... prose ...


Robert Calvert

Cattle At Twilight

...they're so weary of it all. "Nostalgia seems the latest thing," says Noel Coward. He wishes he'd known that was all there was to it when he was Down There. Jimi Hendrix is puzzled: "You mean a hankering after the past?" There's even nostalgia for the future. A fantasy.

Noel Coward, dressed in a gold lame evening suit, is seated in a great wing chair of swan and ostrich feathers. He is looking downwards through the legendary heavy-lidded eyes, smoking a leopard skin cigarette in an ivory holder. The wings of the chair are raised, and the whole thing appears to be floating against the glaring white background of eternity.

Enter Jimi Hendrix, dressed in a coat of many and moving colours. As the colours change the light around him is left stained by the glow of their radiance. He wears a battered, black felt hat in which six metal feathers are fixed that jingle, like spurs when he moves. His skin is silver.

Hendrix: You still sitting there?
Coward: I am. And I think I shall continue sitting here until I'm tired of sitting here. And when that moment arrives, I shall wait. Until I'm tired of being tired of sitting here. And so I shall continue to sit.
Hendrix: That sounds logical.
Coward: It isn't.
Hendrix (peering over Coward's shoulder): You still watching them down there? What's going on?
Coward: Nostalgia seems to be the latest thing.
Hendrix: Nostalgia? Sounds like a disease.
Coward: More of a symptom really.
Hendrix: It means like trying to hang on to things that you ain't got any more, right? Hankering after the past.
Coward: It's more like handkerchiefing after it...
Hendrix: So what's all this nostalgia for?
Coward (rapidly): The Twenties. The Thirties. Occasionally the Forties. More often the Fifties. And I don't like the way they're looking at the Sixties.
Hendrix: So? Let 'em get on with it.
Coward: I don't care what they do with the Fifties. Dreadful greasy decade. But the Twenties was my invention. Hendrix: You mean all those chicks with short skirts and flower-pots on their heads. Waving beads around?
Coward: Certainly.
Hendrix: Yeah? OOH Wack a Doo...baggy pants and short, shiny hair? Coward: Well it was only a prototype really. The Thirties was by way of being an improvement. But I'm afraid it all went a bit wrong towards the end. Very depressing.

Hendrix takes what appears to be an intricately jewelled six-gun out of his coat pocket. He aims into the air and pulls the trigger. Instead of going bang, it emits a brilliant rainbow chord of sounds. He spins the pistol round his finger like a gunslinger and slides it back into his pocket.

Coward: What on Earth was that?
Hendrix: It was just a dream I once had. It was nothing on Earth at all.
Coward: That's one of the advantages of being up here, I suppose.
Hendrix: Yeah, I guess there are a few. Do you ever get any of those nostalgia feelings?
Coward: I suppose I do. But only in my weaker moments. Mostly for silly, isolated fragments of childhood. Tiny fractions of time in which nothing spectacular actually happened. But for some reason, whenever I recall them, they have that exquisite aura of ever inviting sadness shimmering through them. I don't dress it up in period costume trying to evoke them though. I would certainly look very silly in short trousers and a school-cap. No...it's not for any of the great, grease painted, applause-swollen moments that I feel nostalgia...it's more...let me see...I had it somewhere in a song of mine... "I'm so weary of it all...Other voices call...the cattle at twilight...the birds in the sky light...of dawn."
Hendrix: Before I was born I wanted to be an Eagle. I guess I wasn't assertive enough. Maybe the reason I joined a parachute mob was just so I could get my share of the sky. I told them I wanted to be a soldier. They gave me a gun. And a parachute. And then they said jump. And I jumped into twenty thousand feet of air. And in those few seconds of falling free I didn't feel like I was falling at all. I was climbing. I was rocketing away from the plane. Upwards. Into the blue. Then suddenly this great white membrane burst out of my shoulders. It grew. Like a speeded up botanical film.
Coward: You mean it was like a pair of wings?
Hendrix: No, it was worse than wings. Sure, wings hold you back. But this was more like a drag. A huge dome of silken resistance like the shell of a giant aerobatic snail. It held me back. It was dragging me down.
Coward: I know the feeling well, dear boy.
Hendrix: I looked down into this organic canopy...I mean I was looking down into it...not looking up.
Coward: You were upside down, looking down.
Hendrix: No, it's entered in the books up here that I jumped from a plane. And my parachute never opened. I wrote it myself.
Coward: I don't suppose there was much room left in the book after I'd written my own account. I did my best to live as many lives as I could. All at once. They were all quite, quite imaginary.
Hendrix: What are they doing now?
Coward: Down there? They're doing a play about the Beatles.
Hendrix: They're not dead are they?
Coward: Not enough to bury.
Hendrix: Who's that cat with the orange hair?
Coward: That's David Bowie. He's somehow managed to create a feeling of nostalgia for the future.
Hendrix: They'll be doing a play about him next.
Coward: If they do I'm sure it'll be based on purely circumstantial evidence.
Hendrix: What's that other guy doing over there with that guitar?
Coward: He's impersonating you.
Hendrix: Did I really sound like that?
Coward: No, but you looked as if you did.
Hendrix: I guess you get a lot of impersonations, huh?
Coward: My dear boy. I'm constatly being impersonated out of my wits. Look at them all. In nightclubs everywhere. On television. At private parties. All they have to do to induce floods of laughter is to stand there, talk through clenched teeth and wave a cigarette-holder about. I only wish I'd know that that was the secret.
Hendrix: Who's that cat in the leopard skin suit? Coward:
That one over there? In the white jacket and bow-tie?
Hendrix: Yeah, the one in the blue jeans and tee-shirt.
Coward: That must be the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Hendrix: Hey, I've just seen a guy write a song lyric with his eyes closed.
Coward: Yes. He's the ringleader of a band of rebellious cocknies. He was probably just signing autographs.
Hendrix: I though he might have been writing a note for the milkman. Coward: I don't think he discriminates

The sound of Celestial engines is heard. They both look up and see a fair-haired girl approaching on a golden motor-cycle. The white mists of Eternity spiralling around her wheels.

Hendrix: Here comes Janis. We're going starbathing together. Wanna come? Bring Cole Porter and Ivor Novello. We'll make it a party. Take a crate of Nectar along.
Coward: Cole is still giving Ivor his versification lessons. I'm sure they wouldn't thank us for interrupting them. Poor Ivor, he won't give up 'til he's learned everything Cole Porter knows. I suppose eternity should be long enough.
Hendrix: What about you?
Coward: Thanks for the offer. But as for me...I think I shall continue sitting here until I'm tired of sitting here. And when that moment arrives, I shall wait. Until I'm tired of being tired of sitting here. And so I shall continue to sit.

The volume of the Celestial Engine reaches such a pitch as the bike arrives that speech is no longer feasible.
Hendrix climbs aboard pulls blue and sparkling goggles over his eyes, and the bike takes off. The surging colours of his psychechromic coat merge into a solid blue that grows more and more electric-looking as it recedes into the distance.


Robert Calvert
published in SOUNDS; Dec. 28, 1974

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Calvert's ode to Jimi Hendrix, the Voodoo Child - illustrated poem

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