The Start of Something Big by Chris Green
‘There was no before the beginning of the universe, because once upon a time, there was no time. Big bang or no big bang, it makes no difference. Even if God created everything, the argument still stands. There, that solves that one, Vincent. That will save years of taxing your grey matter with the age-old riddle.’
Uncle Guy could be forceful in his views, but he was usually right. All his assertions; he said, were based on reason and logic. We were all mortal. We were all going to die, so our mission should be to enjoy the time we were here, unreservedly. Don’t live someone else’s life or get involved with someone else’s cause, he would tell me. Unless you can affect a situation, don’t waste your time on it. Time the most important resource you have. In an otherwise dysfunctional family, I was fortunate to be able to call upon Guy’s wisdom to guide me through what might otherwise have been a troubled adolescence.
I discovered that reason and logic could offer shorthand solutions to teenage dilemmas too. Of course, Lucy Love would not go out with me, for instance. She was eighteen, and I was fifteen, so there was no point in fooling myself that she would. No matter how desirable Lucy was, it was better to ask Jenny Jones out. She was my own age. And where was the sense in taking English A-Level? I would be given difficult books to read so that I could regurgitate what more scholarly people had written about them. If ever I wanted to read those books, I could do so later when I was ready. Perhaps even enjoy them. But this not mean I should underestimate my potential. To get ahead, I just needed to work out where the train was heading and get on it first.
It was the nineteen-seventies and rock music, which had long been the guiding force for youth, was showing signs of tiredness. You had the choice between pretty poster boys wanting you to hold them close or unsmiling, long-haired dudes with beards playing twenty-minute numbers with long instrumental solos and pretentious lyrics. Clearly, this self-indulgence could not continue indefinitely. Rock required rebellion. Reason suggested a change was waiting to happen. Something that would once again turn rock music on its head.
It was then that I heard a tune by The Damned, a two-minute, three-chord number called New Rose. It was fast, crude, rude and had no musical merit, but it gave me a lightbulb moment. If I could refine the sound a little while keeping the hard edge, I would be ahead of the game. But I would have to be quick. There was no room for hesitation. Others too would have heard it and realised that this was the change waiting to happen.
Luckily, the group of lads I played with, Charlie, Mick and Razor, were receptive to the idea. No complicated passages or sophisticated arrangements were necessary, I told them. It was a case of three chords and bash, bash, bash, which was just as well as none of us could claim to be real musicians. In fact, three chords was pushing it. We got together for a session in Razor’s basement and in no time at all we had written three or four angry, raucous, two-minute numbers. We needed a name for our band. Something nihilistic and snappy. We had a brainstorming session and finally agreed on The Trash, this being more booking-friendly than The Kunts, which had been Charlie’s suggestion. Those of you growing up through the punk phenomenon will be aware that we were onto a winner.
We also needed a record deal. While our new raw sound wasn’t exactly Uncle Guy’s cup of tea, he agreed I was on to something. Music, he said, needed a kick-up-the-backside from time to time. Guy had his finger in a number of pies and was well-connected with people in the entertainment industry. He often used to slink off to Soho. He agreed to back us and got us a deal with the newly formed independent label, Corpse Records. By getting in early, The Trash became an overnight success. The BBC banned our debut single Up Yours, which worked in its favour. It leapt up the charts. So did our follow up, I Should Coco. And before we knew it, we had had two number ones in Europe too.
We were ordinary middle-class lads, but our manager Johnny Rogue stage-managed our image as the bad boys of punk. He saw to it that we were arrested regularly for some misdemeanour and that the press were notified. Whenever we were on TV, he instructed us to swear and behave badly. The Trash became synonymous with attitude. Fashion-conscious youths up and down the country copied our look of ripped leather jackets, offensive t-shirts, tight black jeans, lace-up boots, and brightly coloured spiky hair. Over the first year, our record sales were only bettered by The Sex Pistols.
Punk, of course, quickly became mainstream and even had proper record producers to monitor the levels and cleanse the sound. If it carried on this way, it would sound like the dull music it replaced. But in any case, it was time to move on. I was now twenty-one, so I needed something more adult to focus on. And I needed to distance myself from the drugs that seemed to be part and parcel of life in a punk band on the road. There was no sense in going down that route. I did not plan to end up an eternal victim of life like my father, an alcoholic like my mother, or a tragic nutjob like my brother Jed. Once I had changed my hair, dispensed with the fake facial jewellery, and started to dress more soberly, it was unlikely anyone would recognise me in the street. As Uncle Guy was fond of saying; if we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t living. Always remember that change is the only certainty, so embrace it and get ahead. I was fortunate inasmuch as I now had options. Royalties from the hits would keep me afloat while I considered the next step. I bought a house in the leafy suburbs of St John’s Wood, close to Lords cricket ground.
It should have been easy to spot the impending change in culture. It seemed that way to me. There were all the signs of a monetarist coup. Socialism was dead in the water, certainly in the UK. In a lurch towards the political right, my generation, as it had been thought of, was being replaced by the me generation. Suddenly, we were being told there was no such thing as society. Money was everything, and if you had your wits about you, you could make loads of it. Once I realised this, I was nicely placed to take advantage of the financial opportunities of the nineteen-eighties.
People, it seemed, would buy anything if they thought it was fashionable. All the budding entrepreneur needed to do was put the products out there. I opened my first Yoyos and Roller Skates shop at the beginning of 1980 and thanks to aggressive promotion in the right places, by the end of the year, I had nine stores, dotted around the country. In retail, you had to be aware of the basics of business management and have a marketing strategy. You ignored this at your peril as all too many big names discover. I was not going to let this happen. Conscious of product life cycle, I sold the Yoyos and Roller Skates franchise at its peak the following year for megabucks.
The credit card boom had taken over peoples’ sensibilities. It was astonishing what they would buy. How else would you be able to sell invisible kettles and silent trumpets? I was onto a winner with my chain of Must-Have pop-up shops. Pop-Up was a new idea back then, and the Must-Have brand opened the door for others to follow. I was laughing all the way to the Cayman Islands. Stopping off at the estate agents from time to time to expand my property portfolio.
Uncle Guy didn’t always approve of my methods for making money, but neither did he completely disapprove. He was more than happy to come and stay on my yacht in Cap d’Antibes. Here we partied while we set about planning our future stock market coups. If you wanted to be critical of methods of wealth accumulation, short selling and margin trading were just as questionable as persuading people to buy tacky rubbish they had no use for. But this was the way things were in the nineteen-eighties. Morality and ethics were taking a breather.
Both my parents passed within the space of a few months of one another. I paid for both funerals but did not feel the need to attend. I bought Jed a ground-floor flat with a small garden where he could grow vegetables and set up a monthly allowance to supplement his benefits. Whether he spent this on drink and drugs was not my concern.
It was entirely accidental, but in the late eighties, I found my property portfolio contained a sizeable chunk of San Antonio, Ibiza. I tended to buy where my property investment guru, Arabella Slick, suggested. I trusted her judgement, and Ibiza had been high on her list of value for money locations. I had only visited the island on a couple of occasions, but I got the impression that it was a honey trap for young people. Hordes of them came every summer. Many bars and clubs already existed, but these ere mostly run by hippies stuck in the vibe of the 1970s. The nightlife needed a reboot. The answer was simple, set up clubs playing the emerging new house music. House had been happening in New York for a year or so, fuelled by the new dance drug Ecstasy. If I were to make this freely available too, it seemed to me, my new business venture would be guaranteed to succeed. Being from an earlier generation, Uncle Guy was not in favour of my plan. It wasn’t the kicking music he objected to so much as the drugs. I went ahead with it, anyway. Within a year or two San Antonio was at the forefront of rave culture and the go-to place for hedonism.
I was in my early thirties now, a little old for excess. I needed a less strenuous lifestyle. I had a favourite bar called Chill, which was quieter than those on the main strip. When I was in town, I would stop off there for a sundowner. Here I could sip my pina colada and take stock. Sometimes I would have a business meeting, but not so many of these lately. It was time to ease off the pedal.
One evening, a vision appeared before me. With long, dark hair, perfect features, a Mediterranean tan and a little black dress that hugged her contours, she looked like she had stepped out of a movie. But, she was real. She sat down at my table.
‘I’m Cora,’ she said.
‘Vince,’ I said.
‘I hope you don’t mind, Vince. But you looked sad and lonely by yourself. And as it’s such a lovely evening, I thought you might want to take me dancing. We could go to Luz.’
‘Maybe later,’ I said, trying to get my bearings. Didn’t she realise that although it was purported to be a common fantasy, when sensual women came on to them, it made men nervous?
‘Then you must take a couple of these,’ she said, holding a small jewellery bag of pills with dolphin logos etched on them. ‘I think you will like them.’
‘What are they?’ I asked.
‘Molly,’ she said. ‘MDMA.’
‘That’s Ecstasy, isn’t it?’
This much I knew. I had, over the years, tried most drugs, including Ecstasy. As I was making it available in my clubs, it would have been hypocritical not to have given it a go. But it was not habitual and I had never taken anything to excess. Guy had always stressed that if you wanted to stay on top, it was important not to fog your senses. But Cora seemed very persuasive.
‘If you are worried, I will help you have a good time,’ she said.
I had been helped to have a good time many times over the years. But Cora was a real beauty. It looked like this might be an extra special good time.
‘Why not!’ I said.
‘I am renting a flat close by,’ she said. ‘We could go there later if you like. Or we could go back to yours.’
It did not seem necessary to tell Cora I probably owned the flat she was talking about, so either way it would be going back to mine. In my position, I found it was a good idea to maintain a degree of anonymity. It would be so easy to fall prey to gold-diggers.
Instead of going to the more lively clubs on the strip, I took her to my new club, Trance, where DJ Rapture was introducing this new musical form. Trance, he said, unlike Techno, aimed to establish calmness and pattern, giving you a sense of serenity as your brain perceived the tunes as foreseen because of the repetitive melody. This feeling could be accentuated by Ecstasy. He was right. The dolphins seemed to do the business. Cora and I melted into one another in a sea of love. It was like Heaven unfolding. I could not distinguish where I ended, and she began. I felt we were in Paradise. Cora said she felt the same way. Afterwards, we took a taxi to my villa on the outskirts of town and made love until the sun came up.
When the police beat down my door later that morning, Cora was nowhere to be seen. She had vanished. It took a while for me to realise where the stash of pills they found in the bedroom had come from. At first, I could not believe it. It was impossible. But there could be no other explanation. I never got involved with the distribution side of things at my bars and clubs. I had trusted, reliable dealers to handle this. And I never ever had any drugs at my villa. This was one of my golden rules. Cora must have planted the pills. She had set me up. She must have been working undercover. After priding myself on my ability to control my destiny for so long, how could I have allowed myself to be seduced so easily? It was not as if I was looking for female company. I had been planning on an early night. I had a flight to the UK to catch. Not that this mattered. I could always catch another. But how could I have fallen for this subterfuge? Cora had reeled me in, and I had fallen for it, hook, line and sinker.
I had often heard rumours that the hippies who seemed to run the island were resentful of how I was taking their business. There was nothing worse it was said than an enraged hippy. They didn’t necessarily practice the peace and love they espoused. They must have been behind the police operation. But sorting that little matter out could wait for later. More urgently, I needed legal representation. I phoned Uncle Guy. He was certain to know someone who specialised in Criminal Law and was fluent in Spanish. He said he had a good friend who just happened to have ended up in Ibiza.
Gustavo Diaz from Abogados Robles arrived within the hour. Dapper in a pale-coloured checked suit, he was something of a dandy. I was curious about his connection with Guy. He explained that they had known each other for many years. They were at university together; he said, and they had had a dalliance. Did he mean …..? It turned out he did. I was shocked. In all the years I had known him, it had never occurred to me that Guy was gay, but it helped to explain why he had never married. And probably why he often slunk off to Soho. How could I have missed it? What else I might have either missed or overlooked? Perhaps I was not as focussed as I imagined I was.
I wanted to plead not guilty, but Gustavo Diaz said that this was not how the justice system worked in these parts. Senior police officers were always believed. If the officer in charge said they found the drugs in your dresser, then they found the drugs in your dresser. This seemed to me to be a half-empty attitude, but in the end, I was grateful that he managed to get me off with a suspended sentence. But I had had my fill with Ibiza. I remembered Guy’s words that once things start to go wrong, it is time for a change of direction. I decided to sell off all my investments on the island and move on to something more worthwhile.
Back in the UK, I was accidentally introduced to a fellow named Tim. But is anything an accident? Were we perhaps destined to meet? Tim waxed lyrical about an idea he had for what he called a world-wide-web. An informal network of computers in locations anywhere in the world. This would be a means of sharing research and data with everyone. People would be able to dial in and view the information on a personal computer. It was based on something called internet protocol which he and other computer scientists had been working on for several years. It seemed to me that this honourable venture would be beneficial to humankind. Tim talked about the resource being free to everyone, but I was not sure this was the way to go. Surely for something this important, there ought to be a price to pay. I was of the mind that it might be a good investment opportunity for me. I’m not naive enough to think that everything I put my energies into will work out. It is early days, but I think with this one, I could be onto a winner. This could be the start of something big.
Vince Alba, January 1992
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