“Like a jab at some form of musical instrument inside your head”: An Ode to Samuel Beckett

A literary contribution from Sabina Hellstrom of Bande á part.

Photo: Matylda Cichanska | Words: Sabina Hellstrom

Bande á part stormed on to the live scene in mid-2022 (as we noted here), with musical performances defined by their incorporation of poetry, experimentation and improvisation with rock influences. The group have big plans for 2023, starting with a George Tavern headline on the 10th January. Here, we are offered a slightly different cut of that wild mercury. Sabina Hellstrom – the eye and the hurricane of this storm – presents a creative work to mark the death day of Samuel Beckett (22nd December), which is due to be released as part of a solo collection of poetry and fiction in the new year.

Bande á part by Poppy Tingay

Like a jab at some form of musical instrument inside your head

I am in my room. I sit on my desk and look at the scratches on the wood, no, in fact, I don’t do this at all. I am lying. I am sitting at another table. I have heard that writers like to fine tune the truth sometimes. I think to myself to be where I am not. I do this a lot. It puts the mind in quite the state. If you have ever read Texts for Nothing by Samuel Beckett, it is slightly like that. And you know it to be like a rhythm, or a stutter, like a jab at some form of musical instrument inside your head. I picked it up last summer, brought it with me everywhere, and started reading it aloud. That’s when a writer’s voice really comes out. A good piece of work. When it is read aloud, (like Henry Miller or Ginsberg.) “I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd”. His voice rings in my mind as I write. I now sit by my desk with my guitar, and I read Ping. For those of you who haven’t read it. It goes like this. Ping, a sentence, a word, something that strikes, ping. Again. Ping. And it repeats, amplifies itself. The word. Completely free. Until the word is the only thing that’s left. I replace the word with my instrument and I decide to read Beckett’s words aloud to myself. Sometimes I hit it right, sometimes I falter too. Each time the word ‘ping’ comes I pull a string on the guitar. Ping. Like Balzac’s The Search for the Absolute. EUREKA! I seemed to have found it. It was my own voice.

I implore you to take up a book of his, sit down and read it aloud to yourself or with an instrument, to replace, to write anew, with your own word, your own being. Because what comes out of it is great work. Samuel Beckett is undeniably what music is to me. So, in honour of his memory I have decided to share this piece. I wrote this from a dream I had last year. When I was writing them down. It is going to be in the book.

And before you begin to read, I must say I have nothing against Americans. In fact, I am in love with an American and have been since I saw her at 19. But in my mind, she doesn’t belong anywhere, she belongs to the world. I refer to the ultimate American, the satirized American. Read it fast, and loud, if you can.

Stories and Texts for Nothing, Samuel Beckett

Ode to Nothing

I was staying in this hotel or no, a house, a house on the outskirts but inside, inside with my parents, I was alone, in my room and it felt like all the warm colours in there, in my room, alone but not alone, yes, because it was warm, like the colours, in there, yes, warm and you called me and I had to get to the bridge, the bridge was just a bridge I saw before me, then I was on the other side but not there yet, at the place. I had to get to the place, in order to meet you. I was trying to get there but I didn’t have my shoes, someone’s taken my shoes, before, on the way to this place, past the bridge, after, not before but before the place. The place you said to meet me in and I was going there, to where you said, I am going, I was going. There were people everywhere and they all talked like they knew me but I didn’t know them. They were laughing at me for not getting my shoes, the girl says: don’t you know we have two entrances? I said no. Well you have to go through the gates first. I said: Oh, I see. And she tries to show me the way and then three people, a woman and two men, all bent down, together, trying to find my shoes and that’s when I realised they were smiling and trying to laugh with me while trying to find my shoes. Smiling! At me, now, at this time, I can’t believe it, smiling! Laughing! Smiling and laughing! Can’t you see I am trying to find my shoes! They were all American, yes, no maybe not, I wanted to think they were because I didn’t like them, they were not like me and I wasn’t like them, yes, they were american. Them and I were looking for my shoes, a pair of black boots, a lot newer than everyone else’s, theirs, everyones else, old and tattered and worn in, just like my old pair used to have been. I realised the shoes were never really there and I had forgotten about you because I was trying to get my shoes, I didn’t know you could walk without them you see, and then I remembered. I was now impatient and quite distressed, no time, no time all the time in the world, yes, but not now, not together, separate, yes, I must leave these people, I don’t like them, they’re all Americans! I was sitting in a pool of shoes.

Why do they look at me from a far away place? I do not want to reach them, yes, that is true, now I must go, I must go, I don’t tell them I’m going but they can see, they notice. I’m going and I knew that the shoes were never really there, that there’s another door, yes another, and it’s there, not too far away. I am in America now. I don’t know how, I just knew I was in this big sea of Americans and they all dressed terribly, no taste, taste, vile, that’s good.

I find my shoes there, easy, I put them on, there, easy. I remember your call, I must go, ah god damn it! I forgot to tie my shoelaces! I try and I try and I get it right! I get it just right on the first try, I get it just right, and I’m fast too, so I go, and go, and then I go some more and then I’m there. I am standing in a place I do not know, I do not recognise, but I do not feel out of place. I am there, yes, with my friends, my two friends. I have forgotten all about you, my two friends, we are talking and smiling, yes smiling, no wrong, I do not smile, I listen to them smiling and looking for me with their eyes, nothing is right everything is wrong but to everyone else it’s right, but that doesn’t matter, then you come. I was at the place you told me to come to, I had forgotten. And you, stupid as you were an American, came up to me and greeted me and I knew that you was you but you did not look like you.

You had grown taller, two metres tall and your hair had turned darker and your curls were long but they had lost their shape, and these shoes, your shoes, ugly as I’ve ever seen anything! I mean by God those shoes! No, no none of that, you were looking at me, talking, sometimes smiling, trying to make jokes, together, with me. But you never really looked me in the eye. I stare at you in dumbfound terror. No this can’t be it, this can’t be it. What have you become? Who are you? I don’t know. Why, stop, why are you talking, I remember your call. In fact, I remember everything. I can see everything, I notice these things but it’s not so clear now, no, not so clear at all. Did I ever really know you? Do I look at you now as if for the first time? My mind races fast, fast like a race car, I like the races, no what am I talking about I’ve never even seen the races, the TV, the Radio, electric, flashing, fleeting, quick, not quick, not enough, never enough, there’s not enough time, no time, I leave, I leave you now, yes, good, there,

I’m there, I’m gone. I wake up.

Backstage at Moth Club by Poppy Tingay