Part 4: If The Devil Is Six Then God Is Seven

Brothers from another planet came through live on the radio. Before that you heard maybe I’m just like my father too bold in the call and response of cooler than you cha-cha boys spitting on the school stoops because it’s 1984 and spit bubble was the new cool thing, like crimping irons and T-shirts ripped out of Flashdance for the girls. Turned out everywhere in the world was an American High School and every family was an American family in the suburbs with two working parents and a shitty Chevy or Ford Escort, and even in the midst of an Ex-British Colonial School For Boys you could watch an episode of Square Pegs and feel as if your life was exposed, and wasn’t the band in that last episode, Devo? Devo, short for devolution but you didn’t know that yet, only that God lived in the radio or at least something that saves the lives of rudderless boys who went to high school to die a little each day.
Shopping at Christmas with the 25 dollars your father gave you to override 364 days of no love and you buy two records, Purple Rain and the Jackson’s Victory. You listen to the Jacksons only because it brought Mick Jagger into your Beethoven house. But Purple Rain opens a wide space that you live in for years. This is like when you misread Steppenwolf to mean that as long as you’ve found a safe space, where width and depth are both constructs, you can leave the world and vanish. Which memory do you want anyway? Of being the resident 15-year-old battyman at the all-boys school or waiting for the end of Darlin Nikki so that you can scream out a hate letter while claiming you’re just singing along to the song.
And then it’s 1985, which feels like the aftershock to 1984 but Jeanie Hastings is on FAME FM spinning Tina Turner and Pet Shop Boys and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, thinking that she was only playing hits and not knowing that what she was really doing was telling you to put the knife down and the pills that your daddy takes and don’t even think of that oven, at least not for these five minutes that Pet Shop Boys are talking about the East End Boys and the West End Girls, and when the song ends and the devil returns to your head look here’s three more minutes of Here Comes The Rain, and another three minutes of I Wanna New Drug, and after a three minute reprieve comes another and still another and just when that’s done comes six more minutes of Relax Don’t Do it.
Don’t do it.
And fuck death and fuck high school anyway, the cooler boys don’t call you faggot and they lend you their REM and Deff Leppard cassettes and don’t ask back for that issue of Spin with Madonna on the cover and some writer inside saying that George Michael imitating Prince was more evocative than Prince and that Swordfishtrombones was the fifth greatest album ever made and liking Stetsasonic and Madonna didn’t make you weird. And you didn’t feel weird for liking Prince, and U2 and Club Noveau and maybe you will get through this thing called life, electric word, life. And if not then let death be to Guns in the Sky.
Meanwhile you check the newsstand in the pharmacy and there is a magazine called Rolling Stone, which you have never heard of. On the cover is Talking Heads a band you do not know with the headline “Is America’s best band all Byrned out?” and you buy it because you’re a sucker for a pun. You read every single word including the ads despite not knowing a single band except the dumb ones topping the charts on the back.
One day in high school, not long before graduation a pastor in a red car pulls up and starts showing a video in the classroom. You hear guitars and think you’re missing out. The classroom is dark because he closed all the windows and boys are on the floor watching how on the highway to hell rock and roll is taking people over to the devil. Queen telling people to start smoking Marijuana, and Led Zeppelin praying to oh sweet Satan, and ACDC coming back in black for a black mass and Michael Jackson sucking occult dick. Some of these same cha-cha boys are in a pool of their own tears asking the lord to please save them because they have been used by the devil. You can’t believe that all your life you’ve never heard Back in Black. You take down nearly every single band in that documentary and head to the record store.
And 1986 was the year you realized that every fucked up thing that happened to you, happened because you opened your mouth and announced something with that “sh” lisp.  So in 1987 you stopped talking.  You moved into your bedroom and drew comics while your neighbours assumed you migrated for college, remarkable given that you never stopped passing their houses twice a day to and from school. But you have stopped talking and now you’re known as the quiet one, which bothers your mother since she remembered that it took you months longer than all her other babies to talk. It confounds your relatives when you visit Chicago because now you’re so scared that your faggot mouth will give you away, that you accept that being considered aloof and anti-social is the price you simply must pay. Whatever, this is the shit one had to wade through until college and in college you catch that breath you’ve been waiting for since 1984.
Because in college everybody seems to have taken the same instant dose of maturity you took even if you thought Alex Keaton was an appropriate style icon for the tropics. College meant cooler friends with 6-hour tapes of MTV and who didn’t give a shit what you sounded like when you’ve heard of (but never heard) Die Kriezen, Dag Nasty and Nasty Rox. Your new friend Urchin makes you a mixtape of Pixies, Bad Brains, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Skinny Puppy, L7, Living Colour, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Black Flag, Bucks Fizz, Buck Pets, Jane’s Addiction, Babes In Toyland, Sonic Youth, Fishbone, B52’s, 24-7-Spyz, Pylon, Green River, Ministry, Revolting Cocks and New Order and it’s not that nothing is ever the same again, its that you never knew that color had a name other than color. Meanwhile your other friend lends you Sergeant Pepper for the weekend. But it’s the Pixies scream that you’ve never heard but knew you missed GAAAAAAWD IS 7! THEN GAAAWD IS 7! THEN GAAAWWWWWWWD IS 7.
College ends and you see the guy who has been in college for 10 years and understand why. Because when you head to work, you realize something avoided for three years: Work was exactly like school. You’re so weird. You like rock, you like devils music? How come all your magazines have pretty men on the cover? You discover Nick Drake, put his three CDs in the changer and play them every night before sleep for three years. Pink Moon and pack of Matterhorn cigarettes can get you through any night.
Kurt Cobain sticks a message on the inner sleeve of Nirvana’s Insesticide LP and for the first time in your entire life, you feel protected by somebody else. A man thousands of miles away now had your back and you catch a breath again. It takes you years to forgive him for what he did, and only when you realize that maybe we were lucky to have him for as long as we did. Either way he checks out early and now you’re on your own.

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Marlon James

About the Author

Marlon James was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1970. He is the winner of the 2015 Man Booker award for his third novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings. His first novel, John Crow's Devil (Akashic Books, 2005) was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and was a New York Times Editors' Choice. The novel was published in the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy in 2008. His second novel, The Book of Night Women (Riverhead 2009), won the 2010 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The NAACP Image Award, and The Minnesota Book Award, and was New York Magazine's third best book of the year. Marlon was Go On Girl! Book Club's 2012 Author of the year.
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Marlon James