tagNovels and NovellasCrystal Passion Ch. 08

Crystal Passion Ch. 08

bybradley_stoke©

"Wherever it is we'll be tomorrow, it won't be Kansas," Crystal announced when she'd returned from the hotel foyer after what was originally intended to be a routine phone call to Kai about the tour itinerary. "And it most certainly won't be Kansas City."

"No need for ruby slippers then," said Thelma.

"So, if we're not going to Kansas, where are we going?" Andrea asked. "Weren't we supposed to be travelling from there to Chicago, Washington and New Orleans?"

"It isn't only Kansas we won't be going to," said an emotionally drained Crystal. "It's worse than that. We're not going to any of those other destinations either. According to Kai, almost every venue in the country has cancelled our gigs."

"What the fuck!" Olivia wailed. "Why?"

"It's the result of all the negative publicity we've been getting," said Crystal. "The concert organisers don't like what they've read and they don't want to take the risk of allowing us to get on stage."

"I thought there was no such thing as bad publicity," remarked Judy.

"That might have been true if we were a punk rock group or some kind of edgy theatre troupe," said Crystal. "But we're not. We flirted with fame and instead we found scandal."

"It's all the fault of the fucking American media!" Judy sniffed. "They've fucking had it in for us ever since we arrived in this shit-arse country."

Of all of us, Judy Dildo was the one most likely to agree with Polly Tarantella's thesis that Crystal Passion was the victim of a grand conspiracy. Most of us blamed our misfortune more on the outcome of a series of unfortunate events. And this is ironic given that Polly portrays Judy as the pantomime villain of the tour. She seems to assume that every slight, every setback, every cancelled gig, police harassment and negative press article was all part of a grand scheme whose sole purpose was to bring about Crystal Passion's demise. And the fact that Judy was no more unscathed than Crystal does nothing to deflect Polly's condemnation.

"Is there anything we can do?" Jenny Alpha wondered.

"Yeah there is," said Jacquie who, along with her sister, was still incensed at our humiliation at the Purple Robe. "We can get on board a fucking plane and fly home. This tour's been a fucking disaster from the very beginning. Let's just cut our losses."

"We've still got a few gigs to honour," said Crystal. "We don't want to cause any disappointment."

"From what we've seen so far, nobody'll be disappointed at all," chimed in Jane. "They won't even know we were ever supposed to be there. Let's just head to the nearest international airport and fly home."

"When and where are these gigs?" I asked.

"The first one's a couple of weeks from now," said Crystal. "It's in a city in South Carolina. Rock Hill, I think it's called."

"South Carolina," sniffed Jacquie. "Hicks and hillbillies. It doesn't sound like the fucking Promised Land."

"I vote we cancel the gig there before they cancel us," said Jane. "Those good ol' boys can lynch someone else. We can fly home to London and civilisation."

Nobody took Jane up on her suggestion. Crystal was too upset for any of us to want to make things worse for her and I guess we still hoped that there might be some value in carrying on. And it wasn't much later that day that our fortune unexpectedly seemed to change for the better. This time a much more cheerful Crystal summoned the whole band to congregate in the hotel bar where the only people there other than us was a bored woman bartender and an elderly hotel guest nursing a glass of bourbon.

"Good news," announced Crystal with a broad grin and a glass of mineral water in her hand. "We've got a gig arranged next week in New York State."

"New York again!" Bertha exclaimed.

"Not New York City," Crystal elaborated. "New York State. Somewhere near a city called Syracuse. It's a festival they hold in a field not many miles from there. It'll be just like Woodstock or Glastonbury. It's called the Sisterhood Women's Music Festival."

This announcement prompted a varied response. Although we were all women and many of us enjoyed the company of women more than we did men, some of us, like Andrea and Judy Dildo, didn't much subscribe to the more radical tendencies of the feminist movement. For others like Olivia, Bertha and Jenny Alpha, there was no feminist proposition short of compulsory male castration they wouldn't subscribe to. Although neither Crystal nor I were female separatists, we were generally comfortable in the company of our radical sisters as long as the business of raging at the unfairness of life didn't get in the way of enjoying it.

"Where did you find out about this festival?" wondered Judy who was the least enthusiastic of any of us. Perhaps she was apprehensive of the generally negative opinion most feminists had towards Heavy Metal and mainstream Rock music. "I wasn't aware that Kai had much to do with the American feminist scene..."

"He is gay," said Tomiko as if that provided an explanation.

"Since when has being gay made a Man better informed about Women?" Jenny Alpha sneered. "What the fuck can he do in a dickless zone?"

"It was Simon who's organised it for us," said Crystal. "Kai called him up on a hunch and Simon just happens to be a friend of Ariel Golgotha, the woman organising the festival. Simon told her that we'd played at the John Knowles Paine Concert Hall and what a great band he thinks we are."

"How is the professor?" I asked, as the only other person who'd met him.

"Professor Simon Kurrein?" said Crystal, surprised to hear him addressed in that way. "OK, I suppose, though we mostly only chatted about the festival: you know, the time and place and how to get there. We'll be the first and only foreign women's band to have ever played there, which, in a sense, gives us a lot more license than they allow the American bands."

So, the professor had come to our rescue for a second time: something Polly makes much of in her Crystal Passion biography. However, I can categorically deny that Simon flew from Logan Airport to meet us at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County. His contribution, though significant, was to endorse Crystal Passion to Ariel Golgotha and thereby throw us a lifeline at a difficult time on the tour. He knew very little about the Sisterhood Women's Music Festival. He probably thought that in a world where women musicians are mostly in the shadow of their male counterparts the mere fact we were women was all the shared identity that was needed. What he probably didn't know so well was how militant much of the women's music scene had become in the 1990s. There were still women with guitars singing pretty tunes in the tradition of Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman and Joan Armatrading; but there was now a new scene that was sweeping away the cutesy, effete, folky scene of women doing it for themselves. Inspired by the likes of Courtney Love and her band, Hole (whose song Teenage Whore was a favourite of mine), and propelled by the likes of Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill, this was a scene that owed far more to the Slits and ESG (another of my favourites) than it ever did to the example of girls strumming on acoustic guitars: however much their sex lives might challenge the preconceptions of their male fans. And it was this, rather than some kind of folksy, hippy-dippy guitar and girl scene we were expecting to find at the Sisterhood Women's Music Festival.

What worried me was that Crystal Passion might not appear either old or new enough to satisfy the festival-goers' tastes. A feminist audience might be just as bemused and puzzled by Crystal's dense, ambiguous and elusive lyrics as any other audience. Crystal might have been as passionate in theory as she was in practice with regards to female empowerment, gender warfare and lesbian love (although she never used terms like 'queer' and 'dyke' to describe herself or her sexuality), but this wasn't obvious from listening to her lyrics. Even when they're written down (as Polly Tarantella has done) there's nothing specific or concrete in her words at all. Certainly not anything as tangible as a proclamation of the triumph of women against the self-evident evils of patriarchy and male oppression.

Although we didn't get to meet Simon, I exchanged a few words with him over the phone before we drove off to New York State. He was plainly sympathetic to our plight, but careful not to actually invite us to play in Boston again. I guess the adverse publicity we'd attracted no longer made that possible. And so it was that a couple of days sooner than we needed to, we travelled back across the narrow strip of Canadian territory to our next gig. Surely things could only get better from now on.

"Wow!" and "Gee!" and "Golly!" were the words Ariel Golgotha most often used when she addressed us, although she also employed used such words as "Fuck" and "Shit" to demonstrate that she wasn't just the preacher's daughter she actually was. We learnt that her passion for women's issues, as much as her lesbianism, was the destination of a difficult personal journey that led from anti-abortion rallies in the company of her father's congregation towards a lesbian woman-centric life style that her parents actively disapproved of. And given my experience with my own less than sympathetic parents, this was enough reason for me to take a shine to her.

But my attitude was the exact opposite of Judy's.

"Fucking vicar's daughter!" she exclaimed, when we were out of earshot.

"Seeing that we've arrived early, Ariel has offered us two gigs at the festival," said Crystal, who chose to ignore Judy's comments. "We're gonna be playing on the first night and on the last night as well. That's one gig on Thursday and a second on Monday."

"For double the fee?" Andrea wondered.

"Not quite," admitted Crystal, "But it's a better deal than we were expecting."

The Sisterhood Women's Music Festival was no Glastonbury, no Woodstock, no Reading, no Womad, nor even the kind of free festival that used to be put on by local authorities in Central London to show how hip the borough councillors still were. It was held in a big field where it hadn't rained for several weeks in which small tents were being erected in steadily closer proximity to one another over the first day. Not surprisingly for a festival organised by and for women, the toilet and washroom facilities weren't bad at all, though the makeshift bar was something of a disappointment to those of us who preferred alcohol to soya milk and fresh juice. But what was really weird, and surprisingly elating, was that there were no men at the festival whatsoever.

"Isn't that a bit weird?" said Andrea when I mentioned this to her. "I mean, men are at least half the population."

"About fucking time, I'd say," Jenny Alpha remarked. "No one says fuck all when it's only men who're in a pub, at a football match or on a golf course. The fewer dicks, pricks and bollocks the better."

Judy wasn't convinced. "You put a lot of women together and there'll be bitching from sunrise to sundown," she said sourly.

"And you think it's any different when there are only men around," countered Jacquie. "There are always gonna be people who bitch. It's only human nature."

"What have you got against women all of a sudden, Judy?" said Thelma. "Do you really think men are any better? I'd rather be bitched at than raped or sexually assaulted. Men might not always be the enemy but, fuck it, they deserve to be."

"Yeah. Yeah," said Judy, evidently uncomfortable with this line of argument.

Not that any of us were especially comfortable when we tried to settle down to sleep in the cramped space of the rather small tents Ariel had available and which she generously let us use. We hadn't expected to have to camp out during our American tour and I wasn't the only one who'd never slept in the open air before. Jane and Jacquie were vocal in their disgust at having to sleep in borrowed sleeping bags on groundsheets laid over dew-damp grass. And Tomiko was moaning that she'd much rather sleep on a futon.

Nevertheless, our discomfort was partly compensated by the attention lavished on us the following day by the other women at the festival. Never before—and probably never since—had I ever felt so privileged to be British. Not that I'd ever had a choice in the matter. This stemmed from the mysterious and persistent legacy of the Beatles' Invasion of the American music scene almost thirty years earlier. Whatever magic sparkle the lovable mop-tops possessed, Americans were convinced that it had brushed off on all and every one of their compatriots even if, by the 1990s, only Oasis played music that remotely resembled Mersey Beat. While my musical reference points were West Coast America and Detroit, Americans assumed that all we knew and cared about were the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elton John and, at this festival, Dusty Springfield.

Not only was I celebrated simply by virtue of having been born in Britain and of being a member of a British popular music ensemble, it was also because I was a woman. Here were women amongst whom my shaved head and relaxed clubbing clothes made me feel that I was at last where I truly belonged. We were in the company of women whose dress and appearance was as miscellaneous and unconventional as the Crystal Passion band.

It is fair to say that Crystal was adored with a degree of unquestioning love I'd never seen before, even when we'd played at lesbian and feminist events in the UK. The very Englishness of her appearance—whether clothed or totally nude—only charmed the women who gathered around her. In truth, I can't remember whether there was an occasion when Crystal actually did wear anything: I was so used to seeing her nude. She was naked for at least some of the time and, just as in the UK, there was nobody who'd be so uncool as to remark on this. It might even have been her natural nudity that stimulated such adoration. Wherever Crystal wandered—from book stall to food stall to poster stall; from the stage to the caravans that provided both toilet facilities and hot water (and not a urinal in sight); from the Volkswagen camper van to the tent—she was followed by female fans who adored her despite not yet having heard her music.

There was one note of discord, however, when one of the women, older than most and wearing the peasant rags of the unreconstructed hippie, mentioned that she'd heard that there was negative criticism about Crystal Passion in some of the American media.

"Don't concern yourself about me," said Crystal. "I'm only a visitor to your country. You should be concerned about American women such as Ariel Golgotha who are more often the victim of media assassination. If someone like me who does comparatively little to further women's rights attracts so much undeserved censure, imagine how much worse it would be for Ariel if she was the centre of attention for reactionary sensation-seekers in the media. I feel enormous pride in all of you who work together in the struggle to make the world a better place for all women whether they live in the mountains, the hills or the forests..."

"...Or the towns and cities," echoed one of the American women who'd been trailing Crystal wherever she went.

"Of course," agreed Crystal. "For all women everywhere."

I left Crystal in the midst of her adoring fans and strolled off with Andrea to see what else was happening at the Sisterhood Women's Music Festival. Unfortunately, there was little there that I hadn't seen at other festivals. There were stalls selling organic vegan wholefood. Stalls selling CDs and amateurish pre-recorded cassettes. Stalls piled high with feminist and lesbian literature, where even the badly-drawn comic books were deadly earnest. Stalls selling ethnic clothes, which was different from what I was used to seeing in Europe only in that there were more ponchos and sombreros rather than batik and cheap Indian fabrics and tie-dyed tee-shirts. Although I soon got bored with rummaging through the ethnic chic, Andrea was soon laden down with wooden beads, rattan mats and braided hair-bands.

I didn't surprise me at all when we returned to where we'd pitched up for the night to discover that the tent Crystal was sharing with Judy and Philippa was full of naked women. And neither Judy nor Philippa were anywhere to be seen. I could just about identify Crystal in the midst of the entangled female flesh where she was wholeheartedly enjoying the intimate affection of American sisterhood. I'm not sure what my feelings were to see Crystal with all these unfamiliar women, although I decided against stripping off to join the fray. I might even have been reassured that Crystal wasn't making love with Judy. For the last few days I was beginning to resent the greater attention Crystal was paying Judy who I couldn't help wondering, with a pang of jealousy, might have somehow superseded me as Crystal's favourite lover (if any woman was ever more favoured than another).

It was apparent that this representation of the American Sisterhood appreciated Crystal for more than just her music. For a start, it was unlikely that many had actually heard much of it, even though our CDs were on sale in record racks otherwise mostly crammed full of k. d. lang, Joan Baez, Tori Amos and 7 Year Bitch. I loitered around Crystal's tent as the lovemaking continued long after Andrea had discreetly wandered off. It wasn't only because I loved Crystal so much that I thought she was far more attractive than the other women. One of them was plump, another painfully thin (almost anorexic) and another dreadfully old. Of course, that was what I thought at the time. These days, I'd be delighted to enjoy intimacy with any of those women. Crystal's affection towards other people was so universal that I often wondered whether she discriminated on physical attractiveness at all. And then she'd astonish me with a frank and honest appraisal of someone's appearance: both good and bad. But when it came to sex, Crystal never seemed troubled by such matters.

The sounds of passionate sex, let alone the smell and sight, soon became too much for me, however many times before I'd heard, seen and smelt Crystal's naked body. I left the temptation of flesh behind and wandered over to the tent I was sharing with Andrea and in which she was stretched out and admiring the wares she'd bought.

"I don't know why you're so disgruntled," said Andrea. "It's not because of Crystal, is it? Or do you just not like Women's festivals?"

"I like them well enough," I said. "And it's refreshing not having men around. I just think that celebrating our womanhood should be more fun somehow. And not in this happy-clappy everything-is-groovy kind of a way."

"From what I've heard about some of the younger bands here," said Andrea, who actually preferred exactly the kind of music that I didn't much like, "there's gonna be a lot more sound and fury than sweet melodies when they take the stage."

Andrea was right, of course, but not so much on the first day. In fact, the order in which the bands and musicians were scheduled to take the stage was in inverse order to the time of day when they'd be at their best. The first bands to appear on a stage brilliantly lit by the afternoon sun had names like the Jerusalem Whores and the Furry Fishcakes. The bemused women who'd turned up to hear them wore threadbare hippy clothes and their long hair was visibly greying. A handful of younger women—almost certainly the bands' friends and family—were dancing self-consciously at the front of the stage. And just when the younger music fans who'd have most enjoyed the spat-out lyrics of songs such as My Flappy Vulva Lover or Peter Won't, But Paula Does emerged from their tents the music had become more folky and better suited for an afternoon in a sunny park than a night of drinking and dancing in the open air. Now was the time for singers with names like Margot Klein, Leanna Morris and Amy Jones to perch on stools with their acoustic guitars accompanied by an all-too-earnest all-female backing band. They performed well-meaning and allusive songs that celebrated womanhood in a thoroughly wholesome way. It was all women doing it for themselves and women surviving the horrors of heterosexual entanglement. It wasn't that I didn't appreciate or even agree with such lyrics. After all, I'd not been tempted into a relationship with a man for years. I just didn't much like the hectoring and sermonising.

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