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Read extracts from my book below
Derek’s headlong journey into self-destruction changes to self-discovery. He reaches a point when he realizes that partying, girls and gigs are not enough; he wants to be a whole human being. To do that, he has to own what men fear most: his emotions and his obligations to his significant others.
Three Foot Tiger explores loss, discovery, anger, denial, frustration, love, loneliness, exhilaration, fear and despair; how Derek owns his misogyny and entitlement; how he copes with the death of his pets, parents, friends and fellow addicts.
Mr D, the central character of his own life story. Makes long friendships. Most of the song and poem lyrics come from the singer/songwriters in bands he played in; in a sense, this book is a celebration of the artists I met, played and lived with. Some of the characters have pseudonyms. Some insisted that I use their real names. Who is real? What happened to us, actually? This is my attempt to figure it out …
I’m a fat child at first, oddly brown in colour, which doesn’t sit too well in a colony where colour defines your class, social status, access to public amenities and a host of other things. My mom explains to anyone interested that my tan derives from my Irish ancestry, her dad being an Irishman. The Irish had been crossbreeding with the Spanish, she says – and I hear this story often – whose armada was shipwrecked on the Irish coast when a storm blew them off-course, saving Britain; and the Spanish, prior to that, had been invaded by the dark-skinned Moors.
This Moorish blood, then, apparently accounts for my permanent tan, which never leaves, though the tubbiness soon departs. Later I surmise that one of my colonial ancestors had taken a fancy to one of the indigenous members of a colony – a far simpler explanation. My ma se explanation se Moor.
We’re invited by the Women’s Movement to play at a campus gig. We all take downers; our clarinet player Martin starts playing Figaros while Marc tries to plug in his guitar; Martin, an immense chap even then, passes out and falls onto my amp; both tumble off the back of the stage. Goofed, we become frozen to our instruments, unable to play the fast tunes we’ve worked so hard at. The women scream at us to leave: ‘Fuck off! Fuck off!’ We’ve discredited their movement.
At another gig we convince a club owner that our playing at the Grahamstown Festival, at the opening of his new venue, is a good idea. We chase all his patrons away. He keeps unplugging my amplifier, and we keep plugging it back in; eventually he’s got his hands round Marc’s neck, yelling at him to shut up.
We get a stinking review in a local paper, which labels us ‘the town’s least popular band’. This amuses us no end and does nothing to discourage us – for us there’s no such thing ‘bad publicity’ – any publicity is good publicity.
it’s 1999. strewn across the concrete floor of a dingy warehouse, on futons, blankets and beanbags, is a group of five junkies, smoking crack and ‘spiking’ heroin.
the stash runs out; a collection is made, and one of us is dispatched to hillbrow to score fresh supplies.
we wait in agonized anticipation for our next hits. an age later, the sound of the motorbike is heard, blocks away, and we can breathe again. he comes in, takes off the helmet, opens his mouth, drops the dwelms into his palm.
the tiny wraps of plastic are opened to reveal miniscule lumps of cooked cocaine and small piles of dubious thai white smack. a pecking order is fast established, glass pipes are primed and lit; the sound of grateful, hopeful inhalations fills the room. smack is melted in spoons, needles sink into grimy joints.
one of our number is in trouble. shanti has taken too much smack and is busy od-ing on us. she stops breathing. a friend steps in to save her, pulling her around, slapping her, waking her up, delivering mouth-to-mouth. the rest of us are not particularly concerned. the problem is being seen to, and we have our drugs to keep us busy.
then, almost simultaneously, we notice our downed comrade has left her stash in full view. she might die; she won’t need it. the sentiment, at first unspoken, felt by all, is soon the topic of debate. how to divide it? who will go first? should we wait?
perhaps shanti hears us; she comes back to life, mumbles, dithers around on her elbows and knees, and reaches for her stash – her first clear instinct. she sits up, flicks back her dreads, and without hesitation, hits the crack. as if she would rather die than have her stash stolen.
we turn back to our own diminished stashes. there’s a vague feeling of disappointment in the air. soon, we will have to somehow make another collection.
By 2007 only two of this group of five are still alive. The rest are dead from overdoses.
Dad’s dying of cancer and is, by the time I get there, off all medication except palliative care to hasten his demise. He’s in a fog of morphine.
As he’s only able to listen and unable to respond, when nobody else is around I seize the opportunity to unload upon him decades of stories about what my life has really been about: all the crazy gigs, parties, sexual experimentation, the dodgy friends and jobs … the gore, grime and glory.
He can no longer eat; he’s dying of starvation and thirst. As I clear my conscience in my one-sided, three-day confession, he shifts about on his bed, clearly uncomfortable.
It’s good for me to get all this stuff of my chest, but his dying is fucking horrible to watch. I’m tempted to put him out of his agony with a pillow, like Chief Bromden did to McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but I end up just chanting mantras and telling him my story. Om mani padme hum. I don’t know what else to do.
Where did all this secrecy begin, why does he know none of this stuff about me? My relationship with Dad was okay in the last few years, before he lost his faculties. When I was young, it was shit. I didn’t tell him anything about my real self. Dads and sons. From about age five I told him nothing, nothing personal. Dad sucked. I resented him intensely until I’m in my late 30s, early 40s, till I realised he wasn’t acting like an arsehole, I was. Dad was the one who bailed me out from ever since I can remember.
Three Foot Tiger: ISBN number (online): 978-0-620-90645-6
A remarkably accurate account of the demise of apartheid from an artist’s perspective. Some of the most extreme injuries are left out, both men and women scarred for life, and the death of groupie/gimp Aidan. An unforgettable read, and something you would wish to share with your friends. – Martin Battaliou