The Manzil Room

The Manzil Room was just a few doors down from where I stayed when I first arrived in Australia. May 18, 1981. Bob Marley died the week before. I remember sitting on the plane, staring at the shiny dome of the head of the man in front of me, with one of his songs going round and round in my head: Jah would never give the power to a baldhead / Run come crucify the Dread / Time alone, oh time will tell / Think you’re in heaven but you’re living in hell. This wasn’t hell, it was Kings Cross. That first night I went down to the Manzil Room for a look. There was an all girl band playing, their name was Garbo: a pun on Greta, natch, but also what the men who collect the rubbish in Sydney are called; though I didn’t know that then. Became friends, briefly, with the rhythm section but now can’t even remember their names. Just an impression of two big blond lesbian girls who laughed a lot; one bigger than the other. The room was long and narrow, with small tables along the south wall where people sat playing interminable games of backgammon; they were sallow and thin and seemed contemptuous of others though were perhaps just detached. I always thought of them as permanent fixtures, as if it were impossible for them to be anywhere else, impossible for them not to be there, playing backgammon through eternity. Further along that same wall was the bar, beyond that the toilets famous for seductions, amorous trysts or just sex. The girl’s toilets a kind of sanctum sanctorum where young men underwent lubricious initiation. Then the dressing room, which I can’t remember at all except that it was tiny, the stage on the back wall with the dance floor in front. The carpet that squelched, the uneatable food (required for licensing purposes), the clouds of yellow cigarette smoke that hung in the air . . . persist in legend but not in memory. I don’t recall wondering what the name might have meant nor anyone else speculating upon it either: a given. Not even a mystery. Manzil is the word for any of the seven parts into which the Qur’an is divided for the purpose of recitation of the entire text in a week. Also for the set of verses (prescribed, chanted out loud) which prevents Sihr, black magic, from having its malign effect. This seems even odder now than it would have back then: those backgammon players, labouring under a curse, cursing the rest of us; those voracious women seducing pretty young men in the cubicles; that inedible, perhaps poisonous, food, which got the place closed down in the end, after it was bought by, of all corps., Western Mining. The band music was perhaps analogous to the chanting of the Qur’an. Can music banish a curse . . . well of course it can. Now I’m back on the dance floor but this time it isn’t The Tribe of Us or Whole Wide World or Garbo or any other of the myriad, forgotten bands that played there . . . it’s Falco, via the video screen and he is singing his solitary hit, Der Kommisar, in German mixed with a little English: Dreh dich nicht um, shau, shau / der Kommisar geht um! / Wenn er dich anspricht / und du weißt warum, / Sag ihm: Dein Leb’n bringt dich um. We don’t know what it means but we dance around anyway. We do: it means submission to s/he who brings the pleasure pills or the powder, the lethal joy, the joyful lethe. It’s an ecstatic homage, a genuflection, a prayer, a plea: Alles klar, Herr Kommisar? Those late, late nights on the dancefloor, bathed with electricity, both son et lumiere, as if in a crucible, an athanor, as if irradiated, as if about to change into something else—which was, no doubt, myself. I’m still trying to do that. Dein Leb’n bringt dich um.

 

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Manzil Room

  1. Don’t sweat too much on the the name. It was called the Manzil Room because Joe (the owner) came from the north of England and in those parts there was a chain of curry houses called, Manzil Curry House. Joe originally opened it as a curry house using that name and then morphed it over the years into the nightclub/venue.

  2. Brian

    Spent many a debauched night “at the Mongrel”

  3. Bex

    Good to hear there are still people alive that enjoyed the rooms. I lived the room from 1985 to 1987 and remember tripping while KEVIN BORICH PALYED walked out at 9.30 Staurday morning. Anything goes at the room.
    RIP Neil

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