Sunday, July 17, 2005

Every Portrait Tells A Story

Portrait of JM by Andrew Fitchett.

The best site for his portrait work is A number of new portraits are due to go live on this site soon. Alternatively, people can contact him directly and avoid the gallery commission.
Tel: [01273] 488573 or 477475. e-mail:

Having your portrait painted is a strange and wonderful experience and this was certainly a first for me. Andrew asked me if I'd mind posing for one as he planned an exhibition featuring a number of local faces. The innovative show 'Talking Heads' included audio clips by the sitters.

The actual process of being sketched was painless- two hour-long sessions in my front room. In fact I found myself going off into a deep meditation. I find the picture not disturbing but quite hard for me to look at because my mind at the time was very much on the loss of an old friend, whose funeral I had been to the day before the first session. The dominant black colour of the canvas and my clothing chimes in with that and Andrew was obviously and skilfully picking up on my mood of the moment.

Joss was a big influence on me when I was in my late teens, is celebrated in my poem 'A Beat Life' (see previous post). He was a challenging person, brimful of energy and creative conversation, intense and edgy, who challenged bullshit at every level.

The day of the funeral I began writing a poem which I read to friends and family at the gathering after the service, in The Black Horse in Findon, in a room that held an old-fashioned skittle alley. I wrote half of it on the train to Shoreham , where I was to meet friend Nick who was driving us to the service. Having half an hour to wait for him, I sat in the Famished coffee shop and pulled out the notebook to try and finish what I had started. At that moment, 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' by Procol Harum came on the radio and the proprietor turned it right up. The words immediately began to flow. I took pause for a moment only to hear the strains of 'Hey Jude.' By the time that was over, the poem was complete. It all seemed so appropriate.

The title of the poem comes from an old boy at the pub who, after the reading came over to me and said the title by way of congratulation.

A good scribbling

The crow told me first
Joss is dead
No he’s not, I said
He’s in my head
And very much alive
In fact
He’s telling me off right now
In his bare chest
Moustache and shades
Cut-off denim shorts
Socks (white with stripes at the top)
And DM’s, lovingly polished,
And often of a cherry-red variety.

Leaves and plastic bags whipped round me
And the wind whispered
Joss is dead
No, you are much mistaken, I said
He’s alive in my head
We’re talking about Richard Brautigan
And listening to Buffalo Springfield
And he’s talking twenty to the dozen
Buzzing with contagious energy
Challenging me to dare to be myself


The sea swirled round my feet
On a deserted beach
I picked up a shell
And put it to my ear
It echoed: Joss is dead
News of his demise would surprise me, I said
Because he’s alive in my head
Hooting with laughter
Twitching with electrical charges
Howling at the stars
Speeding through his karma
Burning up the highway of life

I switched on the tv for the news
And the official announcement came:
Joss is dead
I sent the BBC an e-mail
You’re badly informed, I said
He’s sending me messages in my head
Said to tell you
He’s got a funky ranch down Tangiers way
Living with Neil Cassady, Ken Kesey,
Jack K.. Allen G., William B.
And the rest of the Beat boys
They’re laughing their chinos off
As Joss holds court
Outlining his latest ideas
On interstellar space travel
Stroking his moustache
Taking a blow, taking a blast
Words tumbling out like sprites
Fingers drumming on the table
To the be-bop sounds of Miles, Monk and Coltrane


I’m alone in my zen room
Candle lit, radio on
It’s a request for Joss, from a friend
Jimi Hendrix playing Stone Free
He’s talking to me quieter now
Don’t give it up
Be strong
Have courage
Be a warrior
Change the world

A firework exploded in the sky
I gave a sigh
Smiled and cried then slept
And in my dream
We were back in the room with the buffalo horns
Listening to Crosby Stills and Nash
It’s Been A long Time Coming
Joss is smiling and for a minute at peace
Gazing into the long distance
The world turns silently
And time is suspended

Joss dead!
Leave it out mate
He’s still alive in my head
Exchanging stories with the angels and demons
Showing the genies new magic tricks
And dictating these lines.

8 jan 2004

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