AUTOBIOGRAPHY: THE MEMORY BOX

 

The Memory Box is my memoirs, currently being serialised on Facebook in the Group of the same name, where readers are free to share their thoughts, memories and photos.

 

This resource will allow those not using Facebook to read the text and will be updated periodically. 

  • Joolz Denby

Episode 18

I was at a party recently,  an extremely rare occurrence indeed, and during a chat with a very nice woman, she mentioned that she'd been a fan of the band 'back in the day'. She remembered people, especially other female fans, being outraged at the way I was 'unfaithful' to X, had boyfriends and 'wasn't respectful' to a man so obviously saintly. How fans had hated me even then because I 'betrayed' their hero, how I wasn't worthy and was a disgrace not just to him, but the band as a whole. If not the entirety of English womanhood too, come to that.

I did occasionally get lectures, usually from X-besotted female fans bristling with self righteousness, about the dreadful way I went on. I used to listen, with my sore heart full of tears I couldn't shed, as they stuck their needles in and banged on about something they knew nothing whatever about. So I'd say something snappy or aggressive and they'd tell their cronies what a nasty piece of work I was. Poor X, they thought. How he suffered. Why, if he had the love of a good woman like them it would all be different. And it would have been, but not how they thought. Not at all. Men like X aren't cut out for domesticity, for babies, home town dramas and in-laws, for the pub and Goth night at the Old Bull, everyone's going, do you have to work in that bloody studio on a Saturday night? The drummer doesn't, so why do you have to?

It's no fun being hated, it still isn't. The scornful looks, the snide comments, the terrible poison pen letters threatening rape, beatings, death by arson. Then later, the tirades of online abuse. I'm sure some people loathe me because I'm me, but in terms of X and I, I did, at first, try to explain the curious relationship between us but at that time I don't think I really understood it myself. I'm not sure I do now. The more I tried to explain, the worse it got. The more I got myself in the shit. Because X had, and still has, the uncanny knack, one I'd kill for, of always being an angel of rightness. No matter what awful thing he did, somehow, magically, no one ever blamed him, no one shouted at him, and in the end they came to believe they were wrong, somehow, not him. I used to say he had the best PR machine of anyone I'd ever met, it was amazing. And he had me, to lay the blame for anything unpopular off on. Fans were so willing to believe I was the type of bitch who made Lucretia Borgia look like a 40 year old virgin kindergarten teacher they accepted as fact any negative assumptions and gossip about me, no matter how bizarre or appalling. That I had AIDS. That I was a vampire (seriously, that one ran and ran). That I slept with absolutely anyone. That I was a nymphomaniac bisexual and a whip cracking dominatrix. That I was a post-op transwoman. That I had been a street prostitute and a heroin addict until X saved me - Pretty Woman has a lot to answer for. The list went on and on and on.

Eventually, one of the more tedious idiots that followed the band around wrote a vile, clumsy parody of one of the band's ditties detailing these claims, printed it on flyers and handed them around. A young lad I'd looked after and fed when he hitchhiked round the country following the band helped the idiot distribute them. So bad was my reputation he didn't think twice about doing it. The night it came out, I didn't know anything about it until I got to the venue where the band were playing. I walked in to the stares and sniggers,  the whispers and laughter. Something was definately up, but I was mystified. Then one of the band handed me the filthy thing itself, without a word. I read it in a daze. No one said anything. No one comforted me. Any illusions I had of being liked by the fans, or my work for the band being appreciated shredded away as I tore up the paper into tiny bits. Then I ate my pain and walked out into the hall with dead eyes and a face like stone. After all, isn't that what Pirate Queens do? No one ever mentioned it to me again, and no one ever apologised. It was my fault, for making trouble again. No one saw my hands shaking because I pulled my sleeves down over them. No one saw me crying because I hid in the toilet backstage and stuffed my fist in my mouth to keep quiet.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. All that and more was yet to come. Whilst we lived in 166 I still believed the fans, all 2 of them, just thought I was part of the team, and that being a woman wouldn't matter in the face of my dedication, loyalty, ambition and ridiculously extreme work ethic. It was the 1980s. Modern times. Women were fighting for equality everywhere so naturally, the music world and the fans would accept me, no question. I had no doubt of this. I saw women playing in bands, so I thought being a colleague backstage would be a breeze. I really was that naive.

So, anyway, as time went on and in regards to myself and X, our intimate life dwindled away with no real discussion or explanation - it was self evident to X, but it kept me awake at night, wondering what I'd done wrong. In time I had boyfriends openly because I thought like an idiot, everyone would know it never go against or betray X. I thought they'd magically realise we weren't like other couples, that we weren't really a couple at all. It was much stranger than that. How I thought people would grasp this when I barely could myself, I don't know, but I believed X would let it be known. Except, he didn't. From a mixture of pathologically loathing anyone knowing anything about him, control issues and the usefulness of having a pop-up girlfriend.

X kept his flirtations to himself. To the outside, and the gossips, it appeared as if he was the long suffering partner, faithful and cruelly treated, of a gadabout whore with the morals of back street jump-up and the black heart of cut throat moll. It was a tour de force of illusion. People we worked with for years believed it completely. Many still do. Relatives believed it even. No one ever wanted to know my side, or even asked, because that was frankly pretty boring in comparison to the orgies of delicious disapproval they could work themselves up to. It didn't help that X would always sigh meaningfully about me and what a trial I was, but how I was his responsibility, if not his actual wife, when he wanted rid of a girl he was bored of. The letters I got from his paramours were amazing. So many ways to wish someone dead. I liked, if that's the word, the Italian woman who used to draw pictures of dead people in pencil and send them to me meaningfully. Bit of practice and she'd have got the knack of hands. Eventually.

But mostly, and especially in the beginning, X was too busy working to bother with other relationships. It may come as a shock to those women who believe a relationship is the be-all and end-all of life,  and envisaged their crazy, romantic, bohemian life with their long-haired rockstar hero, hobnobbing with other stars at celeb soirees, holidaying in the Maldives or windswept Ireland in a kitsch Celtic sort of way, and living in a des res somewhere cool and happening. Nothing could be further from reality. 

X was happier working 24/7 than anything else. Material possessions that weren't guitar shaped meant nothing to him. Clothes were a mystery and as to having a nice home, that was downright decadent and he disapproved. He disapproved of a lot of things, me included. Disapproval was his forte. Even when he didnt actually disapprove,  he gave off the air of a person who would. He was the perfect product of the English public school system, trained to forego creature comforts or any personal emotions for a life serving the Empire,  alone in a far flung corner of the world. Anyway, the love of one measly human being can hardly compare to the screaming, intense mass love of 2,000 fans all adoring him at once. Not even Jessica Rabbit in a thong could compete with that. Nothing could. I know, I've felt it too and it's better than heroin. No wonder famous people go a bit mad, having that 24/7/365. It fucks your head up. Just like H really.

But when X looked at me with his dear, beautiful dark eyes and vowed he'd never leave me, that we'd be together forever, grow old together in the Autumn sun travelling, making art and talking, I naturally believed him implicitly. I knew we were locked together, just as he did.  I had no doubt whatsoever that he loved me albeit as a sort of soulmate, as a twin, and that we'd be with each other always. It was as if when we met, and bear with me here because I don't have any explanation for this either,  part of our brains locked together like jigsaw pieces clicking into place, never to be separated again. We were each like half a person who became a whole person when we were together, and we were always together. But it was plain that X, no matter how much he loved me, did not find me to his taste as a romantic partner. I thought he'd come round, that he'd see his dream girl in her jeans and jumper was just that, a dream and a pretty boring, conventional one at that, but he never did.

Now, if I was the cool chick who we all admired at school, I'd have said so long, sucker, and left. But I'm not cool, I've never been cool, and I was as bound to him in our strange way as he was to me, just not as lovers. And because I'd been brought up by an abusive mother, then groomed, and raped, and assaulted and beaten to the point my brain was wired about as wrong as it could be, and also because I  was young, had no help for my problems or even any acknowledgment of them, in those days, any sense of personal - not work - self worth I had as a woman came from 'being fancied'. That X just couldn't see anything physically attractive in me - that bit at me. It must mean I really was ugly, homely, fat and lumpy, just like Ma said. Repulsive, even. I looked at my appearence and utterly loathed it. I resumed cutting, and started to starve myself.  It all gnawed at my already zero self esteem. The damage I'd crushed away inside boiled up like a tsunami of badness and harm. It made me wild. Yeah, well, if I wasn't good enough, if I wasn't pretty enough, who cares? Not me. It was like a neon sign had lit up above my head saying Abusers Welcome. Come on in, boys, do your worst. And they did. On the outside I was a red-haired warrior, on the inside I was still that little girl in plaits looking for her mother. I got very good at the warrior but I never found a mother.

But still I loved X with every fibre and drop of blood from my ruined heart. I honestly can't give a rational reason, but he was literally everything to me. All the family and childhood love and care I never had. All the friends and companions I never had. The best mate of legend, the grazed knees and grubby, gap-toothed, happy faced buddy of the child I never really was. And he was kind. X is very kind and always generous with whatever money he has. Kindness means the world to me, it makes me overreact and reduces me to a snivelling weepy mess of gratitude. Without wishing to sound self-pitying, I hadn't had a lot of kindness and X's off-hand, careless but unstinting kindness undid me. He looked after me very compassionately when I was crushed with depression and learnt to make a hot water bottle for period pains, from which I suffered terribly.  Also I liked him. He was funny and clever and yet remarkably dense about some things at the same time which was sweet. He had charm, and lots of it.  He was indeed, both the hardest, coldest  man, in the non-fighting sense, I ever met and a wandering Lamb Of God, gazing around himself with mild surprise at the wonders if the universe. He was made of starstuff, as Carl Sagan said.

And I was a living ball of fury and ambition in the shape of a disgruntled Goth and former gang-member. I wasn't made of starstuff, I was made of hellstuff. The sheer mental energy required to keep a lid on my damage and make it through the days drove me not to languish on the sofa smoking weed, drinking wine by the box and watching daytime telly as it did so many others I knew, I made me savage. Sometimes I felt like a dark, carapaced creature splitting apart into a rising ball of white fire. I wanted to rip apart the whole world and remake it so no one was ever treated unjustly or cruelly ever again, and I had the strength and drive to do it.

But being strong doesn't come from nowhere and it's not always reliable. Being strong takes practice and practice comes from constantly dealing with pain. Physical or mental. Like sit-ups. You start with only being able to do 5 before lying back gasping. Then in a year you can do 100 and think nothing of it. I started young, and I got very strong, but just like going to the gym, there are days you just can't. There are days I feel everything so much, I just can't do anything except stay in bed and cry. That's a fact of my life. And of many other people's lives. They say we're 'so strong' and even play the wounded kitten using hard monster us as a comparison to get people's sympathy, but they have no idea what real strength is.

I used that strength to mortally drag X and the band to the place they wanted to be. Despite the band members dislike and sullen bitching, despite X's rampant urge to self-destruct, despite everything. And I loved the band. The music was the music I'd always wanted to hear, the gigs, even the scrappy first gigs, were brilliant, the look I created for them in art and outfits was the look I knew was just right. And X was the perfect front man, charismatic, perfectionist, passionate. It was all going to be amazing. We were going to change the world.

It's so hard to write this. To remember how much, how very much I loved X and the band. How I saw the fans as pals and that we were all in it together. How blind I was to what was really going on. Why? Maybe because that little girl inside thought she'd finally found her Family.

How wrong I was.


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© JOOLZ DENBY - ARTIST - TATTOOIST - WRITER - POET - BRADFORD, WEST YORKSHIRE, UK - JOOLZDENBY00@GMAIL.COM