Facebook, for those recently emerging from a lengthy spell of suspended animation and blissfully unfamiliar with the same, is a social networking site. You have your basic facebook account, with people you know - by one definition or another - signed up as your friends. You can exchange messages with your friends on facebook, just as they can exchange messages with you. If one of your friends pisses you off by - for example - suggesting that John Patitucci is a superior jazz-fusion bassist to Jaco Pastorius because Jaco Pastorius plays like a wanker, then you can defriend them. Once defriended, your cloth-eared acquaintance will no longer be able to spread his or her wrong-headed pro-Patitucci lies on your page, nor send you messages. You are effectively dead to one another. That's how it works.
I'm reluctant to write at length about events which have no real existence beyond the internet, mainly for fear of going down the road towards unreadable self-involved blogs written about what someone who poos their pants said on some other blog or on facebook or on Tossr or some other place which doesn't really exist and doesn't matter. I'm reluctant, but sometimes you just have to squeeze out that last drop of poison.
I met Haunty Ghostbum in September 1984, the month in which I first left home and the security of almost everything I had known and understood since being born. I was young, naive, and probably easily impressed. Haunty was a little older than me by a year or so, and he was a fellow student at Maidstone College of Art. I thought his films were terrific, and the music he produced seemed like the work of a genius. He was worldly, talented, funny, and had experienced sexual intercourse with lovely naked ladies on occasions numbering in double figures. He had spiky red hair, obvious confidence, and was a close approximation of the person I believed I wanted to be. Either we became friends or he had a vacancy for a worshipper - I'm not sure which is the more accurate statement, but at the time it felt like the former.
His name wasn't really Haunty Ghostbum, but that's the one I'm using here for the purposes of anonymity and mockery; but if it had been he would have spelled it Hornty Ghostbum, because it's cute to contrast one's darker, more Byronic affectations with the conviction that this life is but a chapter of Winnie the Pooh. Baby talk can be very handy for those who take themselves far too seriously. It implies a sense of humour without the necessary work of having to say anything which is either interesting or funny, leaving one free to get on with the business of being a self-important cock.
Anyway, Hornty and myself were good friends for a couple of years. We drank beer in pubs and laughed loudly at each other's jokes. We helped each other out with our work at college, and told ourselves we were apart from the common herd because we were the real thing 'n' shit. We were starving artists and therefore more valuable as people than all those other wankers. We suffered as we played our Swans albums, and we didn't have rich mummies and daddies to support us, as Hornty testily observed. Actually, it was even worse for Hornty because even though he didn't have rich mummies or daddies to support him, the local council didn't see it that way for reasons I never quite understood, so he didn't get much of a grant either. He was therefore forced to work for a living to support himself whilst taking the course, and he was forced to take speed in order to work a night shift contemporaneous to turning up at college during the day; and then some drug dealers put heroine in his speed and made him be a junkie like the skinny man on the telly adverts that you used to see in the eighties. Our pampered, rich mummy and daddy having fellow students - what the hell did they know about anything?
Based on not much more than having some of the same records, our friendship became strained as we came to the final year of the course and I learned how to hold civilised conversations with people of different hairstyles, musical tastes, and even those supported by rich mummies and daddies. It became strained but it held because I guess he had pissed off just about everyone else he knew by that point; or at least they had fallen out with him, which was mostly their fault. He had enemies. Even the people with whom he shared a succession of houses were enemies, with their slightly different dress sense and failure to recognise his dark genius. Girlfriends were enemies, or became enemies after the first six to eight months, by which point the current controlling harpie castratrix was usually no longer able to understand the profound depths of Hornty and his frowning seriousness, leaving him no choice but to start shagging someone else and write a few grimacing songs about the evil one who had understood not the tenebrous passion of his troubled genius. Every six to eight months it seemed like there was some new raven-tressed and back-combed Elvira, and I could only watch and admire his apparently hypnotic charm as all those notches began to diminish the structural integrity of his bedposts, I who had done it with a lady about a year before and without so much as a tickle since. He even made moves on the girl in my house during the months when I let him sleep on the couch in our spare room. He'd been made homeless by some enemies or something that absolutely couldn't have been his own fault, and there he was in my kitchen sliming all over Claire, apparently unaware of her finding his advances obvious and faintly ridiculous.
I felt a little as though my hospitality was being abused.
'You're pissing me off something rotten, Lol,' he growled at me before retiring for the evening, Lol here being the short form of Lawrence, an abbreviation I've never enjoyed.
I joined his band but was found to be lacking musical ability. It was a fair judgement and so naturally I was asked to leave. I had let him down, Hornty told me. He had pulled strings and had words so as to get me in the group, and I had let him down. I had betrayed him. I had peed upon his cornflakes like the traitorous cow-son I undoubtedly was. It was definitively the end of our friendship, although only now, thirty or so years later, have I realised this.
I moved to the Medway towns as my degree course came to an end. I would visit Hornty, but he had new friends. He never came over to see me in my bedsit, not once during the entire two years of my time in Chatham when even his girlfriend of the time - whom I didn't know particularly well - visited me, although it wasn't exactly a social call. He'd spent a year working on her, raising her up. He was turning her into Jarboe of the Swans with the braids and everything - a perfect complement to his supermarket's own brand Michael Gira. He was pushing her towards art education, but she had probably been trying to control him without even realising it, and so he had been left with no choice but to knob some other girl he'd met in the pub. She was distraught, and she no longer had quite so many of her own friends because Hornty had made them all go away for her own good, helping her to see how they weren't really her friends. The fact of her having turned to me of all people didn't say much about her situation. I listened and agreed that Hornty had been a complete tosser, because he had, and I'd begun to recognise the pattern, the six to eight months cycle.
'I don't even want to go to art college,' she told me. 'I'm not interested in it. Can you understand that?'
I moved away and what small thread of contact we had maintained reduced to nothing. My friend Carl encountered Hornty by chance and so my name came up. Carl mentioned that I was in a group called Konstruktivists and seemed to be doing well for myself. This seemed to make Hornty angry, for some reason.
Cyclical nostalgia brought me back into Hornty's orbit years later, a few evening-sized snapshots of his decline spread across the nineties. I always believed we would laugh and catch up on old times and become friends again just as we had been in my imagination, but he always came back with some weirdly confrontational performance - the continuing saga of his endless suffering, the latest teenage girlfriend as we both hit our mid-thirties. She had probably trapped him into being a daddy. He'd probably insisted on wearing a rubber johnny but she had controlled him not to, and now he would be forced to get out the old vodka telescope and look for someone else. How the hell could I ever hope to understand such pain, such struggle? I with my fancy London ways and sipping alcopops with the drummer from Menswear in Camden Town and thinking I'm all lush but really I'm not - what the hell did I know about anything?
The band for which I played guitar supported Hornty's grimacing karaoke turn - the same under-appreciated songs about enemies and self hatred and all that good stuff wheeled out for their tenth anniversary with a backing tape because no fucker who ever joined his band was still talking to him by the end of the year; and he managed to work an entire decades worth of passive-aggressive into that encounter. I wrote about it at length, then glued the essay to the internet with certain reservations. I needn't have worried. Hornty was never really interested in anything occurring external to himself, and so naturally he never read it.
Then facebook was invented, and here we are again. Hornty now operates as Hornty Ghostposterior because it sounds more Victorian and more serious. He tags me in a picture of the new girlfriend for reasons that I don't really understand but which feel weirdly like bragging. My Sally, reads the proud caption, then, tagged in this photograph: Lawrence Burton. We catch up, and I tell him that I've written a novel which has been published. I describe some of what it is about.
It sounds like my novel, he observes, presumably as a compliment and as ever surprised by nothing. So I look up his novel. It is self-published on Amazon, moody photographs of Chatham interspersed with lines of dark, pensive poetry. I fail to see any common ground between what we have done.
He announces the publication of his novel on a facebook page made for the purpose of promoting his work, mostly downloads of those same songs from the late teenage years three decades earlier, still with the same old bollocks about enemies and introspection and suffering so much more than anyone else. I have written a book, he tells us, it is of course quite horrid, because we all know him so well, all of us fans.
Oh that Hornty!, we exclaim as one, our hands batting the air as we pull faces of amused indulgence, what is he like!
Uncle Lawrence is being mean to Hornty, he later observes in response to something else, referring to himself in third person and still apparently talking like a character out of Winnie the Pooh. I inspect the sentence I have written once again and cannot see how it has been taken out of context, how it can have been read as any sort of criticism. Later I discover that he's drunk most of the time, and such misunderstandings are now common.
The new girlfriend and I become facebook friends in accordance with Hornty's wishes, that I may thus appreciate the girth of his creative magnificence and how he has all the really fit birds beating a path to his door. He spends his time painting and sharing virtual cigars with fellow artists, mostly the people he spent the eighties slagging off, so I suppose he can no longer afford to be so choosy. Because the new girlfriend and I have become facebook friends in accordance with Hornty's wishes, I notice her becoming distinctly upset and unhappy around the six to eight months mark.
I hope this won't seem too nosey, I enquire, but I was just wondering...
History has of course repeated, and this time the inside story is worse than I could have imagined. My advice to the new girlfriend amounts to run and don't look back, and I decide I want no further association with Hornty or any of his manipulative self-involved bullshit. I could defriend, but instead I unfollow - meaning we remain facebook friends but I no longer see anything he posts. There's always a possibility that he might once again turn up in response to something I have said in a status message, but as he doesn't really seem interested in anyone else other than as mirrors in which his genius may be reflected, it seems unlikely.
I make no online reference to him for many months.
On the 23rd of October, 2014 I watch the beginning of a television show which inspires me to opine online as follows:
I've just had a look at Peaky Blinders. I made it to about seven minutes and that seemed like plenty. Looked like a Nine Inch Nails video or a steampunky Who episode, grim, gritty, high contrast picture, shaky camera, and a Nick chuffing Cave title song. All that's missing is Cucumber or James bloody Nesbitt. Are there any really good reasons why I need to bother with any of the rest of it? Anyone?
Within forty minutes Hornty Ghostposterior returns from the wilderness to set me straight, although I initially simply assume him to be drunk and having a fight with himself.
Or would you rather have Big Bang Theory, which puts us all in the gutter. Nothing is perfect. Ooòo crossss!!!!
This is the most bewildering part of his commentary. The Big Bang Theory is a situation comedy of which I have seen roughly five minutes in total, five minutes I disliked with sufficient venom to put me off watching the thing at any greater length. I have no idea why Hornty offers this particular show as counterweight, and wonder if it could even be that he suspects I'm probably a fan given my fancy London ways and sipping alcopops with the drummer from Menswear in Camden Town and thinking I'm all lush but really I'm not. All I can tell for sure is that he is angry, or at least crossss with me. Ooòo crossss!!!!, he taunts, presumably mocking what he anticipates as my reaction to the righteous truths he hath brought forth down from Mount Sinai on carven tablet. That'll teach me to take the piss out of either cod-gothic-bollocks or possibly Nick Cave. How do I like those apples!? Minutes later he announces that something or other is ironic, but it's anyone's guess as to what that could be.
Next day he declares on his facebook page that he has defriended me, cast me out into the wilderness that I may no longer take succour from his announcements about having recorded the four-hundredth version of a song he wrote in 1983, and then he deletes the declaration. We are not friends. I guess maybe we never were.
I am surprised by how much pleasure this realisation brings; and I am surprised at how much fun I have writing about it.