And now for something completely different. At a convention last year, the
following article was handed to us in a plain brown wrapper, by a
distinguished-looking Queen's English-speaking gentleman who claimed to know, among
other things, the metaphysical implications of the Claude Degler's Cosmic Circle,
whether or not Roscoe is the one true ghod, and who really sawed Courtney's
I should also briefly mention that all the names have all been changed, not so much as to protect the innocent (there are none) or to protect me from libel suits (this tale is true, although you probably won't believe it). No, it is simply because after all those years I honestly can't remember all of the real names any more.
It happened during my mis-spent British youth when I was very interested in flying saucers. It was because of this interest that I ended up on a ghost hunt.
The sequence of events was this: I met up with a fellow named Dick, who had formed a local UFO investigation society. He, in turn, had met up with a fellow named John, who had formed a local psychical research investigation society. As neither group was particularly large (each consisted of only one person), they joined forces. John's investigations had in turn brought him into contact with The Roost, a rock'n'roll group that was B) having a spot of trouble with a poltergeist, and A) about to release their first single. Does the word 'publicity' mean anything to you?
Now note that I said rock'n'roll group, not rock. Even during the sixties "rock'n'roll" seems to have remained a comfortable label on the U.S. side of the Atlantic (i.e., "...like trying to tell a stranger about rock'n'roll" and "I dig rock'n'roll music" etc.), however, across the British shore rock'n'roll was two four-letter words. It was also nine years dead along with Buddy Holly (and Elvis Presley getting his call-up papers). The phrase envisioned Bill Haley fans; near-extinct neanderthals in teddy-boy jackets, crape shoes, and D.A. haircuts that oozed Brillcream.
In the late sixties the music world was an expanding universe reverberating with the sounds of Sgt. Pepper, "A Whiter Shade of Pale," Jimi Hendrix, and Cream. And what was The Roost planning to conquer the whole scene with? "Don't You Rock Me, Daddy-O!" To be fair, they did have their sound together, and one of their songs had been recorded by Manfred Mann, back before his Earth Band days. But that was simply it -- the song was recorded and stored away in some can for possible use on a future album.
The Roost itself was led by Charlie on guitar. He, his wife, and two naked toddlers lived in a house of which only one room had carpeting and looked halfway decent. This was The Group's Room, its walls bedecked with mementos such as a poster for The Monkees' tour. The Roost had been offered one of the supporting-bill slots, but had refused, because they didn't want to be outshone. It's therefore a bit of wonder that they didn't have a poster for the charity gig they turned down "...'cause there was no money in it," or the summons they received when they abandoned their broken-down and unlicensed 'van' on the side of one of the Queen's highways. The 'van' was a huge furniture truck with 'THE ROOST' in three-foot high lettering on the side. Charlie blamed their getting caught on their agent.
The rest of the house was not only devoid of carpet, as I said, but almost totally devoid of furniture as well. There were also several spray marks low on the walls, their heights suspiciously corresponding to the heights of the children's inside-leg measurements. Someone called the place "the sewer" and I got credited with the remark (erroneously, let me tell you).
Charlie's younger brother, Steve, played the drums and the fool (the latter somewhat constantly). Malcolm was the bass guitarist and also a general dogs-body at a men's boutique; he was also into many a get-rich-quick scheme, all of which had an 80% chance of being illegal. The only 'normal' member of the band was the lead singer, Ray; the rest of the group admitted he was their only 'ace'. Ray was soft-spoken, articulate and friendly, he had an immaculate home, a 'sweet suburban wife', and was just recovering from a nervous breakdown.
As for dealing with their paranormal visitations, their own research consisted of sitting around an ouija board which would deliver messages from "the other side" only when Charlie's or Steve's pinky was on the pointer. Odd to relate, the spirit world contacts were always atrocious spellers and displayed a copious capacity for swearing, but as Charlie's and Steve's conversations were chock-a-blockful of profanities, it wasn't too hard to theorize where that phenomenon originated.
On one occasion, the ouija board directed us, conveniently on a Sunday afternoon, to go to Copped Hall, a once stately home that had the singular distinction of having burned down twice. After the second roasting it was left a roofless shell. Its inners were a maze of bare brick walls and rubble floors; in one shaft a dumb-waiter's pulley rope slowly twisted, reaching up three stories to nowhere. The lack of a roof admitted incongruous amounts of bright sunlight, and when I commented to Dick that this was hardly compatible with ghost hunting, he informed me that they had decided not to start the seance till after midnight. Sticking around till the wee small hours just to play phantasmatical pantomimes somehow did not appeal to me; it lost any appeal whatsoever when I realised we had no food with us, so I left the intrepid ghost hunters to their collective fate.
Their fate, it turned out, was rather more lively than expected (if 'lively' is a word to use about the undead). Ray had taken my place, with Malcolm 'guarding' the exit (if you hadn't cottoned-on already... we were trespassing). Just after the main team had started up with "Is Anybody There?" Malcolm became agitated -- in fact, it's fair to say he became downright hysterical, screaming like a man condemned and taking a swing at Ray with his flashlight, then running off helter-skelter into the night.
Eventually, the team managed to catch up with him and calm him down. He claimed he'd been attacked by a phantasm which looked somewhat akin to "... a flying fag machine." (Now, before you let your imagination run riot, I should tell you that Malcolm was referring to a cigarette-packet vending machine.)
Later that week the ouija board was again consulted, and it told us (between obscenities) that Malcolm had been attacked by a vicious demon spirit that had disguised itself as a fag machine. This prompted one of the smokers in the group to ask how one could differentiate between such a demonic spirit and a real fag machine. The ouija board's advice might well be taken to heart, especially if you are addicted to the tobacco weed yourself; it decreed that whenever one buys a packet of Player's from such an apparatus, one should always (and it did stress always -- as much as an ouija board can stress, that is) always hold a silver crucifix up to the machine.
# # # #
Postscript. A couple of months later, The Roost launched their first single, which quietly glided down the slipway onto the totally unpredictable waters of the pop charts, and immediately sunk without trace. Dick (the UFO investigator) suddenly got married; when asked why, he said, "For the size of her charlies." (The marriage lasted as long as you'd expect such a marriage to last.) John (the ghost hunter) probably did better than most -- at last report he was having conversations with God.
All illustrations by Diana Harlan Stein