The Prologue of Etc Etc Amen

'Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.'
Noel Coward

'A number, a dream, a coincidence can affect me obsessively - though not in the sense of absurd fears but as fabulous (and on the whole rather bracing) scientific enigmas incapable of being stated, let alone solved.'

Vladimir Nabokov




When Zachary C noticed that his audience were no longer beguiled by his best Zachary B smile, he had his char-grilled-sweetcorn teeth replaced by a mouthful of ultraviolet-sensitive acrylic. Much to his delight, shop windows, car windscreens - even a puddle he awkwardly traversed on the way to the gig - all threw back at him a grin of searchlight intensity.

On arriving at the Kings Theatre, Portsmouth he found his backing vocalist wife, Fountain, immersed in her reflection in the dressing room mirror. He sat down next to her and unleashed his new teeth.       

"Perfect,"  he said to both their reflections.       

He waited for Fountain's agreement - or at least some acknowledgement that he'd spoken - but she was far too busy assembling her own stage persona to indulge him. Zachary C flashed his fluorescents for a second time.  


Fountain continued to ignore him; the application of turquoise eye shadow required her full attention. She lifted her chin a fraction so as to better inspect her shimmering lids.     

Fountain Penn's tragedy (apart from Ma and Pa Penn's African-American predilection for inventing Christian names) was that she had once sung backing vocals for Zachary B, but now she just sang backing vocals for Zachary C. And she had once been a member of the Now, but now she was just a member of their tribute band, the New Now. Yet for fifteen months this Detroit girl from the projects had sung with Zachary B. She'd even endured the infamous Trafalgar Square concert.      

"Well?", Zachary persisted.        

Finally she relented and granted him an audience. But with her smile on the edge of laughter, it was unfortunately a comedy club audience.       

 "It's the teeth isn't it?"  said Zachary C.     

"No, the teeth are great."     

 "So what is it then?"     

"Okay, it's the teeth."      

"But you just said the teeth were great!"   

"You're not going to let this go, are you Zac. The teeth are great. It's just that they're…" Fountain strained for the gentlest way to put it. "It's just that they're not you."     


"Don't sulk, baby."       

"So whose bloody teeth are they then - Brad Pitt's?"  

"Well, you did ask."       

The empathy Fountain had found hard to muster in the first place turned into a bluntness more in keeping with her personality. "I'm sorry sweetheart, but they're just not working." Eye shadow was returned to her bag, lipstick unsheathed. "Every time you flash those things, it just gives me the creeps. They do have different hues, you know. Now, can I get on?"     

"Different what?"       

"Hues. Shades: Like with paint; ivory white, seashell white,  dove white… anything's got to be better than goddamn Nuclear Flash White!"        

"Okay, okay. I get the picture. Jesus." He closed his mouth. 

"Phew, that's better," risked Fountain. "Now I can take off my sunglasses."         

Poor Zachary, she thought. How much longer could he go on doing this for? She'd answering the ad in Melody Maker back in… 1995 was it? He'd recognised her as soon as she'd stepped into the rehearsal studio - and no one had recognised her in more than ten years. "You're in!" he'd exclaimed, before she'd even sung a note. And of course the fans loved seeing a living breathing member of the Now, in the New Now.       

When Fountain went to the loo, Zachary C treated himself to another quick examination of his teeth. What was her problem with them? Next on the list was the hair: he wasn't balding exactly, it was the volume; the thickness. Although he dyed it (coal black, cat black, black-bloody-hole black!) it had become as insubstantial as candyfloss: one day the wind machine was going to send it flying off into the audience like a tumbleweed on a mission. But otherwise he was in good health: he ate the right food, he had cut back on the booze, and he exercising regularly.

Yet several nights a week spent up on stage trying to be Zachary B, was causing gravity to press down on him more mercilessly with each passing day, manifesting itself in an ache here and a twinge there. The great man himself had been saved from this undignified task of performing his own sexually-charged music as a sixty-year-old by dint of the fact that he was dead: why did all trains of thought eventually lead Zachary C back to this cold hard fact - which in turn led him back to the crime scene photos he'd made the mistake of googling a year or so ago? Memory is wilfully perverse, so while countless childhood daytrips to the seaside remained tantalisingly just out of reach, those awful, awful photos had become a permanent slideshow on the hard drive of his brain, regularly springing up unbidden, making him dizzy with nausea. 

Despite all that KUU bullshit he'd loved Zachary B, he really had. He remembered the vertiginous LSD-induced insight he'd had at the Rainbow in 1972; that just as slack-jawed cavemen had thought the wind was created by excited trees waving their branches about, he had believed - for a moment anyway - that it was Zachary B who was radiating the light that the greedy spotlights then vacuumed up.   


To download the prologue and the first two chapters of Etc Etc Amen click here