This is the sixth excerpt from Jamie Carter’s biography of the mysterious counter-culture guru Jason Zodiac. The following is taken from an interview with fellow rock journalist, Simon Briggs.
So we fussed with chopsticks over spicy tom kah kai, and savored lemongrass and coconut milk-flavored curry in the 18th century listed pub that Simon told me was his current love.
“Thanks for coming up to Macclesfield,” he said.
I waved it away. “No, not at all. Thanks for taking the time to see me. How’re things?”
He shrugged. “Oh well, getting by. Can’t rest on my laurels, can I?”
“I didn’t know you had any.”
“And you, Jamie?”
“Not too bad. Except for the whole city of London falling apart, of course.”
“The whole country’s falling apart.”
“The whole country’s been falling apart for as long as I can remember.”
“Remember the poll tax riots? Or the murder of PC Blakelock?”
“What about Toxteth?”
“What about St Pauls?”
We both laughed at the same time.
The waiter came with our food and we got to work on the stuff. Simon ate sparingly; it seemed like talking was more important. “I’ve been thinking about a lot of things, after reading your articles. Thinking about the past. I’d be very interested to hear what R.J. has to say about all this.”
“R.J. Black has disappeared,” I told him. “Nobody’s seen or heard from him for a few weeks.”
He stiffened, and looked uncomfortable. “Yes … well, I wouldn’t read too much into that. R. J. was always a moody bastard. Always going walkabout when he didn’t feel like talking to anyone.”
He reached down to his briefcase and pulled something out. A hardback diary, warped with age and wear and tear. “You’re not going to believe this,” he said, “but I’m quite obsessive.”
“I can easily believe that.”
“I don’t think I told you I kept all my notebooks, ever since I started working as a journalist.”
“All of them?” I started laughing, and then stopped. It might have looked like I was making fun of him, but in fact, I was deeply impressed. Someone who kept diaries from over thirty years ago?
“Well, there’s a couple I’ve misplaced, but I’ve got them going back to the late seventies.”
I stopped chewing and looked at him in admiration. “I wish I had,” I said.
“That’s why I called, I guess. Your articles made me go through the notebooks again and I noticed something I’d better tell you.”
“And Joy Division?”
He looked up, pad thai noodles dangling from his chopsticks. “I’ve been connecting the dots, you might say.”
“That’s what intrigued me, because as far as I know, Jason knew Tony Wilson …”
“… but he never met Ian Curtis, yeah. Jason’s main link with Manchester was through Acid House in the late eighties. That’s what I thought too. Then I rediscovered the notes I’d written just after Ian’s obituary came out.”
Briggs had put a bookmark in the 1980 diary, and he opened it at the entry he wanted, slipped on a pair of thin reading glasses, and peered at the wrinkled page. Then he laid it open on the table next to the vinegar bottle.
“Jamie, have you ever heard of a drug called Telemazepine?”
I shook my head.
“In the late seventies, drugs for treating epilepsy were pretty strong and had quite a few side-effects. The drug called Telemazepine was commercially available for a couple of years, and then taken off the market. And here’s the peculiar thing; I can’t find anything about it on the Internet. It was released by a German pharmaceutical company called Bartos Klein, and I can’t find anything on them, either.”
“Was Ian taking this for his epilepsy?”
“I don’t think so – well, I can’t find it mentioned anywhere. His wife Debbie never mentioned it in her biography of Ian, Touching from a Distance, and I’ve never seen in any other source. But two days after Ian’s funeral, my editor Andy Anderson in the Sounds London office got a telephone call from Jason Zodiac. He wanted to know if Ian had been taking Telemazepine.”
I put down the chopsticks in the bowl smeared with the remains of the red curry and sat back.
“One week after Ian’s death,” Simon told me, “we had a visitor at our office. It was Jason himself. He said he’d come up to Manchester to see Tony and pay his respects to Ian’s family.”
“He’d never met Ian’s family.”
“He knew enough to realize that something extraordinary was happening.”
That figured. The extraordinary was Jason’s business.
Simon got up and went outside for a smoke, conforming to the smoking ban that had swept through all of England like a plague. While he was away I drained my lager and thought about Joy Division.
The first time I saw them on TV was on the Old Grey Whistle Test, towards the end of 1979, and it was something fascinating but deeply disturbing to watch. Ian’s dark, existentialist lyrics, and his crazed dancing, hinted at emotions that the human body and mind were not capable of expressing.
With hindsight, and having briefly met the other members of Joy Division after they became New Order, I understood the appalling drama taking place. Ian’s spasmodic, frenzied dancing on stage was a parallel for the epileptic seizures he suffered in private. Like Voodoo priests who whirl and gyrate to the drums until they reach that ecstatic state where the Loa ride their bodies, Ian brought something back from those moments when the electrical storms swept through his brain, and put it into words and music for an unsuspecting public.
In the old days, we would have called him ‘a man possessed’.
It couldn’t last. The drugs that Ian took to control his epilepsy affected his personality. One moment he was laughing, then crying, then yelling at everyone to leave him alone. In May 1980 Joy Division were probably the most important band in the UK and about to embark on a US tour – but Ian’s seizures were getting worse and more frequent, and he’d broken up with Debbie. He told the other members he wanted to quit the band, but they talked him out of it; they said he could take time off, sort out his life, after the tour.
He never got the chance. Before they went on tour Ian Curtis hung himself in his kitchen at home, in the early hours of May 18th.
When Simon came back, rain on his collar and Silk Cut on his breath, I had another question for him – something I couldn’t believe, but couldn’t keep to myself.
“Do you think Jason was asking questions because he suffered from the same thing Ian did?”
Simon nodded and grimaced. “That’s what I’ve been wondering. Of course, there’s nothing in the records to suggest Jason Zodiac was epileptic.”
“There’s not much in the records to suggest anything at all. Jason was like the Invisible Man. No national insurance number, no birth certificate … we’re not even sure what his real name was. One door opens, another one shuts, and then they’re all slammed in my face.”
He looked away. “The thing is, when people say ‘epilepsy’, they don’t really know what they’re talking about. A seizure is an abnormal electrical message, sent out by a group of neurons in the brain. This discharge results in some kind of abnormal behavior.”
“You’ve been doing your research.”
“Your fault, Jamie. And the other thing that got me thinking was something called a ‘complex partial seizure’.”
A burst of raucous laughter from the opposite corner made Simon wince. Then he continued.
“Complex partial seizures don’t cause simple sensations but complicated ones, involving thinking, feeling, emotions, and sequential movements. Most seizures are short and last only seconds or minutes – but prolonged episodes can be the result of continuous seizure discharges, which induce compulsive, aimless wandering, accompanied by amnesia. The condition’s called poriomania.”
My eyes widened. “What are you saying?”
“There are plenty of cases of people who’ve been capable of performing quite complex tasks while suffering a seizure.”
“Like getting in their car and driving to the next city. When they come out of the seizure, they have no memory of how they got there. And there are extreme cases that haven’t been classed as epilepsy because nobody can explain them yet. Stories of people walking out of their houses to buy a newspaper and disappearing – then turning up years later living and working in a different town, under a different name, with no memory of their previous identity. There’s a case of a reporter from Tacoma going missing – and then turning up in Alaska, twelve years later, with a completely new identity.” He sighed. “This kind of thing reminds me of The Idiot.”
“Iggy Pop was epileptic as well?”
He blinked. “Not the Iggy Pop album, Jamie, the Dostoevsky novel.”
I stared back at him. “This sounds too weird for me.”
“Weird?” He sniggered. “Jamie, I’m talking about epilepsy with a guy from a lifestyle magazine called Fugue. How weird is that?”
VOLUME ONE OF THE BIOGRAPHY CAN BE FOUND HERE. FOR THE EBOOK,
AND HERE FOR THE PAPERBACK.