The Elephant man: Jake Waters
Artwork: Kane Horspool
Northern England, Leeds to be specific, Fucking Grimm, always wet and not in that magical neon lights reflecting off the smooth surface of granite streets after a hot summers spill way, nothing like James Dean, perfectly poised in a collar pulled up winter coat strutting down a New York street like it's his own rebellious cat walk. Much more like a leak in your roof on a stormy night, water pooling and making its way through the gyprock right above your bed, much more like being unprepared, missing the last bus home after a long shift and having to wade through the rain without an appropriate jacket. It’s cold, uncomfortably wet through and utterly miserable. Once again our rusted van creaks its way through the back streets past sheer walls of mundane red brick cells cultivating the tea obsessed loyal pawns of the once great British empire. Factories closed for two generations, hollow yet ominous, the remnants of a defiant nation once hell bent on producing the world’s greatest economic power, proof that even giants can fall.
As soon as our rapidly decomposing van groans to a halt, our wayward bass player peels back the rear door and hits the streets, head tilted into the swelling winds and like a drunken late-night apparition he's gone before I can even get the keys out of the ignition. Hard call he had on the drive in, call from twenty-five thousand kilometres away. Friends got the kind of sickness you can't shake with a bottle of Jameson's and a hot towel. She's giving close friends the final goodbyes and they go down like rusted nails. Still, we got a show to play and we need the gas money to get to the show after this one, hell of a thing to be in a touring rock n roll band.
Can't take the time to worry about the bass player, gotta load the gear and make sure there's a bloke to pay us. A few beers would be enough to keep us together... but this is England and of course they can't spare a single pint even if we have come halfway round the globe and already been slumming it in the van for weeks. I've been scraping the lost coppers off the van floor every morning so after being told no free beers for bands I hand over a fist full of change, politely beg forgiveness and ask for the cheapest pint available. With the warm glass of stale ale firmly clenched in my tightening fist I grit my teeth and retreat to the furthest corner table and don't take my eyes off the pint till it's empty, still no bass player. Sound check done still no bass player, stage time the manager hums at me in a low drooling monotone, still no bass player. I drag my stiff legs back to the bar and once again lay down a stream of coppers sticky with yesterday's sacrificed beers, beg forgiveness for our bass players tardiness and ask for a second of their cheapest pint. The barman angrily reaches down my throat with a single penetrating squinted eye as he viciously scrapes each copper into his cusp and exaggeratedly counts every single penny.
Back at my table, hunched over my rapidly evaporating pint of warm swill I feel the cold night air rip up my spine as the front door is forced open and in pours the bass player. He already looks like an 18th century sail driven clipper that's been taking on water, tacking towards the bar with a sever starboard list, hands out stretched, eyes glazed and rolling. By some miracle he reaches the bar and orders 3 double Jack n cokes, obviously not the first of the evening, inhales all three before producing a few crumpled fivers to balance his debt. The rest of the band dust him off, straighten him up and lead him to the stage. We do our best to keep it together, if only to ensure we get our much-needed gas money. Though as hard as we try, things quickly deteriorate. Three songs in the bass player has forgone any actual playing of his instrument to take up an argument with a front row punter who has caught his eye and offered insult by way of simply being there. We close out the song and coax our enraged bassist back to the stage. Two more songs and he is back in the crowd, now raised voices descend into stiff armed shoving and our drummer parts his kit like the Red Sea to wade into the scuffle. Faster than expected the offending characters are ejected from the venue and we're left to make it through our obligatory forty-five minutes. As the last note is struck and still lingering in the air, I spot the manager motioning fervently for me to join him. Settle up and get the fuck out as I’m told.
Rather proudly we have the van packed and ready to go in under 10 minutes, a routine we have been feverishly working towards since the beginning of this tour in preparation for just such an occasion. As I whip the vans rear doors closed one of the characters from the aforementioned scuffle approaches me and wants to inquire further as to our bass player’s mental state. I politely decline the opportunity to put these two together and insist our departure is imminent.
Now this is where things become irrationally obscene, the point of no return some might suggest. As I slip into the driver’s seat, do a quick head check and fire up our trusty rusted heap the main perpetrator from the earlier scuffle reaches into the driver’s side window and socks me square in the eye. Without contemplation I drag this rotten toothed Englishman through the driver’s side window and face first into my clutches. His arms now pinned by his side deep in the jaws of the drivers open window. His legs lifted from the ground kicking and struggling like an open ocean prize catch. I begin to administer a rapid barrage of left-handed facial treatments, to which my unwilling patient attempts (unsuccessfully) to cover and avoid. My ears ringing with a hot flush of adrenaline drenched blood fail to hear the approach of a small contingent of what the English call chavs, mesh Nike hat and gym shorts wearing thugs. I'm still too busy rearranging this fellows’ facial features to realise the rest of my band are already on foot, outside the van both administering their own brand of punishment to this poor fellow flopping from the driver’s side door and swiftly engaging in the small striking force surrounding our trusty rust bucket. As all calls of the wild are answered so too the sounds of flesh and bone hitting cobble stoned sidewalks is echoed by the sound of no less than thirty more bum bag touting, gym short sporting chavs. Secure in their superior attacking numbers advancing with what could only be described as a joyous battle cry. Still, I'm busy in the driver’s seat ensuring the intricacies of my left-handed turquoise rings are permanently imprinted in the forehead of my now extremely limp assailant.
A loud clapping sound tears me from my blood rage and I chance a look beyond the carnage unfolding in my own lap. I witness the speed and unrestrained force of our drummers left, right combo that halts one chap dead in his tracks and sees him fold backwards atop his own legs arriving in a jagged heap. The more unprepared fellow is struck square on the jaw and although his lights have firmly been dimmed, his body unaware that his trading day is at a close, jogs forward unresponsive in a descending fashion to meet the ritual matrimony of his flat face and the cold black bitumen. Their bond is sealed in a thick flow of crimson issuing forth from this poor blighter’s face via more than one open wound. With the realisation that my new acquaintance, now swollen and unable to offer resistance has been reinforced and that these reinforcements have surrounded our van and are quickly being taught a lesson in the false sense of safety in numbers, I eject my occupant via the window and watch as he slumps to the ground still trying to figure out what had just happened, politely I step over him and join the frenzy. With my back to the van, I take swift stock of the situation and realise that even though my guys are handing out harsh punishments and sentences this flow of urban rats is simply unabated and the four of us are going to be unable to stem this tide. I bellow a retreat and we back into the van, back stepping over the moaning fallen and swiftly locking ourselves in, our fists gripping and pumping rapidly to roll up any open windows. A few desperate left rights make it through the driver’s window but connect with nothing more than dash and steering wheel. I do a quick head check, all in. I wrench the keys into the starting position and our van simply will have none of it, a few splutters let me know she's flooded and without a few seconds to drain the excess fuel there will be no chance of firing up. Meanwhile the surrounding army of white trash soldiers has once again engaged in the attempt to dismantle our trusty old van.
Feet and fists mash against steel and glass panels. The sounds of screaming, the demands for blood retribution and the rhythmic thumping of every square inch of our van being pummelled is strangely muffled as time slows, if only for a second as I notice the pale white youthful face of a kid barely standing to the height of my door window. Our eyes lock and I can feel the pure hatred emanating from his soul. I watch in quiet horror as his fingers hook into the tight gaps surrounding my door, using the van as leverage he draws away from my window and canons his bare face through the glass, splitting his skin from forehead to mouth and sending shards of blood covered glass into my lap. He falls to the ground, I reel in disgust all at once as time catches back up and the roar of the attacking force is followed by wild fist strikes driving through my now broken and shattered defences. I curl my right arm around my face to deflect as many wild punches as possible and use my left hand to roll the keys forward in the ignition. Dull spluttering, a choking sound gurgling from the engine. I look up as I rotate the key forward again and again to see an inhumanly large man attempting to pry open the vans hood and attempting (one can only assume) to tear the engine from its bay with his bare hands. A loud bang, a weak roar and I feel the van stumble to life. Forgoing thoughts of safety for any of the surrounding force I drop the clutch and the van jumps forward, all those outside dive for safety and the roaring voices have now transferred to the interior of our vehicle, the cries of victory as those inside our camp face the realisation that we are away, free and largely unharmed. I lean from my window and shoot a backwards glance as the van bursts through a red light. The split-second glimpse I get is one of unhinged carnage. Several limp bodies line the cold wet street and I see my patient, the catalyst of this untimely fray. His face has been wildly altered by our brief time together, left eye swollen shut, nose flat against his cheeks, teeth missing. Held up on either side by his companions, drooling and stumbling I almost imagine hearing him scream "I AM NOT AN ANIMAL!!".
An eerie silence has set in as the cool night air whipping through my shattered window and stinging my face snaps me to attention and I wonder how long I have been chasing the white line scrawled into the endless bitumen track being consumed by our diesel driven chariot, surely looking sorrier than ever. I break the now crushing silence and attempt to take stock our present situation. A possible broken hand for one, a black eye for another. All in all, we have made off like thieves in the night. A short line of police patrol cars hammers past us in the opposite direction, sirens screaming and followed closely by more than one ambulance. We all stiffen simultaneously and only draw breath when the flashing lights have faded from our rear view. I don't chance a stop; I simply pull the van into fifth gear and point her south refusing to pull over for anything less than fuel, still contemplating the grievances inflicted upon those whom fate had beset against a small batch of denim clad Australians.