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Extract: Etc Etc Amen | reviews, news & interviews

Extract: Etc Etc Amen

Extract: Etc Etc Amen

Read the prologue of Howard Male’s satirical new novel about rock, religion and how people make gods out of men and gods out of thin air

Etc Etc Amen: a glam noir novel about death, fame and the Knowing, Unknowable Universe

When Zachary C noticed his audience were no longer beguiled by his best Zachary B smile, he arranged for his chargrilled-sweetcorn teeth to be replaced by a mouthful of ultraviolet-sensitive acrylic. Much to his delight, shop windows, car windscreens – even a puddle he awkwardly traversed on the way to the gig – all threw back at him a grin of searchlight intensity.

On arriving at the Kings Theatre, Portsmouth, he found Fountain – his backing vocalist wife – immersed in her own reflection in the dressing room mirror. He sat down beside her and grinned his new grin.

“Perfect,” he said to both their reflections.

He waited for Fountain’s agreement – or at least some acknowledgement that he’d spoken – but she was far too busy assembling her own stage persona to indulge him.

Fountain Penn’s tragedy was that she had once sung backing vocals for Zachary B, but was now singing backing vocals for Zachary C

Zachary C flashed his fluorescents for a second time. “So?”

Fountain continued to ignore him. The application of turquoise eye shadow required her full attention. She lifted her chin a fraction to better inspect her shimmering lids.

Fountain Penn’s tragedy (apart from Ma and Pa Penn’s African-American predilection for inventing new Christian names) was that she had once sung backing vocals for Zachary B, but was now singing backing vocals for Zachary C. In other words, she had once performed with the Now, but now she was performing with their tribute band, the New Now. Yet for 15 months this Detroit girl from the projects had sung with Zachary B. She had even endured the infamous Trafalgar Square concert.

“Well?”, Zachary C persisted.

Finally Fountain relented and granted him an audience, but with her smile on the edge of laughter it was unfortunately a comedy club audience.

“It’s the teeth, isn’t it?” said Zachary C.

“No, the teeth are great.”

“So what is it then?”

“Okay, it’s the teeth.”

“But you just said the teeth were great!”

“You’re not going to let this go are you, Zac. The teeth are great. It’s just that they’re…” Fountain strained for the gentlest way to put it. “It’s just that they’re not you.”


“Don’t sulk, baby.”

“So whose bloody teeth are they then – Brad Pitt’s?”

The empathy Fountain had found hard to muster in the first place turned into a bluntness more in keeping with her personality. “Well, you did ask. I’m sorry sweetheart, but they’re just not working.” The eye shadow was returned to her bag, the lipstick unsheathed. “Every time you flash those things at me, it just gives me the creeps. They do have different hues, you know. Now can I get on?”

“Different what?”

“Hues. Shades. Like with paint. Ivory white, seashell white, dove white, you name it. Anything’s got to be better than goddamn Nuclear Flash White.”

“Okay, okay. I get the picture. Jesus.” Zachary C closed his mouth.

“Phew, that’s better,” risked Fountain. “Now I can take off my sunglasses.”

Poor Zachary, she thought. How much longer could he go on doing this for? She’d answered the ad in Melody Maker back in… 1995 was it? He’d recognised her as soon as she’d stepped into the rehearsal studio – and no one had recognised her in years. “You’re in!” he’d laughed, before she’d even sung a note. And of course the fans loved seeing a living breathing member of the Now, in the New Now.

When Fountain went to the loo, Zachary C treated himself to another quick examination of his teeth. What was her problem with them? Next on the list was his hair: he wasn’t balding exactly, it was the thickness. Although he dyed it (coal black, cat black, black-bloody-hole black) it had become as insubstantial as candyfloss. One day the wind machine was going to send it flying off into the audience like tumbleweed on a mission. However, in other respects he was in good health. He did all the right things: he ate the right food; he’d cut back on the booze; he exercised regularly. Yet several nights a week on stage trying to be Zachary B, was causing gravity to press down on him more mercilessly with each day that passed, manifesting itself in a dull ache here, and a sharp twinge there. The great man himself had been saved from the undignified task of performing his own sexually charged music as a 60-year-old, by dint of the fact that he was dead. Why did all trains of thought eventually lead Zachary C back to this cold hard fact, which in turn led him back to the crime scene photos he’d made the dreadful mistake of googling a few years ago? Memory is wilfully perverse, so while countless childhood daytrips to the seaside remained tantalisingly just out of reach, those chilling photos were always springing up unbidden in his mind’s eye, making him dizzy with nausea.

Despite all the KUU bullshit, he’d been a huge Zachary B fan. Suddenly he remembered the LSD-induced epiphany he’d had at Zachary’s 1972 concert at the Rainbow: that just as slack-jawed cavemen had once believed the wind was created by agitated trees waving their branches about, he had believed – at least for one vertiginously exciting moment – that it was Zachary B who radiated the light that the greedy spotlights then vacuumed up.

Etc Etc Amen will be published by Palace Park Press on 14 November

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