The article in Riff had shown a sliver of prophecy when it called the Lost Keys the “Fab Four of Punk.” The plane had landed and a swarm of screaming Americans had indeed greeted the band.
Only it hadn’t been a welcome wagon.
A cult-like religious group called the Catalyst of the Divine Flame had taken to picketing DeeDee’s Anti-Disco months ago. Locals had already come to view the club as a ‘a blight on the city,’ and many were happy to join the outcry as news of the punk event unfolded. As if receiving their orders from on high, the devout congregated in New York intending to shout louder than a wall full of amplifiers for the entire length of the festival.
In preparation, the group had got themselves a large and fresh pile of magazines and records, to better know their declared enemy. Of course, the latest copy of Riff Magazine and the Lost Keys’ three albums had been among the spoils. And thus had Jonny earned a place near the top of the nutters’ list before the band had even left London.
Virtually every aspect of the punk scene disgusted these self-righteous bastards. Hell, it offended the average sensibility on a good day. But the Catalyst took on a particular loathing when it came to the Lost Keys, just like everyone else who’d ever met them.
The Lost Keys had turned insolence into an art form. Tempers flared, anger soared, stomachs churned, reaching previously inconceivable heights in the face of their lyrics, their interviews, their very existence. When it came to offending people, the Lost Keys created masterpieces, worked miracles.
Or whatever the opposite of miracles was. Curses, maybe? Close enough.
The band worked curses into nearly everything they did and touched. Half of New York, a place they’d never been, seemed ready to agree. A large number of people had lined up to sling hate at them before they’d even stepped off the plane.
The Lost Keys weren’t their sole target, the Catalyst held a lunacy-shouting, sign-waving reception for each band as they’d arrived. While none of the bands had quietly slunk away at the confrontation, the Lost Keys had responded with more fervor than the rest.
The faceoff had quickly escalated into a shouting match. The Lost Keys delivered their own scathing rebuke to those that “used god to plug their ears against reason” while the crowd clamored all the louder for their banishment or repentance or worse.
The strength of the Lost Keys’ unabashed attitude just poured more petrol all over the metaphorical fire. In return, the Catalyst happily stacked more firewood on the bonfire, rightfully confident that they would not be the ones to get burned.
Willem wondered, not for the first time, if the fire might stop being a figure of speech at some point.
At least they would have a large crowd to witness his raggle-taggle pack take flight or burn to the ground in failure. Riff Magazines’s backhanded compliments and two-faced assessment of the Lost Keys had inspired fans and foes alike to pilgrimage, either to see the band before they self-destruct, or to help accelerate their destruction. A scant few hadn't yet decided which side they stood on, much like Willem himself.
To help the undecided, the Catalyst had designed a variety of flyers, each one targeting a different band and why respectable persons should avoid them. The one that took aim at the Lost Keys listed the band’s many crimes, quoted choice lyrics in and out of context, and compared Jonny’s misspent youth to Charles Manson’s teenage years.
It went without saying that any fame The Lost Keys might find would get mixed with a fair dose of infamy. Willem had known that for years. He still clung to the belief he could keep it all under control and on the legal side of things. He could fix most anything so long as that held. But legal or no, provoking this religious lot felt like playing piñata with a hornet’s nest. They’d start stinging any time now, and once they got going, they would not stop.
And that rattled Willem’s confidence as the band’s fixit man. While the sounds of people calling for Jonny’s head on a platter might be nothing new, the band was on shaky ground here in New York, completely out of their element. Nothing to be done about it now, with the genie officially out of the bottle.
If that weren't enough, Jonny couldn’t be bothered to care. The boy couldn't keep any sense in his head to save his life, quite literally Willem feared, not with all the music and the fantastic mess between his ears. At least the music was still in there. Heaven help them if that ever changed.
To wit, Jonny’s response on the subject of the Catalyst summed up the width and breadth of his disposition:
“What, those arseholes of infinite tedium? Lots of people hate us, who cares,” he’d said. “I’m trying to write a fucking song here.”
He’d even said it on camera. That lovely tidbit was destined to grace any coverage of the event, complete with a clean-up bleep. Just when the reporters might have given up.
The sod had been uncooperative and snarky as usual, all afternoon and with every question. It didn’t help that the dolt who’d penned the Riff article had got assigned to them in New York, too. He and the rest of the press, motivated by Jonny’s reluctance, had made a point to point cameras and microphones at him more than anyone else.
They got rewarded for their efforts when a few of them cornered him, skulking in the shadows of a lounge, piss-drunk, with his feet up on an even drunker Gary. He sat scribbling notes and tinkering with a guitar that had been on display on the wall, signed by Pete Townsend. Other bands had caused more trouble and broken far more things this day whilst socializing at DeeDee’s reception, but none of them had touched a beloved rock and roll artifact.
“High time something good came out of it then, don’tcha think?” the bastard had asked, when someone had pointed it out. “The poor thing’s lucky to have survived that shite.”
Well, it’s not like they would’ve been friends with The Who otherwise.
With that, Jonny had command of everyone’s attention, whether he’d wanted it or not. That’s all it took, a guitar. A stage or a few drinks helped, but neither was necessary. Just a guitar. He’d played for them, his usual drunken act of making fun of other guitarists. Willem didn’t mind that too much, so long as it kept him from talking more shit. But at the end of the session and a few more drinks, Jonny had opened right up to their questions.
Once, Willem had believed that any publicity was good publicity, but he’d started to doubt that shortly after taking on the Lost Keys. Why couldn’t these assholes just play the music and talk like normal people?
The questions returned wholeheartedly to the subject of the protestors, and produced particularly quotable quotes out of Jonny.
“I’ve read all the same things they have, I just recognize the bible as a work of fiction.
“They can go back to the dark ages where they belong, and take their fairy stories with them.
“If they would just leave everyone else alone, I probably wouldn't give a fuck. But they don’t. They believe they’re right. They judge everyone else. Loudly.
“No, scratch that, I’d still give a fuck, even if they were quiet about it. Ignorance is ignorance. And ignorance holds the whole world back.”
Willem couldn’t wait to see that shit in print, or the Catalyst’s reaction. He might finally get the coronary he prayed for to take him away from all of this.
As for the fucking song Jonny was trying to write, Willem only needed a few words to know it was inspired directly by the cultist protestors themselves.
The Catalyst of the Divine Flame had taken their first shot, and the Lost Keys had shot back. Not knowing or caring what the Catalyst might plan for another round, Jonny armed himself with his most formidable weapon – music.
“They get to shout their bollocks, and we'll shout ours when the time comes. And we'll have microphones and a wall of amps.”
Yes, Jonny was preparing a few creative grenades to lob into the fracas, oblivious that the pyre he would strengthen was built at his own feet, especially for him.
God, this fire thing had better stay a metaphor. If only because if the time ever came to actually set Jonny alight, Willem had dibs on striking the first match.
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