Peter Hammill - Audi

Mannheim, Saturday

Dear Audi,

I know: it's been a long time. I could say I'm sorry for not getting in touch with you - your last letter cheered me in a time of trial - but it wouldn't really be honest. I could plead pressure on my time which is, as always, crowded, but that would only make you feel crowded out and unimportant to me and that is untrue. For all the time and distance between us you are still close to me, but I find it less and less possible to get through to anyone in these dark days and I'm afraid I'm somewhat out of practice in communication. Somehow it's easier here: here we are in our little time-bubble of the band and the roadies and the equipment and the van... with everything outside that bubble seemingly unreal, it makes it less painful to reach you out there; and, of course, if I go over the top at any point in this letter, I can always plead temporary insanity.

I wish that someone would give an accurate written representation of our life in bands. I've been reading a ridiculous paperback I picked up at the airport which blares from its (extremely lurid) cover 'The Groupies! The Drugs! The Orgies!' and, inside, rambles on for page after page of appalling English about the fantastic (literally) adventures of a group called the Hot Cross Buns who 'hit the high spots of the pop scene' ! Ya know, I'm a sucker for these books, although I never finish more than about three chapters. I still keep on hoping that one of them will be coloured with the faintest veneer of truth.

Whoever reads them must have a very strange impression of our lives: rushing from town to town in flashy limousines, performing to wildly enthusiastic crowds and picking up a few beautiful and nubile young girls for ravaging back at the hotel, aided, of course, by bountiful supplies of all the drugs known to man. No, perhaps I'm mixing things up a bit: the above has a slight ring of truth in that the activities are cyclical and ultimately meaningless; in these cruddy books there is always the semblance of a story line, and always a certain element of change in characters' actions and reactions... in reality, nothing much ever changes here. Am I getting too confused for you? It's because the reality is so hard to pinpoint... yes, we arrive in our car, but it's a Cortina, and not a Mercedes; there are drugs sometimes, but they're the only buffer against harshness available to us... they let us live and simultaneously kill us. (Mentally, I mean: I don't want to start you worrying about me physically, I have no intention of stringing myself out on the modern crucifix.) There are groupies, too, but never the nymph-fantasies of fiction. In that ordered picture, the groupie (bearing close resemblance to those plastic inflatable life-size dolls you see advertised in Marvel comics) makes a present of her body to the band; in reality, the roles are reversed, and one can almost feel one's scalp being lifted.

We're really not the kind of band of which such fictions are made, although I have no doubt that there are bands which might be. All bands are different as all individuals, but there is something running through the all but the tiniest percentage of them which can never be traced to earth amid the gory details of the novels: it is the music that is important. And if you could talk about the music in a book then what would be the point of playing it? Perhaps music is the gravity which holds down the written word and prevents it from flying up into the regions of truth.

You'll be probably wondering why I'm writing this to you; well, it's a question of pressure valves, as it ever was. (Remember that talk we had in Manchester, last time I saw you? Is it really two years?) You know that, for a long time, the songs are my safety valve; but, also, you know that sometimes nothing will come out, and I can sit and stare for hours at the frets and keys, or the pen in my shaking hand; but they won't deliver to me their untapped secrets. Anyway, now, locked in the heart of Germany and the tour (two weeks to go) I can hardly gather the energy to aly myself open to all that.

I had a dream about you last night; it doesn't matter what it was about. Believing (as I must if I am to survive) that all things have a reason, if only a negative one, reason sprang to me that the comfort of your imagined eye and understanding, listening to me across the miles, might help me through my burdens. I could just tell you what I intend to do, for documentary evidence, as it were, but I really want somebody... just one person... to understand, even if (and I know it is so) I am incapable of spelling it out, and can only throw a glimpse of light through the door-jar.

Let me tell you about the gig we did tonight, as that seems to epitomise all the terrors that beset me and threaten to drag me down into I don't know what. To start with, we were pretty out of it: we'd spent today entirely in our hotel (Mannheim isn't a very inspiring town to tour even if we'd been able to organise ourselves and our energies to that extent) and the last of our pooled money went on a bottle of Tequila. (There's been some crazy mix-up over our wages, and they haven't come through from London yet; they were meant to arrive yesterday, but we can only hope....) So, having sprawled around on the starched white sheets all day, and consumed the whole bottle of T., we were about as ready to face the gig and set as we ever are. It looked promising: a low, modern building, with fountains, a tea-room with umbrellas, modern sculpture dotted about the grounds, white chess pieces arrayed against black trees. Inside, it was equally modern and luxurious, but with one major problem: the dressing- room heating appeared to be jammed full on. It was a basement room, with windows at ceiling level, and like an oven. However, we were so exhausted by our day of inactivity that we slumped on the low leather sofas which went around two of the walls, and gazed at our hollowed faces in the mirror which stretched, wall- width, below the windows.

The 'Free Music' punters arrived and, kneeling and crouching on the ground outside the windows,
began their usual haranguing to be let in through the dressing-room. They became more and more irate as we refused them entry and, after a phase of alternate begging and insults, actually attempted to force their way in. We stood on the make-up desk and pushed up against the windows to keep them out, finally managing to lock the catches. We grimaced threateningly at each other through the glass before they disappeared, doubtless in search of some other possible entry point to force. I wonder about the ethics of it all sometimes, for I would dearly love to play for free. But it's impossible with our weekly bills to pay, the roadies, the van, the equipment, our own wages. Ethically, if some have paid, it's not fair to let in any others for free; but the logical extension of that is that if one person is prepared to pay k50 to see us, everybody else should. Haha. It's just another imponderable; I can't seem to penetrate this morass. I enter into this, as in so many other areas, at one point which I feel to be true, and come out somewhere completely alien to me and antipathetic to my feelings. It's a lot easier to chant slogans than to think about their implications. FREEMUSICFREEMUSICFREEMUSIC!

One of the guys from Nimrod, with whom we're making this tour, came into the dressing-room and told us that he'd once blanked out for three days on Tequila, with no memory of what happened or what he'd done. David got a bit freaked and went out of the room.

Then Dorothy appeared: she's half-English, half-German, and has been following us around for the past week, encamping herself in dressing-rooms, occupying the lobbies of hotels, lurking on the side of the stage during sets. Dorothy has brown hair, beady eyes, and piles of blubber bulging around her thighs, midriff, and arms. She has puffy cheeks and smells. She comes into our dressing-room and, most of the time, just sits there, ignored by us and, doubtless, inwardly seething at being so. We've talked about her a lot because she hangs us up so much. She is the original immovable object, and none of us seem to have the capacity to be irresistable force. Talking to her does nobody any good; nor does ignoring her, and none of us can quite bring ourselves to go all-out nasty on her, even if that would do anything towards obliterating her from our lives, which I doubt: she would probably curl up in a masochistic orgasm. We can't do it to her because she genuinely seems to be completely into the music, and is prepared to travel hundreds of miles just to see us perform. The boost to our egos is simultaneously a damper on our outrage and our instincts for self-preservation. Consciously, we are aware of all this, but, it seems, there is nothing we can do. Usually she just sits there and, in fact, until tonight, by careful avoidance, I had not exchanged more than a half-hearted 'hello' with her; but when the door opened I had been expecting David's return, and so had already flashed half a reassuring smile in that direction as she came in the room. She caught it like a wicket-keeper and floundered over to where I was sitting, undergoing some very strange things in my head as a result of the Tequila; I was powerless to stop her as the inevitable onslaught smashed against me.

'Hello!' she said, and cracked her lopsided grin at me. I grunted and tried to look elsewhere.

'Where do you live in London?' she asked. I pretended not to notice, but she repeated her question more insistently.

'Well, I live in Sussex, actually, not London... I, um, prefer the country... the... peace....'

She was pulling a book out of her voluminous shoulder bag. It was her address book. She wanted my address in England. I asked her why. She wanted it, she said, to write to me. I told her to write to the record company, and that they'd get their letter to me.

'I do not like the record company,' she said. There was a pause.

She wanted to come and see me when she came to England. (Everybody comes to England.) She was coming in a month's time. She wanted to come and see me. I told her that, because of work, I was rarely at home. She still wanted my address, and still wanted to come and see me, and she was now getting angry. I blinked at her stupidly and tried to work out what was going on. Guy gave me a cigarette and brief respite.

She changed her tack: would I write to her, here was her address, would I come and see her when we were in Dusseldorf? I tried to hold out with further evasive grunts, but she wouldn't have it, and finally I was forced into a tentative 'Maybe'. She gave me a neatly folded piece of paper with her address on it. Now could she have my address? Guy let out a whistled sigh as both he and Hugh went out to watch some of Nimrod's set. Deserted!

Dorothy edged towards me along the sofa. I can handle any physical assault, I thought to myself: I can always run out of the room....

'Do you want some heroin?' she asked. I declined. 'There's something I want to ask you.'

'Uh... what's that?' I was hoping for a manageable, analytical question about a song, a performance, or the band's future. She surprised me.

Audi, this chick... this revolting, obsessional chick... just sat there and asked me to give her a baby. Can you believe it? She said she knew it would be the most beautiful baby, it would be an amazing child, would I do it? Would I do this small thing for her?

You can imagine: I freaked. Muttering something about the room being too hot, I made a dive for the door. She was on me in a second, clinging to my knees, begging, pleading, beseeching....

'What's wrong with me? What's wrong with me?' she blubbered.

Guy came through the door and stopped dead in his tracks: I was saved! Her grip relented for a second, and I was away out of the door, to hide in a toilet until the time came for the set.

You see the kind of pressure that comes on us. Did I ever ask to let myself in for anything like that? Is it all worth it if one puts another human being through that, however unintentionally? What could I have done or said?

The set was adequate, and I spent a lot of my by now bursting aggression in the performance. Steam seemed to go out of, and tiredness creep into it, though, in the middle and by the end we might as well have been playing in different rooms for the lack of empathy and mutual lift-off. I clung on for the last chord of the encore, exhausted mentally and physically. It isn't easy, sometimes, to get through that hour and a quarter which is - supposedly - all of our working day. It is still - thank God - a different world, parenthesised between so-called realities; but coming away from it, with all the changes wrought in one's mind during the stay, is as hard as going in.

We almost had a very heavy argument over time-keeping in the dressing-room afterwards, but this was averted by the arrival of three or four young Germans come to question us. We seem to argue a lot these days... perhaps all topics of conversation have finally dried up, and the only communication left to us is shouting. Maybe it is only a phase, and we have had such in the past; but sooner or later one of us will inevitably go over the edge in slight or personal insult, and then we'll all tumble off the tightrope that we walk in our self-imposed family group. We squabble like any family, and sooner or later must all leave home....

The battery of questions was arrayed against us, but I could manage only the occasional grunt by way of non-committed and dark answer; in regaining reality I was once more shaking in the wake of my encounters with Dorothy. 'What is your favourite song?' 'What philosopers have influenced your work?' 'What are you going to do in the future?'

What are we going to do in the future, Audi? What am I going to do? The future seems to be the
endless road and the endless gigs and sets, which are sometimes interminable, too, although at other times they are pure joy. How much joy do you have to experience to compensate for the various assaults on your being, inflicted in achieving it? How many more times will I sit in the car and think 'Maybe this is the last journey; maybe this time we'll meet that coach overtaking a ten-ton lorry.' How many arguments will there be? How long before they become hate rather than difference of opinion? How long before we need six bottles of Tequila to insulate us from the outside? How many more Dorothys are there?

I'm sitting here in this shabby hotel room and it's a quarter to four. Tomorrow we're going to Nuremberg. If I had my wages I think I might leave everything behind and just disappear in Morocco or Pakistan. When I started out on this road I thought I was going to buy maximum freedom, but now our responsibilities to other people grow and grow, and freedom is murdered weekly by our date-sheets.

But I don't have my wages and, even if I did, I'm not sure that I'd make it; too far in, now... too far in. I probably won't write to you again for a while, and almost certainly won't see you up there in your Dundee retreat. But thank you for listening... writing all this down has anaesthetised me - I only need one person outside to understand half along the way.

Take good care of yourself....

I'm sorry for laying all this on you, but at least it shows trust....




Russian Peter Hammill / Van der Graaf Generator Page
Sergey Petrushanko hammillru@mail.ru, 1998-2017