‘Don’t worry, mum. Everything is fine. I will see you when I get back.’
‘When? When are you coming home?’
‘I don’t know…Christmas maybe.’
‘Okay. Look after yourself, my sweet darling JoJo. Love you.’
‘Bye, mum. Talk to you later. Love you too.’
That was a lie. Everything is not fine. Joseph Jackson’s life has fallen to pieces ever since he arrived in this new city three years ago. He has had sixteen casual jobs, none of which lasted more than three months except this last one. But today is JoJo’s last day at SLM Commercial Cleaning Co. After working for SLM for nine months, it has finally come to an end and JoJo is going to be jobless again.
This time was not his fault though. JoJo didn’t get fired for repeatedly making the same mistakes nor did he quit after a heated argument with his manager. After Mr Marsh’s sudden death, his three adult children subsequently inherited the company. SLM is only a small family owned business. Since it hasn’t been profitable for the last two years, the family no longer wants to run the business. Originally they were going to sell it but were unable to find a buyer, so they decided to close the business altogether, which means JoJo had to be let go too.
After graduating with a degree majoring in music history and cultures, JoJo has been struggling to find relevant work. As a music graduate, he was hoping he could get a job in the arts industry. At one point he thought about taking a teaching certificate course to become a school teacher but had eventually given up on the idea and ended up taking whatever random jobs that were available out there – a bartender, road worker, shop attendant, delivery driver and many other roles that had nothing to do with his major. He got this job at SLM through his neighbour Rosa. Rosa wanted to take some time off after her first grandchild was born, so she asked JoJo if he could fill in for her for a few months. But then Rosa decided that she might as well retire early.
It is not that JoJo particularly enjoyed the cleaning work at SLM but they paid him a reasonable wage and that he could listen to music in his headphones and sing out loud while vacuuming empty offices every weeknight. He thinks this type of job suits him best because he always thinks he is a loner and he doesn’t like interacting with people anyway.
Every Wednesday evening after work, JoJo would go to Freddie’s for its 9pm live music session where his favourite local band, Martin and the Frying Pans, would play a set of 60’s rock and roll classic hits. JoJo often thinks he belongs to that time in history when things were more exciting and inspiring than now. Sometimes he even thinks that he must have had a past life in that time and space leading a carefree life in a seaside town near Brighton, although he couldn’t quite figure out whether he’d have been a mod or a rocker – if anything, probably a rocker turned mod.
JoJo would usually have a drink or two while listening to Martin’s band rocking out on stage before returning home. Tonight was no exception. But he drank a little too much and was rather drunk by the time the session was over. Fortunately, Freddie’s is not so far away from his apartment block. Reeling slowly along the long straight road, JoJo managed to walk home by himself.
JoJo saw his cat Jimmy ambling down the stairs as he was going up.
‘Heeeeyy pusssss,’ JoJo babbled, ‘I think…I think…you might want to ask Ro…Rosa to take you in soon. Sheeee likes you, riiight?’
‘Hiiiiiisss’, Jimmy gave him a long stare before walking away.
They say ‘A drunk man’s words are a sober man’s thoughts.’ JoJo doesn’t normally get drunk like this. For some inexplicable reason, Jimmy sensed there’s something strange about JoJo tonight.
Jimmy and JoJo don’t have a pet-owner relationship. They are rather like tenants sharing a flat together and they hardly interact with each other. Jimmy is not always friendly to anyone in the building except Rosa. Jimmy was abandoned by the tenants who used to rent the apartment where JoJo now lives. Jimmy returned home one day to discover that his owners had already moved out, but he continued to stay in the empty flat by himself until a week later JoJo moved in and discovered there was a cat that kept getting in and out of his apartment through the open window in his kitchen. Later on, Rosa told him what had happened to Jimmy. Feeling pity for Jimmy, JoJo decided to let him stay. But what JoJo didn’t know was that, in Jimmy’s little feline mind, it was in fact him who had let JoJo live there.
JoJo continued walking up the stairs, missed his floor, and arrived at the rooftop of his building.
It was a clear and cloudless night. A gentle wind was blowing in the sky sounding like the tip of a drumstick dancing lightly on the ride cymbal. JoJo thought he heard a light drumming noise coming from somewhere afar. More likely, from his head rather. Perhaps the music from the live session was still playing in his intoxicated mind. The moon, like a spotlight glowing in the sky, projected a beam of light onto the rooftop. JoJo then heard the sound of a cymbal crash. Suddenly feeling fully alive, JoJo started dancing and singing on the rooftop, disturbing the peace of a quiet evening. JoJo climbed up onto the parapet wall and started walking along the edge while imitating a rock star strumming his imaginary guitar wildly as if he was doing a show to a city of audience.
Being drunk can be dangerous and deadly especially if the drunk person is alone staggering to and fro on a slippery rooftop. If JoJo loses balance to his right he would fall off the building and plummet 20 metres to the ground, and the concert in his head will certainly end together with his miserable life.
Within minutes, as the music began to fade, JoJo’s vision has suddenly gone blurry. And then there’s a long silence followed by a sharp pain in his left arm…
A loud chord was played.
The curtains were drawn.
JoJo opened his eyes and found himself lying on the floor in a strange room with ugly wallpaper. There was also an old TV sitting on top of a wooden chest of drawers near the windows.
‘JoJo…JoJo…’ he heard someone calling him from outside the windows.
Still feeling hangover, JoJo lurched to his feet. He opened the windows and looked out, but he didn’t see anyone nor did he hear any distinctive human voices again. All he could hear now was a guitar chord resonating above rows of terraced brick houses in a dull grey sky. That was the chord that woke him up!
JoJo suddenly felt a surge of nausea and collapsed to the floor. He vomited into an empty paper cup lying on the floor before pushing himself up using the dressing table for leverage. JoJo jumped when he looked up and saw a stranger standing in front of him.
JoJo cleared his throat. The man cleared his throat also.
‘Who are you?’ they asked each other at the same time.
‘I’m JoJo,’ they said together.
‘Ba-ba da-da ch-ch-ch la-lah,’ JoJo sang an improvised line and the man scatted along in unison.
JoJo put his hand on his face. The man imitated him.
JoJo did not know who the man was. But he felt a connection to him right away. His face looked rather familiar as if he was someone that JoJo used to know. JoJo’s mind is clear now. He slowly reached out his hand to feel the cold surface of the mirror in front of him, and then touched the black turtleneck sweater he was wearing. He put on the brightly striped blazer that was hanging on the wooden coat stand next to the dressing table. Feeling frightened and confused, JoJo stepped back slowly before dashing out the door and running down the stairs at full speed.
JoJo missed the last step of stairs and fell to the ground of a busy street. An old man in a long winter coat was playing the accordion in front of him. In the background, there were bright red double-decker buses and vintage cars everywhere on the road revving their engines and driving away. Where is this place?
It was a cold and dreary day. The wind was blowing hard. Young men and women dressed in bright colour outfits were walking joyfully in this otherwise vibrant city. Men wearing skinny ties and slim fit suits looked rather handsome. And there seemed to be incredibly beautiful ladies everywhere! They all seemed to have a style of their own as though they were embracing a kind of freedom that JoJo had never seen before.
With a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, a young man was chatting to a lady with a beehive hairdo in front of a clothing store. A group of well-dressed ladies was laughing elegantly as they walked past JoJo. JoJo remembered seeing a scene like this in those classic films he had watched. Did he just walk into a film set? Maybe they are making a new film here. He took a peek through the glass window of a restaurant. He saw a man in a suit, sitting in a little booth, lighting his cigar while having a meal with two other men.
JoJo vaguely heard a fast riff coming from above. He looked up and saw the constant clouds hovering over the grey skies. He could not figure out where the music was coming from. Perhaps it was the wind blowing loud? No one seemed to notice the unusual sounds except JoJo.
‘Am I hallucinating?’ JoJo thought aloud.
‘Did you hear that?’ JoJo asked the boy with a floppy quiff who just walked past him.
‘I beg your pardon?’ said the boy in a high-pitched voice.
‘The bass line. Are you hearing that too?’
‘No. I’m sorry. I don’t understand what you’re talking about. I didn’t hear any music.’
‘What is the date today?’
‘The thirtieth of January.’
‘I’m sorry?’ the boy found the question rather strange.
JoJo’s mind went blank as he sank to his knees. He lighted a cigarette that he found in the pocket of his blazer while sitting on the footsteps in front of an empty store.
It was a chilly afternoon, the freezing weather was making JoJo’s hands cold and stiff. He tried to warm his hands by moving his fingers in the air mimicking Billy the jazz pianist who sometimes plays at Freddie’s on the weekends. Durnnn durnn-durnn. JoJo thought he heard some bass notes creeping up behind the buildings. Doodoodeedi-bipbip-dododop. Someone’s playing a fast solo on the keyboard! As the wind began to pick up, the tempo of the music sped up and took on a pattern before breaking free from the beat, and then dissolved slowly in a puddle of water in the road.
Suddenly, a black cat came out of nowhere ran in front of JoJo, splashed the muddy water, and disappeared into a back alley. The cat reminded him of Jimmy. He suddenly missed Jimmy. He wondered what Jimmy was doing now.
JoJo had no idea where to go or what to do next. He was lost. He didn’t even know how to get back to that strange room with the ugly wallpaper or his real home somewhere out there across the universe. He was left with only two options: either sit there and wait for a miracle to happen or continue wandering down the street without a purpose. JoJo chose the latter.
‘JoJo…’ he heard someone calling his name again telling him to go home musically, ‘Ooh…Ooh…Ohhh yeah…’
It has become apparent to him that he has now lost his sanity and that he must be hallucinating since no one else on the street seemed to notice the music except him. The music became clearer and louder as he walked with his head down, but he decided to ignore it and concentrate on his thoughts.
‘They are fabulous, aren’t they?’ a young woman said to her friend.
‘That’s a jolly good song!’ her friend exclaimed.
JoJo looked up in amazement and saw two women in shiny vinyl raincoats standing on the side of the road.
‘You hear the music too?’ he asked them.
‘They play very well, don’t they? The lads,’ the one in bright red raincoat said.
‘You from the North?’ the other one asked.
‘Er…I guess so,’ he stammered.
JoJo had no idea what the ladies were talking about. But he was just glad that he was not the only person hearing noises and he was not going mad. He wanted to ask them a little more about the sounds but they said they were on their way home and had to go.
His exhaustion forgotten, JoJo followed the sounds to a street full of bespoke tailors’ shops. Large numbers of passers-by congregated around this small street, staring up at a five-storey Georgian townhouse across the road, where the speakers were blasting at full volume on its rooftop.
As a couple of policemen brushed past the crowds, JoJo heard the voice calling his name and telling him to go home again.
A loud chord was played.
JoJo suddenly recognised the tune and the harmonies. He finally realised where he was!
He’s in that time in history where he belongs! He’s home!
A wave of joy filled his heart. JoJo started humming and mouthing the words to the chorus of the song.
‘You know the lyrics?’ the girl standing next to him asked curiously.
JoJo smiled and said, ‘Yeah, of course.’
Forgetting all his worries, JoJo was feeling grateful and happy again.
He closed his eyes and enjoyed the rest of the live performance.
As the song began to fade away, JoJo felt like something silky and soft was brushing against his face.
Yawning as he rubbed his eyes, JoJo found himself lying on the floor of the rooftop of his apartment building. The sky’s blue and the sun’s shining. And there’s a soft round fluffy ball next to his face. Feeling a burning pain again, JoJo lifted his left arm and saw a long deep scratch on his arm. Realising what had happened, he turned his head and said to the fluffy ball, ‘Thank you, Jimmy.’
It was 53 years ago today. On 30 January 1969, the Beatles performed a memorable live concert on the roof of their record company, Apple Corps, in London. It was their last ever live performance as a band. The concert was originally planned as a live television show but it evolved into an open-air concert in the end.
In one of their rehearsal sessions in the weeks leading up to the concert, Paul McCartney, attempting to evoke enthusiasm from his fellow band members, asked the group to think about why they wanted to do this show. He said, ‘we gotta have some serious reason for doing this or else we wouldn’t.’ John Lennon said, for him, ‘the whole point of it was communication’. Although Lennon might be referring to his incentive for doing the television show they were discussing, what he was saying is insightful in a broader sense. Indeed, music is a form of communication that transcends time and space, connecting the past, present and future. It is like when you hear a piece of music that was produced in the past playing at the present time, it then becomes a part of your universe that no one can change. It becomes meaningful and relevant only to you. And it is through this channel of perception that you create your own reality and liberate your soul. Perhaps that was what Lennon had in mind when he wrote ‘Across the Universe’, a track in the Beatles’ final album Let It Be, where the chorus goes…
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world