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Lyrics & Writing

“Hell”

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Hell

Extracts from the novel by Matheson Bayley, 2003

Extract from Chapter 1

Quentin went through life whining and cavilling, pontificating and condescending. Officious advice and one-upmanship were his specialities. His striking green eyes were jaded by a bedraggled brow that bore the imprint of a lifetime of disenchantment; his dismissive retorts transparently masqueraded as wit; and his feigned pompous chuckle indicated that to be tolerated by him was a compliment. He had more than half a brain, however, and when he liked someone he was more than capable of turning on the charm. The trouble was, he never really liked anyone. Worse yet, he made no effort to hide the fact.

Quentin hated his job. He hated the quotidian drudgery of the office schlep; the bustling armies of worker ants in business suits; the competitiveness, sycophancy and nepotism. He hated computers. He especially hated malfunctioning printers. He hated the autopilot paperwork, fraudulent number-crunching, and petty bureaucracy; timecards, staples, plastic cups, and placating décor. He hated the belaboured rhetoric of his boss’s morale-boosting pep talks. In fact, he hated most everything — children, ice-cream, adverts, gardens, lawyers...even music — but above all, he hated himself.

It was a Tuesday morning. Just another Tuesday. A Tuesday of alarm clocks, tooth brushes, and fridge door Post-it notes. The journey to work proffered the same overcast sky and red traffic lights as any other Tuesday, and the weekend was too far away to bear contemplation. In short, everything was predictably — numbingly — in place. Quentin left his car in the customary corner of the parking lot at the usual fifteen minutes to nine and picked up a black coffee from the usual vendor outside the office. Struggling through the odious revolving doors notably more disgruntled than usual, he scowled. He was scowling a deeply concentrated scowl, a scowl that any on-looker would reasonably have presumed was directed at something in particular; some specific malfeasance he had recently suffered. Yet it wasn't. Wasn't directed anywhere in particular, that is. It was a dull scowl, a scowl of aching emptiness. Quentin gave little thought to its origin, nor did he care. He was awash with ennui. But this brand of ennui was a tad different from the usual — it was infused with a covert rage. A rage of which he was not quite aware. A rage that he was stuck grinding his way through his hopeless life, a rage tempered with the realisation that he had only himself to blame. He had chosen his own path.

Entering the office, a tsunami of depression crashed on top of him. Somehow, the mundanity of the day ahead was terrifying. He felt ready to burst, but maintained an outer calm, proceeding steadily towards his loathsome desk, fists clenched, mumbling internalised words from a self-help book. The rage tickled his ears, trying to make itself known, trying to befriend this wretch of a host who seemed in dire need of company. No-one had noticed his arrival, though how he wished they would. Quentin felt suddenly lonely. Thoughts of tax returns and balance sheets danced about his head, mocking him. Scrambled memories of broken promises, lost loves and crippling disappointments besieged him as the rage started to seep through. He wanted to scream, but dared not; he wanted to cry, but could not; he wanted to escape, and, to his surprise, he did.

Spinning on his heels, he made for the door, in a fit of ebullience. This was potent stuff! What had he taken? Where was it coming from? Which God was toying with him? He was in a film, fleeing from the enemy, complemented by a frenetic soundtrack of suspense. He felt the enemy run with him, in him. He felt the tickle in his ears. He felt rebellious, childish, vital. He felt — free. He bounded back out onto the street, eyes eager, heart thumping. He hadn’t the faintest idea what he was going to do, nor was he in the slightest bit bothered by this out-of-character spontaneity, but the impulse was undeniable. This was his moment, Quentin's moment, Quentin's Great Escape! Tripping back out past the increasingly odious revolving doors, he pushed his way purposefully through the crowds, safe in the knowledge that his destination — wherever it may be — was destined.

Up in the office, a drab, middle-aged secretary turned to her colleague:
“Was that Quentin?” she asked, bordering on curious.
“Who?” he replied, “Er, I didn’t notice. Why?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter.”

Extract from chapter 5

Two days later, Saturday evening had arrived. Blair dialled Quentin’s number once more in the hope of finally getting through, but the answer machine greeted him with that same irritatingly untrue “I’ll get back to you as sooooon as I can.” He would’ve felt silly leaving yet another message, so hung up, frustrated. Having been stood up again, Quentin’s silence was more than a little unusual. Blair had expected to suffer a wrath beyond anything Biblical – a fusillade of insults – at least one call of chastisement: “You’re so fucking useless, I don’t know why I bother with you!” or the like. But Blair seemed to have been let off, a fact that made him feel all the more guilty. Being shouted at is far easier than enduring the silent anger of a slighted queen. “Anyway,” thought Blair, “no time to worry about the vicissitudes of Quentin’s inner world right now, there’s a party to prepare for.” And indeed there was. The party of the century…

‘Frisky’, the new, appositely named, coolest, 'wow-est' gay disco ever, was opening in a couple of hours. Not only that, but Blair was meeting Giovanni there. He salivated at the thought.
But what to wear? Observing the cliché, Blair chuckled incredulously at himself; he had actually paused, literally distressed by the gravity of choosing between Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani underwear. Stereotypes don’t exist for nothing! Decision reached and shave completed, it was now time for the wrinkle-check. Blair spent inordinately long stints in front of the mirror deciding that he was getting old, then re-deciding that he wasn’t looking so bad after all. However confident he kidded himself he was by the time the double-chin search was over, he remained insecure enough to need his fix of ‘Homme’ magazine’s back pages. The doctored photographs of paradisiacally unblemished skin; the Latino Adonis with the piercing blue contact lenses; brighter than white smiles and botoxed brows; but in amongst the eye-candy, the products for sale! And oh, the allure: skin creams, image consultants, hair re-growth miracle elixirs—the sirenesque, invidious promise of eternal youth. Irresistible at half the price, though none could make him look any better at this short notice. He slapped on a balm or two, resigned himself to the inconcealable crow’s feet that had apparently sprung up overnight, and phoned for a taxi.

Quentin slept soundly. Giovanni waited anxiously. Blair sat in a traffic jam.

Twenty minutes later, Quentin still slept soundly and Giovanni still waited anxiously, as Blair finally pulled up outside the club.

He closed the door of the taxi and stood in the gutter sizing up the churlish queue of posers and wanna-bes. They huddled together, gossiping and bitching, desperate to get into this throbbing den of iniquity to which anyone who was anyone had been invited. Blair couldn’t help but notice how surly and jaded they all looked – false smiles, dark-shadowed eyes and arms crossed defensively – they scarcely seemed human. Each one of them thought they were ‘all that’ – you know, the type who looks you up and down when approached as if to say you’re not worthy. Blair resented them all for validating the stereotype of the ‘attitude queen’. “Go fuck yourselves!”, he thought. The trouble was, Blair wasn’t all that different from them, and he knew it. He certainly wasn’t quite so superficial (though he was hardly exempt from the label of fashion-victim!), but he had, just like the rest of them, turned up eagerly to the launch party, and with overlapping motivation. This wasn’t, for him, about reputation, ‘being seen’ or networking, but it was about sex and drugs. Somehow, his burning loathing of these image-driven creatures thawed once on the dance floor. There, he could escape to a world of hedonism and promiscuity; a world uninhibited by sobriety or insecurities, thanks to one little pill; a world where he was accepted for who – for what he was, no questions asked. Anyway, shallow, bitchy fuckers they may be, but opening nights were always packed, hence more candy to chose from.

Blair switched to Giovanni-mode and surveyed the candy-store sidewalk. Sure enough, there he was, waiting patiently – a little too patiently. He must have been lost in thought, for he seemed to be gazing right at Blair, though evidently hadn’t noticed him.

“Ciao bello!” cried Blair, plunging towards him. “Wakey, wakey!”
Giovanni recoiled in reflex with a shriek, the sort of shriek only a gay man can make – instinctively, that is. The sound which perhaps all men would make when startled if they didn’t spend so many conscious hours rehearsing how not to ‘let themselves go’. The desensitisation that occurs after years of bearing witness to ostentatious bursts of effemininity must surely be accountable for that magical moment when, free from the shackles of self-consciousness, the gay man first shrieks in fright like a damsel beholding a dragon. Blair remembered his first ‘shriek’ – he remembered feeling almost proud that he ‘fit in’, that he belonged to a family, and that such a camp emanation of unbridled emotion was the key to the front door of his new family home.

“What’s up, girly?! Daydreaming?!” goaded Blair.
“So you are finally arrived.” snarled Giovanni, in his endearingly thick Italian accent. “Come on – we not ’ave to wait in line – look, VIP tickets!”

VIP, on the gay scene, really stood for Very Image Proud: if you looked good, you got a ticket. After all, it’s in the interest of club owners to ensure a higher proportion of tasty clients than there might otherwise be if left to chance. Giovanni had first arrived in Chicago some six months before not knowing anyone, and was promptly whisked off to all the hippest venues and back-stage parties decorating some lascivious entrepreneur’s arm. He was utterly stunning; perilously pulchritudinous.

They entered the club, fighting through already euphoric swarms of drugged-up Muscle-Marys, to the main hall. And what a hall it was, surpassing every expectation, complete with Greek pillars, multi-storey balconies and an enormous water-fountain display, all dappled in turrets of streaming disco-lights and mirror-ball refractions. A sinister dungeon of black magic and sacrificial dances. Infused with the pungent funk of sweat, testosterone and amyl nitrates, a haze of dry-ice and cigarette smoke hovered ominously over the throng of heaving bodies. A fluorescent green laser display wove its splendid geometry of morphing tetrahedra from wall to wall catching mischievous swirls of smoke in its beam who slithered back to the shadows like startled serpents. Drops of sweat, condensed on the cooler ceiling, fell like acid rain on the over-heated minions of the underworld below. The entire arena shook violently with the incessant pounding of the bass drum, which reverberated through the walls and sent seismo-shudders of thunder up through the feet of these wretched convicts and straight into their souls. Every heart-beat in this festering lagoon was in synch with the unrelenting undulating pulse of the music; every neuron fired in time with the vibrations of the booming sub-woofers; and every being – entirely oblivious – had melded into one: one giant suppurating organism; a symbiotic mass of hosts and parasites, drones and workers, masters and slaves; a slipping, sliding, squeezing, squishing, groping, foaming circus of debauchery and orgiastic bliss.

Giovanni fought his way towards la grande piste, followed obediently by a fawning Blair relishing the association with his Roman hero. They navigated a narrow corridor, lined with topless preying monsters: this intimidating gauntlet – known as ‘Muscle Alley’ – was an obligatory element in any gay club, permission to stand in which evincing a status occupied solely by the ripped gym-freaks who dominated gay society’s pecking order. This led past the main bar through to the slumber room where loved-up ecstasy bingers sprawled over bean-bags and pink foot-poofs, dissolutely investigating each other’s tongues.

Giovanni was in no mood for conversation. He could hardly look at Blair, let alone front the necessary charade of excitement and intimacy which would be expected of him. He paused to rummage for a couple of bombs of MDMA powder which he posted into Blair’s mouth without warning. This was the good stuff – the fast stuff: “Fifteen minutes and you’ll be flying!” said Giovanni. “I took mine while I was waiting for you…I’m gone already!” Blair grabbed a bottle of water from an unsuspecting by-stander and struggled to swallow the tissue-wrapped amphetamine, shuddering in anticipation of the feelings ahead. They ploughed on towards the dance floor, Giovanni barging forth unapologetically like a man possessed, never turning back to check Blair was keeping up, and sure enough, jostled by the frenetic scurryings of mindless ants, the gap between them had been growing. “Wait up!” called Blair futilely, his voice drowned to silence by the hard trance and disco-whistles. He could no longer even see Giovanni – the room was so dark, and as he tried to glance farther in front of him, yet another dazzling rotating orb would catch his eye, blinding him for a few seconds. He fought for his vision, willing the purple splodge on his retina to dissipate, but it sat there happily, blurring everything. As the MDMA started to kick in, he became increasingly aware of the sticky skin of the bodies shoving past him, and grew paranoid that they were targeting him deliberately. They seemed alien. He felt an unsettling pang of claustrophobia and began to breathe more heavily. The dense, hot atmosphere prickled his lungs as he inhaled and a sudden surge of tingly pressure swept over his body; the hi-EQ of the mesmeric rhythm dissolved leaving a muffled four-on-the-floor rumble; he felt weightless, vulnerable, desperate. Giovanni was nowhere to be seen.

Matheson Bayley © 2003
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