don’t know who took us there, to this fucked up drag paradise of fluffy pink, smoke-smelling walls, Berliners done up, stripped down, eyes wide open and whisky flowing from the counter in sunshine waves of ecstasy. my friend Earl Huntington and I rented a flat in nearby Prenzlauer berg where we lived on Lidl and beer while working part-time in an artist’s studio gluing feathers to concrete and twisting asphalt into long plaits of solid beauty. in front of us lay nights of labyrinthine technoclubs and failed attempts at lesbian love. the weather cold, biting you all over.
tonight we discussed the future with a fellow Gothenburgian. sitting in a tacky womb of pink fluff he described a matriarchy, women dominating academia and the male sex slowly withering away inside creepy test-tubes, while flirting with us both like he was the last man on earth already. cigarette-smoke infects my eyes, the blurred eccentricity, shouting, shots, the thrill of life seeming smooth and dense like an empty swimming pool. the toilet was never locked and projected snapshots of indecency, brain-imprints, big Turks with fat milky way-tracks of cocaine, crystals glowing bright like disco-lights and BDSM-leathered gays sharing secrets, drugs, perhaps fluids.
we stayed late but not till morning, dumped the admirer and had breakfast at home, listening to the same playlist over and over, talking about important matters instantly forgotten.
I tell you a story that happened to me
One day as I went down to Youghal by the sea.
The sun it was bright and the day it was warm.
Says I, “A quiet pint wouldn’t do me no harm.”
I went in and I called for a bottle of stout.
Says the barman, “I’m sorry, the beer is sold out.
Try whiskey or Paddy, ten years in the wood.”
Says I, “I ‘ll try cider, I hear that it’s good.”
Oh never, oh never, oh never again,
If I live to be hundred or hundred and ten
For I fell to the ground and I couldn’t get up
After drinking a quart of the Johnny Jump Up.
In The Picture of Dorian Gray the main character, a pretty Victorian dandy, is spellbound by his beautiful portrait and makes a vain wish to remain young while the portrait grows old. Like the average psychopath, Dorian is egocentric and impulsive, lacks empathy and enjoys the conquests of superficial charm in the upper social circles of Victorian London while leading a separate life of opium addiction and criminality. The decadence and degradation of the coldhearted playboy doesn’t reflect upon his flawless appearance and while his corrupted acquaintances turn old and ugly, Dorian continues to roam the unmarked streets and dodgy neighbourhoods of east London with the face of an angel.
Oscar Wilde, like his sneaky fictional invention, had to hide aspects of his private life from public view, but rather than opium he sought male prostitutes of underground Soho and the love of a spoilt Lord. Apart from some ambiguous references to homosexuality in The Picture of Dorian Gray (a persistent indifference towards attractive ladies, a house in the gay-hangout Algiers shared with his flamboyant best friend and the portraitist’s burning devotion for his subject) Dorian’s main infatuation is himself.
The obvious appeal of the book lies in the flamboyant decadence, guilt-ridden vanity and dirty secrets, but the descriptions of a labyrinth-like east London of nameless alleyways and unruly gin palaces are as intriguing. Although I constantly get lost in east London (unlike Dorian I’m yet to discover the hipster secrets and pop-up cafés and clubs of Dalston), it sounds quite fun rambling around unlit dead-end streets off your face on opium.
After reading The Picture of Dorian Gray I had a weird longing to live in a conservative society with a rigorous class system and royalist attitudes in order to succumb to the subversive pleasures of decadence. Imagine Victorian London – the working class occupy the east end, while the rich thrive in Chelsea and gays hook up in Soho. And then I realised that all I need is a bit of opium. Or perhaps some crack – the modern day equivalent.