by Jack Skelley
“It’s going to happen, I tell you,” Brian lisped insistently. “It’s going to happen soon.” Then he turned away from Mick and Keith. Brian slipped a shilling into the meter which turned on the gas fire – a few precious minutes of heat – and shook his wet hair over it.
Mick was in another of his this-isn’t-working-out-and-I-should-return-to-accounting-school moods. Yes, since Brian got the group together last year he had booked a trickle of gigs around London. But the only attention the Rolling Stones were getting came from the “jazz snobs,” as Brian called them, or from the mods, rockers and art students whose bloody rows usually got the shows closed anyway. And now it was winter, the worst winter in 100 years. And Brian and Mick and Keith were crowded in a piss-cold, two-room flat with a single light bulb that hung Bohemian-style from the ceiling.
Mick was standing under it now, in a periwinkle ladies housecoat.
“I mean we’ve only played one show this month, Brian,” he said. “And we still haven’t got paid for that. It just doesn’t add up, does it?”
But Brian wasn’t worried. Keith’s guitar parts were starting to kick in. And they had a great new version of “Not Fade Away” that didn’t so much toughen Buddy Holly’s hit as demoralize it. Keith imposed a Bo Diddley stomp over it, while Mick snarled his commands and Brian slurped mocking asides on harp. What’s more, Brian was on the verge of closing a management deal with Andrew Loog Oldham. Brian hated Loog; he was just a cheeky publicist looking to get rich off the blues. But as the Stones’ manager he could get them more gigs. And he could get Brian an extra five pounds a month salary. Five pounds his flatmates didn’t have to know about.
A shilling’s worth of gas spent, Brian began his brushing. One hundred strokes will catch the blokes, he remembers his mother once said. And Brian’s blond mop was glazed to a sheen.
Mick was still bitching.
“I mean what do you think?” he turned to Keith.
Keith was in a cross-legged pose, plunking on Brian’s Gibson, his fingers stiff with cold. Brian finished brushing, then smoothed his new tab-collar shirt in the loo mirror.
“I’d like to know who filched my piece of chicken,” said Keith.
Too late. Brian was already out the door.
Mick crossed his arms and glared, first at Keith, who shrugged and returned to riffing, then at the door as it slammed shut. He heard Brian bound down the stairs.
“Mister Shampoo!” Mick sneered. “And where did he get that shilling?”
THE BLACK BEETLES, THE BLOND MEDUSA
It was in Munich that Brian met Anita. It had been a rough show – there’s always some crazy Kraut who throws a beer stein at the stage. Brian barely dodged one and it got him a bit twitchy. And afterwards Mick and Keith were baiting Brian again as he hunched in a corner of the dressing room.
“What’s the matter, Brian? Did you see the black beetles again?” Mick laughed. Then Keith laughed, and so Loog laughed. And they all laughed.
“The black beetles, ha ha ha.”
Huge swarms of black beetles were what Brian had hallucinated coming out of the wall at Keith’s house back in London. And Mick and Keith always seemed to bring up Brian’s bad trip just when he felt the most vulnerable to their taunts.
But now someone stopped them in their tracks.
“Hello. Who’s this rare bird?” said Mick.
There she was. Anita Pallenberg. An aristocratic beauty, with hair the exact color of Brian’s. She even wore a floppy hat and French jacket similar to his. Able to slink past roadies and promoters with the stony gaze of a model, Anita arrived backstage and homed-in not on Mick or Keith, but on Brian.
“I said, who’s this?’ Mick repeated. But Anita cut him off with a scowl. She sidled next to Brian and, between her fishnets, flashed him a glimpse of her hash and amyl nitrite.
That night, Anita took Brian to her bed. She put on Aftermath.
“It’s my favorite. I’ve completely worn out the grooves,” she said.
He boffed her, burying himself in her limbs, her hair. Then he cried in her arms… partly in joy, partly in relief, because now he sensed a way out. He pictured her wicked mane gleaming through the window of his Silver Cloud Rolls as it swooped through London. They would be magazine demigods, and Mick would envy every glossy spread, and every journalist’s rave for how Brian’s sitar fired up “Paint It Black,” or how his flute forged a magical Elizabethan blues on “Ruby Tuesday.” Best of all, Mick would be stuck with Chrissie Shrimpton – that stupid girl, the mere sister of a model – while Brian would have this empress of decadence, this Teutonic Medusa.
Anita drifted into sleep.
Brian whispered, “I need you.”
On the turntable the needle clicked, clicked, clicked.
Keith’s Bentley purred as it swerved around a herd of goats. An old Frenchman made a rude gesture, but inside all you could hear was Tom, their Cockney chauffeur, yapping about his paratroop days. Brian and Anita were on holiday with Keith, motoring from Paris to Tangier, which had become the Stones’ sanctuary ever since London’s police were hounding them.
Though Anita nestled with him in the back seat, and his asthma medication was never out of reach, Brian’s anxiety was rising with each kilometer.
By now the Stones’ social life was a game of superstar chess. Outclassed by Anita, Mick had dumped Chrissie Shrimpton with a vengeance, swooping up Marianne Faithful, whose pale hair and pedigree rivaled Anita’s. This made Keith, still lacking a socialite girlfriend, the odd Stone out. So he renewed his bond with Brian who was relieved to have Keith back in his camp. But what were Keith’s real intentions? And why were Keith and Anita glancing at each other?
By the time they reached Toulon, Brian was wheezing severely. Anita felt his forehead.
“Brian, you’re burning up! Tom, find a hospital!”
Brian was admitted, and though she offered to stay with him, something made Brian urge Anita to continue south with the others. That night, while Brian writhed in a French clinic, Keith and Anita were screwing in a Spanish hotel.
For three days Brian fired off message after panicked message, all of which went ignored until the Bentley arrived in Tangier. By the time he rejoined the Stones’ party, which now included Mick, Marianne, and a whole entourage, Brian was certain something was up between Anita and Keith.
The others could sense it too. Tension was thick on the 10th floor of Tangier’s Hotel El Minzah, and the all-night acid parties only made things weirder. Brian balled himself into a corner, a Scotch and Coke glued to his fist, and watched. By the time the party got rowdy – Tom the chauffeur tobogganing down the hallway on room-service carts – Brian had crept into town by himself. He returned to his and Anita’s suite with a local prostitute – ornate tattoos were burned into her neck and cheeks – and he insisted on a ménage à trois. But Anita was not in the mood.
Then came the barrage.
“You fucking bitch!” he screamed. He picked up a platter of couscous and Frisbee’d it at Anita’s head.
The beatings and the cries went on into the night and were heard down the hall, clearly bumming everyone’s trip.
In the afternoon, Anita appeared on the patio, her face caked with foundation and concealer. Keith bobbed in the pool before Anita and she stared back, a mixture of passion and pleading.
A few tables over, Mick whispered to Marianne, “Things are getting fuckin’ heavy around here. Somebody’s got to do something about Brian.
And so Brian was escorted to the central square to record Moroccan music, and when he returned to the hotel the desk clerk gave him the news: Keith had thrown Anita into his Bentley and driven off hours ago. The entire Stones entourage had flown back to London without even telling him.
Brian raced up to his room.
“Judas !” he screamed, and flung a potted plant out the window.
The children flocked around Brian who was seated on a donkey as he entered the ancient village of Jajouka.
“See the man with the big hair ! See the man with the big hair !” They trailed him, showering him with fig leaves.
The artist Brion Gysin was taking Brian and Brian’s new girlfriend Suki – the latest stand-in for Anita Pallenberg – into the remote Rif mountains of Morocco to document the pre-Islamic rites of Pan.
Brian squatted with the master musicians of Jajouka, smoked from their pipes, picked up their instruments and began wailing, just as he did back in ’62 when he learned to play the blues harp in one day. He played along with them a bit more, then supervised the recording. Headphones pressed to his ears, he stalked around the musicians, whirling the microphone in arcs and figure-eights, swaying with the twining of the pipes. Brian knew that one day the rest of the world, too, would purify itself in these waves of sound.
Then, towards dawn, the Jajoukans prepared the sacrifice. An elder in a white kaftan carried a goat the color of desert sand to a flat rock. Brian fixated on this goat. The animal stared back through its shaggy fringe.
The blade swooped down and the scream ripped through the air.
“That’s me,” choked Brian. “That’s me.”
It has only been a month since Mick, Keith and Charlie drove out to Brian’s farm, offering him 100,000 pounds to leave the Rolling Stones.
After the meeting, Brian laid his head on the table and wept. But now, on the night of July 2, Brian is relaxing, watching Doctor in the House on the BBC with three friends.
It’s been a warm week, the pollen count is high and Brian hits his asthma inhaler between shots of brandy. After the program, Brian takes his guests outside for a swim. He staggers on the diving board, but Brian is a good swimmer and slices through the deep end. After 11 p.m., one by one, all three of Brian’s guests remove themselves to the house.
Brian swims alone.
It’s a watery blues that Brian hears now. A frantic alto sax gurgles bop from a muddy delta. There it yoo-hoos on sitar, soars above the hills of Wales, then plunges to the mountains of Jajouka, where African reed instruments, the texture of raised tattoos, bleat like goats with circular breathing, gasp infinity, then smudge away in the smoke.
Twin Renaissance recorders harmonize bitterly but resolve to a plunked marimba.
Deep down in the mix, a blues harp heaves, trailing clouds of echo.
And a metal tube slithers on steel strings, falling down frets to the bottom of the scale, where – bump, by bump, by bony bump – at last it settles, with a perfect twang.