Fandom: Hard Core Logo
Rating: PG-13 for lots of swearing
Word count: 3535
Notes: Birthday fic for brynnmck. This was dashed off quickly during study breaks, after the lovely miscellanny provided me with the means to finally
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BRYNN. SORRY IT KIND OF SUCKS. I am actually writing you something better, it's just going to take a while.
twelve pater nosters
"What, so now you're my psychiatrist?"
Billy's always looked like he's in the middle of a heroin addiction, but since Joe's death he looks worse. All that skinny cyclic energy and lethargy magnified out of proportion; now he looks like he's in withdrawal from that same addiction.
Personally, I think that’s apt.
"Are you seeing a psychiatrist?"
"No." Pause. "None of your business. Especially not your business."
"What does that mean?"
"You do not want to fucking start with me, Bruce." Two fingers with a cigarette clenched between them, pointing at me like an accusation. Which I think this is. "You get no say."
"You want to go there? If you hadn't gotten all fucking proactive and dropped that little gem into the interview, ooh, yeah, I'm sure that was priceless footage –"
This is old ground. Unfortunately. I ride it out.
"It should have been me to tell him. I could have talked him down."
And because I'm still a director before all else – "Could you really?"
Billy stares at me for a long moment. "Fuck you."
"Could you really have stopped him, Billy?"
"Just shut the fuck up. Turn that…turn that fucking camera off."
"What about the Tolstoy gig?"
"What about Jenifur?"
"Touché." He's wandering around the room like someone put itching powder in his shoes, picking things up, putting them down. This footage is going to be hellishly jerky; I'm not used to this handheld camera, but it's a one-man show at the moment, so it'll have to do. "I have a couple of weeks. It's not a race between me and that junkie any more. And I don't quite feel like touching a guitar at the moment, you know?"
"Yeah, I understand."
"So what's your excuse?"
"Why the hell do you want to hang around in the interim?"
He's never fed me a whole truth, not a single one, but I still think I owe him this one.
"I feel like I have to."
Shit, did that ever sound trite.
"What is this, man? Twelve Pater Nosters and six Ave Marias and everything's clean again? Well, fuck." He lights his cigarette and sends me a glance over the top of it that's more amused than anything else. "Far be it from me to interfere with a guy's penance."
"So…was that a yes?"
A breath of smoke. "Whatever."
That'll do me.
We're talking vaguely about his plans for relocating to L.A. when it happens, but after less than a second Billy opens his eyes again and lets his hands fall. "Sorry, man. Autopilot."
I think I want to follow this. Call it instinct. "No, it's fine. Take all the time you need."
"Time's not the point," he says, but lifts his hands again with a slightly embarrassed smile. "I'm slipping out of –"
And there he goes again. I stay in my seat, but something makes me move the camera from side to side as though looking for someone who has slipped out of frame. For a single freakish moment I am convinced that when I play the tape back, he won’t be on it, like some kind of vampire. Time travel. Vampires and time travel. This is a familiar feeling, this one, left over from the first film: it's so easy to slip into their world and start thinking like their games are real. I remember what John said about their names; the weird folie à deux that was Joe Dick and Billy Tallent, growing old but never growing up.
"– time," he says easily, when he snaps out of it.
"Where were you?" I ask him.
"Some gig of ours in San Francisco."
"Tell me about it?"
He nods, sits up a little bit straighter in his seat, finally looking almost animated. "Not a lot to tell. It was like the other gigs. Joe was off his fucking face, but that was cool, he knew exactly how much he had to drink to find this kind of sublime headspace where he could still remember every note. Pipe was pissed at Joe about something, I don't know, that was normal too. So he was whacking away like –" Billy demonstrates, dealing out blows to an invisible drum kit with violent enthusiasm "– like they all had Joe's fucking face on them, it was great, the sound was really great."
"I wasn't pissed at Joe," he says, and I don't point out that I hadn't actually mentioned Joe. "Which, well, I know you haven't really got any precedent to work with, but it used to happen." A smile that doesn't last very long, just self-deprecating enough, and he lifts up two fingers twined tightly together. "Like this. Buddies. We were fucking amazing. There were some nights when Joe was just Joe, looking out for number one, and he'd give this really intense performance with all this private, hollering anger. But this night in San Francisco he let me sing at his mic pretty much the whole way through the set."
He leans back with such a satisfied air that I have to prompt him to keep going. "And that was a good sign?"
"Huh? Yeah, shit, yeah. Really good. Our music is all about rage, so it might seem like an odd thing to share, but sometimes – this time – it was a conversation. Me and him. Yelling the same words into the same mic, but still a conversation." He ducks his head and looks at his fingers. "Yeah, that was a pretty good night."
"So, just now, why did you choose to visit that gig? Just a good memory?"
He doesn't answer right away, but looks at his hands some more and then straight at me. "You're more interactive this time around, Bruce, you know that? More questions. Why's that?"
"Maybe there's something in that idea of art being a conversation. I like that."
Billy smiles as though he's unaware of how much of a copout answer that is. I certainly wouldn't have let him get away with it.
The truth is, of course, that I'm afraid. I'm afraid that Joe fucking Dick's grand final fuck-you to the world has just about paralysed that part of me that used to be able to make a half-decent documentary, because now I can't feel stories unfolding and accelerating in front of me without wanting to blurt out a roadblock and slow them down.
I'm afraid of silence. Afraid of monologues because of where they could lead.
Afraid of the next shot.
This morning Billy is singing under his breath, I'm tired of waking up tired.
Pan across the modest mess in the sink, a tea towel that is more hole than fabric hanging across the back of a chair, crumbs on the table and bright cold sunlight streaming in through the window.
Cut to the ringing phone, which Billy doesn't pick up. Whoever it is hangs up without leaving a message.
Cut to the orange light on the coffee machine, and quickly adjust the focus as Billy sticks his head into the frame and waggles a mug inquiringly.
Hold steady on the way Billy lifts one foot onto his chair as he sips coffee and flicks the pages of the newspaper one by one, smiling when something amuses him.
And zoom in on that smile, because I can only remember seeing it a couple of times before and it's a fascinating one; nothing savage or punk about it, just a quiet pleasure, something that takes his sharp angles and makes them almost…yeah, okay, beautiful's the right word. For no discernable reason it makes me want to adjust blinds and dial down the sun and find the optimum lighting for his cheekbones.
Zoom out once the smile disappears.
Cut to today's headlines, which are no more cheerful upside-down than they would be right way up.
Cut to a chaotic noticeboard: covered in photographs, with several notable gaps.
Cut to coffee steam mingling with cigarette smoke.
Cut to the clock on the wall.
Cut to Billy's ring going tap tap tap against the table in a rhythm that's familiar, but – lacking a tune – unplaceable.
"Where did you meet Joe?"
"Do you want me to – ?" He waves a hand, but I get it. One day I'll remember that this is still the real world, and then maybe I'll remember to be concerned by how much of an enabler I'm becoming.
"Do you need to?"
"Nah, I remember. School, of course. Joe was this foul-mouthed prick, even then, and I was some skinny kid in his brother's old jeans who looked as though he broke easy. Nobody else would look at us. For about half a day I hated him, and then…I think that was the biggest break of my life, getting stuck with Joe by default. That was it, you know? Buddies, from then onwards. I loved that guy."
"You said that before. On the road."
He looks away, shrugs.
So maybe there were a couple of whole truths in there after all.
"I was never as good at the storytelling as Joe, that was always his gig, but eventually it got so I would be on my own and still just know what he'd be saying. They were never my stories, you have to understand, they were always Joe's stories, just appearing in my head. His voice. Actually, it happened at the funeral."
He nods. "Ironic."
"Whose story was it?"
"Whose story?" He almost laughs. "It was mine. It was fucking bizarre. See this guy here. Grew up chasing something and never quite believing that he'd ever have it, even when he did have it." Billy's voice is a blank, sing-songing through the words. "Got to travel, got famous, got his picture in the magazines, got to sleep with a whole lot of fucking fans and do a lot of fucking drugs with his best friend. But he still didn't believe it. Loved the music, but wanted to keep moving, wanted the big sparkling contract with the palm trees and security. And in the end he turned out to be just another stupid material asshole who stopped saying fuck the world and bent over to let the world fuck him instead."
His eyes are a bit wild. I've lost track of whose opinion this is.
"Billy fucking Hollywood."
John's the same as ever, though over the phone his voice loses some of that anxious brevity and becomes a little closer to the way he writes, all run-on sentences and smooth abstraction. I think it's not having to make eye contact with anyone, not having a lens to glance at. He's fine with me recording.
B: I just wanted to get some details from you, as long as you feel comfortable giving them.
J: Sure, man.
B: About what you said to Mary. After the Regina show.
J: I wasn't very lucid in Regina. I can't remember how much I… And I wasn't there that night, anyway.
B: The night Joe –
J: Yeah. I don’t know details.
B: I just wanted to know if you think…you think it was consensual?
J: It's all…he's like a mirror.
B: Who is? Billy?
J: Yeah. I mean…Joe was a son of a bitch, but he wouldn't have done it if Billy had tried – really, honestly tried – to stop him. They weren't like that.
B: So you think Billy wanted it too.
J: Yeah. No…well, yeah. He's a mirror…fucking Billy Tallent, the mirror, and he always has been. He thinks he knows what he wants, but half the time all he's doing is letting Joe do the wanting for both of them, reflecting Joe's own wants back at him so that nobody gets hurt. Really passive-aggressive. So yeah, maybe Billy didn't really fancy being fucked by his best friend, but I doubt he knew that himself. He doesn't have the same boundaries of identity like Joe does.
B: You mean did.
J: Did, right.
B: What do you mean, boundaries of identity?
J: (laughs) You were there, man. Joe couldn't deal with Billy defining himself as some entity outside of the band, outside of Joe, so Joe started drawing these big red lines everywhere and often as not Billy was inside of them. And Billy didn't try very hard to resist the assimilation. You saw their games: the same things going back and forth, Joe firing a shot, Billy bouncing it back.
B: Like a mirror.
J: Like a mirror.
"He told Mary? Fuck. Fuck." Billy punctuates, slamming the heel of his hand against the table. "Fucking John."
"I think it was just for the shock value."
"Joe did shit for shock value. John…oh, his fucking lithium. Fuck." Another slam. "Well. It's not like she'd ever try to broach the subject with me, would she? So fine. Fine. Water under the bridge."
"Do you mind if I do?"
"Broach the subject."
He starts fumbling around his jeans, looking for his pack of cigarettes. "I think as subjects go, this one is well and truly broached, you know?" He sneaks a look straight at the camera, something he doesn't do often – he still acts as though I'm speaking from over the cameraman's shoulder instead of, well, through the cameraman's mouth. The look is a bit uncomfortable, but he keeps speaking. "We were fucked up. Arguing about…maybe tour dates or something, I think he wanted to stay on a bit longer somewhere and I was trying to tell him that it would screw up all of the other bookings, but I was too fucked up to be logical and he was too fucked up to have recognised logic anyway. I don't know, it was a stupid shoving match and things…escalated."
I almost want to laugh. Escalated. Jesus Christ. I think we're reaching the bounds of responsible journalism here. But I keep thinking, passive-aggressive, and something in me wants to see Billy Tallent bleed.
"Do you think Joe loved you?"
Rocked him. Rocked his world. Billy's face goes through maybe five emotions in the blink of an eye. "Don't make it about that."
"But he didn't make you –"
No blood, but he's splitting apart. "It got out of hand. No."
All right. Enough.
"Do you want to stop here?"
"You're the one who wanted me to –"
"Not if you don't want to talk –"
"I…shit." He stares at the table. "I think I should."
"If it's just going to make things worse…"
"That's not the reason."
"Far be it from me to interfere with a guy's penance," I say, and zoom in on the angle of his fingers, the minute trembling of them amplified by the cigarette and visible in the ash that drifts down from the tip.
More time travel. This time Billy goes to Hard Core Logo's first gig and comes back with his eyes alight, telling me about the crappy bar they played in and the way John slipped on someone's spilt beer and Joe's feral grin and endless energy and the long, rough thrill of feeling a crowd go from cold to lukewarm to almost approving.
"I mean, it was a piece of shit." One hand spinning his cigarette lighter on the table. "But it was our first piece of shit, you know?"
"Isn't this a dangerous paradox, going back to see yourself so many times?"
What am I doing?
But Billy just gives me one of his unreadable, untouchable looks and says: "It’s safer than the future, Bruce. You can trust me on that." That sounds like something that might have a crazy story behind it, so I hold silent and hope he continues. Billy quirks his mouth, gives the lighter another spin. "What are you waiting for? Are you waiting for me to kill myself?"
The camera almost falls out of my hand. "What?"
"That'd be great for you, wouldn't it? A perfect fucking bookend. Very artistic."
For a moment I hate him. Skinny blond vampire. Daring me with his punk rock immortality, like maybe if he took a gun and shot himself it wouldn't make the slightest difference and he'd just keep talking at the camera, flashing that grin, covered in blood.
"How's your daughter?"
He goes still. Really still. "What?"
"I didn't –" Quick sharp look. He visibly discards the possibility of bluffing it out, and gains a defensive edge instead. "Who told you? Did you interview Mary? That wasn't part of the deal."
"I just put two and two together." I won't mention exactly how obvious it was. That's the thing about recording every conversation: Mary got part of it, Pipe got part of it, Joe got part of it. And I got it all. "So how is she? Are you going to look her up?"
Billy rubs one thumb across his forehead, starting to look upset. "That's not buddies, man. That isn't how it works. You know, I say something, you follow up, action, reaction, none of this inflammatory shit."
"This is a different film," I say.
He laughs, his lips moving back across his teeth in that weird rabid-dog amusement of his, the one that the camera seems to bring out in him. "Yeah, okay. You don't have the slightest clue what film you're making here."
I don't have anything to say to that.
I keep the camera going, gambling with my own paranoia, giving him some silence to work with. He stubs out the cigarette and doesn't say anything for a moment. I wish he'd take those damn sunglasses off more often. When he speaks his voice is that dull sing-song.
"This guy here, Bruce McDonald –"
"Oh, come on –"
"This guy always wanted to make films. He's not bad at it. True to his art and all that, you know, I respect that, that integrity, I can respect that as an artist myself." He's talking faster now. Could be looking at me, could have his eyes closed, it's not like I can tell. "But Bruce has spent so long hovering just out of the fucking frame that he forgets how to define reality and how to define a story. He forgets that you can't edit your own life in retrospect, and just sweep the cutting room floor free of things you might want to forget."
One more shot. Blood on the sidewalk. I should keep quiet. I'm furious. What the fuck is he playing at?
"Don't you fucking dare," I say. "You don't get to make accusations like that."
Billy finally takes his sunglasses off. He looks like hell. "Bruce can't decide if he wants to be an observer or a participator in his own damn life," he says with an odd precision. "If you want to record, then you should just record. Don't try to interfere."
I want to take the camera down from my eye and shout this one out with him, but I can't. I can't. And from the way he smirks without humour and leans back in his chair, Billy fucking Hollywood is very aware of this fact.
"Got anything else to add?" I say, finding neutrality somewhere.
"Artistic integrity." He nods. "That's good. You're good. But maybe you should remember that the last time you interfered, my best friend – fuck."
Is he crying? He slips the sunglasses on again before I can tell.
"Laying blame again? What happened to penance?"
"Nuh-uh. Shooting's over for today, man," he says. All precision gone. "Get that fucking thing off me before I throw it at the fucking wall."
The mirror crack'd from side to side.
Jesus. I don't know if this was such a good idea.
"Billy. Can I…?"
"Sure, sit." He gestures me into the chair. "Is that thing on?"
"No, I'm just holding it up to my face for the hell of it."
A ghost of a smile. "Well, aren't you a loser."
"Look. Perhaps we shouldn't continue with –"
"If I say I'll do something, I'll do it."
Silence. I'm out of questions – hell, I didn’t walk in here expecting to be allowed to ask any – but something's missing and he's lost whatever spark of articulation he used to have. The camera's whirring warmly against my hand and nothing constructive whatsoever is happening. I fight back the cold fear and try to remember how comfortable I used to be with patience, patience, silence, but Billy seems to be getting restless. Building up to something.
He stands up. I'm trying not to panic. I'm trying not to think about bookends.
I can't help it: I'm waiting for one more shot.
But Billy laughs. "Fuck. What do you want from me? Closure? You think this film you're making is the kind that has closure?" Another laugh. "Wow. Okay. How about I zoom forward a few months and see if the ending's a satisfying one. I'm betting no."
But Billy closes his eyes and holds his fingers together and after a while it really is like he isn't there at all.