La gira / Roberto Bolaño

The Tour

My idea was to interview John Malone, the vanished musician. Five years ago, Malone had abandoned that dark region where legends live and now, in actuality, he was no longer newsworthy, though fans didn’t forget his name. In the sixties of the 20th century Malone, along with Jacob Morley and Dan Endycott, was one of the founders of Broken Zoo, one of the era’s most successful rock groups. In 1966 Broken Zoo recorded their first LP. It was a magnificent record, representing the height of what was being done in England at the time, and I’m talking about years when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were active. Soon the second LP appeared and to the surprise of everyone it was better than the first. Broken Zoo did a European tour and then one of the United States. The North American tour went on for several months. While they traveled from city to city the album rose in the charts until it eventually reached number one. When they returned to London they took a few days off. Morley locked himself in a mansion he had just bought in the outskirts of London where he had a private recording studio. Endycott devoted himself to hooking up with all the beautiful girls who swarmed around the band, until one of these beauties bound herself to him, they bought a house in Belgrade and got married. Malone, on the other hand, seemed more subdued. According to some biographers of Broken Zoo, he attended strange parties, although they never specified what they, the biographers, meant by strange parties. I suppose that in the slang of the era this meant a mixture of sex and drugs. Soon afterward Malone disappeared and following a prudent amount of time, a month?, two months?, the band’s manager gave a press conference where he announced what was already common knowledge: John Malone had left the group without any explanation. Soon afterward Morley and Endycott appeared, along with the drummer, Ronnie Palmer, and another one of the musicians, Corrigan, and gave their version of what happened. Save for Ronnie Palmer, Malone didn’t contact anyone. He called Palmer a few weeks after his disappearance just to tell him he was alright, that they shouldn’t look for him and shouldn’t wait for him because he wasn’t planning on coming back. Many people assumed the band was over. Malone was the best and without him it was hard to imagine the survival of Broken Zoo. But then Morley locked himself for a month or so in his mansion in the outskirts and Endycott spent ten hours a day working at Morley’s house, until they put together the band’s third LP. Against the expectations of critics Broken Zoo’s third album was better than the previous ones. In the first one, seventy percent of the songs were written by Malone. Both the lyrics and the music. In the second one, seventy percent of the songs belong to Malone. The remaining thirty and twenty-five percent, respectively, belong to Morley and Endycott, save for a song on the second LP whose lyrics are co-written by Morley and Palmer and which undoubtedly constitutes an exception. On the third album, on the other hand, ninety percent of the songs belong to Morley and Endycott, and the remaining ten percent are split between Palmer, Morley and Endycott and a new musician, Venable, who joined the band when it became clear that Malone wouldn’t be back. There’s a song dedicated to Malone on the album. There are no recriminations. Only friendship and admiration. It’s titled “When Will You Be Back?” and was released as a single and in less than two weeks it reached first place on the London top ten. Malone, of course, didn’t come back, and although several journalists at the time set out to find him, all attempts were in vain. It was even said that he died in a French city and that his remains were buried in a common grave. As for Broken Zoo, the third album was followed by a fourth one, which was unanimously applauded, and after the fourth came a fifth album and then a sixth, a double, which was the apotheosis, the unsurpassable LP, and then they spent some time without playing, but then they released a seventh LP, quite good, then an eighth one and in the mid-eighties they released their ninth album, once again a double, and it seemed as though Morley and Endycott had made a pact with the devil, because the ninth swept the world, from Japan to Holland, from New Zealand to Canada, storming through Thailand like a tornado, which is already quite a feat. Then the band split up, though from time to time they reunited to play their songs for very special occasions, on specific days. In 1995 a journalist from Rolling Stone discovered where Malone was. The article only caused stupor among die hard fans of Broken Zoo, those who still had copies of the first record on vinyl. Most readers could have cared less about what had happened to a guy most people had written off as dead. Malone’s life, during that time, to a certain degree, seemed like a living death. When he left London what he did was simply go back to his parents’ house. That was it. He stayed there for two years, without doing anything, while his colleagues were launching their conquest of the universe.

{ Roberto Bolaño, El secreto del mal, Barcelona: Editorial Anagrama, 2007 }


Boludo Tejano said...

My immediate reaction was: worthy of Borges. After a cursory web search, trying to disprove my initial reaction: first intuitions/ reactions are best.

Anonymous said...

Bolaño is one of the best contemporary spanish writers, even at the same level of Cortazar and Borges. "La gira" is only a not finished work, posthumously published.

Guillermo Parra said...

The unfinished quality of this text is what moved me to translate it. I also enjoy that Bolaño seems to be paying homage to Syd Barrett here.