Beyond Purple (Part 1 of 2) from Denni Boyd's novel, Diamonds
As soon as his mother would leave for work, the babysitter, Michelle Kennedy, would tune the transistor on the sill above the sink to Radio One. She would then leave it on till shortly before his mother came home in the evening. Every time the song 'Michelle' came on, she would say something like, 'You know, they wrote this song for me', or 'Paul keeps on asking me to marry him, but how could I ever leave you, Stevie?' Then she would sing along in slightly off-key rapture. Apart from that song, which he soon grew to hate, he did not know the name of any other. It was not until years later when, for instance, he was learning to play 'Ruby Tuesday', that deep memories stirred within him and he realised that he already knew Ruby intimately. If he had temporarily forgotten a thousand songs from that period, they had not forgotten him. They were living inside him and would pop up from time to time to say things to him like: 'See, I warned you she would break your heart', 'Bet you never imagined how good this would be', or 'How could you ever have displaced me?'
From the time he started school, his exposure to music was greatly reduced and came to him only in bits and bribes.
'Did you see 'Top of the Pops' last night?' asked Richie.
Richie and his elder brother Reggie were two of the school's tough nuts. How he had ever gotten mixed up with Richie, he simply did not know, but somehow they ended up spending every lunch time together, wandering about town, often getting into trouble. He had to be very careful how he played it with Richie, who could turn on him in an instant. One time, Richie had even stolen his bus fare, spent it on a cream bun and then taunted him by eating it in front of him. But even if he never forgot the humiliating incident, it was not this that he most remembered Richie for. That memory was born the day Richie asked him the 'Top of the Pops' question.
Of course he hadn't seen it. They didn't have a telly at home and even if they'd had one, he was sure that 'Top of the Pops' would have been 'programmus non gratis'.
'Gilbert O'Sullivan has a new song and it's really, really beautiful,' said Richie. This most uncharacteristic statement took Steve by total surprise. Richie never spoke about things like this.
Richie was obviously torn between wanting to share the song and not wanting to look like an idiot. He therefore insisted that they go deep inside a large bush in the park, well beyond the range of uninvited eyes and ears. As the two of them crouched inside their leafy hideaway, Richie let down his hard-man image for the one and only time, as he sang 'Alone Again Naturaleen'. Steve was enthralled by the song and as soon as he had finished, begged him to sing it again. But Richie had already given away enough of his soul for one day. In a flash, he was back to being his usual, uncompromising, dangerous self.
Steve was desperate to hear Gilbert's version of the song, and this happened about a week later. At first, he was surprised by how closely to the original Richie had sung it. But this did not stop him from despising Richie for having been the one who had revealed it to him. How could such a brute be the messenger of such beauty? His only consolation was that Richie had sung 'Alone Again Naturaleen' instead of 'Alone Again (Naturally)'. Clearly, Richie had completely misunderstood the song and could certainly never love it as much as Steve did.
The 'Blue Light' did not come till years later. Though he couldn't remember the first time it happened, he knew he had been instantly hooked, and it had left him craving. It must have taken place in his bedroom when everyone else was out. His entire existence was transformed in an instant. Every important event in his life from then on bore some relationship to that moment.
When he was Gillan, Paice, Glover or Lord, there would be an occasional flicker. But it was not until he would step back inside Blackmore - guitar slung low over his shoulder, eyes closed, plectrum poised to strike - that it would come on full-blast. Though, as Blackmore, he stood rightstage, this made no difference. Whenever it happened, he was always centrestage...entrestage, centredream, centreworld, centrelove, centreeverything. The Blue Light was as close as he had ever come to knowing heaven on earth. When it shone, nothing else mattered.
It isn't an ordinary spot light, fuelled by streams of wildly excited electrons hurtling frantically through spirals of tungsten. Its beam neither splays and spreads like other lights, nor travels in laser lines. The Blue Light focuses. It focuses on what is causing it to happen. And what was causing it to happen then was him. Him - in every note he played, every single miniscule gesture, every drive of his right hip or nonchalant flick of the head. Him - in the way he would magically create the perfect vibrato by slowly raising his plectrum hand, fluttering like the wing of a butterfly. Him - in every tortured expression of his face, each single muscle working tirelessly to power the music forwards, to pound it into the hearts, into the very souls of his audience. He had to be able to touch the people, because it is they who generate the Light.
He knew he had a talent for this. He could even feel them individually, as he reached deep inside their souls. Once the Light was on, he could casually move among the crowd, slip inside any one of them, and through their eyes see himself on stage. Though they were anonymous, he knew these people intimately. He drifted freely through their opened hearts, loving them as they loved him. He could even focus the light upon himself from within his audience.
Back on stage now, he, in turn, opened his own heart fully. He invested every ounce of his being into each passion-filled note. He reflected their Light back upon them by giving more and more. He loved them so much now that he played better, faster, with even more feeling, and he never got it wrong. The more he gave, the more intense the Light would become, until, often on the very last note, there was a magical fusion, when everyone transcended the theatre to bathe in the pure Blue Light.
But it didn't always work out that way. There could be technical hitches. Sometimes, he would quite simply not be able to get into it. A cassette he had played so frequently that it become too tightly wound could start slowing or auto stop in mid-solo. One time, while attempting a new move, he banged his knee so violently against the end of his bed that his screams were truly worthy of Gillan. He limped for a whole week afterwards.
But there was worse.
A simple interruption from his mother or sister in mid-concert would instantly plunge him into darkness and he would be left feeling awkward and embarrassed, on the verge of hating himself. It was even worse when he was listening through headphones. Not only would he get such a heart-stopping fright on being interrupted that one time the shock actually floored him - it was not bad enough that he would still be feeling like an idiot, but, to top it all off, he would not even know how long he had been the object of derision and mockery.
Anyone who says that it is easy to play fresh-air-guitar clearly knows nothing of the hardships and the dangers of its selective apprenticeship.
Read Part Two of Beyond Purple here
(image courtesy of Karen Garnaud)