the charts were saturated by The Bee Gees as the disco era was dying a slow death. Saturday Night Fever, Grease and then the Spirits Having Flown album dominated the charts as the decade drew to a close. Another couple of songs on the countdown would’ve been Donna Summer’s, ‘Last Dance’, (from the soundtrack to the movie, ‘Thank God it’s Friday’) as well as, ‘I Love the Nightlife’ by Alicia Bridges (from the soundtrack to the movie, ‘Love at First Bite’).
While we listened to the countdown, we’d sit on the carpet in front of the radio and play chess. Paul would win a few games, I’d win a few games. Even if I say so myself…we were both fucking rubbish at chess. This lack of brain power would continue into high school where we’d compete against each other for the title of, ‘Worst Ever Maths Student’, and the coveted white Dunce cap.
Paul’s family moved house more often than most, but when we started high school, we were living around the corner from each other.
Just off the main road on the way out of our neighborhood, there was a farmhouse and a small holding. Today, the open piece of land that was ‘the farm’, is now a golf driving range. The old farmhouse is now a garden centre.
It wasn’t a very impressive farm. A chainlink wire fence encircled the open field that stood empty most of the time. Every so often, a solitary horse would make an appearance.
Walking past the farm on the way home one day, Paul and I spotted the horse out in the field. We thought we’d take a diagonal shortcut across the field and see if we could get a closer look at the horse, maybe even stroke it. We jumped the fence and set off toward the horse, standing on the far side, near the farmhouse. As we approached it, a farmworker in overalls and Wellingtons appeared from the farmhouse behind the horse.
Paul and I stopped dead in our tracks, unsure if farmhand was friendly or hostile. When he lifted his wellies and started sprinting toward us, we had our answer.
We both took off running. I cut left and bolted up toward the main road, the shortest route to safety. For reasons that remain unclear, Paul turned right and sprinted deeper into the field.
Thanks to a solid boost of adrenalin, I vaulted over the perimeter fence like I was an inmate escaping Aushwitz. From the road side, I clung to the fence and looked back down on the field.
Like a panicked gazelle, Paul had set out on a mazey run around the farm. The nimble farmhand had identified his quarry and was now in hot pursuit. Terrified, Paul looked over his shoulder as he ran like a streaker trying to dodge security guards at a cricket match.
The farmhand was quick – without the wellies, it would have been no contest, but Paul was evasive. As the farmhand reached out to grab him by the collar, Paul would jig in a new direction forcing his pursuer to lose speed as his clunky boots slipped on the grass.
Paul’s legs seemed to move faster than his upper body. As a result, he ran at a leaning back angle with his head trying to catch up to his feet. Watching from the fence, the image of a biker on a chopper and the word, Lowrider occurred to me.
Again and again, the farmhand would come within millimeters of grabbing him, before Paul would shimmy to one side like a winger sprinting for the tryline.
It was like watching a live version of the sped-up comedy chase scenes at the closing credits of The Benny Hill Show. I could almost hear the merry theme music as I watched Paul zig-zag around the field below me.
The horse looked on, indifferent and unimpressed.
I tried to shout encouragement, but I was laughing so hard, I could hardly stand up.
I can’t say if the chase lasted twenty minutes or three hours, but after a while the wellies became too heavy and the farmhand ran out of puff. He stalked back towards the farmhouse empty handed. Paul jumped the fence and jogged over to me with his arms in the air, tired but triumphant.
Although he had little aptitude for chess or maths, Paul had a unique ability…an ability that very few people possess. A particular set of skills. Skills he acquired over a very long career. Skills that made him a nightmare for people of delicate dispositions.
When it came to farting, Paul was a prodigy without equal. For as long as I knew him, his arsehole was an instrument that he played with supreme control and confidence.
His unorthodox and flamboyant technique, often compared with that of the great Jimi Hendrix, produced a stereophonic effect seldom heard coming through a sphincter. His experimentation in feedback and distortion was ground-breaking.
If, like Dylan before him, he had abandoned the acoustic and ‘gone electric’, he may have changed the very course of modern arse music.
Despite his classical training, Paul developed a more jazzy, improvisational style. Long, high-pitched spiralling solos became his trademark sound.
He was widely acknowledged as the ‘Dizzy Gillespie’, of the farting world.
Best known for his dry, deadpan delivery, his later work often involved spontaneous performances during school assemblies and prayers. Here, with modesty and generosity, he employed an innovative ventriloquism technique designed to distribute attention to the crowd around him.
On Sundays in 1983, Paul would spend the day at his girlfriend, Pamela’s house.
In the late afternoons, driving home, I’d stop there to give him a ride back to his house. On those Sundays, after a full day of clenching self-denial, when Paul got in my car, he would be desperate to express himself.
The performance would usually start while he was still waving goodbye to Pam, and it would continue all the way to his house. During those short journeys, I heard some of the most impressive power-chords ever created by a human body. An orchestra of high-pressure sounds, urgent and frantic would fill the car. He played notes and harmonics that I’d never heard before, and I never expect to hear again.
It was on these trips that I came to appreciate his true mastery of the wind instrument.
This was his piéce de résistance, his, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’…his, ‘Pet Sounds’.
Windows closed, our hair would be blown around on our heads as we drove slowly down Jaqueline Avenue towards the setting sun.
On those nights, as I dropped him off, I was often moved to exit the car a give him slow clap. A well-deserved salute to a true virtuoso.
Disclaimer: The person in question was a trained professional. Unskilled people reading this should NOT try any of these techniques at home. Management accepts NO responsibility for any injuries, accidents or dry-cleaning costs resulting from unauthorised or reckless attempts at imitation.
We squeaked out of school with a feeble matric certificate at the end of 1983.
At that time, the modern concept of a ‘gap year’ hadn’t yet entered the consciousness. It was probably for the best – if I had told my father I was taking a ‘gap year’, when he eventually stopped laughing he would’ve given me a ‘gap smile’ by punching all my teeth out.
We spent the short intermission between school-life and work-life drinking all the Red Heart Rum we could get our hands on.
Also, inspired by a schoolmate named Adam, we had started playing squash at the courts behind the public swimming pool.
Adam was an excellent player and the captain of the school squash team. Offensive and demeaning claims that he was actually a leprechaun were never confirmed. I didn’t believe the Leprechaun rumours for a second – Adam was obviously a Hobbit.
Albums we were listening to around this time were ‘No Parlez’, by Paul Young (Come Back and Stay, Love of the Common People) as well as ‘North of a Miracle’, by Nick Heyward (Blue Hat for a Blue Day, Take That Situation). We had different tastes in music. I remember trying to convince Paul that Elvis Costello was a genius – he was having none of it.
On my first day of formal employment, Paul and I caught the early bus to Jo’burg from the Alberton terminus near the Royal York. The bus service is now a thing of the past. The terminus building is still there, but it’s now a burnt out shell, and our dynamic new municipality has re-purposed it as a space for junkies to shoot up and take a shit.
It was early 1984. We were both dressed in the sensible, casual threads we had bought on credit from a shop called Tuxedo Junction, just across from The Winning Post restaurant. It felt very grown-up to buy clothes on account. The manager of the shop was a friendly guy, a few years older than us…I think he was also named Paul.
Probably, we were both wearing one of those skinny knitted neck ties that were de rigueur at the time. I know for sure we were both carrying one of those cheap, faux leather briefcases with the dual combination lock latches. Why we bought them was a mystery. My Bic pen rattled around in there all on its own. We were joining the workforce, fearless and clueless. Our wallets and our heads were as empty as our new fake briefcases.
The bus dropped down onto Rissik Street from the M2 and then chugged north across town toward Park station. All the way along Rissik street, people disembarked and entered the city’s bloodstream.
Jo’burg was bustling and vibrant.
Like a giant sentinel, the Carlton Centre watched over daily proceedings, majestic and aloof. The early morning sun that managed to get through the tall buildings on the side of the street reflected off clean pavements and colourful shop windows.
Paul worked in an office block about halfway along Rissik street. He had started there a week or so earlier. I had been to my new employer’s office once before, but this was my first official day on the job.
I knew the building was off Rissik, but I wasn’t sure which street it was. I was as nervous as a modern-day Gauteng cash-in-transit van driver.
We were sitting on the wide backseat of the bus.
Frantically scanning the streets through the windows, I said to Paul, “I better get off, I don’t want to miss my stop.”
“Relax.” He said. “I think you’re further down near the station.”
Irrationally, I thought that if I missed my stop, the next stop would be somewhere deep in the Karoo and I’d be stranded and unemployed after my first day. My head bobbed left and right as I tried to recognize my street.
Eventually my anxiety got the better of me. Somewhere around Fox Street, I grabbed my empty briefcase and bolted to the front of the bus. Again, Paul told me to wait, but approaching a state of panic, I wasn’t listening. When the bus stopped at the next red light, I jumped off.
The other bus passengers watched me through their windows as the bus pulled off and I started walking up the Rissik street pavement.
Kneeling on the backseat of the bus, looking out the rear window, Paul smiled and waved as the bus passed me and pulled away. The bus continued on until it was caught at another red light.
By the time the traffic light had turned green, I’d caught up with it and again, I was level with Paul at the back of the bus.
Now when the bus pulled out again, his smile was wider as he waved me goodbye a second time.
I smiled back sheepishly and carried on walking.
When I caught up with it at the next traffic light, I didn’t look up as I passed the back of the bus. In my peripheral vision though, I could see his smile had escalated to a full belly laugh.
Disembarking passengers look at me quizzically as I walked past them. The bus pulled off again. Feeling stupid, I avoided eye contact with Paul as he passed me again.
I swung my briefcase and walked on.
When I caught up with the bus on the following block, I stole a sideways glance at the back window.
I could see the tears streaming down the fucker’s face as he howled with laughter on the back seat. Now people on the seats around him were also smiling as they watched me march up Rissik street in the morning sun, next to a bus I’d paid to ride on.
The bus took off again as Paul, shrieking with delight, receded into the distance above a cloud of exhaust fumes.
Crushing my briefcase handle with an embarrassed death grip, I walked on.
When I caught up with the bus on the next block, Paul had fallen onto the backseat, hysterical with laughter. Now unable to stand, I saw his head popping up to look at me from behind the back seat before he collapsed out of sight again.
A few blocks later, when the bus eventually arrived at Paul’s stop, I was still alongside it.
I watched him tumble down the bus steps and then double over on the street, trying to catch his breath between laughing spasms. His laughter was distinctive and infectious. If something really tickled him, he’d whoop and scream like he was in pain. Watching him laugh until he fell down was a thing of beauty.
I was smiling myself as I walked past him. Dark patches of perspiration were now visible in the armpits of the new shirt I would own after just six easy monthly payments.
My street was about another four blocks along, just before the bridge over the train lines.
About a year ago, Paul’s beloved Liverpool FC won the Premier league for the first time in 30 years. I thought about him and his booming laugh. It would’ve been a big night in the pub. He would’ve been in great form.