at home with bohemianism: and George. boring old (ieorgc, follows his father into the Masons— unwillingly at first. but eventually grateful for the orderliness it gives life. Making them archetypes. though. he denies was ever his plan. ‘It wasn‘t in the forefront ofmy mind. but then things aren‘t always in the forefront ofyour mind. I‘m sure it was there unconsciously. under the surface. ldon‘t set up a huge barrier between what's conscious and what‘s coming from a deeper part of your imagination anyway. It‘s inevitable that the structures forming in the deeper part of yourselfwill start to form these archetypal shapes. You thought I‘d done it intentionally"? No. . . but it‘s interesting that it seemed that way.‘ Perhaps the reasons for writing the
novel in the first place weren‘t clear either. but unconsciously or not. he plays the game we all do when we ask ourselves how different decisions would have affected our lives. and with four characters to play with has allowed himself a multitude of forks.
‘I think when I was at school and university,‘ he continues. ‘I was very inﬂuenced by Joyce‘s Dubliners. and I remember in the last story of that. ‘The Dead‘, the Gabriel Conroy character was very like Joyce himself. maybe more like his brother. I remember reading somewhere that this character was what Joyce would have become if he‘d stayed in Ireland and not gone to France. And I think there‘s a sense in which both Tam and Brian are what I could have become ifl didn‘t take certain directions at certain times.‘
At one point. in New York. Tam wanders in to see an Indian musician play. This is an unnamed cameo by Sri Chinmoy. whom Spence has followed since 1970 (he runs the Chinmoy centre in Edinburgh. in addition to his duties as writer-in-residence at Edinburgh University). He calls Chinmoy ‘the biggest influence on my life‘. but Tam. although moved. doesn‘t take the same path as the author.
‘It's the sense ofdoors opening and offering possibilities to these characters. and. okay. he doesn‘t walk through that particular door, whereas I was impressed enough to think. Hey. I could learn a lot from him. But I didn‘t want it to become a kind of proselytising for Sri Chinmoy — suddenly he sees the light on the road to Damascus! I realised that
there must be hundreds ofthousands
of people who have seen Sri Chinmoy over the years and been touched in that kind ofway. without necessarily wanting to change their lives.‘
Other than the continuing opening and closing ofdoors on the characters. most prominent in the Masonic scenes. one conscious piece ofsymbolism was identifying Tam as the hero. ifthere isone at all. by naming him after 'I‘amino. the hero of Mozart‘s The Magic Flute. While he sees elements of himself in all of them. even Eddie. Spence admits to identifying more strongly with 'I‘am and Brian. "I’am‘s the jazz musician I would like to have been.‘ he confesses. . . but you eventuallygive up the game of ‘Which ()ne‘s Spence‘." The Magic Flute is not autobiography. although it does draw heavily on his own experience.
He spent his childhood in Govan. attending a school which emphasised science and engineering. thus pushing the young Spence into disciplines for which he wasn‘t entirely suited. Only in his final year there did he start writing. and question if he really wanted to be a chemist after all. It‘s all the stranger. then. that when he went to Glasgow University he started out in the Law department.
‘I think it was just the sense of getting on.‘ he explains. ‘because of my background. My father had a terrible hard life, never got out of struggling to make ends meet. My
mother died when I was quite young, so that made it harder for him psychologically. He was putting so much on me in the way of hope, and was to some extent making sacrifices to keep me at school, so I think in deference to that I felt this duty to get on. And, okay, Law, that sounds like a fine job, but after a year. I realised this was not for me.‘ In his second year, he switched to English and Philosophy, then dropped out altogether; a common pattern for the late 605, but the short-lived new age hadn‘t blossomed the way it had down south. and the circles that Spence moved through were. in the words of The Magic Flute. ‘a sunburst in grey Glasgow‘.
Spence chipped in to buy a duplicator, and a small magazine called Henry (‘it seemed like a good name at the time‘) was published, featuring work by Tom McGrath, Tom Leonard and other Scottish writers. McGrath had come back from London after founding and leaving International Times, and was taken with the idea ofa semi-improvised Fringe show with which Spence was involved. Though not as chaotic as the embarrassing hippie happening in the novel. it was very much ofits time.
Subsequently, Spence travelled widely, spending a year in Italy and meeting Chinmoyin 1970. Electing to finish off his degree, he became writer-in-residence at Glasgow University only a year after he had graduated. All these details seem very sketchy. since our conversation keeps coming back to the late 1960s. still a source offascination. He writes seductively about those years, but now he seems to doubt the value of at least one of its sacred cows.
’I remember a few years ago saying. “Okay. all ofthat drug thing was very negative, but it did blast open doors in a lot of people‘s heads. and maybe made them look a bit more deeply than they would otherwise.“ And the person I was talking to said. “No. but you‘re following a spiritual path. and have been for twenty years. How many of the people you were mixing with twenty years ago are doing that? That‘s something you would have found your way to anyway. and the drug thing was maybe a sidetrack on the road to that." So I used to think it had all been somehow part of the plan. that it was necessary at that stage to blast these doors open in a violent way. but . . .‘
He trails off. or more likely I interrupt. asking him if the spiritual explosion of the (108 might not. in the long run. have had similar disturbing consequences to the drug revolution. God casualties“?
‘I think there has been a lot of fake spirituality.‘ he answers. unrufﬂed. ‘()r a lot ofchancers and fake masters around. people who just rip folk off and take advantage ofthcir sincerity. But I think at a deeper level that sincerity does actually win through in the end.‘
And that. to quote somebody or other. is a fully-baked idea.
The Magic Flute is published by ( 'anongale. priced [12. 95.
Only Tam and George
went back to the flute
class the next week. Brian had giventhe instrument to Tam, with a note torthe Bandmasterto say sorry, he wouldn’t be back. Eddie had decided to take up the drums.
Tam and George struggled again with the lip andthe blowing and getting it just right. By the end at the session they could both play a note and had the lingering tor halta scale. Tam had the knack now. The note he blew was sweet. But George’s lather had spoken to the Bandmaster, and George it was who took the flute home. Tam was annoyed at that, but he knew his turn would come.
Eddie, in anotherroom, learned the basics of drumming—how to holdthe sticks, two beats with the left hand, mammy, two with the right, daddy, alternate, mammy/daddy, faster and faster, blurring towards a roll, mammydaddymammydaddy.
That was where it broke down, for his left hand wasn’t quick enough, stuttered and lost the beat. That made him rage, and he felt like battering, breaking the sticks. Butthe drum tutortold him he had potential, could be good, it he worked at it.
The three boys met up again on theirway home.
‘Rangers are playing away on Saturday,’ said Eddie. ‘Fancy going to the Barras? 0r Paddy’s Market?’
‘Sounds good,’ said Tam.
‘Suppose so,’ said George.
‘You attersomething special?’ said Tam.
‘Pairot drumsticks,’ said Eddie. ‘On the cheap.’
‘Barras is betterthan Paddy’s,’ said Tam. ‘More stutt.’
‘You’re right,’ said Eddie. ’You never know, you might even get an auld tlute torten bob or something.’
‘Never know!’ ’
'l‘he [31.71.23] May 19909