Hero Chukowski

Tired of superhero movies? So is jaded, politically incorrect movie critic Walter Chukowski. When he’s summoned by billionaire movie producer Eleanor Rousseau, the seventy year old is presented with an opportunity that could change the face of Hollywood, and keep him out of the retirement home for at least another few years.

  1. The Male Gaze

It was a day so hot I could’ve undressed right there in the sweltering café and sat with my impressive belly out and a coffee resting on it, but nobody would want to see that unless they had some twisted fetish for saggy, seventy-year-old movie critics who were about as sexy as a turd in a bowl of hot milk.

The sun invaded the premises and made the patrons flinch and the floor look as if it were on fire. The waitress, Francesca, came over and refilled my cup. She was a young girl, a beautiful creature crafted by God on a good day: big green eyes, a soft, round chin, strawberry lips and a glorious head of blonde hair. She was chewing gum, and she raised her forearm across her eyes to block the sunlight as she looked down at my notepad.

“What you writin’?” she asked me, followed by a pop. I’d dealt with Francesca before; she was a beauty, but she wasn’t very bright. Although she was a helluva lot smarter than the moronic barista who couldn’t remember my morning order despite the fact I’d been getting the same thing for the past four months.

“I’m writing a new movie review, my dear Francesca.”

“What movie, Mr. Chukowski?”

“It’s a European film that’ll likely be seen by no more than five Americans. It’s a thought-provoking movie that has something interesting to say about societal degradation. So, you know, it won’t do well over here.”

Francesca popped her gum and snickered.

“You’re funny, Mr. Chukowski,” she said.

“And I’ve never written a joke in my life, darling,” I smiled.

“You should,” she said.

“I should?”

“Yeah, Mr. Chukowski. Write some jokes. That’s all you do: write, right? Write a joke.”

“You want a joke? Look up the latest batch of morons that are being passed off as comedians. There’s your joke.”

My comment went over her head and out the door. She smiled, giggled and moved her beautiful ass on to the next table.

I sat forward and took a sip of coffee. A young couple entered the café; summer personified: the young guy wore shorts and a khaki shirt, and the young broad wore a high-neck sweater and blue denim shorts. They joked with each other as they placed an order with the dipshit barista.

I momentarily recalled a sensual scene from my youth, before shaking it off like dandruff from my blazer; at my age those kind of memories only serve to mock me.

Behind the lovebirds arrived two young gentlemen, maybe no older than twenty five. They were well dressed, both wearing slick, expensive suits. The one with a Bronson mustache and the hard chin had a tattoo on his neck which debased the overall look. The other one with the boyish face had slicked back black hair and boney features.

To my surprise they both slid into the seat opposite mine.

Neither gestured or said anything for about a minute. They just stared at me like I should be intimidated: Mr. Hard Chin with a serious expression, not blinking once, and Mr. Boney Features wearing a stupid smile. These kids wore suits, but they certainly had no class.

“What can I do for you, gentlemen?” I asked eventually. I had considered a more aggressive overture, but I was sweating, and 900 words into my review, so I was in no mood for a confrontation.

“You’re Chukowski,” Mr. Hard Chin said.

“Who wants to know?”

Hard Chin looked at Boney Features whose mouth shaped itself into a stupid smile again.

“You lovebirds married? They got the vote, you know.”

Boney’s smile faded; no easier way to rile a moron by making him feel sexually insecure.

“You’re Chukowski?” repeated Chinny.

“What was it that addled your wits, son?”

The two of them looked at each other again. Francesca passed by our table and I enjoyed the view.

“Our boss wants to speak to you,” said Chinny, who by now was clearly established as the talker of the two.

To me, or with me? There’s a significant difference, you know.”

They stared again, and I turned the page in my notebook and began to scribble with my pencil (I always write with a pencil).

I looked up as I sketched, and the two of them watched me silently.

“Eleanor Rousseau,” said Chinny as I finished my sketch and presented it to them.

They both leaned forward at the image of Chinny sodomising Boney.

Chinny pulled the notebook from my hand, tore out the page and scrunched it into a ball.

“Eleanor Rousseau,” I said. I looked at Tweedledum and Tweedledee. “There’s only one Eleanor Rousseau on this planet and that’s the billion-dollar movie producer Eleanor Rousseau.”

Boney picked up the ball of paper and tossed it at my forehead, causing Chinny to bark a laugh.

“Rousseau is our boss, Chukowski,” said Chinny.

Francesca approached the table. Her salmon blouse had numerous coffee stains, but her generous bust distracted the eye away from them.

“Everythin’ okay here, Mr. Chukowski?”

Chinny and Boney both looked at her silently, and I couldn’t blame them.

“Everything’s fine, my dear. I’ll have a key lime pie, por favor.”

“Pour what?” replied Francesca. “Pour more coffee?”

I covered my mug with my hand.

“Just the pie, please, sweetie.”

“Sure, Mr. Chukowski. And for your friends here?”

Chinny shook his head ‘no’.

“Actually,” said Boney, rather effeminately. “Do you have any of those fluffy marshmell-”

Chinny banged his fist on the table, cutting Boney off.

“We’re here for business,” he said firmly.

Boney leaned in, whispered, “But I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”

“We’re good,” said Chinny. “Chukowski . . .”

I nodded my head at Francesca and admired her gait as she walked away.

“Rousseau,” I said.

“Our boss.”

“Yes.”

“She wants to talk with you.”

I looked over at the young couple who were sat by the window; it was like a glimpse back in time to the fifties; her sweet expression, her neat fringe, his movie-star smile, all whites and yellows. I was greeted by another flashback from my youth; a Sunday morning cuddle. I quickly reemerged from the past and looked at the two kids opposite me.

“Now why would Eleanor Rousseau want to talk with me? I haven’t reviewed an American movie in fifteen years. I’m not interested in Hollywood and Hollywood has no interest in me. No one knows me anymore.”

“Our boss does,” said Chinny.

I picked up my coffee and enjoyed a sip.

“I’m reviewing a movie by Russian filmmaker Shostakovich,” I said, following a satisfied sigh.

Chinny and Boney both looked at me.

“I know,” I said as I leaned forward. “Like the composer. Neat, huh?”

They looked at each other, as if tasked with solving a particularly difficult math equation.

“The Russians,” I said, “They’re having their moment in cinema once again. Their resurgence; their renaissance. Lazarus is raised from the dead!” I said as I raised a triumphant fist.

The few people in the café turned their heads towards me, before returning to their tables.

“Shostakovich – a prodigy, an enfant terrible! – what a pleasure to review his work, in which you’ll find an ode to tradition. Who would think – conservatism the new counter-culture! A conservative the provocateur! Ah, the great Russian soul.”

Boney smiled to spite himself as Chinny grew impatient. He pulled from his pocket a card and placed it on the table, sliding it towards me.

“Ms. Rousseau demands your old ass take a trip to her studio on Friday at 8pm, Chumpkowski,” he said.

“Chumpkowski,” I said. “Very good. You’re not thick as shit after all. That takes a little creativity.”

I picked up the card and looked at it. Below the address were the words: Film provoke. Film prevail!

I held the card in the air.

“What is this?”

Chinny rose from his chair and Boney followed his master’s lead.

“You’ve got the card,” said Chinny, as Boney raised his cell phone and snapped a picture of me holding the card. “And we have proof. So be there, or else.”

I placed the card in the inside pocket of my white blazer as Chinny and Boney exited the café and disappeared into the misty glare of the sun.

Francesca, the sweetheart, approached the table again with a piece of key lime pie on a plate, which she placed in front of me.

“Who were they?” she asked. “The one with the neck tattoo was kinda cute.”

“Oh Francesca,” I said.

“Well?” she said, with a pop of her gum.

“They were an unforeseen invitation to an unexpected ride on this long ol’ journey called life, Francesca, my dear.”

A snicker followed. “Mr. Chukowski! You’re too funny.”

I picked up my fork and worked a piece of key lime onto it and into my mouth, before returning to my review of Shostakovich’s latest work.

It was going to be an interesting week.

Header image by Javier García.

Character Quotes #1 – ‘Leaving Sadie’

 

A little taste of my debut novel ‘Leaving Sadie’ with quotes from some of the characters…

 

 

“You become a slave to the life you carve out for yourself… and then you spend your time trying to escape it.”

– Miller Moore

 

“Only writers know the sheer torture of reading an exquisite piece of literature.”

– Ezra Cooper

 

“Had I known parenting was so important, I would have taken it more seriously.”

– Helena Cohen

 

“The little things. It’s . . . It’s what we do on most days. That’s the crux of any relationship.”

– Rachael Wilson

 

“We’re heroes to thousands; hundreds of thousands… Reverence. Heroism. And for what? There’s nothing heroic about what we do. There’s nothing heroic in spending time on your own doing what you love to do. What’s so heroic about that?.”

– Miller Moore

 

 

Read more about my debut novel ‘Leaving Sadie’ here. I’m currently submitting to literary agents (it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll), with a long, long list to get through. Self-publication is still a possibility, but not until I feel I’ve exhausted the submissions process.

I would love to know if the above quotes whet your appetite for the novel, or at least pique your interest. Drop a comment below if you have any thoughts!

 

‘Doors’ – A Short Story

 

When he woke up from his dream they were still in the room: the priest, Marianne, and his Serbian neighbour whose name he couldn’t pronounce. That he had fallen asleep in the presence of guests would have usually embarrassed Marianne, but they were all so exhausted from the day, the week, that she didn’t acknowledge it, let alone castigate him.

Gerry willed himself up off the couch. He stood and felt dizzy. The cadaverous priest—bible clenched to chest for fear of sinning—was smiling, attentively nodding as Marianne spoke to him. The Serb was sitting on the settee watching a Mancunian soap opera while wolfing down an egg sandwich (there was a mountain of them in the kitchen: an Irish Everest few could conquer). The Serb had moved into the estate only a few months earlier. He possessed little English, but Marianne had taken a liking to him and he’d helped with some odd jobs about the house, which Gerry either wasn’t equipped or bothered to address himself.

Gerry didn’t speak with him often; the most the Serb could manage in way of conversation was ‘Late Late Show – crap’ and ‘Welfare – crap. Not good. Man work for money. Destroy.’ (Gerry enjoyed an Eastern European saying the word destroy, even though destruction was something he’d never craved.) The Serb had lent a hand with prepping the house for the post-funeral gathering—which had all but dispersed—and he had taken Gerry’s hand on numerous occasions, shaking his head while muttering moje saučešće.

Then Gerry remembered the merciless present and a tremor of emotion swelled within him; a forlorn gush experienced by a boy crushed by the ruthlessness of first love. He could have shuddered, whimpered, but instead he left the room without excusing himself.

In the narrow, candle-lit hall Gerry took a deep, remedial breath. He placed a hand on the glossy wooden banister. From the other side of the door he heard the priest say, ‘Eóin possessed an immense joy; it was always in his expression.’

The tears in Gerry’s eyes held on like a stubborn child to its mother. Eventually one managed to plunge to the carpet below. He sucked it in—It being Life—quenched his eyes shut and with circular lips released a long exhale.

He still felt dizzy, and feverish from the heat which had bullied him all day. Water—he needed a glass of water.

He opened the window-paned kitchen door and rushed to the sink, taking a glass and twisting the tap, releasing the splurge of water.

Head back, eyes towards the ceiling, his gulps were reassuring heartbeats.

“What was it he said, at the mass? Didn’t he say something about Cain and Abel?”

Gerry placed the glass in the sink and looked at the kitchen table to his right. A group of three was sitting at it: an old man who’d asked the pressing question, a middle-aged woman whose face spoke of pent-up trauma, and a red-headed boy of seventeen. The old man was Gerry’s father, Martin; his elbow-skin features were blackened by the shadows from the flat cap on his head. The middle-aged woman was Gerry’s sister, Nuala; her eyes were a series of lies, she had never looked at him for longer than a second or two. She was smoking a cigarette. The red-headed boy was her son; he sat patiently with his cupped hands resting on the table. The dangling light directly above them illuminated the scene. Gerry felt as if he was looking at a picture hanging on the walls of the National Gallery; purposeful colours and cracked paint.

“I thought you’d left?” he said.

“We couldn’t leave,” said his sister, looking down at the ashtray on the table as cigarette smoke escaped her nose and mouth like smoke billowing from a burning building. “How could we leave with what’s happening?”

“You can’t stay,” said Gerry. “What good would that do anybody?”

“You can’t be on your own, not today,” said Nuala.

“I’m not going to be on my own. Marianne is here, and the Serb, what’s his name . . .”

Nuala looked at her father—a reanimated cadaver—who looked down and shook his head. She stubbed out the cigarette, stood up, and approached Gerry. The merry clicking of her heels on the tiled floor was an affront to the mood of the scene. She reached out her hands and cupped Gerry’s chin in them.

“My poor brother,” she said, and rested her face on his chest.

Gerry tentatively placed a hand on her back and looked at the boy. As his eyes lingered on the teenager he felt an internal contradiction.

“Your boy,” he said. “He’s grown. He’s much bigger than the last time I saw him. Too big.”

His sister spoke into his chest, a muffled response.

“Well it has been three years, Gerry.”

Gerry took her by the head and looked her in the eyes. She looked away.

“I only saw you a couple of months ago. At the play. Remember?”

She looked at him again. This time she kept her stare on him. There were no lies now; only a searching honesty in them.

“My heart breaks for you,” she said.

He heard an exchange in the hall. He opened the door and saw Marianne talking with the priest. The priest acknowledged Gerry, and Marianne beckoned her husband with her hand.

“Father O’Brien is on his way,” she said. “Were you on the phone?”

“No, Dad . . . and Nuala.”

“Nuala left hours ago, Gerry.”

“But . . .” He pointed to the kitchen which was now in almost complete darkness; the opened door displayed the moonlit sink. Water droplets escaped from the tap every few seconds.

He looked at the priest.

“Father,” he said. There was fear in Gerry’s eyes. “I don’t believe in any of it.”

“Perhaps you’re not meant to believe it, Gerry. Perhaps you’re just meant to live it . . . We’re here for you.”

The priest turned to Marianne, nodded his head, and left. Marianne shut the door behind him. The candles in the hall flickered with the closing of the door. Marianne put a hand on Gerry’s shoulder.

“Are you okay? You need to sleep. You haven’t slept properly in days, Gerry.”

“We knew this would happen, but now that it’s happened I can’t believe it.”

Marianne nodded. Her sympathetic eyes rested on his and she brushed his forehead with her hand.

“You’re sweating,” she said.

“It’s hot.”

“It is. The candles . . .  The heating: I’ll turn off the heating.”

“I need to use the bathroom,” he said.

He turned to the stairs and began to climb them. The farther he climbed the darker each step became.

He pulled himself up one final time, hand gripping the banister. He reached for the light switch for the bathroom on the wall and clicked it on. He took a breath as he steadied himself. He looked at the door of the room to the right of the bathroom: Eóin’s room. How could he ever step foot in there again?

He lowered his eyes to the floor and opened the bathroom door. He shut it immediately behind him and rested his face against the door, releasing a long breath. When he turned he found Eóin standing at the sink, looking in the mirror.

Gerry said nothing. The scrawny, pretty eight-year-old was standing on the step-ladder his father kept in the hot press. He was shaving. The boy was applying creamy white foam to his cherubic face.

Still, Gerry stood in silence.

“Hello, Daddy,” Eóin said chirpily without turning away from the mirror.

Gerry smiled and denied the release of tears.

“We dressed you in your favourite kit today,” he eventually managed. But he blinked, and after he blinked a grown man was looking at himself in the mirror. The shaving cream was almost gone, and the handsome man rinsed his face and patted himself dry. He turned and casually said, ‘All right, Da.”

Gerry stood, speechless. The man reached for the handle and opened the door, passing his father.

“Eóin?” Gerry said. He followed Eóin—who must have now been in his late twenties—into the bedroom.

“Thanks again,” said Eóin, sitting on the bed, pulling a cream t-shirt over his head. “For letting me crash with you until I find a new place.”

“You’re so big. So much bigger than I would’ve imagined,” said Gerry, open-mouthed.

“The weights help . . . Are you all right?”

“Gerry?”

Marianne stood on the landing, as Gerry idled in Eóin’s pitch-black bedroom.

“I saw him,” he said, confused. “Older.”

Marianne smiled.

“So did I,” she said. “All the time. But I stopped.” Marianne approached Gerry and took his hand in hers. “He’ll be as he is, always. Isn’t that something amazing? Isn’t it? You could say that’s a gift for us—he’s our Peter Pan.”

Gerry couldn’t muster a response. He shook his head and pushed Marianne away; she reached for him, but he rejected her hand.

“I need to sleep,” he said. “Tell the Serb to go home.”

He fumbled his way into their bedroom, opening the door and shutting it firmly behind him. After he pulled himself from the door he dropped onto the mattress like a heavy bag he’d been carrying for hours. He pulled the covers to his chin and gripped them tightly. He shivered as he inhaled. He was alone in bed. He’d never felt more alone in all his life.

He couldn’t remember when, but eventually he drifted off to sleep.

 

The door opened and Gerry’s eyes opened at the same time. He turned and looked around. The landing light had been switched on and now it invaded the room. He couldn’t make out who was standing there; his eyes were sore, and he squinted and rubbed the sleep from them.

He whispered ‘Marianne,’ but the figure kneeled beside the bed and revealed itself to be his sister.

‘Nuala,’ he said.

The bright light behind her made it difficult for Gerry to see her face. She looked older, he could make out that much.

“What are you doing back here?”

“I told you like I do every day: I can’t leave you on your own, can I?”

“Where’s Marianne?” he asked.

A figure appeared behind Nuala. He was a tall, spindly man in his sixties.

“Who’s this?” Gerry asked uncertainly.

“Has he forgotten me again?” the man asked.

Nuala raised her head and looked at the man. That honesty was in her eyes.

“Well, you know. They say it’s mostly short-term memory that he struggles with,” she said. “You’ve only been around a few months. I’m sure in time he’ll remember you.”

She rose to her feet and the two people stood side-by-side—two portraits painted by Lucian Freud, looking down at Gerry.

“You’ll remember his name eventually, won’t you, brother?” Nuala smiled.

Gerry’s expression didn’t communicate the fear he felt inside. The light behind Nuala and this strange man was like a blazing fire.

“I don’t know if he’s taking any of this in,” Nuala said.

“Marianne?” said Gerry.

The stranger looked at Nuala.

“His wife,” said Nuala.

“What happened to her?” the stranger asked.

Nuala lowered her voice, but Gerry could hear her.

“She left him not long after their boy died. Some Serbian that lived on the street. I haven’t seen her in a long time. Neither has Gerry.”

“Does he take anything in?”

“He does. He does.” She lowered herself next to the bed again. “You do, don’t you, brother?”

Gerry didn’t respond. His wide eyes took in all of Nuala. How old she was. How? How could she have aged so much?

She stood. The stranger assisted her. She kissed her fingertips and pressed them against Gerry’s forehead.

Her fingers felt cold.

The two figures—the Freud masterpieces—turned and ambled out of the room, their bodies distorted, twisted. The door was pulled shut, most of the light disappeared, and Gerry stared a wide-eyed stare. The remaining light that delineated the door disappeared with the flick of a switch. He heard feet descend stairs. He lay in the darkness. He pulled the bedsheets to his chest. His stare remained; he couldn’t make out the ceiling, but he stared at it as if he would die if he didn’t.

In the darkness he eventually entered another darkness.

 

The ruffling of bed sheets and the kicks against his legs woke him.

Again, he thought. The boy’s at it again.

He instinctively placed a hand on his sleeping wife’s arm, and he manoeuvred his leg so his son could wrap his arms around it. In the darkness, he looked at the bedside clock: red digits told him it was just after four in the morning. He felt good about this. He felt good because he needed rest, and he was sleeping with his wife and his boy, and he knew, too, that it was the weekend. In a few hours his favourite time of the week would be upon him. He would sit up in bed after Marianne had made tea, and they’d both read, and Eóin would sit between them and ask questions. He liked questions, because from a child they were mostly easy ones, and he enjoyed the curiosity of children, a curiosity that shouldn’t disappear. He didn’t know that the questions his boy would ask would become more difficult sooner rather than later. But he did know that he had another few hours of sleep to enjoy, and that he would wake up to a beautiful morning.

 

Image by Dil on Unsplash.

Visualising Screenplays

 

Below you’ll find brief outlines and mood boards for some of my screenplays that are currently being shopped.

 

Feature screenplays

 

“Bunny Rabbits”

A tense psychological drama set in Dublin, Ireland, but which could be updated for a North American setting.

‘A young offender must attend mandatory anger management classes following his release from prison. These sessions are led by a charismatic American psychologist who, it turns out, shares a history with the troubled young man, the dark nature of which is slowly revealed as the story unfolds.

Meanwhile, our protagonist finds himself drifting towards criminal activity, unable to escape the lure of a quick deal; his path to a new start. But a fresh beginning may already be on the cards when he meets a hard-headed bar worker. The question is: can he get on top of his demons and give himself a chance to get his life back on track?’

Mood board:

 

“On the Count of Three”

A script that harks back to the detective crime capers of old, with a stylistic, charming touch; I like to think of it as Raymond Chandler meets The Coen Brothers meets Wes Anderson.

‘A lovable but morally questionable private investigator who’s struggling to make ends meet is tasked with tracking down a failed writer, leading him into a world of danger, drama, dogs, and Edith Piaf covers.’

Mood board:

 

“Let’s Talk About Sex”

A romantic comedy in the Woody Allen mould; this playful script is a study on relationships, romance, and eccentric individuals.

‘A couple who’ve found their relationship in a crisis turn to a sex therapist’s program in a bid to rescue their marriage. The husband, a well-established editor of books, is dealing with his latest client’s novel – and her capricious character. The wife, a successful fashion designer, has developed a crush on a young model. Add to this their troubles in the bedroom and you’re left with a recipe for drama, debates, and sex jokes.’

Mood board:

 

“Visitors for Grace”

‘A well-off family convenes on a lush estate for the imminent death of matriarch, Grace; a gathering which leads to the inevitable: plenty of family friction. Add to that a reckless enfant terrible, a failing marriage, a dysthymic wife, a frustrated doctor, and a family secret, and you’ve got a melodrama only a killjoy would want you to miss.’

Mood board:

 

“Like Father / Like Son” 

‘Bobby Adams arrived in Los Angeles at the age of twenty-one with big dreams of becoming an actor. Four years later—the present—he finds himself working as a barista and taking whatever odd acting jobs his irascible agent Jack Robertson can land him. When on the verge of giving up on the dream and moving home, Bobby is called by Jack who informs him of an audition for an unusual role: to play the part of the deceased son of the wealthy business-magnate Richard Watts. Only the part is to be played in real life, not in a movie. The gig pays very well, and desperate for money, Bobby decides to attend the audition. While at the audition he meets fellow-actor Wynona Wesley, who he immediately develops a crush on. Bobby lands the part, and the tumultuous weeks that follow serve to give Rob a new perspective on life, love, and Hollywood.’

Mood board:

Short Scripts

 

“A Significant Nothing”

A short script about human behaviour and relationships in the age of social media and increasingly invasive, ever-absorbing, frequently distracting technology.

‘An introverted doctor who lives a life removed from the hustle and bustle of the city in which he works has found it difficult to make genuine connections with people for most of his adult life. Despite being romantic at heart, he has become disconnected, resigning himself to a life on his own. But when he treats an odd, overly anxious patient, he gets that inexplicable feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he’s hopeful for the first time in a long time that he has found someone with whom he can connect.

The question is — has he found hope in a hopeless person?’

 

“Sea Soul”

A short version of an idea I had for a feature screenplay. Will likely be developed into a 90-minute script.

‘A disgraced former banker seeks redemption in a missing person’s case, only those closest to him plead with him to stop, not least because of his theory of what happened to the lost boy, and where he could be found… in the sea’.

 

Contra Teaser Trailer

 

Trailers: a little taste of what’s to come. This is a nice little teaser for my new short film ‘Contra’, directed by Daragh Murphy and starring Darragh O’Toole, Patrick Molloy, and Kyle Hixon.

From here we’ll be submitting to a number of festivals, and fingers crossed there’ll be a screening or three for us to attend soon enough!

Check out the teaser here:

 

Six Morrissey B-sides

 

Football. If you had to choose only one sport to represent the working class, surely it would be the beautiful game.

I played myself. I was pretty good – not good enough to go pro, but decent enough to win a top-goalscorer award and play at the top level as a kid. A striker, I banged in plenty of goals in two seasons playing for Irish team Shamrock Rovers, and I went on to play for Home Farm F.C. before returning to Rovers again, where I spent a couple of seasons before hanging up my muck-covered boots.

How does this relate to Morrissey and B-sides, you may be wondering?

Well, most Morrissey fans will know that he was born in Manchester to a working-class Irish migrant family. Working-class life permeates Moz’s oeuvre. He was (and probably still is – I don’t happen to track his TV-watching habits) a big fan of the soap opera Coronation Street, which focuses on the daily lives of working-class Mancunians. You’ll also find many references to working-class life on the covers of Morrissey singles, such as a photograph of two boys used for the single Roy’s Keen (see below), taken by Roger Mayne, a photographer famed for his documentation of people on London’s Southam Street.

As for the football connection – there’s something about B-sides that reminds one of substitutes: back up, a suggestion of not being good enough for the starting line-up. But what about the substitute who pops up with a last-minute winner having only been on the pitch fifteen minutes? Substitutes complete the team and have an invaluable role to play. Plus, some players who regularly feature on the bench are often exceptional, even better than some in the starting eleven (think of super-subs like Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Chelsea’s Tore Andre Flo).

The same can be said for B-sides. You’ll find some gems accompanying singles, some that are arguably better than the A-side.

With that in mind, here are six Morrissey B-sides from over the years.

 

1. Have-a-Go Merchant

Moz Boxers

Have a go when the pubs all close, and have a go when they open. So begins this boisterous B-side to Boxers – Morrissey’s ode to pugilists everywhere, released in 1995. Have-a-Go Merchant would also show up on the compilation album World of Morrissey, released the same year. It’s been claimed that this song was written about Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs, in response to her cover of Everyday Is Like Sunday, which Moz utterly despised. There once existed a very charming fan-made video for this, featuring handheld footage of families from years gone by. Alas, I can’t find it, but you can still listen to the track by hitting the link below.

A-Side: Boxers (16 January 1995)
Listen to ‘Have-a-Go Merchant’ here.

 

2. Get Off the Stage

Moz PP

This biting B-side takes aim at aging rockers whose time, in Mozzer’s opinion, has come and gone: move on, ye old rockers, and make way for the youth of today. Many have opined that the song was originally aimed at The Rolling Stones, who, for better or worse, are still rocking some 29 years after this track accompanied the Piccadilly Palare single release. Of course, this very song could be aimed at Morrissey today, something he surely knew would happen someday. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if it appeared as a self-deprecating inclusion on the setlist for his next tour.

A-Side: Piccadilly Palare (8 October 1990)
Listen to ‘Get Off the Stage’ here.

 

3. The Edges Are No Longer Parallel

Moz Roy's Keen

My only mistake is I’m hoping, laments Morrissey in this guitar- and strings-driven ballad. Making its appearance on the single Roy’s Keen, the track features familiar themes of hopelessness and loneliness, before launching into a snare-pounding, upbeat outro that contradicts the lyrical content. Surprisingly, this excellent B-side has never even made it onto a compilation album. It did, however, show up on the 2009 remastered version of studio album number six, Maladjusted. In a word: magnifique!

A-Side: Roy’s Keen (6 October 1997)
Listen to ‘The Edges Are No Longer Parallel’ here.

 

4. A Swallow on My Neck

Moz Sunny

A Swallow on My Neck was the B-side of the single Sunny, released in 1995. It went on to feature on the compilation album My Early Burglary Years. For me, this track is stronger than the song to which it played second fiddle. It’s rumoured to have been written for Jake Walters, a long-time friend of Morrissey’s, and features the wonderful opening lyrics I have been smashed again with the men from the Old Valhalla Road Crematorium, and You have been telling me that I’ve been acting childish . . . foolish, ghoulish, and childish. But I don’t mind, I don’t mind. When the result is a song like this, we don’t mind either, Moz.

A-Side: Sunny (11 December 1995)
Listen to ‘A Swallow on My Neck’ here.

 

5. Munich Air Disaster 1958

Moz IB,EH

Returning to the football theme, Munich Air Disaster 1958 is a tribute to those who lost their lives on British Airways Flight 609 – including members of the Manchester United football team, nicknamed the Busby Babes. This gem was a B-side on the single Irish Blood, English Heart, before showing up on the albums Live at Earls Court and Swords. The mournful lyrics speak of keeping the memory of those players alive: We miss them, every night we kiss them. Their faces fixed in our heads. A beautiful tribute song that’s been embraced by United and City fans alike.

A-Side: Irish Blood, English Heart (4 May 2004)
Listen to ‘Munich Air Disaster 1958’ here.

 

6. Good Looking Man About Town

Moz YHKM

A B-side with a brilliant bassline, Good Looking Man About Town showed up as a support act for You Have Killed Me – the first single from Morrissey’s eighth studio album Ringleader of the Tormentors, released in 2006. This one reminds me of some of David Bowie’s jazz- and drum-and-bass-infused efforts like Little Wonder, and ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore, but that could just be this writer. Anyway, go forth and listen – it’s a treat that’s best served with a healthy dose of narcissism.

A-Side: You Have Killed Me (27 March 2006)
Listen to ‘Good Looking Man About Town’ here.

 

There we are – six Morrissey B-sides. Share some of your favourite Moz B-sides in the comments below if you’re bothered.

Until next time . . . I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar.

You Can Call Me What You Like as Long as You Don’t Call Me

 

 

A sample of my short story ‘You Can Call Me What You Like as Long as You Don’t Call Me‘, about a reclusive former actor and politician who’s reluctantly propelled back into the limelight by a determined journalist.

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In his youth he was an inextinguishable flame; an irrepressible voice in the world of entertainment; a reasonable, level-headed voice in the world of politics. He’d been both an actor on screen and a performer in the presence of the media. But what’s happened to Roger Dreyfus, the former governor of California and star of the action-packed mega-hits Glorious Day, A Bridge to Brooklyn, and What’s In It For Me? Where is Roger Dreyfus?!

   That’s how the article began.

   His son had called him first thing that morning and told him about it. First he sighed, and then he panicked—as he did on a regular basis now—and shortly after he got off the call and calmed down, he drove to the nearest store (which took an hour to reach, because the local store which serviced the sparsely populated-but-large gated community in which he lived had burned down two days earlier) and picked up a copy of the magazine in which he’d been featured.

   Now, as he sat at the table in the spacious kitchen featuring the granite-top counter, the biggest fridge he’d ever laid eyes on, and the island in the middle of the room with the mahogany countertop, where dinner would be eaten (alone), he read the piece written by one Warren S. Franzen.

   He knew Franzen; had met him a couple of times, didn’t like him—thought he was too effeminate. He didn’t have a problem with ‘the gays’ as he called them. Heck, he’d been governor when they passed the bill. But he liked men to be men, irrespective of whom they shared a bed with.

   He remembered the first time he’d met Franzen: He was greeted by a short, skinny man who some would call stylish, although not Roger; Roger liked men who dressed like men; none of these skinny suits, no checked pants and bright pink shirts, and certainly no stupid hairstyles. Upon meeting him, Franzen first words were unintelligible; it was a combination of “Oh-mah-God”, “Whaaaat?” and a wail which had reminded him of the time his mother had put out her back when lifting their overweight bulldog all those years ago. And it wasn’t that Franzen wasn’t a nice guy—he would categorize him as a nice, amiable person—but he was too loud, too annoying, too camp. And Roger didn’t do camp. This didn’t deter him from being a Hollywood heavyweight for the best part of forty years; he just put up with the campness like one puts up with an old football injury that creeps up on you every now and then.

   Football, he thought. Now there’s a sport that fairy Franzen had never played.

   The thing was, Franzen adored Roger. There was of course the possibility that this was the result of an attraction; Roger was muscular, masculine, magnetic; his charisma was infectious, as were his handsome features. Plus, this piece wasn’t an attack on his character; far from it. It was a celebration of the man, and it was a calling:

   “Come back to us, Roger!” it said.

   And that was the problem precisely.

   Damn that little prick, Roger thought to himself.

   He’d worked hard to escape life in the public gaze. People, he’d concluded after all these years, were perverts. Obsessive, silly, perverted little cretins. He’d also acknowledged that this supposed perversion that he’d grown to despise was part of the reason he’d become so successful in the first place. But he hadn’t held on to fame; eventually he’d willed it away like a bad flu that wouldn’t clear. He’d been a major player in Hollywood and a political powerhouse, but all that changed four years ago. Nobody, apart from family (i.e. his son, not the ex-wife) and his few remaining friends, (one a controversial Libertarian economist, one a successful author, and the other a director with whom he’d collaborated on many occasions), had contacted him over the past four years. And when the aforementioned called him it was usually unwelcomed.

   So, the question was: why? Why was Franzen calling him out? And why now?

   As he sat in the kitchen reading the piece he grew more and more frustrated; with each word, sentence, paragraph, his anxiety levels increased. He licked a thumb and aggressively turned the page. He released a vexed groan. He cleared his throat even though there was nothing to clear: this was the ultimate sign that his anxiety had peaked: incessant throat-clearing.

   “Ah-hmmmm. Ummmmmm. Ah-hmmmm. Ummmmmmmm. Ummmm.”

   He sat reading the article in the cheap, gossip-filled entertainment column, as he emitted noises like a car struggling to start.

   When he reached the end of the piece the throat clearing stopped. This was beyond the peak: he’d never gotten past the throat clearing, it was always a downhill return to calm. He’d soared to unchartered territory—this was the next phase. He wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Perhaps his head would explode like it had in that movie he’d starred in back in the 80s (box office earnings: $120m). Perhaps he’d keel over and die of an aneurysm. Perhaps he’d leave the physical world but remain a living thing: a revelation that the key to transcendence was not calm, meditative conduct, after all, but in fact intense, silent rage.

   What happened surprised him. After reading the final paragraph, And this journalist’s mission is to find our beloved Roger Dreyfus. Bring him back into our lives. With everything happening right now in the entertainment industry, in politics, in America, we need Roger Dreyfus more than ever. So, to use one of his most famous lines: watch this space!, he calmly picked up his phone which rested on the table. He tapped the screen and unlocked the phone. He dialled the most recent number.

   As he waited for his only son to pick up, he recalled the scene in which he spoke those immortal words: Watch this space, he said, before blowing off a Saudi terrorist’s head.

   God, they’re easy, he thought.

   Almost three-thousand miles away, Rain Dreyfus looked at his vibrating cell phone. His blond-headed four-year-old kid was busy poking his father in the chin with a toy pistol.

   “Honey,” Rain called to his wife, who was sitting across from him reading the magazine which featured the article on her father-in-law.

   She stood up.

   “Come on, Sean, daddy has to talk to the crazy man.”

   Rain didn’t laugh; he rolled his eyes. This crazed man calling him was nothing more than an inconvenience: the only reason he’d told him about the article earlier was so the discussion about it would be on his terms. They barely spoke as it was, why was his father calling him after only talking with him a few hours earlier? After Sean was distracted by his mother, Rain reached for the phone, stood up, left the room, opened the back door and stepped out onto the patio. It was a sweltering Monday in Los Angeles—what’s new?

   “Yo, Pop.”

   “Rain.”

   The greeting was too calm, the voice too rational. He was expecting an explosion but  had instead experienced a lame fart.

   “What’s up, Pop?”

   “Franzen,” Roger’s calm voice said. “He’s still based in LA?”

   “I don’t know, Pop. Why would I know that?”

   “You’re good with the internet. Find out.”

   “Why? Why do you want to know?”

   Back in New Hampshire, in a dull kitchen that was too big for four people, let alone a single divorcé, Roger paused: whatever he had in mind, he hadn’t thought it through.

   “Pop?” he heard through the phone.

   “Ah, never mind. Forget it.”

   “Okay. Listen—”

   “I said forget it,” said Roger. “And don’t call me.”

   He hung up the phone and sat in silence in New Hampshire.

   In Los Angeles, Rain pocketed his phone and returned inside to his wife and kid.

 

***

A couple of days passed and Roger spent them in bed at the behest of his emboldened paranoia. He refused to answer the buzz of the gate which permitted entry to his property. Most of his neighbours were CEOs, bankers, not celebrities. This wasn’t a celebrity town; that’s why he’d moved here. He didn’t speak with the neighbours often, and many of the properties were vacant throughout the year. That was something he was thankful for.

   His phone had vibrated seventeen times in two days. That was more than it had buzzed in the preceding two months. The phone was a necessity; in case of emergencies and the need for food or alcohol when he was too lazy, or paranoid, to venture outside. Seventeen times in two days—certainly the article had led to some kind of activity, and if the calls were from anyone other than his son, the economist, the author, the director, or—God forbid—his ex-wife, then someone had gotten hold of his number. He knew that this was a distinct possibility; people had ways of getting anything they wanted these days. All it took was a little journalistic tenacity, and that was something Warren S. Franzen held in abundance.

   He would sleep and jolt awake following dreams filled with flashing lights and paparazzi. He would sweat and think about appearances on Jay Leno and David Letterman. His mind would drift and he’d find himself in conversation with Oprah yet again (he’d always hated Oprah). He’d recall the interviews, the fans, the autographs, the relentless demand and inquiry, and he would retch regularly.

   He’d only left his bed for three reasons: to eat, to visit the bathroom, and to check his Beretta M9, which his ex-publicist had purchased for him at his request ten years earlier (when his paranoia had first made its appearance). The pistol was loaded, always was. He’d fired it drunkenly a couple of times. A few other times he’d held it to his head. This was also a drunken act. He was only ever suicidal in the morning, or when he was drunk. So he didn’t drink very often, and he slept past noon on most days. He’d found that filling his days reading works by his favourite writers and watching lectures online was a good distraction from the noxious elements of life, or his head. He hadn’t had sex in four years, and it didn’t work anyway. He’d asked himself: when your cock goes, where does your pride go?

   On the third day he decided to revisit his original idea; the one he’d considered before calling his son a few days earlier. He retrieved the 9mm from the walk-in closet that was mostly empty, and placed it on the granite countertop in the kitchen. He showered, shaved and worked his penis to see if it did anything.

   It didn’t.

   In the bedroom he took his phone and texted Rain: Get me Franzen’s fucking address.

   When he returned to the kitchen he said aloud, “Who do I have to shoot in here to get a bourbon, neat?” He couldn’t remember if this was a line from one of his movies. There was no response, not even in his head.

   Under the winding staircase he rummaged in a box filled with miscellaneous items until he found what he was looking for: the bottle of 23-year-old Four Roses. Back in the kitchen he poured himself a glass of the bourbon and, with 9mm in hand, he rambled around the house. In the living room he urinated into the fireplace. In the dining room he upturned the table. In the home theatre—which he rarely used—he sat with his feet up and watched his most celebrated movie, A Bridge to Brooklyn. He hated it. He shot the pistol at the giant version of himself on the screen, piercing a neat, smoking-hot hole in his forehead; his aim was still good, even if his cock didn’t work anymore.

   His phone vibrated.

   He opened the message from Rain: 1842, Wells Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90046

   He returned to the kitchen and began to write on a single sheet of ruled paper. He spent some time writing the letter. He sipped his fifth glass of bourbon and thought about each sentence at length. When he was done he placed the letter in the envelope, licked, and sealed. On it he wrote: Warren S. Franzen, 1842, Wells Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90046

   He walked with dignity, despite his voluminous consumption of alcohol, to his study. He fingered from the library a copy of Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea.

   He sat at the island in the kitchen and read the short novel into the early hours, pouring the remainder of the bottle into the glass as he read the final paragraph of the widely celebrated work. After he absorbed the final few lines, having read them a number of times as he always did when finishing a novel, he closed the book and placed it on the mahogany countertop.

   He stood up, fixing his shirt neatly into his pants, and downed the remaining bourbon. He whispered to himself, “Watch this space,” as he raised the gun to his head and took a deep breath.

Pieces of you

If your mouth were a cave

I would crawl into it,

and find my way to the cranial staircase.

I would reach for every message —

every signal sent — and read each one earnestly.

If your thoughts were an ocean

I would dive into it,

and let the tides carry me wherever.

If your body were a mountain

I would ascend it,

and gather from the scree the pieces of you that were lost over the years.

I would tackle your crags and your slopes

until I reached your peak, holding your fragile fragments in my cupped hands.

If my body were a diary

I would open my pages for you

so you could write down all the things that you cannot tell me.