Peter Hammill - 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
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
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
'I do not like the record company,' she said. There was a
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
'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
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
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
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
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....