The guy was dead as hell.
I think it was the Geranium Shop in Worcester Park where I found it. I’d been flicking through the secondhand paperbacks, as I often would on a Saturday afternoon. Among the usual rubbish, I spotted a book called “Vengeance Is Mine” by Mickey Spillane. I thought the cover looked great and the inner blurb sounded brilliant:
I’m Mike Hammer. I’m a – well, let’s say a private eye, working here in N.Y. – and my friend Chester Wheeler is in his hotel room, dead, with my gun in his hand. It looked like a straightforward suicide case to everyone but me. And when I found out the kind of women Chester had been going around with; and when some thugs tried to persuade me to lose interest in the case, I knew I was on to something corrupt. I decided I’d better get to the bottom of it – before anyone else found himself booked for eternity in six feet of earth.
I turned to the first page and read the opening line. “The guy was dead as hell.” Amazing. Another line caught my eye as I flicked through the yellowed pages:
On some people, legs are just to reach the ground. On Velda, they were a hell of a distraction.
As I paid my 50p to the elderly lady in the shop, I felt pleased with myself. Here was a prime piece of kitsch post-war Americana I had in my hands. Firmly in the territory of “so bad it’s good” (it would still be several years until I realised this concept of “so bad it’s good” is a myth). I read the book in a single sitting and wanted more. I searched on eBay and Amazon and went up and down Charing Cross Road until pretty soon I had a bookshelf full of his writing. I read them in the haphazard order I got my hands on them. Then read them again in the order they were originally published. Then some of them I just read again because I wanted to.
There was a power to Spillane’s words, a confidence. Reading them in the early years of the 21st century, in the Wimbledon branch of Costa Coffee during my lunch break from working in Virgin Megastore, I immediately forgot any ironic pretensions I had. The conspicuously 1950s stylistic flourishes which at first attracted me soon began to fade into insignificance. Spillane’s depiction of Hammer’s relationship to the city of New York, in particular, was fascinating (and only revealed itself to me after repeated readings).
These books weren’t so bad they were good. They weren’t bad at all. They were good. It’s just they good in a way which wasn’t obvious at first glance.
And so it was with Falco.
And again, it started in a charity shop in Worcester Park.
My girlfriend, having the advantage of not being born in this country, has always been familiar with Falco’s music. Unfortunately, in Britain (if he is known at all) he’s known only for Rock Me Amadeus. And this would be the 12″ single I bought from the British Heart Foundation shop on that day, maybe five years ago.
Like my Spillane purchase, I bought this because I mistakenly thought Falco was so bad he was good. A one hit wonder. A novelty song. This, I would later realise, is possibly the least interesting thing you could say about Falco.
That could have been that – my relationship with Falco could have ended there, before it had ever really begun – but then I found a copy of this compilation CD in a record shop, and (with the encouragement of my girlfriend, who had always preferred Vienna Calling to Rock Me Amadeus) decided to buy it.