Behind the monster

While Irvine Welsh was still in short trousers, Alex Trocchi was scandalising the Scottish literary scene with a drug habit to put Keith Richards to shame. As Trocchi’s novel Young Adam is re—published and a play about his exploits comes to the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh-based playwright Tom McGrath (right) recalls his encounters with

the man they called a monster.

5 the drug hit him. he set his head against a rough brick wall. Face like a hawk. Beady eyes under strong dark brows. His voice was American but with a touch of Scotch, the occasional French phrase from his days in Paris. ‘With opium,’ he said. ‘you can live forever.’ D'accord.

At first I thought he was American. One of the Beat Generation. Friend of Ginsberg and Burroughs. He was. but he was Scottish too. When he turned up in the early 19605 to blast MacDairmid and his Edinburgh nationalist cronies away. it felt to a young writer like me -— that liberation was at hand. A hipster Glaswegian!

Trocchi was dangerous. exciting. switched-on, international. And. as he would keep telling folk. Trocchi was a junkie. An unrepentant heroin addict. The world threw up its hands in horror and Trocchi grinned. He loved to shock. He castigated the world’s governments for their prohibitions. making his addiction a political act, his personal rebellion a revolution. It was absurd. of course - self-destructive defiance. ‘I fix up enough junk to kill an elephant,’ he would say. And whenlwent offand tried junk for myself. he wasn’t pleased. ‘When they put the pennies on your eyelids and lower you into the ground. I’ll say. “There goes Tom McGrath, a very good fellow. Just too bad he had to go and get himself a habit.”’

ln Glasgow he carried his small son Marcus on his shoulders and we all went out to the ice-cream shop. His American wife Lynn was in a Scottish hospital somewhere. coming off heroin. This was them trying to start again.

His flat in London was always a mess. I visited often, never knowing what to expect. One night, for instance, he came to the door wearing a skull cap like Sean O’Casey’s with a corded tassel to it. Eyes reduced to pinpoints, a green smoking~jacket. He had something to show me, he said. The Marquis de Sade’s Box, he called it a chest- of-drawers-cum-cupboard he’d picked up in Portobello market and painted psychedelic colours. (Except then I didn’t know to call them psychedelic. Early 605 London had not yet been hit by LSD. Trocchi cosmonaut of inner

space explored most things before the rest of

us.) Other times l’d turn up and he’d be hunched over his typewriter, an unfinished sentence in

the machine that read like a line ofjazz. I’d feel

guilty for interrupting him. But soon he’d be off

on his favourite topic Project Sigma. his blueprint for revolution through linking mind to mind. ‘lnvisible insurrection.’ he called it.

If you subscribed to the Sigma Portfolio. you received a folder containing various items. Letters from Stan Brakhagc and Jonas Mekas. ‘underground’ filmmakers we’d never heard of.

4”, -) ‘1'

A manifesto from Trocchi. Strange imaginings from Burroughs. The contents would be added to as time went on. Lettrisme. Trocchi called it. And all produced on a Gestetner printer. elegantly. with style. Trocchi had a good eye. The portfolio approach. he explained. also did away with the need for publishers. Artists would talk to artists direct. ‘Where Trotsky seized the viaducts and bridges, we must seize the means of communication.’

But for a very long time months was it? years? go around to visit him and there would be Trocchi, papers everywhere. standing in front of a wall chart announcing. ‘Like. I can’t begin

Alexander lrocclil: ‘lle loved to shock’ I

to tell you. like. it’s all happening’ when nothing was happening at all. Apart from people getting stoned. In the midst of it all. Lynn sent Marcus out to school. Still trying.

But things did happen. Eventually. Alex’s presence in London attracted other people his ideas were a catalyst. Shots from the film Wholly Communion. the first great Albert Hall poetry reading of the psychedelic 60$ which he introduced and compered show an Alex Trocchi with longer hair than I _ remember. and almost with tears in

his eyes. It’s as if he can’t believe it. The writers have come together. The boundaries disbanded. There is an audience of thousands out there and they are chanting too.

But the Great Change in the 605 took a different form from what Alex expected. Flower Power felt far from the Marquis dc Sade and things got carried off by the pop music machine. By that time. I was editing IT. a newspaper central to the ‘alternative’ society. Alex intercepted a cheque intended to pay staff wages. When I remonstrated with him he shook his head: ‘Well. like. someone’s got to support the old man behind the scene.’

A few months later I shot some methedrine into the goldfish bowl and l . decided the time had come. I was /' shattered. A heroin addict. My own wife and children had gone back to Glasgow. I decided to go after them.

Trocchi phoned me at my mother’s house. ‘So when are you coming back down‘?’ I wasn’t planning to. ‘Likc, Alan Ginsberg’s coming to town. He was asking if you were going to be around.’ Really'?l felt his compellingness recede. felt myself move on. A phase in my life had come to an end. What you might call a learning experience.

As for Alex. l cherish his memory and

am glad a new generation has rediscovered him. Somewhere out there, Trocchi shakes his hawk head. ‘Well. like. why did it take them so long?’

Young Adam is republished by Rebel Inc/Canongate, at £6.99, to be launched at Reading Lights, C C A, Glasgow on Sat I 9 Oct, by Trocchi’s former tutor Edwin Morgan. A Meeting With The Monster; David Millar's play about Trocchi, is presented by Merlin Theatre Company at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Wed 23—5101 27 Oct. Tom McGrath hosts a post- show discussion on Wed 23 Oct. See Book events.

The List l8-3l Oct l99619