Essay / 9 January 2019

A Rock Star Wasting Time

Eleven excerpts from Berlin & Paris


Nobody in L.A. ever wastes any time. Not even the pushers, not even the groupies. And nobody would ever assume that he, a rock star, might waste his time. People believe that every second of a rock star's time is precious, and if the rock star doubles as a film star, it's twice as precious. Indeed, a rock star's seconds are often worth thousands of dollars. So if he spends whole afternoons and nights, and to be honest whole mornings too, sitting in front of the TV in his darkened room trying to switch channels by the mere force of his willpower, isn't he wasting thousands, even millions of dollars?

No, he isn't. For his ideas to visit him during those rare few seconds of inspiration when a new song is born, he needs to wait, wait, wait, to do nothing, to sit in front of the TV and inanely exercise his willpower. In order to be paid the annual salary of an average office-worker for a TV appearance or a concert, David needs to procrastinate, to take drugs, to keep a door open for insanity.


His life is out of balance. Of course it is. And that's why he's unable to write Passing. O the good old days when coffee was his drug! When Terry wasn't in the bin yet and he wasn't a star yet. Now that he's almost completely abandoned his cocaine habit, his friends aren't cocaine dealers anymore. His friends are heroin dealers now. Three score cigarettes and ten joints a day — who didn't need heroin to keep up such a regime? And he must work, work, work. Without all the substances he wouldn't be able to. His life would lack all structure. To regain balance in his life, he must re-establish an equilibrium of structure and work on the one side and energy and drugs on the other. It can only be done by taking more drugs.


On the Road is perhaps the most important book Jim has ever read. He lives on the road himself like the protagonists in Kerouac's novel. A different, intense, ecstatic life was there for everybody who dared live it. In the forties and fifties, Kerouac and the Beats did, but they weren't a great many people. In the sixties, alternative lifestyles became a mass movement, and the hippies added their ideology of love and peace and drugs to it. But now the seventies have begun. It's a different age. Can it really be that the digit seven showing up in the tens place formerly held by the digit six overthrows everything? It seems so. The high of the sixties has morphed into restlessness and aggression. The severity of the hangover will be directly proportional to the intensity of the intoxication that caused it. Everything has its time.

And Kerouac had his seventies already in the sixties. In Satori in Paris he is twice as old as his alter ego in On the Road and an alcoholic. Jim is still almost young, not much older than the characters in On the Road, but already an alcoholic and in Paris. By no means, however, does he want to die at thirty-three like Alexander and Jesus. He believes he will live to a hundred and twenty. Modern medicine will make it possible. At a hundred and twenty he is going to pass away alone in his bed. Kerouac has been dead for a while, though.


And Janis had the same heroin source that Pam has. Everybody has that count. Name of Jean. A girl in English, Jean. But Jean in French a guy. Everybody has the count. Janis, Pam, Marianne. Keith, John, Jimi. Everybody. Wasn't the butler called Jean in France? Three years younger than Pam, who is three years younger than Jim, and already noble and a diplomat and a drug dealer, the count. Has the best, strongest, purest smack. And he frequents the Georges-V, entry into which Jim has just been denied. Apparently Pam is staying at the Georges-V because that's where the count is with his smack. Perhaps she only wanted to move to France because of the count in the first place. And that would mean that the reason Jim is in France is the count.

But where is Pam? Jim orders another bottle of wine. He opens his notebook and writes Liberty · Equality · Fraternity. The magic of the motto, which adorns all the public buildings of Paris, lies in the halfway-raised dot, the interpunct. That's where it's at. He could turn it into a poem. What would he say about the three terms in an interview? What would he say about the interpunct? Interview thoughts alway kill off his poetic inspiration, so he closes his notebook. Who knows, maybe they won't interview him anymore now that he is a poet and no longer a rock 'n' roll singer? Journalists were always trying to scrounge a contact high from a rock star, a bit of the intensity of the adoration that came from the fans, of the beauty of the women, of the miracle of music-making. But Jim has always preferred to give the journalists contact vertigo and contact sickness. All he can offer them now is a contact hangover.


He keeps a literary diary, out of which he hopes his next volume of poetry, a couple of songs, the odd short, most likely one day a feature film too, definitely some short stories, sometime in the not too distant future his first novel, and sooner or later some holy books, scripture on a par with the Bible and the Gita, will spring. But Jim admits to himself that for the time being all he has is some scattered observations and reflections, and that often he stares at the white paper for a while, until eventually he opens a white Bordeaux and lets literature be literature. On cocaine days he tends to write more, but when he is sober and reads his notebook, he finds euphorically distorted archetypes that don't signify much. He feels like the writer in the anecdote he once heard. Every night in his sleep, the writer is visited by the most extraordinary poetic ideas, but the next morning he can never remember them. So one evening he decides to place a pencil and paper next to his bed to record his ideas. During the night he has another extraordinary poetic idea, which he manages to scribble down before falling back into his sleep. Full of expectation, he grabs the piece of paper in the morning. The note reads, Boy meets girl and falls in love.


The Englishman, and generally the Anglo-Saxon everywhere in the world, stays sober during the working week and obliterates himself at the weekend. The Italian, and generally the Mediterranean, drinks a small glass or two almost every evening but does not get drunk a single time during his entire life. The German, and generally the Central European, represents a synthesis of the Englishman and the Italian. During the week, he is a moderately imbibing Mediterranean, and at the weekend a binge-drinking Anglo-Saxon, David notices. In his own circles, the traditional alcoholic beverages are supplemented by sundry fancier intoxicants.

For several weeks David manages to be an Englishman in Berlin. From Friday night till Sunday morning he follows a regime of drugs, sex, and excesses; from Sunday noon till Tuesday noon he sobers up; and from Tuesday afternoon till Friday afternoon he devotes himself to hard work. His life is different from an average office-worker's only in that he does not sit hungover in an office on Mondays, but lies hungover in his bed. And of course he fucks more people. And he swallows more pills and snorts more powder on his workdays. Is he a German after all?


“You too?” asks David, cutting up the coke.

“Always,” says Jim.

“You didn't strike me as a cokehead. Never figured you for one.”

“I'm still quite new to the snow, you know. Wrote a song about it for our new album.”

Jim sings She Smells So Nice. David smiles and nods in approval.

“But,” Jim continues, “the song didn't make it onto L.A. Woman. Drug-taking as a metaphor of a love relationship never really convinced me as a poet. And the other guys in the band and in the studio thought the same.”

“Strange we never bumped into each other in L.A.,” says David.


Then Jim sits in the garden of the Château d'Hérouville, chatting and drinking with Iggy and some other musicians and some guys of no obvious purpose and some beautiful young women. He is, as he sang in an early Doors song, on his way and he can't turn back. Cos it's too late. The song was about what happened between him and a woman once they had smiled at each other. Now his relationship is with alcohol. Once he starts drinking, he needs to continue till the radical conclusion has been reached, just like with a woman. He needs to go the whole hog. With the Doors he sang about the later stages of a love affair too. About the repeated love-making before parting, and on the new record about the maniacal infatuation with a girlfriend who is once again running off after an argument. It's very much the same story with alcohol: beautiful and exciting at the beginning, soon oscillating between fulfilment and boredom, then precarious and desperately wild, later seeking refuge in the well-tried patterns and rituals of earlier days and thereby inevitably aggravating a state of affairs that has become unbearable, finally wrecking and deadening everything. The other stimulants that come his way — his college sweethearts and old flames, LSD and marihuana; the elucidating, word-spawning cocaine and the obfuscating, music-yielding heroin; and all the substances whose names and effects he cannot remember — are the bits on the side that afford him a short, intense pleasure but make things so much worse in the long run.


Jim hands Jean the money. Jean hands Jim the baggie. Jim staggers towards the toilets. The gents is occupied, so he enters the ladies, which is always cleaner anyway. Feeling a strong urge to take a leak, he stands over the bowl. As he unbuttons his trousers, his fingertips send a signal of alarm through his body. He isn't wearing his leather pants. His numb brain smiles the alarm away, and the agitation subsides. He gets the mixture, the so-called speedball, ready in two massive lines. Rails actually. He pauses, holds his breath. Something was wrong with the look on Jean's face when he was selling this new mixture of his to Jim. Something was not quite right. Jim visualizes Jean's pretty-boy face. It grimaces cannily, then turns into a spiteful rictus, then into an American-Indian totemic mask, then into the mask of an ancient Greek tragic actor. Can he trust the count? Fuck it, thinks Jim. Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity, he knows from William Blake. Moreover, the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. So Jim exhales, but with all the alcohol in his blood he inadvertently, clumsily blows away half of Jean's mixture. It snows down on the toilet floor, right onto a puddle of piss. Clean ladies' bathroom his ass, thinks Jim. Zephyrus, the wild west wind, must have blown away the powder. He quickly sniffs the remaining rail.

When Jim comes to, he is crouching on the floor with his trousers round his knees. Someone is hammering their fists on the toilet door and shouting something in French. There's a big pile of shit next to him and his clothes are soaked in the puke and piss that cover the floor. No more ladies' rooms, Jim swears to himself. He wipes the shit and puke and blood off his body with the unsoiled part of his shirt and some toilet paper. After a while he manages to unlock the door.


“And my half-sister, Annette. My father had her before he married my mother, but she always lived with us and we grew up as brother and sister. She fell in love with an Egyptian, and gone she was. All of a sudden, just like that. My parents told me that she had moved to Africa to get married. And that her name wasn't Annette anymore, but Iman. For in the village of my sister's husband, one had to be a Muslim, which was why my sister believed in another god now and I think in a prophet and in the truth of another book and also why she had another name. My parents said she would be writing to us, but as far as I know she never did. There are post-boxes in the villages of Egypt, aren't there? It was once ruled by the British, after all. Anyway, I've never heard a word again from my sister.”

“Oh! But you do maintain a good relationship with your family yourself, don't you?”

David smiles. Doctor Epstein understands that now is not the right moment to begin a talking therapy with the patient.

“Mister Jones,” she says, “we found traces of several drugs in your blood. Our lab informs me that you had consumed large quantities of cocaine both for a prolonged period of time and immediately prior to your accident. Do you take drugs regularly?”

“Yes, I do. Heroin and cocaine. And of course alcohol, nicotine, and so on.”


“Hourly. Several times every hour of the day.”


Mick has recently switched from heroin to a healthy lifestyle of regular hours and daily exercise. He and Jim talk about the drugs they used to do in the late sixties and early seventies.

“Without the substances,” says Mick, “we wouldn't have got as far as we did, artistically. All in all, the drugs were a good thing.”

“Yeah,” says Jim. “Our path into bliss and illumination. Sometimes even straight into the great beyond, though.”

“You needed to know your limits,” says Mick. “Whether you lived or died, was a matter of your intelligence.”

“Exactly,” says Jim. “If you were intelligent and if you always kept Zephyrus on your side, nothing much could go wrong for you.”

Mick doesn't ask Jim what he's trying to say. As usual, he shruggingly accepts his cryptic and pretentious choice of words.