Storyglossia Issue 36, October 2009.

White Girls

by Teri Louise Kelly


Cate Hewell was found dead on a Wednesday. I know why I found that fitting. Wednesday was always the day Cate had gotten herself arrested on, which was where the song "Too Many Wet Wednesday Afternoons" came from. She wrote that one, in the remand center, before Tommy had gone to bail her out, again.

This Wednesday, the day we took the call, the call we always knew was going to arrive, it wasn't raining. It was a clear sunny day, late summer, a hazy kind of portal into autumn, people laying in the park listening to music, White Girls music: t-shirts, suntans, ice creams, the end of days. Arriving at the flat with Tommy, summer ended abruptly. It was a shabby, damp place, dim inside, a whole other world not far from Euston station. The police were outside, a crowd forming, the smell of warmth and friendship and good times giving way to the dank of death, drugs, squalor, as we went down the few steps to the open front door. I guess we'd prepared for this, this day, this place, this situation, genius is short lived, and above everything else, above the kleptomania, the drug abuse, the alcoholism, the dependency, the insecurity, Cate Hewell was a bona fide rock star. A gilt edged money-making machine barely able to walk offstage, let alone be coherent.

I'd met her six-years previously. Six-years that now seems like six centuries ago. The dark ages. Back then, she was playing sidekick to her then lover Jonathon Bow, now of course, more infamous as Rasputin, lead singer of the Creamrats. Back then, Cate was a quiet, but wild-eyed girl straight from the depressed valleys of Wales. Her father had sung in the local choir, her mother was an accomplished pianist, and although it might be argued that the gene die had already been cast, when we first met, the only things Cate had murmured, were a few overdubbed vocals on her boyfriend's songs. Not that I can talk. I was two-years into my great London experience, bereft, continually starving, continually cold, continually drifting from one shitty pub band to another, writing even shittier reviews and submitting them to music papers. In-between those constant rejections, and mostly not even the common decency of a rejection slip, I was pinning-up call cards for prostitutes in red phone boxes. Racking up ten-miles a day so fat old men could get laid and I could earn a percentage of that fuck, later rather than sooner. So much for degrees, classrooms, the imaginary world of incubation. All I knew, back then, was that I had an obsession with music. That I couldn't play a note, that I couldn't raise a monetary one, but, that I was going to, spmehow, get myself into something that was happening, or fucking die trying. The latter option, appeared the more likely.

I had gone down to Wales, hardly a holiday destination anytime of the British year, let alone mid-Winter, to accompany Cyanide Cyd Gallows, her boyfriend Big Rek, and their fledgling band the Long Dead, who were playing a few bars in the depressed clubs of South Wales.

At least the van, and the accumulated body heat, were warmer than Regent's Park on a bitter Sunday afternoon. That was pretty much, how I first met Cate Hewell. I was on a nodding basis with Robyn Daley, having met her one pissy night in Camden Town in a dyke bar. I wasn't a dyke per se, but I was open to offers and was pig sick of the kind of moronic men that continually hung around music pubs looking to pull, something. Robyn and me hit it off, and then later, about four-hours later, she hit me and I was off. Long story, misread signals, booze, hash, the usual suspects. Still, we got over it, and it was through Robyn, that I met Cyd, Cyd with her callous streak, dedication, Icelandic lover and apartment in Notting Hill, Cyd who had seemingly everything, but was about as empty as my bank account. They were going to start a band, another one, as if the world, let alone the London pub scene, needed yet another band. This one was going to be different, or so Cyd claimed, and, credit where credit's due, on many levels her claims have been proven. The only part she overlooked being that the band she and Robyn started, could never be big with her still in it. Cyd was, still is, the fly in everyones borscht, that's her, and, despite her having done everything and then some, to start the band, end it, and then ruin it when she was no longer in it, I still have a certain respect for Cyd.

That was how we met Cate, well, not met her, saw her. Cate was never a socialite, or a conversationist. No doubt Robyn and Cyd scared the living crap out of her that grey day, and there was plenty of crap needed scaring out of Cate, most of it laying residual in her veins. She took to me anyhow, and I to her, and it was me I guess, who was instrumental in luring Cate up to the big city, a big city where she both thrived and floundered simultaneously. After Cyd had thrown her out of Notting Hill three-days after she had first arrived, she gravitated to me and my bedsit. For several months it was just me, Cate and Marc Almond, well, his music.

There was nothing in my hovel to steal, which was how Cate got to find her bearings around the West End and how the police got to know her on a first name basis. I knew all of that gear ought not be in our bedsit, but shit, having lived as raw as I had, a few of life's little luxuries were welcomed, no matter how they arrived.

And so it went, Cyd organised, Robyn practiced and Cate stole, while I acted as her alibi, guardian and date on odd occassions. Odd occassions when she wanted to try and win Rasputin back, and failed miserably and then plunged into a near catatonic state of morose decay. Then sprang to life, stole, sold the goods we didn't keep and splurged on drugs, another remedial cure for the lovesick blues. I found this scribbled in Cate's diary:


"Another day ticked off my life sentence."


Reminded me then, and especially now, what we do to people, not just people with a gift or talent that can be marketed, mass produced, consumed, but all people. The music business is rife with exploitation, but, a neverending number of dumb kids ready to be exploited. Warhol's fifteen-minutes of fame.



. . . we go down the steps, Tommy and me, into Cate's final hideaway. It smells, a mix of stagnant malignancy, we tread over discarded rubbish: spray cans, hypos, magazines, cartons, bottles, toward another room and I know what's in the room and I'm thinking so hard about good things about good times, like the time . . .



Cate got so smashed once that she got lost. Not hard to do in London, at night when you're new to town. I panicked, some kind of Kiwi maternal thing, maybe I got it from Janet Frame books, who knows, and I rang Robyn and Robyn was a London girl, a ladette before the media had even brainstormed then coined the word, and Robyn just grunted and said so what, like, she'll be okay man, let it be. All very Lennon, but anyhow, reluctantly she turned up at my place wearing a t-shirt in mid-winter and the t-shirt was a New York Dolls one, and we set off to traipse, to pound a few streets, hit a few pubs, look for the canary that had fled its cage again.

On the verge of giving up, we found Tattoo, the old Scotch guy who hung around the parks in Kensington, a nice juxtaposition that, but anyhow, I could never understand a word Tattoo said, his brogue was too thick, too mellowed with brew, too cause from tobacco, too rich from a life on the road, a real Celtic Dean Moriarty. So Tommy gets a huff on and Robyn gets into conversation and the three of us go right back to King's Cross in peak hour and there's Cate asleep on a pile of cardboard outside while a few thousand pig-headed commuters step around her. Tattoo picks her up, and we carry her a way then Tattoo finds an empty shopping cart and plops her in it and we bag lady her back through the teeming streets and when she wakes up she thinks she's in her fucking crib again. A Cate story, just another rock 'n' roll cliché, another moment for a biographer's pen or a journalist's kindergarten take.



. . . Tommy goes in first. Tommy grew up in Glasgow, Tommy is the motherfucker son of a son of a bitch shipyard worker. Tommy's seen death, up close. He goes in a few steps ahead of me, glances back at me and shakes his head. It means why put yourself through it, it's a fucking mess, keep her as you last saw her, not like this . . .



It was Cyd's idea. The band, her, Robyn, Cate (reluctantly), and then Leah. Leah is nowhere to be found today, Robyn's been informed and is in-transit, Cyd got dumped three-weeks ago, Cyd doesn't give a rat's fuck whether Cate is dead or alive, right here, right now. Cate is already immortal, way past being almost famous. Cate is there, shoplifting in heaven without fear of arrest. You can't find Leah if Leah don't wanna be found. Corfu was the last confirmed sighting. Leah is Bono in drag, a woman with causes, above rock, above death, above self abuse, Leah is a trained musician and White Girls has always bugged the shit out of her. So what, big deal, get over it lady. But hell, I like Leah, always have, she got on okay with Cate, that Celtic thing, or is it Gaelic? Christ, what fucking great times they were then, the five of us catfighting and stealing our way down to gigs, down to the battle of the bands in Plymouth, to Helsinki for that fucking icecave rock festival, that big bitchfight in Amsterdam, Cate and Robyn being declined entry visas for A-merica, a country with far more problems than those two girls ever had . . . three number one singles, the Cuntroversy album, Cate puking at Reading, Cate miming very badly on TOTP, Cate dressed like Cobain at Glastonbury, Cate shooting-up and being arrested onstage at Donnington.



. . . but despite Tommy's chivalry, I still need to see for myself, I need it bona fide. So I nod, then he steps slightly to one side and I can see around his girth as my eyes fall floorwards like dying stars, and they alight on a limp rag doll spreadeagled on a filthy piss 'n' puke stained mattress and I can see the rubber tie on the arm and the needle still clinging to bluing skin, and I can see Cate's head to one side, and I see caked vomit around her mouth, and the vomit has insects crawling on it and my gag reflex ain't a lonely thing no more as I cram my hand into my own mouth and my vision blurs as the salinity in my eyes goes haywire . . .



Cate could sing. She didn't talk much, rarely gave press, never spoke between songs onstage, never said much going between gigs. In front of a mic though, her personality underwent a radical shift. When she first tried out for White Girls, in that truckstop on the motorway outside of Cardiff, she swayed a little and sung gently into a plastic sauce bottle, to a Clash song, "London Calling" yeah, that was it, very apt. Probably not the most glamorous audition, not with a few rugged truck drivers, two bored waitresses and two junkies watching, oh, and us, of course. That was the start of it all, and of course, in music, the start always begets the end and sometimes that end comes quicker than you could even think about it ending, back at the start. Everything is fucked up. Then, now, tomorrow, and I know that Cate will live on through her music but for christ's sake, I'd rather have had the real thing still, you know?



. . . I lean down and the policeman must think I'm going to do some forensic damage or whatever the hell it is they think because he says "sorry marm" just as easy as you like. I tell him not to be sorry, he's not responsible, and does he know who she is and he shakes his head a little and looks nonplussed. I tell him he'll know tomorrow, after the papers arrive on his doorstep . . .



Great times, great songs, hard work, bitter fights, acrimony, poverty, infamy, monetary, disloyalty, they all spring forth from the well of obsession with what, with fame or music or both. Music is a buzz, a blast, a shitstorm, it can, and does, move people and sometimes in their tens of thousands, just like Cate moved people she never knew, never wanted to know, with her voice—that shrill piercing conjugal howl, that listless pose, that unkempt look, that Joplin vacancy and that King-esque tone that she sometimes adopted just for fun. In the end, it was no fun, the music was no fun, the singing was no fun, shoplifting was no fun because she had money in the bank at least these past ten-months or so and by money, I don't mean a few quid, I mean lots of them, then we started getting her debtors hounding the office and we're like, what the fuck? Why has Cate's electricity been disconnected for a bill of a hundred pounds or thereabouts?

I go, I always went, I knock on the door, peer through the windows of her house and all I see is bare floorboards and I think oh Jesus no, not again. I go in with the office key, not a stick of furniture bar two upturned milkcrates and between them, a rickety old table. That's it. Cate had stayed there one night it turned out, and had then given her keys to a couple of vagrants who'd lived down her street, and she'd never gone back. Just hung around with her old friends in dopeship, trying to pretend she still had no money and scrounging beds and smacks. Strange girl, but consistent at least.



It's another Wednesday. Funeral day. Seven days since, it happened. Seven days in which Volta10 have re-ordered, re-launched, re-branded, re-dubbed, re-packed, re-tributed every scrap of Cate they can into byte size pieces for mass distribution. Do I blame them? Am I cynical? No, I'm at a fucking funeral.

It's dry, at least. Overcast and apt. I'm back in Wales. It's still a dreary shithole, though, it's Cate's dreary shithole for good now, her soil. Hell, that coffin looks tiny . . . Tommy looks big, Rasputin looks old, karmajustice like solstice, something Cate used to say . . . Robyn looks as butch as ever, maybe fucking butcher, she has a cute blonde piece in tow, Leah is back from another lost cause, she looks suntanned and she stands out because of it, she and I haven't even spoken about it yet. Oh, and Rek is here, the big lump of Iceland in a suit that looks at least three sizes too small but was probably the largest available, but no Cyd, no Cydney, where is that fucking bitch Cydney? No, I knew the arrogant cow wouldn't come.



All over. She's dead, and buried. We're ramming it up the motorway, got product to sell, a tribute gig to organize and brother doesn't this industry just love a tribute gig, then there's the tv specials, the interviews the biographies the whole fucking paraphernalia of rock star demise. It's a drag, Cate was right, a bore, it is without integrity.

I am without integrity. I know this. I cannot change much as I wish I could, much as I wish I could just walk away from it all for my sake at least but hell, I can't, the obsession is too big, too powerful, too fucking addictive. We need a new Cate, priority number one and Robyn has already spotted a candidate in a band she saw two-nights ago over in Shoreditch. I'm going tonight, I'm on the hunt for a new star to create and a new soul to destroy, we go back to square one and why not, we've got oodles of time now because the cash is rolling in.

Soon as I get time, I'll drive down to Wales on my ownsome, have a graveside chat, update her on the goss, no, not that, she wouldn't be interested, I dunno I'll think of something, I always do.

Copyright©2009 Teri Louise Kelly

Teri Louise Kelly is the author of the memoirs Sex, Knives & Bouillabaisse and Last Bed On Earth, she has her first poetry anthology Girls Like Me due for release in Nov (09) and has the memoir American Blow Job in progress. She is a stand up poet (comedienne) when she isn't prostrate. "White Girls" is an extract from an abandoned fiction attempt.

Interview with Teri Louise Kelly