Excerpt from Jamie Carter’s biography of rock and TV legend Jason Zodiac.
Gerald Moore, who played the character Doctor Chess in the T-Service series, retired from acting in the late Seventies. According to the Fugue magazine files, he currently ran a record shop over in Wandsworth for collectors of rare vinyl. I parked the car near Putney Bridge tube station and walked the drab, windswept streets to a shop-front with faded album covers in a dusty, rain-stained window. A faded wooden sign above the door named the shop: Stillness and Motion.
The first thing that hit me when I entered was the smell of patchouli. The second was the reverential church-like air of the place, the rows and rows of vinyl records in their specially designed display cases, the glazed look on the faces of the two male punters who were shuffling through the racks as I came in. The sound of a sitar and tablas floated through the incense from the speakers mounted on the wall.
Gerald Moore stood behind the counter. I recognized him from the show straight away, despite the years of aging. His beard was now streaked with grey.
I looked behind him to the records decorating the wall, sealed in their protective plastic envelopes. Beggar’s Banquet by the Rolling Stones, Electric Ladyland by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter by The Incredible String Band.
“Original copies?” I asked.
“Yes, worth about $1,500, $500 and $400 respectively. You must be Mr. Carter.”
“Pleased to meet you.”
“Let’s go into the study.” He called a youth – “Roger!” – and told him to take care of the shop.
We went up a flight of dark, narrow stairs to a landing. Moore pushed open a door and swept his hands through a clattering bead curtain, and we both entered a room of warm, glowing primary colors, the glinting of light on brass, and more incense – sandalwood, this time.
From a shadowed alcove in the corner dark gnomish figures watched me enter the room. Bulbous, elephantine heads, curved tusks, each figure with far too many arms than should be natural.
“I see you like my little pets, Mr. Carter,” More said. “They were carved to my own specifications by an Indonesian friend of mine. That one is Ganesha in . . . shall we say . . . his less than fortuitous aspect.”
I glared at the dark wooden statuette he gestured to. It glared back.
“I can only offer you sherry,” Moore said.
I shrugged. “It’ll keep the chill out.”
He busied himself getting a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream and two dainty glasses from a well-stocked cabinet across the room. He indicated a sofa with a gorgeous-looking throw draped over it, next to the bead curtain screening the door, but I was more interested with studying the walls, the framed prints of blue-skinned figures with multiple limbs, jewels in their foreheads, diamonds studding their noses.
In the corner stood a brand-new Apple Power Book, and above it on the wall hung a framed photograph of a Sadhu holy man, his body plastered in blue-gray mud, his hair twisted into long dreadlocks.
“The Festival of Diwali takes place this month on the banks of the river Ganges,” Moore said as he poured, “the most sacred time in the Hindu calendar. And this is also the time Ganesha has chosen to favor you, Mr. Carter.”
I turned around and gave him a smile I like to think of as my conspiratorial, I-know-your-secrets smiles. “Is it really?”
“Ganesha is the remover of obstacles, and among his many other duties, he is the protector of writers.”
I glanced back at the alcove. “Interesting.”
Moore took an album out of its sleeve and reverently placed it on the turntable. Shabid Parvez, The Art of the Sitar. The elegant drone of the Indian instruments rose out of the speakers as he sat down next to his desk, booting up his computer, and I sat down on the offered sofa. It was as soft and comfortable as it looked, and it had the redolent odor of years spent soaking up incense. I took a sip of sherry and put the glass down on the coffee table.
“How did you find me?” Moore asked.
Moore let out a surprised sound somewhere between a laugh and a cough. “I should have guessed it was him. Did you offer him money?”
“Yes, I did, but he’s not exactly desperate. There’s still a big cult following for The T-Service, and you know the sort of money that can be made in conventions and guest signings. Haven’t you thought of appearing?”
“Leonard Nimoy once memorably said, ‘I am not Spock’. So let me paraphrase that and say, I am not Doctor Chess. That’s all in the past, and now I simply sell records.”
“Yes, but years after that Nimoy said he regretted that statement, and the second volume of his autobiography was called I Am Spock. Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”
Moore shook his big, shaggy head. “Don’t butter me up, laddie, it’s not really me you’re after. It’s Jason.”
“Matt said you might know where he is.”
“I do and I don’t.”
He looked at me blankly, and I gave him another smile, my you-don’t really-mean-that smile.
“The thing about Jason,” Moore said, “is that he could be the sweetest, softest, most considerate man you’ve ever met, and the next day he could be a nasty piece of work. It’s no wonder the girls were obsessed with his hair and his clothes; he had this beautiful, narcissistic presence.”
“And that glamour was his magic?”
“No. Beneath the glamour was the real magic.” Moore paused, took a sip of his sherry. “The management always tried to keep us apart, and we found out why during the show’s second season. Jason was getting paid five pounds more than the rest of us.”
“I imagine that didn’t go down well with the rest of the cast,” I said.
“No. Especially not with Archie Baker, because he was one of the old school Billy Cotton light entertainment crowd. So the atmosphere got a bit fraught during rehearsals. Most days, we’d skip the discussions and get straight into arguments.”
Moore took a framed photo from his desk and passed it to me; a black and white picture of six smiling young men, beards, glasses, flowers draped around their necks.
“So in early 1968 John Lennon invited Jason to India to see the Maharishi. They’d been good friends for a while; Jason was impressed by John’s resentment of what he called the ‘pop machine’. And Jason made quite an impression on the Maharishi.”
“I thought it would be the other way around.”
“Not at all. The Maharishi said Jason had an aura about him; he was one of the children of the sun, and he had a special part to play in the future.”
“You didn’t go with them, did you?”
“No. I realized my mistake years afterwards. I went to India in the mid-Eighties,” he said, taking out a pair of wire-rimmed reading glasses and carefully putting them on. “I’d given up my acting career, and I’d had more than enough of Thatcher’s Britain. I took what my friends and family called the Hippy Route, and bought a plane ticket to New Delhi. I traveled the country, taking on manual jobs when the money ran out, and settled in Goa. I was there when the psychedelic trance movement started, and I saw Jason Zodiac perform a DJ set on the beach. A Full Moon party. The entire beach off their heads on mushrooms, acid or Ecstasy. It was . . . an experience impossible to put into words, Mr. Carter, I’m sorry.”
“Acid House kind of revived Jason’s musical career, didn’t it?”
Moore glared at me. “That’s like saying the Beatles concerts were ‘mildly interesting’. It was a transformational event, Mr. Carter. Nothing has been the same since.”
I fidgeted on the sofa, drained my sherry. “Why don’t you call me Jamie? Anyway, Matt said that you had this reunion in Goa, that you spent a few days together with Jason and his girlfriend Zena. That was news to me, because I thought Jason lost touch with his TV colleagues in the early Eighties, when he became almost a recluse. Could you, eh . . .”
Moore was shaking his head again and chuckling at me softly. “You want to be impressed, don’t you? You want to have your pop-culture post-modern scoop for the fanboys. Well, the thing is, Mr. Carter, as a verse in chapter four of the Bhagavad Gita says . . . Truly in this world, there is nothing so purifying as knowledge.”
I crossed my legs, said nothing, just waiting for him to either stop chuckling or refill my sherry glass.
“In Goa,” Moore resumed, “Jason told me what he was trying to do.”
“I don’t know . . .” Moore sighed and turned to his computer screen. “I don’t know where to start, or how to make you understand.”
“Maybe with this,” I said, taking out the email I’d printed out. “You mentioned the Paul Is Dead hoax, and I don’t see the connection.”
“Ah, yes!” Moore looked suddenly animated – even alarmed.
“You don’t seriously suggest that the current Paul McCartney is an imposter, that he’s really . . .er . . .”
“He’s really a man called William Campbell? No. What I wanted to tell you is that all the clues, the clues on the covers of Sergeant Pepper and Abbey Road and Let It Be, are all a smoke screen to confuse people and to stop them discovering the real conspiracy.”
Okay, I thought, trying not to let my doubts show on my face.
“Have you ever heard of backmasking?” he said.
“Of course. Backmasking, or backwards masking, is putting something on the grooves of a vinyl record in reverse, so that you’ll hear the information properly only if you play the record backwards. The rumors say that if you play certain records backwards, you’ll hear secret messages. They said bands like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin put them on the grooves in their albums . . . or something like that.” The rumors also said that they were messages telling kids to worship Satan, because they were mostly spread by right-wing God-Squad parents, but I didn’t mention that.
“Listen to this.” Moore opened a file on his laptop and clicked ‘play’. A slurred, garbled voice began to hiss through the speakers, on a continuous loop. “I put the needle on the Beatles’ Revolution 9 track backwards and then digitally transferred it to the computer. Apparently John’s saying ‘Turn me on, dead man’. Most people believe he’s referring to Paul.”
I listened. I could just about hear what he meant, but to me, the sample sounded more like, something something dead men. Moore closed the file and opened another one – a longer sample of garbled speech.
“Time, turn back! Time, turn back! Turn back!”
“Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, even ELO,” Moore said, “they all put secret messages on their albums. Messages there for people who knew to look them.”
“But what’s the point? What do they mean?”
“I don’t know yet.” He paused, and then added: “But I know who put them there.”
I waited. “So . . . who put them there?”
His eyes flicked towards the photo above the computer. “Who do you think?”
I closed my eyes, just for a second. “You mean Jason? You mean he’s responsible for all the backmasked messages?”
“Why not? Jason knew them all – John Lennon, Syd Barrat, Jimmy Page, Jeff Lynn, and he was in and out of their recording studios whenever he felt like it. Nothing is outside his abilities, Mr. Carter!”
He took a slim plastic folder filled with photocopies of different magazine pages, and handed it to me. “That’s just a sample of the evidence I’ve compiled. There’s an image of Aleister Crowley on the Sergeant Pepper album cover – and Crowley had written, as long ago as 1913, that listening to reversed phonograph music is a form of occult training for the mind. Jimmy Page -”
“Just a minute,” I said, holding up my hand. “If that’s the case, did Jason put any backwards messages on his own band’s records?”
“Ah. Yes. Now you’re talking.” Moore grinned at me, his eyes getting all distant and glittery. He turned back to the keyboard, his fingers tapping away, opening audio files. “This is hidden in the grooves of the first Banana Sundial album, Angels and Interchange. Just isten to this …”
To find out more about one of rock music’s greatest mysteries, go here!