On Ghosts

The ghost of John Lennon came to me in a dream.

He put his mouth against my ear, humming first, then singing.

It was such a startling and vivid dream that I woke up immediately with the whole song in my head.

I sang it into a tape recorder. It was called 'Magic Kiss'. Two days later, after my mother had gone back to Pitlochry and the spare bedroom which doubled as my recording studio was free once more, I made an arrangement and recorded it to DAT.

It was issued on a small label, then picked up by a major. It sounded like the best song John Lennon never wrote. Within a month 'Magic Kiss' had gone to number one in Britain. Soon it was a hit all over the world.

My life changed completely. Money flooded in, and I found myself in demand as an interviewee.

Now, one year further on, lost, dropped and largely forgotten, I'm sitting in an empty rented room in Saigon, Vietnam. I'm shuffling my press clippings and working on my autobiography.

One thing I've realised is that in this world, nobody really gives a damn who you are, unless you're somehow both super-normal and a superstar. Somehow, for about a year, I managed to be both.

After years of petty clerical work and drab obscurity, I found my opinions were of interest. It was very, very pleasant. Not only did I matter, everything I thought and everything I'd been through mattered, right down to my most trivial quirk or preference.

The fact that I had broken off my first kiss to tell my girlfriend that it felt like drowning seemed to matter to the New Musical Express.

My favourite colour (orange) mattered to Wallpaper magazine.

The man from Sound on Sound told me that the brand of digital effects processor that I used would be an important consideration for all young home recording artists who aspired to sudden, unlikely success.

My lifestyle, the recreational drugs I'd tried, the furniture I chose when I made over my house in Edinburgh, the imaginary friends (Dougas and Dougar) I had as a child... suddenly they all mattered.

The thing that made me famous mattered too, of course. The fact that John Lennon had appeared to me in a dream. But somehow it began to matter less than all the surrounding clutter of lifestyle, tastes and opinions. In time people stopped mentioning it.

I stopped mentioning it too. It was much nicer to believe that I, for all my ordinariness, was the most extraordinary thing of all.

Eleven months to the day after 'Magic Kiss' went to number one, Barry Ferret, head of VPR Records, took me for a spin in his helicopter. My option was due to be renewed. It was my first flight in a helicopter and I was nervous. Below us the Canary Wharf Tower looked like Cleopatra's Needle.

Barry was calm. 'Today's celebrities, Colin, are tomorrow's ordinary citizens', he told me. 'They start out normal, then become famous. The press, all the travelling and the money, helps them become larger than life. But only slightly.'

'Then, with inflation, life catches up. Ordinary people's salaries begin to match the celebrity's royalties. Ordinary people's holidays follow the paths he trailblazes with his world tours. The star parachutes for charity, and before long ordinary officer workers are doing the same. The star supports radical campaigns of social conscience and his telephone gets tapped, but within a couple of years mainstream social democratic parties are winning elections with the same ideas.'

We were out over the river now, the setting sun catching on a pleasure boat filled with partying office workers.

'The stars marry and divorce, marry and divorce, become alcoholics and take expensive cures, have facelifts and arrange to be cryogenically frozen after their deaths. But, thanks to Hello! magazine, these ideas get spread and copied, and in no time at all eccentricities become the norm. Which is why it's not really that important to be a star. It's just like living on credit, six months into the future.'

And, as a casual afterthought, as we descended towards the City Airport, Barry told me that VPR would not be renewing my contract.

The ghost of John Lennon never strikes twice, apparently. He's more likely to choose a sexy young oriental girl on his next visit, someone who looks a bit more like May Pang in her prime.

Momus, London, October 1997

Previous Columns:
On Columns
On Flatness
On The Couch
On The ROM
On Quality
On Image
On Oasism
On Scenes
On 1996
On Unsuccess
On Negritude
On The Job
On Hong Kong