Main > Series > Chapters > Fame Annual 1985 > The Beat Goes On...

Two weeks into the new term, and already life at the School of the Arts, after the initial awkward settling-in period, was beginning to shift and effervesce as it shed the skin of the past and fashioned a new shape of its own. The older students were stepping up the pace and the energy level, the new arrivals were losing their clumsy edges, slipping smoothly into the colourful everyday swing, and the staff were touching wood and thanking their lucky stars that the temporary dispute with the decorators was the most pressing problem they'd had to deal with so far.

     In the rehearsal room at mid morning, among the decorators' abandoned equipment, a makeshift band was providing an uproarious backdrop to a melee of singing, dancing, shouting, laughing students. An organ swirled mistily across the floor, a synth rattled and rocked like a runaway train, the drums hissed and cracked like a legion of lion-tamers and the three guitars jangled, scratched and spat, sending bright shards of brittle feedback into he teeming jungle of noise. Almost lost in the jungle, a rip-snorting sax bounced around like a rhino on a two-day pass.

     While Chris Donlan twirled a unicycle along the plank between the decorators' ladders, and Leroy jumped and turned like a cat on hot coals, Holly Laird was hopping and bopping, belting out a stream-of-consciousness lyric at the top of her powerful voice. Coco writhed and jumped up and down on top of one of the speakers, spinning gracefully on the balls of her feet and punctuating Holly's abandoned vocals with the occasional heartfelt, animalistic scream, reaffirming her lust for life with a vigour that brought the muscles on her beautiful face standing out like an astronaut's on lift off.

     The bell went unnoticed, and it was only the arrival of Mr. Reardon that brought the whole rollicking carnival to a halt.

     “Okay, amigos!” he shouted. “Anybody not in my class - get out of here!”

     Most of the students sloped out, and when the remainder had recovered sufficiently to give Reardon their full attention, he began the lesson.

     “I think you all know by now that my idea of acting isn't just looking pale and interesting and speaking like an English lord.”

     “Right on!” interrupted Chris.

     “And it's not just blowing bubblegum and having the ability to flex your muscles turning the page of a comic book, either. Brando's never above putty noses and limps if the part calls for it. Nor Olivier. A good actor must be versatile, and today I'd like to practise fight scenes. Anybody feeling big, bad and belligerent?”

     “Big, bad and belligerent is my middle name,” said Danny.

     “Okay, step out here. Anybody weak, wet and wimpish?” Nobody answered. Reardon surveyed the class. Chris was leaning against a wall with a confident smile on his face. “Nobody?” asked Reardon. “Okay, Chris, you'll have to do.”

     Chris ambled slowly forward as the rest of the class chuckled good-naturedly. He stood facing Danny like a boxer trying to psych out his opponent before the first bell. “Remember that the test of a good actor is his ability to immerse himself in a role that is totally alien to him,” explained Reardon, stepping between the two of them. “Now here's what I want you to do . . .”

     After explaining the series of feints, jabs, kicks and falls he wanted, Reardon called for action. Danny adopted a Kung Fu stance and flicked out twice with this left foot, comfortably missing Chris, who was doing his best to keep his natural aggression in check and play the victim. When Danny tried a flying-scissors kick, however, his foot caught in the corner of the decorators' sheets and he lost control, hurtling forwards and knocking Chris back into the clutter of pain pots, brushes and buckets of primer that  the decorators had left behind.

     When Chris got up he was blazing mad. “This jacket's ruined!” he exclaimed, drawing Danny's attention to the dark green stain on his shiny red zip-up. “You're going to have to buy me a new one!”

     “It wasn't my fault! I tripped!”

     “You owe me one new jacket!”

     “Go peel an eel.”

     “I'm warning you, Amatullo -”

     “You know, if you stuck handles on your head you could grow flowers in there,” said Danny, tapping his temple.

     Reardon intervened. “Hold it, hold it, hold it! It was an accident. But you were careless, Danny. Why don't you split the difference and arrange to clean Chris's jacket for him? That OK with both of you?”

     Danny and Chris sized each other up warily. Finally, they both spoke at once.

     “That's OK,” they chorused.

     The day moved up a gear.

      Quentin Morloch walked into Miss Sherwood's English class just when her long-running feud with Leroy was beginning to surface once again. Doris folded away the copy of Vogue she had been reading and turned her attention to the coming conflict.

     “It's like the song says, Miss,” said Leroy in defence of the continuing non-appearance of his paper. “You've got to accentuate the positive. I'm no writer and I never will be. But I can dance. Trying to be an all-rounder just cramps my style. Nobody can be good at everything, so why not work to our strengths, not our weaknesses? You ask Mr. Morloch. If there was a star hitter in his baseball teams the coach wouldn't put him on the mound. Hitters are there to hit, right, sir?”

     Morloch raised a questioning eyebrow at Miss Sherwood.

     “He's all yours,” said the English teacher.

     “You're right in one way, Johnson,” said Morloch. “It's absolutely essential that a player does not lose even one per cent of whatever talent he's in the team for. But discipline is important too. With two out at the bottom of the ninth and all the bases loaded, you don't car if a monkey's pinch-hitting as long as he's no prima donna.”

     “That's all maybe so,” Leroy countered. “But I'm a dancer, not a baseball player. The way I see it is you're trying to take my spirit away. You don't seem to want dancers - you want robots, or computers or something.”

     “I thought computers were the modern man's best friend,” observed Morloch, a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

     Dwight stood up. “I think we're all agreed that the computer vs art rap is pretty well exhausted,” he began, “now that we've got computers that can draw, play chess, write, think -”

     “They ain't got one that can dance!” said Leroy.

     “Or play baseball,” added Morloch, slightly surprised to find himself allied alongside Leroy.

     But Dwight had too much for both of them. “All top line athletes use computers as part of their training programmes, and a lot of dancers are picking up on them too. Computers can tell you how to eliminate faults in technique, allowing you to save energy and maximise potential.”

     “They can't tell you how to throw a curve-ball,” said Morloch.

     Dwight smiled. “I've wanted to talk to you about that, sir,” he said, shuffling some papers on his desk. “I've always liked baseball and some of my theories need confirmation. Is it true that the ball must be spun at a rate of 27 revolutions per second to cause it lateral swerve of 38 centimetres over the prescribed 60 feet separating rubber and plate?”

     The room fell silent except for Doris's long, low, admiring whistle.

     “Those ‘SLUG-FEST ON THE DIAMOND' writers are gonna have to get a whole new set of clichés.”

     Even Morloch smiled, and as the bell went, Leroy, thankful to be spared further grilling from Miss Sherwood, sought out Dwight with new respect.

     In the corridor, Danny asked Doris if she'd help him rehearse a new script he had written.

     “Sorry, pal,” she said. “I'm starting a new regime in my mind. Think fit. I'm going jogging.”

     Danny winced as Doris loped off. He needed an impartial opinion to help him whip his script into shape. He also needed someone to help him clean Chris's jacket.

     In the staff room, Miss Sherwood and Morloch were trying to come to terms with the rapidly accelerating importance of the computer. It seemed as if those humming, blinking circuits had the power to cut them off from the future and leave them marooned in a past where the hiss of steam and the clanking of gears marked the path of progress.

     “But computers can't create,” said Shorofsky, looking up from his manuscripts. “Only man can create. More specifically, man is forced to create, as creativity is a primal urge.”

     “You really think so?” asked Morloch.

     “I'm forced to that conclusion,” Shorofsky continued. “Why else should the inanity of popular music flourish in the vacuum that has no intellectual reference points whatsoever?”

     “Pop music is just institutionalised adolesence if you ask me,” said Morloch. “But those computers - did you know that to get a curve of . . . what was it he said?”

     “Computers can draw, write, think,” said Miss Sherwood. “Play chess, help athletes -”

     “Chess?” asked Shorofsky, slipping deep into thought. He hadn't had a good game of chess since the last caretaker died . . .

     Out on the streets, Doris slid through the crowded lunchtime streets at a steady pace, using the rhythm of her steps to pound two words deeper and deeper into her psyche: beauty and fame . . . beauty and fame . . .

     She was annoyed when a small, balding man in a tracksuit jogged up alongside her and introduced himself.

     “Hi, I'm Adrian Spinks. Mind if I run with you?”

     Doris looked across at his sweaty red face and wobbling flesh. He looked like he was about to have a heart attack, and Doris didn't fancy giving him mouth to mouth.

     “Klaatu nikto varada,” she replied garbling some half-remembered phrase from an old fifties space film.

     “No speak the English, eh?” puffed Adrian.

     Doris responded with a smile of blank incomprehension.

     They plodded onwards together.

     “I suppose you could consider yourself lucky,” Adrian went on. “Not being able to understand me, that is. I'm not very good company these days. Haven't been the same since my wife left me. That's why I'm trying to get back into shape, trying to put some zing back in my life. Where did you say you were from?”

     Once again Doris smiled her idiot smile.

     “Sorry, I forgot,” gasped Adrian. “I guess I'm losing my grip. Things seem to be traveling too fast for me to get a handle on them. Even my work's slipping. I used to be the best in the business. Now I'm down to producing adverts. Using Verdi to sell chocolate bars. You don't happen o know where I could find two cute teeny-bopping dance-trained space cadets by tomorrow lunchtime, do you?”

     Doris pulled up, a greedy smile on her lips and a look of surprised joy in her eyes.

     Adrian apologised once again. “I'm sorry. I forgot. I didn't mean to carry on this way. I thought it would help to speak to someone, even someone who doesn't understand what I'm saying.

     “Are you a producer?” asked Doris. “Really, truly, a producer?”

     “Sure. I used to be pretty big cheese around here. Now people think I'm jinxed..”

     “And you want two people to act as spacemen in an advertisement?”

     “Sure. But - I thought you couldn't speak English?”

     “Never mind what you thought, Mr. Spinks,” said Doris, ushering the exhausted man towards a nearby bench. “You and I are going to talk business.”

     Back in the school, Leroy and Dwight were talking business of a different kind. “You can do it, man - I know you can,” said Leroy encouragingly.

     Dwight seemed unsure. “It's  not as easy as you think,” he said. “I can programme the computer to do it for you, but there's an operator coming to look at it this afternoon, and anyway I've got  to feed the right words first.”

     “I got the words,” said Leroy. “Cool . . . loose . . . boogaloo . . .”

     Dwight finally relented. “OK, Leroy, I'll do what I can.”

     When Doris returned in time for lessons she was carrying a bag full of space gear and wearing a smile as wide as a bus.

     Danny caught up with her in the downstairs hallway. “What you got there?” he asked, nodding at the ba.

    “Some spacesuits - Danny, I've cracked it!”

     “What do you mean?”

     “I've got us both up for rehearsals tomorrow. For an advert. Chokk-E-Wokks!”

     “You don't mean you're going to abandon your hard-earned integrity by trivialising your monumental talents to sell chocolates?”

     “you bet I am. Are you in?”

     “You bet. Let's try the suits on.”

     “Not yet. They've got chocolate all over them. I going to take them down to the laundry after school.”

     As Doris walked off to the music class, the narrow trail to stardom opening up into a six-lane highway in her mind, Danny took the opportunity of slipping Chris's dirty jacket in with the spacesuits. No point in wasting good washing time. There'd be plenty of time for extravagance when he was a star.

     After school, when Danny and Doris rushed off to the laundry, Miss Sherwood, Professor Shorofsky and Quentin Morloch enjoyed a cup of coffee in the staff room before going home.

     “I think the modern world's passing me by,” said Miss Sherwood, puzzling over a sheet of paper. “By the way, how did you get on with the computer? I saw you talking to the operator.”

     “I played chess with it,” said Shorofsky with a sigh.


     “And when I took it's pawn, it moved the king to third base.”

     “That's nothing,” said Morloch. “I asked it the velocity needed for a home run in the Yankee Stadium, and it told me how to do the Funky Chicken!”

     A smile spread slowly across Miss Sherwood's face as she read the paper again. “Of course!” she laughed. “That explains it!”

     “Explains what?”

     “Leroy's paper. He must have got someone to use the computer for him. Listen to this.” Miss Sherwood coughed, and began reading in a gravely serious voice. “Mr. Bojangles was probably the finest dancer the world has evr seen. He could do the shuggy boogaloo and often moved the king at 152.35 mph to avoid check-mate. His cool diamond knight takes bishop was the most hard hitting example of size of bat used . . .”

     She couldn't go on. Tears of laughter were rolling down her cheeks. Shorofsky leant back in his chair, his body shaking, and Morloch pounded the table and roared. It was a good moment to be alive.

     In the café across the street from the laundry Danny was thinking much the same thing as he and Bruno discussed whether dollar-sign swimming pools were brash, or just honest.

     “I think I'll have mine moon-shaped,” said Bruno. “Are you sure they don't want three spacemen?”

     “Sorry, Bruno - the concept wouldn't allow it. The script is as finely tuned as a Swiss watch. And they've only got two suits.”

     “Correction, Amatullo!”

     Danny looked up. Doris had returned from the laundry and was standing in the doorway of the café, holding Chris's now mud-coloured jacket in one hand, and in the other, what had once been two bright silver spacesuits. They were now a bedraggled mess, a mottled mixture of drab greens and brown.

     “Lost a bit of their sheen, haven't they?” said Danny.

     Doris made a peculiar growling sound at the back of her throat. “You loused it up, Amatullo,” she said, as if amazed at herself for ever allowing Danny within one hundred miles of her. “I trusted you, and you loused it up!”

     “Well . .  er . . . yes, Doris - I guess I did.”

     “What have you got to say about it?”

     “Er . . . I . . . er . . .” Danny stood up and looked round him. Bruno was smiling. Doris was advancing. “Er . . . just one thing -” He backed off towards the kitchens. “Is there any way out of here?”



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