Archives for posts with tag: Prague

In the dream, I wake from a dream of swimming thinking of the story as I walk down streets paved with large rocks. It’s one of those dreams in which I’m in wide canals as the water gets higher and the current and waves throw me in the air and I come back into the water and float or swim some more. In this revery, I’m walking through the boulders thinking of another story about swimming. Both the town in the dream and the town I wake in have old crooked buildings. But the town I wake into is hotter and arid. I look at a ceramic display on a street corner with words from prayers in Hebrew and English and possibly other languages, and continue walking towards my flat thinking of writing about swimming, about learning to swim, and about water.

Canal-Walk-Foot-BridgeA man, thin, wizened, about 55, stops me and asks if I have money. He wears shorts that are a little baggy on him and a faded t-shirt, though he doesn’t seem like a bum. I think of the small wallet in my pocket which contains maybe 40 euros. He speaks to me immediately in English, which is odd. Tells me I’m brave for admitting about the money, and ask if I mind talking with him. The small avenues are paved like something out of Gaudi or Hundertwasser. As I would in waking life, I do talk to him even though I’d rather be walking home and thinking about writing and thinking about swimming.

We sit on a bench for a bit and he tells me that he makes naambords (signs that go next to the front door of Dutch houses with the family name and house number) – that he makes them just with street names and post codes for the city. He shows me a catalogue printed in colour on cheap paper. In it there’s a picture of very young him – maybe 20 wearing big glasses with plastic frames. It looks like an early 1980s photo of a radio shack geek. His parents encouraged him to do woodwork, as he had a passion for it. I tell him we’ve only this year bought a naambord, and I think of the slate one we actually have. He tells me it doesn’t matter. His name is something like Garry Barr.

I walk back home, thinking I want to write this story down. About the swimming dream and learning to swim and about meeting Garry Barr. The place I arrive at has a cave-like entrance that reminds me now of Tim Dedopulos’ place up from Nerudova (near Prague Castle). There’s a shop just inside and I ask after some chocolates, half-distracted because I want to go inside and write. I’m thinking of a ream of paper I’ve recently bought and of my typewriter. The shop is tiny and I ask if he has chocolate – the proprietor takes down a shoebox from a high shelf – there are white kit-kat bars that come in double packs with eight sticks. I know I don’t want that many, but they’re only a euro so I buy one. Whatever I’m carrying is bulky and I pass Jeff Rubinoff (an American friend of mine from Prague) who asks after the chocolate and I point him to the shopkeeper, instead of giving him half of what I’ve just bought. Even in my dreams, I’m greedy.

I’m a little anxious to start writing – I don’t want to lose the content of the dream and the discussion with Garry Barr. I have images still of swimming down wide canals with waves that toss me in the air and make me fear just a little bit breaking my legs as I hit the bottom, but that never happens in these dreams – the water is never too cold, and I never fear drowning more than just a little – it’s too exhilarating.

Down a short low corridor that feels a little like a cave, I enter a very small apartment, ready to eat a little of my chocolate bar and start typing. The room I enter is small, crowded and dark. My wife┬áis ironing, and points to a bed on top of which a skinny girl of indeterminate age sleeps, wearing only a pair of panties. I’m disappointed because the noise of getting out the typewriter and the paper, even though I know where they are, will wake the girl. At this moment, I wake myself, needing to write.

On this day in 2004, Jhon Balance of the band Coil fell off a balcony in his home to his death at the age of 42.

A flatmate introduced me to the music of Coil by way of their album Scatology in 1990. Scatology contains a frighteningly beautiful, slow, dark version of Tainted Love along with songs that more obviously betray the industrial origins of the band, given that the other core member of Coil was Peter Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle. Balance and Christopherson were lovers and were already examining the toll of the AIDS crisis in their music and their graphics. (In other circles, Christopherson, who died in 2010, was a member of the Hipgnosis graphic design collective.)

Balance and Christopherson were both members of Psychic TV before splitting off to form Coil in 1984.

Around the time I started listening to Coil, they released the acid house-inspired Love’s Secret Domain which went into heavy rotation on my CD player for quite a while. And is still one of my favourite albums.

Coil went into hibernation for much of the nineties – I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that Balance spent a good portion of the decade fighting various addictions, but started releasing new music again in 1998 with the Solstice and Equinox singles, Astral Disasters, and Moon’s Milk in Four Phases, among several others preceding their return to live performance in 2000 or so. The last several years of Balance’s life were astoundingly prolific. There are studio albums and live performances and collaborations and plans.

Not only were Coil prolific, their music spanned a wide range of styles. As noted, Love’s Secret Domain has an acid house component; early work like that found on Scatology and 1984’s Horse Rotorvator are perhaps gothic, but not in a romantic sense. Related bands like Current 93 often get the label Neo-folk. That could apply, I suppose. Moon’s Milk and Astral Disaster tend towards dark ambient. (And, again, talking about music is like dancing about architecture. Coil resisted musical categorisation to such an extent that they once issued the sticker above.)

About two years before his death Coil performed in Prague at Palac Akropolis. I’d been prepared to go to Vienna for a gig that occurred two days later but was announced about a month earlier, but happily they came to the town I lived in at the time. Songs from both performances make up the 2003 Live Four release. My friend Chris and I went to the show together. You might guess by the way I write about their styles and their albums, that I did a very poor job of convincing friends what a great show it would be. (I still suffer this.) Chris, however knew some of their music well, and neither of us were disappointed.

The show was nearly sold out and was one of the most compelling shows I’d ever seen, between the visuals, the musical performance and the attendant stage performance of Plastic Spider Thing (described by performers Massimo and Pierce as “a highly moral, yet sexually explicit exploration into the relationship between the spider and the fly”). I feared during the performance that the band, and Balance in particular, wasn’t actually connecting with the audience. It may have been my own projection, but it was not shared by Balance himself.

After the show, I purchased a CD at the merch counter (which Balance and Christopherson autographed), and had another beer. In a moment when Balance wasn’t chatting with someone else, Chris went up to him and asked about a sample used on Love’s Secret Domain. ‘Oh, he said, that’s from Nicholas Roeg’s Performance.’ The two of them talked about Roeg’s films for a few minutes and to break a silence, I piped up how much I had enjoyed the show. He replied that the best shows were those in which he could play off the energy of the audience and that he really felt it that night. Oh, okay then. I then mentioned having enjoyed Derek Jarman’s The Angelic Conversation, a movie for which Coil had performed the music. (It’s also notable for Judi Dench’s readings of several of Shakespeare’s sonnets.) He became quite wistful in that moment. That movie, an examination of (among other things) homoerotic desire, he told us, had been a love letter of sorts. Jarman himself had succumbed to AIDS a couple of years before, and I have little doubt that he wasn’t the only person involved who had already died. I know we spoke for the better part of an hour and I was tempted to ask him to come home with me. I didn’t necessarily want him, but he obviously needed to be held. Alas, I lived well outside the centre of town at the time, and wouldn’t have known how to explain the poet I’d brought home to my flatmates. So I lost that chance.

His death shocked people who followed the band because he’d been suddenly so productive. Three completed Coil studio albums (Black Antlers, The Ape of Naples, and The New Backwards) were released after his death. I’m not a believer in such things, but not long after he died, someone produced an extensive horoscope on Balance in which he drew the conclusion that few if any people of note had been born under the same convergence of astrological phenomena, and that perhaps meeting Christopherson had provided him opportunities the stars had not.