A Lament for Billy MacKenzie

The stranger in our city’s voice is dead
so keep all Dundee silent for a day,
sheathe all your spoons within their mourning cases,
fling all your florins in devalued Tay:
let every mirror hold his fourteen faces,
            our strangest voice is dead.
Our angel of the ragcart and the river,
the patron saint of tinkies, whose gold lips
could loose euphoric shrieks that split our hips –
but now he’s fallen out with song forever.
 
He opened up the kitschy shop that lies
down crooning in our crypt-like retro hearts:
he saw the gloom in Vitriola Sundays,
the glamour of the wide-boy turning martyr,
of being but not reaching number one –
            let lessers eat those pies.
Praise chance that once delivered that voice here,
those gorgeous tonsils, that deranging larynx:
here electronica met its finest syrinx,
but now he’s broke the glass that rang so clear.
 
[From the Hilltown to the Hilton by white car,
he sped through squalls of gull-skriek blues
and autobahned it all the way to Perth,
or spued five pernods with blackcurrant juice
projectile-style at his career’s birth
            back in the Ballinard.
Cross-breeding krautrock with hick cabaret
he reared his whippet-wild songs on a diet
of lonely sardines, teaching them to shit
on dollar-deafened executives’ parquet.]
 
Praise to that voice, which spans the octaves as
the roadbridge spans the river’s range of tides
and snell winds, bullies of Siberia.
It holds the spheres together as they gride
and squeal, that mile-wide voice, in theory our
            town’s diapase, ya bass.
His gypsy holler was holy jabber-code,
our Bowie of Baldovan Terrace: hark
to Billy, Bacharach of Baxter Park.
He was the Shirley Bassey of Bonnybank Road.
 
[He was a runaway from glassing bores,
from gnashing fathers and the ties that blind:
he married in the pyramids of Vegas
some great American bra like Hughes designed,
then took off from the girl and grew oblique as
            fear dripped from every pore.
He lost his passport, filled guitars with piss,
or caught the look he called Swiss Eye when forced
to board a plane; he endlessly divorced
his old associate: certain success.
 
When sales were gone, and he’d gone through the friends,
the cash and contracts like a fine tilth streams
through a riddle (money’s constant, we’re what flows
to deadened chore or jagged crown), news came
of Lily’s cancer: when your mother goes
            childhood likes to end.
But Billy was another person from
himself – if songs are mirrors then that voice
that could sing through him seemed to eye its choices,
no longer wanting to belong to him.]
 
Lament now for the father who must touch
a cheekbone in the barn at Auchterhouse,
who knows it in the darkness and knows why
it is so cold. Duveted in overdose,
a photo album, dumbed at thirty nine –
            lament for that numb touch.
Lament the kind of silence in that shed,
the absence of all further variation
on that one breathing theme thieved from creation:
lament MacKenzie’s lovely son is dead.
 
Lament and flood our gritty city please:
let no more pearls form in its greedy bite
to be flung in the Tay’s unhearing glass.
Dissolved, he rises like an opposite,
the Catholic in all Calvinists, the lass
            within the laddie’s ease.
Lorca would know this spirit: his hair, planted
now in Balgay, sends up duende’s shoots.
His jawline was perfect. Let my tongue find its root in
this town’s most joyous voice, its most lamented.

from The Big Bumper Book of Troy (Bloodaxe, 2002), © W N Herbert 2002 used by permission of the author and the publisher

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