Thanks for the encouragement – and the offers to help me build my site at bigfuckingpipedreams.com (yes – I have bought it. My credit card is groaning under the weight). 334 readers now. We are doubling every day. I'll be getting vertigo soon.
There was going to be no way past without a pass. It seemed we would have to wait for our meeting with Billy G.
The Vicar had no such doubts.
"Absolutely right", he said, graciously to the guard. "The last thing that Billy G needs now..."
he looked over at the demented woman in the jacket, "...is unauthorized visitors, or, even worse, members of the press. Fortunately, gentlemen, I am a current employee, and I do indeed have a pass. I am Billy G's sound engineer, at your service."
And he produced a laminated "access all areas" pass for Billy G, complete with her logo, and his photograph.
The guard examined it, and stepped aside.
"Where on earth?" I began, as the Vicar pushed open the glass door and walked into a small lobby area. "Isn't that illegal?" I carried on, as I realised that this pass must be the result of his work on his computer.
"Why?" he asked, as if shocked at the suggestion. "I am her sound engineer, and I do have access to all areas. Her manager would be happy to confirm it, as you well know. It simply saved an unnecessary waste of time standing outside making phone calls. Spit Spot. Best foot forward", and thus saying he pushed open the next glass door and walked into the reception.
We were clearly entering a building in turmoil. The receptionist was being hassled by two pretentious young arseholes – little greenhorns, as they would say in the US, fresh out of college. They obviously fancied themselves as future record company executives, complete with designer clothes, haircuts, and even designer glasses, not to mention Billy G passes not dissimilar to the one the Vicar had created for himself. They were at number eleven on the stress-o-meter. There is that scene in a Bond movie – Never Say Never Again, I think it is, where Bond is playing a game that sends electric shocks to the controls he is holding – slowly raising the level of pain. These two were well into the red zone, but were still clinging to the controls. You could almost see their hair starting to stand on end as the voltage increased, and they shouted louder and louder.
And here, Punksters, we face a small problem. I have no idea how to lay out dialogue when are three people yelling, all at the same time, not listening to a word anyone else says, coupled with the constant sound of the telephone ringing off the hook. But, hey, Rule Two applies. No complaints about bad grammar. We boldly go where no Punk has gone before. Into the literary unknown. We return to one room in total turmoil. In alphabetical order:
"Bugger me. This is serious…"
"Can't you just leave the frigging phone alone…"
"Damn. One of the tabloids has logged on…"
"Everybody shut up…"
"Fuck me. There's got be someone to talk to…"
"God. This is a bitch…"
"Hell. Leave the damn thing off the hook…"
"Idiot. Don't talk to anyone…"
"Just think of something…"
"Kunt. (OK I had trouble with K). Keep quiet until Richard Breamore gets here…"
"Luvvy. The trouble is there's nothing to say…"
"Might I ask you to keep your hands off my arse…"
And so it continued. You get the general idea. A hive of activity with absolutely nothing being achieved.
The Vicar stood near the entrance waiting patiently for a chance to speak to the receptionist. He has this way of apparently being the most patient person in the world, while some unconscious part of his body language makes it very clear that he is not accustomed to being kept waiting. Perhaps it is the way that he refuses to do anything other than remain totally focussed on waiting. Everyone else becomes distracted, they get a coffee, sit and read, or in my case, they play pocket billiards and stare at the talent.
It was an interesting place. I would as usual suggest that you check out their web site in order to get a sense of the space, but I am not sure if they have one. So, a quick whistle stop tour for those of you who get off on such things. Despite the "incorrigible ugliness" on the outside, it was pretty much the spangly swanky studio on the inside. The reception area was on the right hand side of the building, with thick blue carpet on the floor and even running up the walls, which were liberally coated with gold discs and signed photographs of artists who had recorded there. There was a glass door leading off to the left with a sign saying Studio One, and another leading straight on to Studio Two. The receptionist, with whom the Vicar was to have frequent battles over the coming weeks, was sitting in a raised area behind a large curved desk. Well, not exactly a desk. More like a bar, or the reception counter of a hotel. It was all painted in a cool blue colour to tone in with the walls, and the BHBB, or Blue Haired Booby Bird, even had a large blue streak in her otherwise blond hair to make her match the furnishings: hence her name. Well, it explains the blue haired bit. I'll leave the booby bit to your imagination. Although she didn't.
"Good afternoon. I am the Vicar." He had walked over and lifted the phone off the hook. He always introduced himself in exactly the same way. The inflection is mostly on the "am": "I am the Vicar".
"I have come at the request of Richard Breamore" he continued very calmly. "I shall be working with Billy G on the tour of Japan".
"Well Richard Breamore isn't here at the moment, and when he gets here there is a long queue of people wanting a bit of him" one of the two aresholes cut in rudely. "Can't you see we've got a crisis on our hands?"
The Vicar lent over and looked at the little prick's pass.
"I see you are in the PR department..." he read his name "…Michael. A tough job at present. You will achieve nothing until you lower your levels of stress. Look at your shoulders. You are so uptight."
And with that the Vicar began to massage the young guy's shoulders.
"Hey, wait" the guy began, but he gave up. He must have realised he was in the grips of a superior force.
"Why don't you sit down on this chair and let me lower your stress levels".
He led the astonished young arsehole to a chair, sat him down and continued to massage his shoulders.
"Now, how may I be of service to you?" the Vicar asked the guy.
"I'm sorry?" the guy replied, clearly completely fazed by this old man who had come in, started giving him a massage, and was now offering to help him.
"I have been employed by Richard Breamore to help with Billy G's problems. It would seem that you are currently having difficulties. So how may I be of service?"
Still no reply
"It may be, for example, that you are concerned with that woman outside?" the Vicar continued.
This suggestion received an instant response. Not from the young guy, but from his partner in crime. A girl of a similar age.
"What are you talking about, dopehead? We've got a major horror on the internet and you think we are worried about some deranged fan?"
The Vicar appeared not to notice her rudeness or her aggression. He continued very calmly to pour more oil onto troubled waters.
"Now we are getting a little closer. And what exactly has happened on the internet, pray tell?"
"You haven't seen it. I thought the whole world and his mother had been there." She replied. "If you want to wait for Richard, then be my guest. But everyone is very busy right now."
"I can see that the three of you were very busy achieving very little. Perhaps you would like to tell me what has happened on the internet to so upset your day."
"What are you, some kind of IT expert?" The young guy had finally found his tongue again.
"No, but if I am to help you find a solution, then I need to know the exact nature of the problem. Is it a web story? Can you give me a URL?"
The Vicar continued very slowly and patiently, rather like a father talking to two naughty children. He never stopped massaging the young prick's shoulders.
"So you want to gloat. Be my guest." said the young girl in the same acidic way. She wrote something on a piece of paper and handed to him. "Go sample the action. But you can't do it here. The whole system is down while they sort out what happened."
"You should learn to trust in the good fairy, young lady." The Vicar said. "If you become too cynical, when she comes knocking, you might just slam the door in her face. I shall return."
And with that, he bowed to the arsehole that had got the free massage, smiled at me, motioned me to walk through the door ahead of him, and made his exit from the building.
It was an amazing performance. Vintage Vicar. Within a few minutes, he had reduced a complete clusterfuck to the silence of a zen monastery. Well, almost.
Once outside, the Vicar and I looked around for the most likely source of an internet connection.
"International Cargo, I think." the Vicar said, walking into the freight unit next door.
Regular Vicar watchers will not be surprised to learn that, less than five minutes later, he had successfully commandeered one of their offices, complete with an ageing PC to access the internet, and had also gained something of an audience at the door, admiring their exotic visitor from the studio next door. It was one of those moments when you feel this sudden surge of power just following in his wake. Like Hugh Hefner must feel when he snaps his fingers and fifty women instantly drop their bikinis.
Nor did he disappoint in his duty to put on a show for his audience. When he had first walked in the room, he had picked up the newspaper – the tabloid newspaper – and tut tutted at the headline news about a recent rampage by England football fans.
"They will break panes of glass and smash the windows of coaches and also knock you down without the slightest compunction." He quoted from the top of his head. "Would anyone be interested to know what that is? It is a description of a English football match." He paused for effect. "In the Eighteenth Century. Is it not reassuring to know that we are not going to the dogs? We have always been there."
He turned and smiled politely to his audience, who would immediately look away, pretending to be actively engaged in some form of gainful employment – like a playground game of grandmother's footsteps.
"The tavern is rather worshipped than the church. Gluttony and drunkenness is more abundant than tears and prayers." He paused again. "The Archbishop of Canterbury. Speaking in 1562. You see things are not as bad as they seem. They are worse than that. They are also better than that. Unfortunately thuggery is something we English do well. Unlike sex. As Jeremy Paxman points out in his excellent book "The English" "How we reproduce is one of the mysteries of the Western world"."
This comment produced the desired level of tittering. We had typed in the URL that the girl had given us –www.whatif.com/BillyG (don't bother checking it – it's not the real one) – and were waiting for the computer to make a connection.
I wonder if anyone has calculated how much of our lives we spend staring at a computer screen, while absolutely nothing happens, except a little number at the bottom of the screen slowly changing, starting with 10%, then 20%, 50% and finally, wonder of wonders, 100%. I remember reading that an average person spends a couple of years of their life in the bath. By the time I die, will I have spent a couple of years of my life staring at a blank screen that says nothing more than "loading…"? Imagine how many years of how many frigging people's lives the inventor of the internet must have wasted. Scarydelic thought.
A young guy had asked the Vicar if the music industry was very incestuous.
"What a strange question. Do you mean musically or sexually? I am probably the wrong person to ask. Jac Holzman, the founder of Elekctra records, used to claim that, pre Aids and at the height of antibiotics, if you made a family tree of who fucked who in the business it would be pretty much solid black. That is why the whole industry could never get up in the morning."
More quiet chuckling.
"I am not the perfect person for such anecdotes, but I do recall a story about Warren Beatty, the famous womaniser, who was confronted by a woman he had been chasing at an industry party. She turned round to him and said "Warren." The Vicar put on a Pythonesque voice. "I have fucked him, him, him, him and him" he pointed at a selection of men as he said this "and I'm never going to fuck you." Poor Warren was apparently downcast for weeks."
"If you ask me if that is true to my experience of three decades of jumping in and out of vans, travelling the world, playing and recording music in the most unlikely and inappropriate venues, I would have to say that it is."
The site eventually appeared.
"Click here. Billy G exposed." A window popped up, inviting us to download a song. The Vicar clicked on the icon.
"It would seem that I can finally stop spouting elephantosities, and we may actually have some music to play you, although the sound on these computers is normally appalling."
At this point we realised that our computer had no speakers…and no sound card. Less than five minutes later, yet more people had joined us, hovering around, trying to make the computer perform the relatively simple task of playing some music. Isn't it ridiculous that we have cassette machines worth £5 that can play music, and yet we insist on struggling to make computers costing £1000s perform the same feat?
This may be a good moment to point out that while, by the time this book gets published – which might take an act from God – the internet may truly have become an "information super highway" at the time of writing it is more like, in the Vicar's words that day "a traffic jam in the bra of a New York drag queen – painfully slow and crammed full with rubbish that no-one wants".
But music did eventually arrive, and it was something of a major performance, as by then we must have gained an audience of perhaps twenty people. We heard the introduction to Billy G's new single "Don't touch what you can't afford", the same track that she had sung at the lottery. The singing came in as expected, but on the first high note her singing was painfully out of tune. Everyone in the room winced. The Vicar looked at me and raised his eyebrows as if to say " What is this girl of yours up to?" As the song went on, the entire audience was ducking in advance of all the high notes to try to shield themselves from the worst of the pain. It was unbelievably embarrassing. Enough to make even the most ardent fan question her ability. The phrasing was the same as the single I had played hundreds of times at home, but the tuning was simply appalling. "Quad erat demonstrandum" said the Vicar incomprehensibly (fuck I hate latin).
"What a fine web we weave when we first we practice to deceive." he continued poetically, scrolling down to the bottom of the page, where there was some form of discussion board, where fans were posting their comments.
"Perhaps we should see what the judges made of that fine performance", the Vicar said to his amassed audience. "Rebel says "Listening to this, I am felling –I think he means feeling – sad and depressed. I lurvved that girl but she was just pissing – I apologize for the language – in the wind like the rest of them." Not exactly up to the standard of Simon Callow on Rockstars, but I sympathize with his point of view." He cleared his throat. "Waterbottle – a more intriguing web handle – says "God she's the pits. Anyone want to buy my collection from me before I throw it in the trash" He looked at the gathered crowd. "If anyone wants to buy some cheap CDs, probably from America, given the reference to "trash", Waterbottle's your man, or woman. Royaltrude – these people do choose interesting names – says "She was always a phoney. Anyone who could make that much fuss about lip syncing had to be hiding something" – a case of methinks the lady doth protest too much from Royaltrude. There might be something in that. Finally Raging Bull says simply "anyone for a lynch mob" – a little severe, although I would agree that singing of that kind should probably carry a mandatory custodial sentence, or possibly an optional frontal lobotomy."
"Enough", he said, closing the program. "We have taken up far too much of these good people's time. Now, if someone would like to give me a large invoice for the time I have spent on your computer, I will be happy to see that Richard Breamore pays it."
Someone gave him a piece of paper and my pen.
"Oh. You do not want my autograph. I am not that famous. And I only ever sign my own work."
He pushed it away.
"No really. Have Punk's. He is the drummer with the Hellboys."
I, of course, would have been happy to sign, but the paper and pen had mysteriously disappeared.
The Vicar was impatient to get back to the studio. We hurried back outside.
"It would seem, Punk, that Billy G has been pulling the lamb's wool over everyone's eyes and someone is out to expose her. I think it is high time we went to meet the young lady in question, and I asked her some very direct and painful questions."
He turned and smiled to me.
"Although I still doubt this case will change my deep seated conviction that anything can be settled over a good cup of Earl Grey tea."