Electric gypsies

A Day in the Life charts the decline of the West and the search for another country
Puss and Tommy Weber sunbathe


Tommy Weber ( Thomas Ejnar Arkner, 1938 — 2006) was a trickster, so I cannot help but love him.

Comin' from where I'm from — three tribal peoples: Pamunkey, Scottish, mystery African — I have always adored the Afro-Kelt über alles, and been at least inchoately hip to the centrality of the trickster, whether Eshú Elegbara, the Diné Coyote, or the Danes' own Loki and his spawn Fenrir the apocalyptic Wolf. Such figures surf the spaces between the rational world we animals feel duty-bound to shore up for civilization's sake, and the great vast unconscious world beyond the reach of imposed order.

The disenfranchised, rejected Dane and deracinated Anglo-African Tommy Weber — the fatally charming and irrepressible antihero of Robert Greenfield's new A Day In the Life — One Family, the Beautiful People, & the End of the '60s (Da Capo) — seems a trickster by default. He was left to his own devices by his estranged parents to play among the excreta of Empire well before any 11th-hour attempts by his roguish grandfather, R. E. Weber, to finish him off as a proper, upper-crust, English gentleman. The man famously dubbed "Tommy the Tumbling Dice" by his pop doppelgängers Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg had an ingrained loathing for authority, yet the right accent to charm anyone in his relentlessly class-obsessed society.

I spent the 1980s back and forth between Africa, Europa (especially not-so fair Albion), and Ray-Gun Amerikkka, chased by those primordial Saharan tricksters Wepwawet and his altar-ego the Pale Fox Yurugu. One film my late Mamanne, sister, and I loved during that period was 1984's Another Country, starring Rupert Everett as aristo U.K. spy-turned-Russian defector Guy Bennett (i.e., Guy Burgess). The character's final line has stuck with me. Queried about whether or not he missed the Motherland, his response is, "I miss the cricket." This immortal bit of immortal dialogue is key for Tommy Weber, me, and anyone else brought up along the black Atlantic continuum. It sums up Tommy's unconscious longing as a patchwork Englishman to rove to the British Empire's far-flung, dusty, darker outposts. It applies to the cricket pitch desires of émigré "Indians" (from East and West). And I connect it to my early-1980s Anglophilia, stoked by Top of the Pops, Melody Maker, Smash Hits, and NME.

Having (perhaps foolishly) strived to find myself in those sonic fictions, I feel connected to a description of late-period Tommy by Spacemen 3's Pete Bain: "He'd come staggering in, talk shit at you for an hour with garbled words like a radio that had to be tuned to a certain frequency, and then stagger out again like a drunk" We are all animals of the machine age, hoping to belong, struggling amid turbulent cultural waves. We navigate denatured empire (which yields ordered beauties like cricket, classical music, and the world-famous English gardens tended by such experts as Jake Weber's aunt, Mary Keen) and the dirty, excreta-slathered murk of primordial tribal tradition (which yields transcendence).

Accompanied by a soul mate nicknamed Puss, Tommy the Tumbling Dice gambled on a folkway that would provide that transcendence — a Swinging London milieu of sex-drugs-rock 'n' roll wherein religious and social apostasy was de rigueur. When he crapped out, as a Trickster always does, what came next was relentless nihilism at the prick of a needle. Yet here's the thing about tricksters: death often means rebirth for them — And Shine swam on, you dig?

Once upon a time, circa America's bicentennial year, I chanced to view a strange, twisted, little film called Performance (1970) that was far too advanced for my innocence.

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