Barney Bubbles artwork (detail)
Today I’m in a mixed time awareness of the ages, reading a slew of overlapping novels, from 1948’s 1984 Orwell to the 1996 or so Ladbroke Grove of M. Amis. I’m also reading Northanger Abbey, by the eighteen-year old Jane Austen of 1799 and sitting on a fold-out mattress in the company of my eighteen-year old daughter Alessandra and her Chinese friend Dghzou here in 2012. The young women discuss the boys in the Occupy Oakland demo they were at last night, “They should have left when we did. No sense those men. I expect they got arrested. Let’s send them pictures of our food.”
As they chat, I listen to the now six week old recording of The BBC Radio-4 programme about Colin Fulcher, alias Barney Bubbles, on Dghzou’s lap-top, a show about how my ol’ friend Barney went nuts.
It’s a clever and emotional piece of detective reportage from the front lines of Barney’s life.
Such a revelation, I had no idea he was so troubled. We were the best of friends but in the style of blokes of the time we shared no intimacy of the sort that might lead to telling it all in such a forthright way. Not like in California today when every body tells their woes.
During my visit to his place in Islington in May of 1983, six months before he died I didn’t hear his hidden voice telling me his troubles. Not so hidden in retrospect, he said it to me out loud, something like, ‘I have a date with death.’ But I took it as metaphor at the time.
No matter that death stared us down, that both of our parents had gone in a moment, his the year after mine, we’d never admit such a sentiment as loss to each other, no, not cool. No, he wryly looked away as I asked, “So. How did your parents die?”
He dismissed me with, “They just died, di’n’t they.” Not a flicker of emotion.
But he went on to say that the Australian Aborigines had given him a death, had put a stone on him and that he would die to protest the ways of the world, did I believe such things?
“Yeah, they work, I’m sure.” We both agreed that how killing stones worked was that they were believed in, and that objects were alive, like shapes, a conversation we’d had over the years.
On the radio show Fulcher’s sister, Jill, was astonishingly and appealingly forthright, so dramatically different than my remembered youthful fear of her, of what I imagined was her dangerous wrath and disapproval of me, her brother’s odd friend. No, Jill showed, through her clear telling, some of her brother’s hidden emotion. She sounded so real and poignant, with that radio sound effect of a ticking clock in the background, giving off a powerful whiff of the suburban, glassy-tiled fireplaces of Whitton, as I sat eight-thousand miles away on a fold-out here in San Francisco.
What a great piece of BBC magic, of emotional and you-were-there detective work this is. I grew up listening to the radio and this show is as good as it gets. Now all this telescoping of time muddles the world of radio and novels into a confused memory, with Cassandra Austen, Jane’s sister, editing a movie of Barney Fulcher slicing his face mask, all the while adding adding bits of Burrough’s Naked Lunch to the mix.
A minor point of fact about the radio programme, I don’t think ‘Colin Fulcher’ become ‘Barney Bubbles’ in 1963, He adopted ‘Barney’ in maybe ’66(?) and it wasn’t until 1967 when he started his light show that he adopted ‘Bubbles’. Hmm, I seem to recall I am wrong by a couple of years.
Another thing of which I’m less certain, but do feel, is that I don’t think Barney was ever really in ‘fashion’, so I don’t think he ever really went ‘out of style.’ He was always too far out in front to be really accepted for the seer he was by his paymasters. I think the reason he got used so much was because his employers were connived at by Barney’s force of personality. His “Cheap and Cheerfiul,” won the day despite their misgivings about his ideas. But when things went wrong for him in ’83, probably I now realize because of a bad cocaine and speed habit, he was less able to cope, and so off he flew with the Australians.
Colin Fulcher went in a ritual which was Barney Bubbles’ ‘Look what you made me do’ to the music industrial-complex. Plus I think warmonger Margaret Thatcher had just been or was going to be re-elected. His arch-enemy, Town mag publisher Michael Heseltine, then Minister of Defence, was weaseling for PM. Elvis Costello. HM Govt. There were many reasons to protest but his seedy metaphor turned deadly. It wasn’t just the disease, as Wiki calls it, that killed him, he was saying something. The bag and the cuts were masks in a performance.
Stupid idea. Don’t do it Barney.