St Germain told me I was wielding a broom when I destroyed the Presley’s communal kitchen in a fit of drug-crazed rage. I thought I had just used my bare hands. He also provided technical details about the primitive 90s musical gear we used to create tracks – a special treat for those who work in that world. Big thanks to Chris Lebert, who provided most of the photos from the Rhodes era, recordings of Manhole songs, and the memory of how our first band began – from a night of taking speed and rehearsing wildly for our first gig – which was the very next day!
The past is not dead; it’s not even past – William Faulkner
More than half a century ago a tiny locale of senses and sensations that was soon named ‘Derek’ appeared on Planet Earth. I did not go on to become a Mandela or a Bill Gates, just an ordinary anonymous artist, so why, one might ask, did I choose to write Three Foot Tiger?
I kind of had to, I guess. The story was inside and had to come out. Hopefully it’s a tale that entertains – and, of course, every writer hopes they’ve written a bestseller. It’s a confessional, and it’s certainly been a form of therapy. In transcribing it, I’ve learned much about what comprises me, Mr D.
There was a time when I believed that because everything is transitory, nothing is worth preserving. I changed, and became quite an archivist. While our lives are but fleeting raindrops, stories are eternal. Art, the only worthwhile thing mankind produces, is for others, and it must not be lost. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have been surrounded by incredible artists for most of my life. I hope that this book helps to preserve and promote their creations in some small way. In many ways, this book is about them.
Committing my life to words hasn’t been easy; it’s taken me several years. Certain events, especially those in which I hurt others, were extremely painful to dredge up and commit to my laptop. I probably conveniently forgot others. I seldom kept a diary, and the only chapter where I did (India) was far easier to write than the rest.
About 10 years ago, I started writing some anecdotes down about my life and posting them on Aryan Kaganof’s kagablog. I’m deeply thankful to Aryan for providing this platform. These tales (preserved here in italics and without capital letters, as they were on the blog), though I didn’t know it then, were the first steps of writing this book. They were pretty much in-your-face, and not all of them made it to print here: there are, for instance, no haikus about my penis in the Tiger.
If you lose your memory, are you still you? In some respects you may be, in others you assuredly are not; memories, to a great extent, maketh the man. Yet our memories are in no way accurate reflections of what really transpired, a well-known fact in courtrooms. Ten people may all have differing accounts of the same event they all witnessed. We tell ourselves stories about things that happen, as soon as they happen, and this narrative is often what becomes our ‘memories’.
Some events are shared by people from your past, your family or close friends, and become the folklore of your tiny clan, hauled out at social gatherings greased by alcohol, turned over and examined and laughed and wondered at. They become subtly changed over the years: twists and embellishments are added, details are forgotten in the recounting. It’s easy to mistake these tales for your own story, your own past.
Often what seem to be the worst, most scary events at the time burn themselves into your memory the deepest. Some cannot be processed fully as you don’t have the emotional ammo or ability to deal with them, particularly when you’re a child – one of the central tenets of psychoanalysis. Some recollections become painful shards of glass that require rearrangement in the sofa of our minds – that is, if we are fortunate enough to be able to afford therapy, or are able heal ourselves in some other way.
Most of my earliest years are hazy, and to help bring these distant events into the light of day, I relied upon my sister Sandy Immelman to some extent. She’s two years older than me, and was able to add some details to the events we experienced together back in Rhodesia. She also provided the anecdote of me standing up to my school principal Mr Shitz about my religious convictions, which somehow became buried altogether in my own memories; all I have left is my feelings towards the man, most of them angry. Thanks Sands!
Thank you Marc: singer, songwriter and guitarist in three bands we played in together, for your inspiration, and for providing the names of some of the bands we listened to at the time. The music we listened to hugely influenced the music we played, as well as what we believed in and did. Music was our raison d’ etre; everything revolved around it. A new album, in the 80s and 90s, was really expensive, and a huge deal: we would all gather to listen to it, over and over. A girlfriend’s ability to make good mix tapes counted as much as her looks.
An added bonus of writing this book in the age of the internet is that I’ve been able to listen to these old bands again and finally discover what their lyrics were about; back then, I was limited to guessing much of the time. The emotions songs elicit matter far more to me than their lyrics: only after many, many listenings, do I focus on what the words are about. I wanted to put a lot of the lyrics from these old songs into this story, to paint the mood of those times, but the laws of copyright (beyond a single line of a song) prevent that.
To all the musicians I played with, who gave me permission to use their lyrics in this book, thank you. Thanks to Lloyd Ross, for filming and recording my bands, and for kindly allowing me to use some lyrics of the late great James Phillips. Huge thanks to Adrian Ziller and Brendan Jury, who recorded the marimba bands I played with, from which I made two CDs. Ukuxolelana has for a decade generated income for Achimota and the Achikids marimba bands. Big thanks to Matthew Fink for mastering Live Jimi Presley, and to Aragorn Eloff for the Vader Jakob single. Musicians help musicians. Few others do so in South Africa.
To protect the people of my past from scandal – though most of that is mine to bear – certain characters have been given pseudonyms. If any of their friends and family recognise them, I apologise profusely, particularly if the events related here are in any way incorrect. I have done my utmost to recount things as I remember them, as truthfully as is humanly possible. Only a few facts have been elided; I’ve tried not to be nasty, and some stuff was just too crass, too gross to share. Believe me.
Thank you Sandy, Marc, Kate Shand, Bridget Hilton-Barber and Melinda Ferguson for reading my first drafts and plying me with useful advice about where to take this Tiger. It’s my first book. May it take you on as much of a journey as it’s taken me.