Sky like a fucking angel with
spread wings, like a five
thousand pound kimono the moment before it falls
and with the unreal clarity of the very stoned, Ziggy, looking up, thinks 'The stars are bright tonight.'
"That E string flat, Ronno?"
" ... hired a roller and drove to bleedin' Bournemouth ..."
"Dude, got any skins?"
"I'm telling you man, tits out to - "
"Come on, baby. One puff won't hurt you."
But she giggles, the girl with the bright red hair and the glitter flaking from her cheeks. Her name's Joanne. Or Suzanne, or maybe Marianne, which is onomatopoeic and a damn good line although possibly someone else's. Ziggy has never rated his own song writing but then, English isn't his first language.
Someone inhales, coughs. 'Amateur,' Ziggy thinks. He shakes another fag from the packet and lights up. Stars are still bright.
Joanne's Grandma, her Mum's mum, reads the Mail with pursed lips, elbows decently tucked in and her back straight. "Maggie," she says, "Maggie, did you read this? Did you?" Floods in Africa, cutbacks in public transport, manufacturing at an all-time low, anti-union legislation, barricades at Dover, overweight white men in ties, girls in swimming costumes, Ziggy plays London. Joanne's Grandma reads cover to cover, sharp as a sparrow, until the newspaper's all finished, dried up, discarded and she's picking at a tea of shepherds pie that isn't as good as the ones she used to make although she'll never say. Disdain's in the way she holds her fork and shuffles the lumps in the mashed potato to the edges of her plate.
Doing homework she'll never need, Joanne opens her atlas on the coffee table and sees beyond the gross domestic product of twenty African nations already four years out of date (Jojo, Shirley next door says you can have her Katie's old schoolbooks. Go round and pick them up would you there's a love) a man in feathers. Like nothing she's seen before, ever.
"Poof," her Dad mutters and then looks over quick to check she hasn't heard.
"Catch a load of that," Joanne's friend Alison says reverent, sitting on the next to back seat on the ragged-run school bus and the boys behind whistle and point, delicious aggravation. "Wow," and she runs a finger down the grained black-and-white spangled unitard of a Friar's Court concert still. The magazine for every teenage girl, Jackie meets Ziggy (headline, bold) on a sofa in a Bayswater hotel for a three line interview supplemented by fifteen star facts. After Ziggy, two photo stories and a five minute make up lesson that will cost Katie next door two pounds ten pence at Woolworths and forty minutes in the bathroom with her mum banging on the door, but Joanne's not interested, eyes only on the painted lightning bolt beauty of Ziggy's face.
Katie's Dad says, "You're not going out like that, my girl."
Ziggy's the only man Joanne's ever seen wear make-up. Multi-coloured lightning bolt, red hair, blonde hair, the Sunday Post says (after Riots in New York and OPEC Collapse) 'odd coloured eyes' and she peers over the cuttings but can't see any difference in black and white.
It's Grandma who pays for the first album - "Pop down the Co-Op and get me my Players," she whispers. "Keep the change." She's got a bad heart, Joanne's Grandma, she's not supposed to smoke, but Joanne goes anyway, pockets the pennies and opens the windows to let out the smell.
First record she ever buys. Can't play it at home, but worth it for the coloured slip and the sharp-edged weight of the vinyl in her hands. Saturday afternoons in the football season, Alison's big brother Tommy never knows his long-player's on the floor and singing out Ziggy so low they're both bent over the speaker. "What's he saying?" Alison whispers, and Joanne says, "Don't know. Castle? Candle?" The words run together like magic, take flight, sound drum beat chords through skin too young to have learned all that glitters is not gold.
Ziggy flies to America. Joanne gets stars in her eyes - New York. Los Angeles. Hollywood. And passes her school certificate, does a six month secretarial course at college and takes an overcrowded train to the YWCA, Camden. Shirley's got a cousin who works for an agency that can get her a job. In London, Joanne gets lost on the Tube, tells her mum she's okay, does two weeks in an office in Marylebone, a week in Chiswick, two weeks south of the river, learns to poach eggs and make cocoa on the single burner. Sees her first riot, small, police with shields and batons. The newspapers talk about rationing, but there's a corner shop that still sells Lyon's and Cadbury.
She's sharing a room and Cassie from Luton knows someone knows someone else and comes home one day with an address. They go together.
Hair dyed strawberry blonde and lipstick American red, Cassie's been around. She's got tight jeans, stack-heeled boots, an angora sweater that sheds hair all over the bedspreads. Cassie's seen Ziggy play twice, tickets tucked safe in the programmes pressed flat in her suitcase. In awe, Joanne - scraping rent, eating sardines on toast and margarine, not butter - longs for a pair of pink platforms, a feather boa, glitter on her eyelids, but wears instead the sensible shoes that saw her through the last six months of school and half a year of short hand and typing. An A-line skirt, and a salmon-pink polyester blouse with a bow at the neck.
There's a coach load of teenage boys and girls outside the Hampstead town house and two policemen. Joanne's feet slow, stop. She isn't screaming. She doesn't have hair teased into multi-coloured, hair sprayed conformity: she's wearing lipstick, but on her mouth, not her forehead.
In her bag, that first album: she'd thought about autographs, but it's too precious to risk in the crowd. Joanne says, "Cassie. Cassie, I'm not feeling well. I'm going to go home, ok?" and she thinks Cassie probably heard but the other girl's eyes are fixed on the balcony windows.
Joanne turns to walk away, and stumbles. There's a hand on her elbow. Mum's baby girl, seldom been touched, Joanne pulls away, spins round. She's heard about men like -
Small fat man in a suit. "Saw the clothes," he says. "The girl from the agency, yeah? Sorry about the crowd. You'll get used to it. This way."
"Quickly now. Through here. Tony, it's the girl from the agency." She'll never see him again.
Another man, in a tweed suit, cigar in his fingers, sat back behind a mahogany desk three feet wide. He's got an ash tray, a glass of whiskey and two telephones set by his elbows.
"Can you type?" His eyes look her up and down but it's not creepy ... not that kind of creepy.
"You're hired," Tony says, and then, "Do something about those clothes will you darling?"
It's three days before she gets back to the hostel. She rings America, Germany, Belgium: she's found a French hairdresser in Islington and a pair of silver snakeskin boots, size 11:she's learned the names of fourteen record producers and that limousine companies expect to be paid in cash. She's learned: Ziggy's a star, he's a hero, an artist, an oracle, a musician ...
"Take this, " Tony says. "Dear Editor ... " "Dear Sir .. " "Dear ... yours, yours sincerely, yours, disgusted of Tonbridge ..." Half of the things Joanne writes are puff and smoke, ideas glinting in the light of Tony's eyes. "Yeah, we're touring America. Japan. Dig those Japanese fans. Yeah, Ziggy says he's gay. No, Ziggy doesn't do charity visits ... " "Jo, get me another drink."
She's grown up, she's a different person.
They've switched the heat off in the YWCA: Cassie's wrapped in both sets of blankets. "It's ok, " Joanne says. "I'm only picking up my stuff."
"What happened to you?" Cassie asks. "I was worried!"
"I've got a live-in job," Joanne says. She doesn't want to say where. "Good money." She doesn't actually know what she's paid, but she's been fed and the office is warm.
"Well, if you're sure," Cassie says. Then, "I was thinking of getting home anyway. Before the trains stop."
Joanne shrugs. Her suitcase is packed. "I'll see you," she offers, but Cassie's grin has too few teeth to be real. On the way out, she steals the hair dye.
Flight tickets are rare as gold dust. Ziggy comes home on an Arab airline, unscheduled, leaves half his band in the States. First thing Joanne knows, she's waking up and there's a pair of eyes two inches from her face. "Like the hair," Ziggy breathes. She can't move. In the darkened office, Ziggy's skin is almost luminescent, like there's light under his skin. His smile is conspiratorial, all for her. He's so thin Joanne thinks involuntary of her Grandma's roast chicken, potatoes, gravy made from the drippings in the pan ...
Whiplash quick, Ziggy's gone. It's too early for breakfast: Joanne makes coffee instead and helps herself to a capful of Tony's whisky. He won't notice.
She won't see Ziggy again for three days, but it's like the king's come home. Fans send clothes, guitars, teddy bears, flowers, white stuff in packets, brown stuff in packets -"Don't touch that, it's for the band." People come and go, an unpaid session guitarist who sets up house in the office, a make-up artist, pretty boys in jeans so tight Joanne keeps her eyes on their faces, an aggrieved American girl with a BBC accent, reporters, producers, two apologetic policemen who go away with autographs. Ziggy's in bed, in session, in a coma ... "Two grand?" Tony says, "Fuck off." Outside, the streetlights are going out, but the radio stations still have power and there's ink in the presses. "You want an exclusive?" Tony says to the young woman with dyed black hair and glasses. "Blow me." She does.
Joanne doesn't watch. The phone's ringing.
On the third day, Ziggy throws a party.
Ziggy doesn't send birthday notelets or invite people to dinner, something which in Joanne's experience involved only relatives and small tins of red salmon. Instead, people arrive. Slowly in the afternoon, in ones and twos, unwinding long scarves and draping velvet coats across her desk, leaving platform boots by the front door and propping guitars by the bathroom door. "Hey, dudes," they say, "Party upstairs?" Tony pours another drink and puts his feet up on the desk, saying, "Jo, take another letter. Dear Sir ... " and someone in a silver lame dress and a blonde wig sits on his lap. "With regards to - darling, some space here? - with regards to ... "
In the evening, more people, coloured hair, make up like alien clowns; robots; toys; stacking beer in the kitchen, rolling joints on the stairs. There are torches on the hatstand: the streetlights are out. From Joanne's desk, the windows are blackout dark.
"Hey. You're new. Party's upstairs, yeah? Come on up."
Joanne's got fresh dyed hair and a new pair of hipsters. She's not her mother's daughter anymore. She goes.
T-Rex on the turntable, beat so deep the floorboards vibrate. Room so crowded it's hard to see the walls. Someone presses a glass in her hand. Hard not to dance, hard to talk: impossible not to look at these, the beautiful people, so young, so shining, these pretty, painted peacocks. Girls with trailing hair and moonshine smiles, boys with slanted eyes and guitar string calluses on their fingers. No yesterday, no tomorrow, no America, snatched kisses, eyes too bright, smiles too wide. Joanne smiles and dances and drinks and smiles, and maybe she smiles when she kisses and maybe she drinks while she dances, and maybe someone says, there's a balcony, come out with me ...
There's a fire escape. The moon's nearly full, but there's a light on the roof brighter than silver gilt and, curious, she climbs upward. Laughter, short and high. Tony's voice over her head. " ... and said, darlin', if you've got it ... "
Rooftop terrace, most of the band, a few strangers, Ziggy in a kimono with his thin fingers clenched on a cigarette and a teenage boy curled between his legs. The American girl, with champagne.
Tony throws her a cushion. Someone from the band nods. She sits down by the chimney. It's not cold yet, and there's still time.
"Did you hear about Amsterdam?"
"You know that was the last flight out of New York?"
" ... heard on the shortwave ... "
"You're Jo, yeah? I've seen you in the office."
And while she smiles Ziggy stands up, leans an elbow on the parapet and lights another cigarette. For a moment he looks across the silent city -
" - Come on, baby. One puff won't hurt you."
- and up, at the stars. Then he looks down. He waggles his tongue between his teeth, eyes febrile sharp and bright. "While you're down there .. " Laughs.
The boy between his legs looks up, licks his lips, and runs a hand over the bulge of Ziggy's crotch. This time Joanne watches the zipper go down and someone passes her a glass of cold sweet bubbly wine, and then another joint. She can't think why she kept saying no: the dope makes her giggle, makes her feel happy, like someone special. "Try this." She does, white powder, sharp as stardust in her sinuses.
Ziggy's hands, bony, tangled in the boy's hair. When he comes - silent, not like Tony's wet gasps - light flickers under his skin.
Time passes while Joanne thinks. She leans back against the coving, slides slowly down to lie on her back.
Slap on her face. "Marianne." She hadn't realised she was asleep. Ziggy's eyes, too close, odd. "Marianne." It's not concern. His face is cold.
It's dizzying to watch him stand.
"You're not human," Joanne says slowly, tongue clumsy on the words.
Reply spirals down the starlight. "Whatever made you think I was?" Ziggy says. He's leaning against the chimney, line of his body utterly posed, shoulders, hips, feet, curve of his wrist and fingers in tune, harmonic. The glowing tip of his cigarette describes parabolae. There's a spotlight rigged by the fire escape that catches the sequins on his jacket and the points of his cheekbones.
Someone says, "Give me some more of that white powder. Let me forget."
"It wasn't meant to be like this," Ziggy says, and slides, limber, to sit cross-legged on the asphalt roof.
Joanne doesn't care. She's floating now, rocked in warmth, every limb tingling, looking up at the stars.
"Hey babe, far out, yeah?" someone asks her.
"Cool," Joanne slurs.
Hands slip round her back, a bit rough, but warm. There's someone sitting on her legs, pulling at her jeans.
'Oh,' Joanne thinks. 'Must be bedtime.' She looks up. Stars are bright tonight.
Ziggy says, "Wham, bam, thank you ma'am," and giggles.