“It’s a little confusing.” Adrian said, after one of Toni’s more involved body-swap, multiple-personality tales.
Toni was reclining in her new leather armchair, looking fresher, a little effeminate. “Well, in Queertown, the oddities seem normal – Steph or I could be two or three different people simultaneously, but this never seemed odd or bewildering.”
“There seem to be dark hints all the time, I’d say.”
“In retrospect, yes, but remember, there is no analysis in Queertown, and often the troubles might have been a part of the excitement of the fantasies, anyhow. It wasn’t until near the end of my time there that I felt real peril.”
“But if I went,” Adrian said, staring into his cup of cappuccino, “wouldn’t the same thing happen to me? Wouldn’t I get thrown out, too?”
Toni put Time Out of Mind on his new ipod port. “I’m love sick,” Dylan moaned.
Toni stretched his lean body, as he stood before Adrian wondering how he could explain. “I think you could be fine, because you wouldn’t have anyone working against you, as I did.”
This was new. “That sounds ominous, Toni,” Adrian said. “It doesn’t sound like anything from a heaven-like place.”
Toni felt the need to convince Adrian: he wanted Adrian to go to Queertown – indeed, he wondered if it was the hope that Adrian might go there that was having such a positive effect on him, rather than mere re-telling of the tales of his time there.
“Look at me, Adrian,” he said. “Can’t you see what a fillip Queertown is? Just the thought of it has clearly revitalised me. Think what going there could do to you. I mean you could use the lift, couldn’t you?”
Adrian felt that comment go home. He was conscious of how shabby, how much of a failure he seemed to be when compared to the rejuvenated Toni.
“Walking down that dirt road,” Dylan sang, jauntily enough.
Toni slipped alongside Adrian on the vintage crimson couch: “Let me give you a small, simple, but very significant example.”
So Toni told his/her story of how, in Queertown, she came to love Paul McCartney.
When I was a kid – that weird half-tomboy/half-girliegirl combination – I loved The Beatles. My neighbour, Liz, and I would play at being The Beatles. I remember especially the summer when I was ten – Liz’s brothers were at high school, and we used to borrow their blazers so that we could look like The Beatles in their suave suits. I was always John; Liz was George. We did not rate Paul. To our ten year old minds, Paul was the one who broke the group up; and Paul was soppy and silly, whereas John was hard and brilliant and George was mysterious and original. We would act out scenes from the movies, especially Help!; we would put on little concerts for our families – ‘She Loves You’, ‘Help’ and ‘Twist and Shout’ were our favourites. Liz’s dad had an old LP, a Greatest Hits album which featured only pre-1966 material. This was our talisman: we played the record on the old turntable in Liz’s dad’s study, over and over and over.
We were innocent. We didn’t know that there was a Sapphic element to our play – of course, secretly I had a mad gay crush on pretty, boyish Liz. I got a thrill from dressing as a smart boy. I felt transformed into tough, dangerous, raw-voiced John.
It was a happy Beatles summer. But then Liz moved away and I lost touch with her.
Later, as a discerning teen, I became a connoisseur of The Beatles later work – again still favouring John and now being even more disdainful of such Paulish fripperies as ‘Rocky Racoon’ or “Oh Bla Di …’.
But about this time, a crisis hit me. Laddish exhibitionist, The Fingers – a 90s rock group – sought to claim The Beatles for themselves, advertising their reverence for John Lennon as a sign of their own strength and determined cool. The connection sickened me: I saw in the belching, drunken thugs from The Fingers an image of Lennon’s own cruel unpleasantness. If this was what The Beatles meant, I wanted nothing to do with them.
At university, my beautiful gay friend tried to reconnect me with my Beatles mania, but it was all washed up. By then, I found myself fixating on the inevitability of the break up of the group, and I found it all too painful – I couldn’t enjoy their work, because I knew how it was destined to end. I heard the hints in their later work, felt the aching distress of the lads’ growing estrangement: it was too much to bear. As ever, Paul was the one I blamed for this – absurdly, meaninglessly, mostly because of the resentment that seemed to directed towards him from the others in later years and in the years after the break up. It was a stupid prejudice.
The situation only changed when I went to Queertown.
I spent a night with Steph, listening to The Beatles on disc, really hearing the songs for the first time. And what I heard there was Paul – his brilliance, his influence was everywhere what made the music remarkable. It’s the minute but telling touches – the harmonies, the little twiddles, the bass stepping suggestively behind the beat, the strangeness, the originality of the musical structure. Paul was the subtlety that elevated rock ‘n’ roll into art.
We heard his talking bass on ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and his leavening whoops near the end; we heard his overlaying on the otherwise execrable ‘Ballad of John and Yoko’; we heard the strange, always-heading-outward form of ‘Eleanor Rigby’; we heard his texturing asides on ‘All You Need is Love’; we heard the sheer energy of ‘Get Back’; we heard the melodic precision of ‘Yesterday’; we heard the exquisite collage of Abbey Road’s conclusion. We heard Paul. We loved Paul.
Only Queertown could make me understand this; only Queertown could teach me how to love Paul, spontaneously, instantly, completely.
Adrian felt that he understood.
“I’m twenty miles out of town – cold irons bound,” Dylan sang. Was he heading for Cold Irons? Or was he in chains? Which was better?
“It’s a matter of finesse, isn’t it?” Adrian asked.
“Queertown is all finesse,” Toni replied.
“You want me to go,” Adrian said. “What is it that you want me to do there?”
Toni laughed nervously. “I can’t be there, but … I have to contact her again. I can’t live without any contact at all. You have to take a message to Steph. It will be something, some sort of interruption of the terrible silence.”
“So it’s Steph that matters, not Queertown?”
Toni smiled sadly. “What happened in Queertown, between Steph and me … It has bound us together forever. We were intertwined there …”
“And yet you left?”
“If I had stayed, we would both have been exiled. I would have been depriving Steph of her life there, the life she adored. It was the loving thing to let her stay. Out here, we could have been content together, but not happy, not like in Queertown. We would always have been tormented by regrets, and I would have been eaten up by guilt. So I would not let her come out with me; I would not permit her to destroy her own joy.”
“Are you expecting me to return with news of her? What if I do not want to leave?”
“No, you do not owe me that. You should stay. Once you are there, just live. It is enough for me to know that you will have conveyed a message, made some contact, helped her understand that I am … You must tell her that I am happy.”
“You’re happy when you talk of Queertown,” Adrian prodded.
“Lie. I don’t want her pleasure to be tainted by regrets. Regrets do not play a part in life in Queertown. Tell her I’m happy and wish her all good things.”
“Can I go?” Adrian wondered out loud. “I will be turning my back on my life here. I’m guessing from what you have said that there are no families in Queertown.”
“No, there is nothing like that. In Queertown this never troubles you, but … Yes, you would be rejecting a certain kind of life, the life you have had here … But it’s gone anyway for you, hasn’t it? That’s why you’re perfect for the place – apart from the whole queer thing you have going on.”
“My heart is in the highlands,” Dylan claimed in the background.
“Tell me how you came to leave … tell me what happened,” Adrian said.
“This is the tough part,” said Toni. “But here goes …”