The other day I was down in my laundry – which doubles as my archive – waiting for the spin cycle to conclude on the washing machine. I recently attempted to de-clutter the clutter in there and a small cardboard carton containing diaries and notebooks had ended up at my elbow where I stood; so I picked up the top one and had a look in it. Turned out to be a notebook I kept during the first year I lived in Sydney. 1981-2. Found it quite interesting, not for any literary quality it has but as a record of things I was thinking and writing about back then. And then – after I hung the washing out – I thought I’d better see what else is in that box.
So I brought it upstairs and had a leaf through all of the twenty or so notebooks it contains. They cover a span of more than thirty years. 1970 until 2004, when I guess I started replacing hand-written records with electronic note-taking. Most are fragmentary and many don’t even get to the end. They provoked embarrassment, of course, but also a kind of incredulity – mainly because my preoccupations haven’t changed all that much over the years. I’ve been banging on about the same things for decades, evidently. But amongst them was one genuine surprise.
A small green striped hardback exercise book (which I must have bought when I was studying Maori language in Wellington in 1976 & 7), had been re-purposed as a diary that covered a few months spent in California in 1978-9. Two weeks in L.A. then three months in San Francisco; the record breaks off, for no apparent reason, at the end of the first week of January, 1979. I had forgotten the very existence of this diary; had certainly never re-read it. Also it had suffered a degree of water damage from when it was stored (probably) under someone or other’s house, causing the ink to run and making it quite difficult to decipher.
Its interest to me now is that I recently wrote a reconstruction of that period, from memory, from the memories of others, from various forms of archival research. So how did this recent version compare with what I’d written at the time? Well, what do you think? First of all, in my reconstruction, I had the chronology of what happened all wrong. I had my friends Andreas and Marsha, for instance, moving out of the Israeli’s apartment in the Mission into ours at Greenwich and Gough before Andreas’ arrest and incarceration; whereas in fact it was the other way round. I had the details of the ructions in the band wrong too. There are many other examples of the frailty of memory.
Secondly, there are all sorts of details in the diary that are missing from my recollection: bands we played with, venues we played at, parties we went to; anecdotes; people; drugs; and so forth. Thirdly, however, and most intriguingly, my recent account is probably more true to the feeling of that time than the diary is. This because the diary writing is self-conscious, full of ‘important’ reflections and ‘significant’ observations. I’m writing, laughably, for the future. Nevertheless, and this is I suppose the fourth point, these reflections and observations do still intersect with my preoccupations now. The Egyptian obsession, for instance.
Some of the entries might constitute a very loose essay on late 1970s California organised around two images, the pyramid and the labyrinth. That still seems to have some traction. Fifth it is good to know what books I was reading then: Walter Benjamin (Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia); Louis Aragon (Paris Peasant); Guillaume Apollinaire (a bio); Ed Dorn (Hello, La Jolla); César Vallejo (Trilce) all turn up. Along with movies like Polanski’s The Tenant and the Hercule Poirot mystery Death on the Nile.
So I guess what I’ll have to do now is go back to my reconstruction and reconstruct it, correcting the chronology and adding detail, for instance of places the band played: like The Keystone in Berkeley and The Boarding House in Bush Street, SF, where they made a live recording our agents (Fat Cat) used to secure us work during the rest of the time we spent in the Bay Area. Wish I still had a copy of that tape. The lucubrations, however, I think I’ll leave to decay in the blurred, ballooning, purple and green, black and blue ink of that best-forgotten-again diary.