Last night we played at Brixton Academy, a big theater from Victorian times. Its exterior is an innumerable mass of red bricks assembled in the kind of labor-intensive manner inconceivable to our era; the interior is a strange war between time and the decorative arts. A small city of balconies and verandas floats above the proscenium- but this invitation to one’s childlike impulse for things both secretive and impossibly idealistic is immediately scorched by the sight of punctured trellises and fractured banisters. My band members and I tried to find a way up into this dilapidated fantasy to no avail. Still, I could picture the spaces, lit by haphazard shards of stage lighting, large flakes of paint and electrical wires of anachronistic composition on the floor. And dust and the dander of mice. And the shit of mice. And the machinations of a mouse world.
The values of its designers washed away, its ghosts disrespected, Brixton Academy was perhaps saved from demolition by the dimensions of its dark span. Holding 4800 people, it would have been expensive to replace, and so when the needs of the entertainment world began to change, its hybridization began. Unthinkable to the pureset Victorian minds which begat it. In the mid 1970’s it would appear, a modern, glass-panel, movie theatre-style entryway was a cheap solution to the squeeze and suffocation of its otherwise dark and windowless anteroom once the heat, chaos, and standing room traditions of the rock age had been established. Standing in the auditorium, waves of loneliness! No sun has entered here in a century. A cloud of stale air looms in the tightening space between the axis of the chipping white ceiling and the radius of the balcony. Rows of blue seats, stained and wobbling, ascending to a decapitating terminus.
The floors would have been replaced many times, but now the venue’s owners have settled upon the final, fiscally convenient solution of riveting huge steel panels down and painting them. Black paint cleft in places by high heels, black splashed with beer nightly. In fact the entire experience of the place is shot through with the sour smell of old beer. Through this atmosphere comes periodically the loud, sharp clang of drums being tested, drenched in natural reverberation.
During the show I was continually pelted with glow-in-the dark toys from the teenaged audience.
Also, I am sad to report the following…in an uncanny realization of my feelings for the place, today’s newspaper brought a horrible disclosure. In the early morning hours following our performance, in one of those impossible-to-reach balconies, was found the murdered corpse of one Enzo Dora, an Argentine children’s musician and clown, apparently killed in a knife fight while still in full costume. His body was found by a stagehand who had gone to change the ballast weights for a new lighting device.
This poor stagehand, Terry Millhouse, was on a lonely-enough mission when he discovered the impossible sight of the middle-aged man, stiffening in rigor mortis; his longish, salt-and-pepper beard splayed apart by the skirmish, his face upturned and eyes still awake with horror, a bladder-shaped pool of blood escaping his body at the stomach and mixing with the dust and paint flakes on the floor in a viscous floodplain, then emptying into a defunct and rusting Victorian drainage.
Since the murder the detectives at Scotland Yard have put together a profile of this troubadour, and what could have possibly brought him along to such a terrifying end.
Dora was born the son of a successful milliner and rancher, and as a child not only did he take great pleasure in hearing the songs of the gauchos who worked his father’s land, but often he would shock his grandmother when, upon finishing a day gathering apples in neighboring orchards, repeat, note for note, some traditional song or ballad that, she had no doubt, he could never have heard before she absentmindedly droned it during the course of their workaday. Surely he had a gift for music, she believed, and she championed this idea relentlessly in the family, clearing a path through the father’s dissent that would one day give him access to worlds of pleasure and misery of which he could have only experienced one-tenth had he plodded along to the given family inheritance of millinery, of the counting out of this and the selling of that, and using all of the inherited advantages of being a European in a land of Incas or Mestizos at best, and always of and the and of the idea, so that finally what is being done is a derivation, and never the actual thing. Nevertheless, with his pleasures in music misery came in equal and eventually greater measure. After long evenings spent practicing the ukelele with the campesinos, his father, returning from a financing mission in Salta, was full of conflict to see Enzo’s impoverished troupe of friends, shielding their eyes from the DeSoto’s headlamps, with Enzo often at the center of this gathering at roadside weeping.
But life, especially for the most melancholic of us, has a way of placing gifts in the road that are so huge and sudden it is impossible, even in a fit of undeservedness and rejecting care, to avoid contact with them, and it happened that Enzo when once on a courier mission for his father, who had not let him entirely out of the millenary game, played some of his songs for an impresario named Codeca. About Codeca little is known except the small, enticing fact that he was the bastard son of Chilean actress Alicia Barrie. But he also had some connection to what was then the most influential independent record label in Argentina, Irregular, and upon hearing Dora’s fragile, incandescent voice and his songs, weary to an extent far beyond what his young and handsome face would lead one to believe, signed him immediately to a contract whose term would far outlive the company to which it bound him. He moved to Buenos Aires, and spent what was by all accounts a happy, productive summer, discovering alcohol, which allowed him to discover women, and playing a handful of rapturous and even legendary small shows in cafés in the San Telmo district.
At the summer’s end he went to Codeca’s studio to record. Early on he was seized by a bout of anxiety, and he used alcohol to calm himself and see the emotional worlds which when, unbothered and dreaming, were easy for him to see in rich dimensions, halted and observable as a diorama, but when tied to his standing in his family, his newfound friends, and society at large became a cloud of burning ink in the eye. His sessions were characterized by drunkenness and moments of brilliance but they were altogether inconsistent, consistent only with one’s prognosis for a person who at all times, his lyrics report, felt as though he were “fighting for dear life.”
What followed were two years of confusion and complication, and by the end of that period both Dora and his recordings had been lost in a mess of industry machinations and his own mounting troubles. At the age of twenty Dora suffered an unknown disturbance and was forced into hospitalization for over a year. While institutionalized he slowly began to lose interest in the world beyond his windows, and came to develop a fear of music and a complete inability to play. It would be years before he would once again pick up a guitar. Instead, in a fit of searching and desperation, he joined the crew of a Nigerian cargo ship bound for Lagos, the only white person on a ship of 25 hands. The crew of the St. Ann were all members of the same charismatic Christian sect, and Dora took to the hymns and sermons with the same fervor he had once taken to folk music. It was there he learned to truly sing. However, nautical life wore on him, and further personal complications forced him to leave the trade all together. Furthermore, the church was not for him.
For the next twenty years, he drifted about the world, booking a night as an entertainer in a club in Barcelona here, a year as a magician at the birthday parties of rich Isrealis here…and so forth. He had come to London to see about part of an inheritance he might have been entitled to when his Uncle through marriage died, who had been a relative of Salvador Allende.