Guests, Dr Feelgood, and Career
In the packed hotel foyer, there's a Japanese family looking lost, but everyone is too busy to notice them. I am about to pass by when I spot the Japanese lady in a wheelchair fluttering a fan close to her wizened face. She must be almost a hundred years old.
They can hardly speak English, but they show me the card with their room number on. The lady in the wheelchair tilts her head to one side and smiles at me. I lead them to the lift, pushing the wheelchair myself through the crowd. I even get into the lift with them, press the button for their floor, and wheel her out of the lift when we arrive. She smiles again, but in a forced way, and presses her hand to her chest as if she's having trouble breathing. She points at the low ceiling of the corridor.
'Don’t worry - your room will be big and bright,' I say, although I have no idea whether this is true or not, since I have only just arrived at the hotel myself.
Wilko Johnson is playing bigger gigs than he ever did before. Because of his fight with cancer, he has finally achieved the fame he always desired. On TV we watch his limousine arrive at the bottom of the Edinburgh Royal Mile. He is going to walk up the hill to the castle, where he will play to an audience whose cheers can already be heard in the distance.
When he steps out of the limousine, we are surprised to see that his hair has grown back. Or is he wearing a wig? He lights a huge cigar, picks up his guitar and heads towards the castle.
The band is already playing when he steps onto the stage. He tosses his cigar away and waves to his screaming fans. They can't wait for him to hit the first chord on his guitar and start singing. After a few more tantalising seconds, he does just that. But his voice is astonishingly thin and reedy, and no one can hear his guitar at all (only later will someone notice that it isn't even plugged in).
Watching him from our living room, we sing the lyrics of 'Dr Feelgood' back at him as loud as we can, as if this will somehow help him sing the way he used to.
I got out of prison and worked for a year as a live-in carer for a rich old lady in Rome. She took a fancy to me and fixed me up with a guitar and Hank Williams outfit, and even some gigs up in the north of Italy.
She booked me into a hotel next to the railway station so that I could get the first train to Milan the next morning. At the hotel bar I met a female Mick Jagger and her manfriend, who, unlike Mick, looked his age. Staring me up and down in my Hank Williams outfit, Mick asked me what my line of business was.
I told her I was finally going to fulfil all my dreams after a lifetime of bad luck, and wondered if she had any advice.
Mick pointed to her gums and said, 'Make sure you floss your teeth before you go on stage.'
I put a finger into my mouth and found a piece of olive stuck there. 'Thank you,' I said.
Mick's manfriend was smiling at me with his crooked yellow teeth. I suddenly felt faint. I realised he'd spiked my coffee.
The next morning, I was back in my bed in the hotel room, with Mick and her manfriend on each side of me.
'We have a job for you,' the manfriend said. 'We want you to carry these up north.' He put two packages of bright white cocaine on my thighs.
I was afraid to say no. The kindness of the old lady and the promise of the fulfilment of my dreams had made me go soft.
I thought of going to the carabinieri for protection but they'd only laugh at me because of my record and my outsize Hank Williams cowboy hat.
Ian Seed’s collections of poetry and prose poetry include The Underground Cabaret (Shearsman, 2020), Operations of Water (Knives, Forks & Spoons Press, 2020), and New York Hotel (Shearsman, 2018), which was a TLS Book of the Year. The Thief of Talant, the first translation into English of Pierre Reverdy’s hybrid novel, Le voleur de Talan, was published by Wakefield Press (US) in 2016. Ian’s translation of Max Jacob’s collection of prose poems, The Dice Cup, is due to be published by Wakefield Press in November 2022. Most recently, he has a chapbook, I Remember, out from Red Ceilings Press. His work appears regularly in The Cafe Irreal.