‘Every vibration that ever moved through this place is still resonating,’ Karl told me. I was in awe of him then. We stood in Monty’s which had been the Marquee. Sometimes we even had a pint if we had busked in the tube along the way, but they were so strict about it now. You had to have a license and all. They moved us along quick like.
We weren’t much good though.
I think mostly people felt sorry for us because we looked so mangy. We might have enough skin between us to make a normal adult. Sometimes I’d catch sight of us in shop windows and think who are those ghosts?
It wasn’t drugs, by the way. I know you think that, everybody thinks that, checks our arms for needle marks, guesses we hide ‘em. No.
It’s the vibrations. This old dude way back in the history said it. I bet you never heard of him: William Hazlitt. I didn’t even learn about him in school though maybe he came up after I left. I doubt it though, because no one ever seems to know him when I bring him up. He said, ‘Everything is in motion. Everything flows. Everything is vibrating.’ I know because Karl had those words tattooed on his arm.
So we stood in the Marquee though it’s now a Spoony pub and we listened and felt for the vibrations of the past. Karl took the 60s because he says his hearing is better for further back: The Who, Pink Floyd and the Small Faces. He swears he could almost touch the shuddering waves of Syd’s bass.
I’ve got the 70s and there’s some Bowie but it’s mostly been drowned out by The Stranglers, Eddie and the Hot Rods and, like, maybe some Buzzcocks or maybe Joy Division. I tried hard to concentrate as much as possible but then the manager came along and said we were weirding out the customers so buy something or move along. We got no dosh so move on it is, blinking into the daylight.
Back at the squat Karl was harping on his favourite idea. ‘Linde,’ he says to me, his eyes feverish with the obsession of it, ‘If we immersed ourselves in Can music for twenty-four hours’ why it was always twenty-four hours I don’t know, ‘it would change out genetic make-up.’
‘We’d be mutants then.’ I wasn’t arguing. It couldn’t be worse than what we were then.
‘We would hear every thing then. Everything.’ He massaged his arm with the tattoo like it itched or something.
‘But wouldn’t it be like that Man with the X-ray Eyes film?’ I’d seen it late one night at a friend’s when we’d found it on the ‘tube.
‘How is x-ray eyes like hearing everything?’ Karl could be obtuse when you wandered off his favourite subject. Also he had no sense of humour which could be a bit of a drag.
‘He could see everything, like, to the ends of infinity. It fried his brain.’
‘You can’t see to the end of infinity. Infinity never ends,’ Karl protested.
‘All I know was it was freaky. He gouged out his own eyes (spoilers, sweetie) and he could still see. He went full mental jacket.’ My friend Frieda and I stayed up past dawn then because we couldn’t sleep for thinking of seeing the end of everything. I shuddered even then to think on it.
Karl mulled the matter over. ‘It’s different,’ he said at last. ‘Seeing is a remote process.’
‘You see a thing, see?’ He didn’t even see the humour in that. ‘Then your brain makes sense of it. The eyes are just windows.’
‘To the soul,’ I said with a dramatic giggle, but it didn’t put Karl off his harangue. He didn’t have a romantic bone in his body. More’s the pity. I could have used a little more boning.
‘Vibrations immerse you, like water.’ Karl closed his eyes and moved his hands like they were some kind of sensors, feeling for the vibrations in the air. ‘You move in them, disturb them. But if we were more pure, we could move with them instead.’
‘So why don’t we do it?’
Logistics, mainly: our squat was not only rat-ridden and electricity-free but there were some scary blokes that chased us out of it at times when they wanted to appropriate it for a shooting party.
We discussed breaking into a music shop or bookstore that had equipment and just hanging out there but first, none of them seemed to be closed long enough to give us that kind of time and also neither of us had clue one about how to break into a place that didn’t already have a window or something open.
‘What about your DJ mate?’ The thought occurred to me like fate’s arrow entering my ear. One of the Greek gods died that way, I think.
‘Bruno?’ Karl considered the possibility. ‘He has got the equipment. Maybe he’d go along with it. He likes to explore the further reaches of sound.’ Texting Bruno got no reply at first, but then most people Karl texted took their time getting back to him as they knew he wasn’t likely to be cheering to talk to. One wag only ever responded HOLGER CZUKAY! all in caps which seemed to amuse him. Dude, people can help their obsessions and better Can than chasing the witch hazel as they used to call it in my neighbourhood.
So like hours later when we had been trying to think of another place we could cop a listening party and coming up with not so much as s sniff of a sausage, Bruno texted back to say no dice, he was DJing at some festival up in Scotland where Cornelius was headlining.
I didn’t know they had festivals in Scotland. Do they make everyone wear kilts? I repeated that joke to Karl but the gears were grinding away in his head and he said, that’s it.
‘We’re going to Scotland? Do I need a passport?’
‘Don’t be daft. We’re going to Bruno’s.’
‘But he’s away, inn’t he?’
‘Then he won’t bother us.’ Karl gave one of his rare smiles. It could work.
I was impressed with Karl having the daring to break into Bruno’s basement flat, but when we walked boldly up to the door, he stooped to wiggle a brick out of the wall. A key lay underneath it. ‘He’ll never know we were here.’
I guess that made it all stealthy like spies, so that was all right. Bruno’s flat was proper posh and the sound gear was top of the line. I wanted to check the liquor cabinet but Karl insisted we needed to be pure. Not even a cuppa.
‘Caffeine affects the brain.’ I’m being lectured by his lordship who spends all our pocket change on coffee most days. But I comply. After all, the rewards will be worth it. We settle cushions and whatnot on the floor and move the speakers so they will be surrounding us. Bruno’s got one of those tuner things that you can plug a memory stick into and Karl has the stuff: twenty four hours of carefully curated Can.
I nodded off in about the third hour but it didn’t matter because Karl says it’s got to sink into our bones so our conscious minds don’t have to be engaged. It goes beyond thought to vibrations in the skin.
I woke up in the night. It was dark and I couldn’t hear anything but Damo Suzuki muttering away so I closed my eyes again and tried to feel it, feel it sink into my bones, but all I could think is Damo, bring me some coffee or tea, preferably the latter and then I was giggling and I realised it was working after all. We were being changed. The music was changing us. Each vibration was coursing through our cells and making little alterations. Would it turn us into super versions of ourselves? Or something not even human any more?
Karl only hummed along, his head rocking slowly back and forth, eyes closed. I shut my lids and attempted to slow my breathing, stop the hammering of my heart and the desire to giggle faded and I sank back into it.
By morning in the hazy light I was hallucinating. At least I think I was because the light is blue and yellow and green. The cars outside in Soho cut through the music but it didn’t matter because they were like the percussion now, nudging my brain cells into new loops of consideration, the shaking of my ears—are they even ears any more? I watched my hand move up in the light and it was all vibrations, like different colours.
I turned to Karl who was lying there, eyes and mouth open, as if to take it all in more, every vibration. I made a sound into his arm as if I might hear the change in the sound going in, going through his flesh. It echoed for a long time, ringing through to bone.
And then night came and the music faded out. We got up. ‘It’s done,’ Karl said all serious like. ‘Let’s go out.’
And we were like gods, striding the night. People moved out of our way. Didn’t know what time it had got to be. Not late enough for Soho to be hotting up but we took a turn down one of the mews and there was a guy there in Chelsea away strip, not that I think he’s a fan but someone must have donated it, maybe an Arsenal fan, haha.
‘We can make him vibrate at a higher frequency,’ Karl said.
‘How do we do that?’
‘With our hands.’
We put our hands on him. He objected. We persisted. He didn’t half stink. But this was exploration like the old guys what sailed oceans and went deep into jungles and discovered the people who already lived there. Except no one had explored the sounds we found. The man refused to change on his own so we shook him and beat him like a marimba to get the percussive thing inside him, to make his flesh anew. Karl said we must try harder and we did our best, but bones being brittle and all it didn’t go anywhere. At least he didn’t.
They caught up with us as we were trying to get over the gate into Regent’s Park. Karl said there was a big pentagram there that had great power, that could help us channel the vibration of stars and crack this earth right open. I dunno, it might be true but they hauled us off and strip searched us for drugs and then asked about the blood on our hands. It wasn’t exactly rocket science.
Even these bars vibrate though, you know? Every brick. The floor. I have changed. I will move through all this. I am vibration now. You cannot hold me.
A writer of bleakly noirish tales with a bit of grim humour, Graham Wynd can be found in Dundee but would prefer you didn’t come looking. An English professor by day, Wynd grinds out darkly noir prose between trips to the local pub. Publications include SATAN’S SORORITY from Number Thirteen Press and EXTRICATE from Fox Spirit Books, as well as tales in the 2016 Anthony Award-winning anthology Murder Under the Oaks and the Anthony Award-nominated Protectors 2: Heroes . Wynd’s stories have been translated into German, Italian, Polish and Slovene. See a full list of stories (including free reads) in the links.