Johnny Come Home – Jake Arnott

JCHThe 1970s Yorkshire TV documentary Johnny Go Home showed teenage runaways forced into prostitution in places such as the Playland amusement arcade in Piccadilly Circus. This novel looks at the underworld of rent boys and pop music.

 The author says he was “living on nothing in Leeds, before he got any kind of break. He’d completed an earlier manuscript (‘My great squat novel,’ he says, smiling. ‘It had the word “crepuscular” in the second paragraph’) which collected a neat stack of rejection slips, and he was pushing forty when his book came out.”

 The book was withdrawn from sale owing to the presence of bandleader Tony Rocco; there is a real former bandleader of that name, who objected to the character’s name. The book was reissued with the character’s name changed to Timothy Royal

Stephen Pearson is a hippy involved on the fringes of the anarchist Angry Brigade and he lives in a squat with his lover O’Connell, and when O’Connell commits suicide, their lesbian housemate Nina worries about how he will cope but his grief changed to lust. He knows Sweet Thing is trouble but he has compassion and he tells Nina that for all the political slogans, here’s a boy who actually needs help.

 Sweet Thing is an androgynous beauty, though he describes himself as “not bent, rent” and sees the world as a commodity. “I don’t want to be free,” he says when Pearson tries to explain gay liberation, “I want to be expensive.” He could just as easily been a working class house painter, he looked beautiful, desirable. The ‘ones who want to save you are easiest as you don’t have to do anything.’ He is paid a weekly retainer to service unstable pop star Johnny Chrome, enabling him to perform in the recording studio as well as on ‘Top of the Pops’. (Chrome is obviously Gary Glitter (and Rocco is Jonny King who was jailed for under-age sex. In the Surrey Disco/teen scene Kenny Morton was Bay City Rollers Manager Tam Paton) He is superstitious about sleeping in a dead man’s room, he thinks he can bring tricks back to the squat. Nina sees him as moody, full of hurt yet a cherub. He understood capitalism at a visceral level – his body was trade. Cash was a sensual pleasure: he desired nothing more than to spend it as quickly as possible. He is suspicious if signing a contract. He sees helping Angel with money as an investment – someone might help him out one day. He’d been on the streets since he was 14 and in children’s homes. He disagrees that he is being exploited – THEY are paying. He didn’t believe in ‘free love’ – it might cost him dearly. Hugging is a hippy thing. He loved nicking things from shops. He feels vulnerable as never before when having sex with Nina: it made him soft and weak, not hard and strong and she tells him, ‘You’re a lost boy.’ Someone interfering with his mind is worse than interfering with his body.

O’Connell, Pearson’s lover, never liked goodbyes, reckoned he’d fucked up his life so he didn’t want to fuck up his suicide. He was an autodidact. He identifies with Judas: the anointing at Bethany story makes connection with punters; Judas is as egotistic as glam rock star Rocky. ‘Before the cock is up’ Jesus’s arrest in a park with cruisers has been sparked by Judas’s kiss – importuning. Judas walked through the city of night

Nina is torn between her commitment to radical lesbianism and the attractions of the rent boy. She could fake an orgasm but come properly alone. He was interested in Reich’s free love. Doing it with a woman it made her feel more herself but it was not love but a political act. Liberation became another orthodoxy. She reckoned that war is menstruation envy. During orgasm she was calling out to a god she doesn’t believe in

Nina’s dad was a Communist chemist who regarded recreational drugs as misusing chemistry. He sees his daughter dropping out of university as throwing her life away

 The Political acts seem more like public schoolboy pranks: Prank phone calls, stink bombs in churches, porn in libraries. ‘The only choice in consumerism is refusal to pay.’ ‘If you’re not busy being born you’re busy buying.’ ‘In fashion as in everything else, capitalism can only go backwards’ – prescient of post-modernism. We get the typical in-fighting and falling apart among the left. Suicide bombings are a warning of the future and there’s talk of wanting to bomb Vietnam ‘back into the Stone Age.’ (cf. Afghanistan.)

An uncorrected proofreading copy gave me Society of the Spectacle – not ‘and’

Larry Parnes actually existed and died in 1989. Larry gave white T shirt if he wanted a man, black if he was up for grabs. ‘Don’t put out until you’ve got what you want.’

‘He felt so alone, like Ruth among the alien corn’ so he self-harmed with cigarette ends. He needed glam ‘Sweet Thing to tell him how to do it’ because he was ‘not just any boy’ he liked to be throttled

Berkovitch dresses a rock star in silver-stacked boots, spangled jumpsuits, outrageous wigs and relaunches him as ‘Johnny Chrome’, the ‘Liberace of Glamrock’. He wears the ubiquitous flares of the period and talks Polari: riah = hair

Detective Sergeant Walker was a member of the Metropolitan Police Force’s “hippy squad”, charged with infiltrating groups like the Angry Brigade.  He knows slogans but doesn’t understand ‘I have purchased a field of blood’. Rumour had it that informers were paid off with drugs hitherto seized. He is shocked by the word ‘over’

The style, one of our members complained, is simply: this happened, then that happened. However, this describes life for most of us. Compare this with Douglas Cooper’s Generation X. Then again, reflect that situationist works were densely written yet basically espoused simple ideas. Is the novel laying claim to being “A moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambiance and a game of events.” The Society of the Spectacle generally understood society as divided between the passive subject who consumes the spectacle and the reified spectacle itself. Then consider the following Situationist quotations and see how they might be reflected in this book:

“Live without dead time”
“I take my desires for reality because I believe in the reality of my desires” -What beautiful and priceless potlatches the affluent society will see — whether it likes it or not! — when the exuberance of the younger generation discovers the pure gift; a growing passion for stealing books, clothes, food, weapons or jewelry simply for the pleasure of giving them away”
“Be realistic – demand the impossible!”
“Beneath the paving stones – the beach!”
“Never work”
“Down with a world in which the guarantee that we will not die of starvation has been purchased with the guarantee that we will die of boredom.”
“People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints, such people have a corpse in their mouth”

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