2 single beds, 2 chairs, a light swinging high above a desk piled with a vast heap of handwritten sheets, newspaper cuttings and typed notes. The Guy closes the door gently behind us. No need for locks here. We walk around a table big enough to seat a conference of delegates and neatly arranged across it are hundreds of items of press articles and cuttings. One clip catches my eye, a piece from an issue of Kathedral Magazine, headline typeface and style as bold as brass. The date at the top is 4th September 1968. Decades earlier than any back issue I’ve previously heard about. I am unnerved. The Guy looks me in the eye and, without ceremony, removes his mask. Underneath, he is a fairly plain looking man and appears to be in is mid to late forties, older than I have expected.
“Christened James Earl Ray Jones, for what it’s worth.”
“Your voice sounded… I was expecting someone younger”
“Well, that’s where you come in.”
He takes me by my surprise, by the arm and leads me along the office walls, densely populated with trophies and plaudits and gold discs, none of which look too familiar. Foreign labels. Japan. Korea. Then he hits me with it.
“Son, what you have got to decide right now is whether you are leaving this room as an unknown writer or as a Somebody.”
“Do I get to stay as myself?”
“You stay as yourself always, my friend. But the crux of the matter is, who do you want to be?”
He stops at a picture of a masked figure on the sleeve of a record. Mounted alongside it is a standard 12” black vinyl disc and a plaque engraved with the legend: ‘For Sales in Excess of Zero’.
I’m puzzled. The title of the record is “SMASH”.
“You get to make a record. And this is the record”
I become excited.
Seizing his moment, The Guy continues, leading me away from the wall and to the window where a pale autumn light filters through smoked windows.
“Who lives a more interesting and worthwhile life, you or him?”
He smiles, his face almost at mine. The question takes a while for me to answer.
In the end, of course, I say “K” because I wouldn’t be there if I believed otherwise.
While I think about it, The Guy is cool and keeps his distance. We read through the paperwork, the clippings and articles until he reckons I’ve had time to digest it all. Surprisingly, my signature isn’t the first thing on his mind. He picks up an old copy of Melody Maker from the 1990’s.
“Do you think you can make an interesting magazine out of this stuff?”
I am unhesitant. There is plenty that’s catching my eye that I want to read more about. What’s on the table amounts to a cultural goldmine.
“Yes. I think I could.”
He draws in close to my face again, cigar-smoke breath upon me, his arm once again around my shoulder as we walk.
“Do you think you could find out more information about the stuff that’s introduced here?”
This time I assure him.
“Yes. Yes. I can see enough raw material to generate and sustain a magazine across many issues.”
He stops suddenly.
“Good. Then sign and be what you need to be.”
The guy doesn’t explain anything else and I never see him again. He just leaves me there in that office. I learn all the ins and outs of the masks, hiring henchmen, having sex with groupies, making good money. And I never have to wear the mask. That’s for the kids, the initiates, the groundtroops that I get hold of like the guy had got hold of me. I never fooled myself that I was going to get any of the answers I was looking for, but what I did get was a grounding in a ‘science’ that uses sociology, psychology and religion to ‘prove’ its ‘hypotheses’. I was seeing the great Kathedral in its early stages and frankly the only thing I knew back then was that it didn’t matter if I didn’t learn a thing.
It was enough that ‘Michael K’ existed and would continue to exist.