Tuesday, 4 February 2003

Richard Cooper's 2003 Hoban Adventure 22/28

15:11

Tottenham Court Road

(The Moment under The Moment)


As I walked out of Warren Street into Tottenham Court Road, the sun came out again and poured down like honey over the bustling afternoon street. I’d only been to this end of Tottenham Court Road once before and that was by accident; today I walked down it as if for the first time, seeing the lean hungry faces and feeling the buzz of the traffic and the crowd rattle through me in truly exhilarating fashion. The ache in my feet was just a fact now, as if they’d always ached and there was nothing to be done about it.

Tottenham Court Road appears in two pieces from The Moment under The Moment, the short story Schwartz which would shortly tie up with my visit to the British Museum, and the essay Mnemosyne, Teen-Taals and Tottenham Court Road. In Schwartz the narrator puts his headphones onto the ears of a statue of a Chinese lion and brings it alive with Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk”, and the two of them then go for a walk down to Tottenham Court Road Tube station. Heading for the Museum, which is off New Oxford Street at the junction with Tottenham Court Road, and aiming for a conflation of these two passages, I swapped the recording tape in my walkman for the Thelonious Monk tape I’d made hastily the previous evening and plugged myself in. I only have a couple of Monk records and neither are the band or tour described in the extract from Schwartz (they’re much earlier in fact – “the first recordings under Monk’s own name made in New York in 1947-48”, according to the liner notes), but as the band broke into the clatter of “Humph”, “Evonce” and “Suburban Eyes” I felt utterly at one with the street, the music and Hoban’s words. If Russell Hoban made records, they’d probably sound like this. Thelonious’s piano and Art Blakey’s drums delineated the story of the street, the street answered back with car horns and radios and conversation and pneumatic drills, and the words from the story, and especially the essay, said it all. When I coupled all this with a Chunky Kit-Kat I altogether entered something of a trance-like state; in fact I think by now I was going slightly mad, as if the combination of everything was almost too potent. It came to me around this point that Hoban himself had become to me something akin to what the Head of Orpheus was to Herman Orff: if you’re lucky, he drops into your imagination, and if you’re one of the people who’s tuned into what he writes and how he writes, he’ll always be with you. You might find he takes you to places in your head you haven’t been to before, or even places in your own home city you haven’t been to before, and he might take you on a journey that’ll drive you a bit crazy (although no doubt you were a bit crazy to consider going on it in the first place), but even though your feet are numb and your brain is ringing with Thelonious Monk’s Tottenham Court Kit-Kat Epistrophe, it’s one of the best trips of the heart and mind you’ll ever take.

Later I listened to the Monk tape again and found the music had been punctuated here and there with two or three seconds of wildtrack from Tottenham Court Road where I’d had to stop the tape momentarily and accidentally hit the “record” button instead.


Above: Tottenham Court Road. Below: The Court, a huge local pub in sympathetic SA4QE décor. Just visible is the pub sign - Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Another sign over the door says, “It’s a scream!” while a notice proclaims the pub to be “The home of the Yellow Card”...

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