Caution: This Fiction Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Fa/Fa, Consensual, Lesbian, BiSexual, Fiction, Nudism,
Desc: Fiction Sex Story: Chapter 1 - It is the 1990s and Crystal Passion and her band are on tour in America. In those days, they weren't as famous as they are now and nobody could guess how they'd be received. Would this be the tour that broke them in America? Or would America break them? Neither Crystal Passion nor her band were likely candidates to be the new Beatles or Rolling Stones of a fresh British Invasion. For a start, all members of the band were women and they didn't have the support of a large record label.
How well did I ever really know Crystal Passion?
I ask that because everyone says that no one knew her better than me.
And that's just not true.
It's obvious why so many people believe I know more about her than the dozen or so others who were with her on that last fateful tour. I'm the one who renowned American rock critic Polly Tarantella has elevated to the status of Chief Guardian of the Crystal Passion legacy. Of the rest of us who were there, does anyone remember Bertha? And what about the other Simone, the one also known as the Harlot? And I can't be sure whether Thelma's real name was Judy or whether Judy's real name was Thelma. Since there were two Judys on the tour and she was the second to join the band, because we had to call her something, the name we used was Thelma.
Whatever Polly says, I can't be credited the honour she bestows on me on the basis of my one and only English Top Forty hit record in the late 1990s and the accompanying album that shifted hardly any units at all. That's not enough to make me the primary authority on the music, soul or history of Crystal Passion. For a start, my hit single, I'm Hanging Upside Down, with its chorus of "Inside. Outside. Upside Down." can't be described a musical masterpiece (even by me) and it's by chance rather than design that this is the three and a half minutes of drum and bass by which Simone Kopernik, better known as Pebbles, became famous as a solo artist.
There was never a time when Crystal Passion was anything other than a mystery. She might even have been called an enigma, but when I was in her band in the 1990s that was a word you'd associate with the German electronic trio whose music was reputedly inspired by the Marquis de Sade. And neither Enigma nor the Marquis directly influenced Crystal Passion.
I don't agree with Polly Tarantella's view that Crystal Passion's music was 'void of obvious influence' and 'forged from the vital essence of her soul', whatever that means. The music didn't appear spontaneously in a vacuum. I mean, you can easily tell what influences me and my music. I always loved 1960s West Coast pop. I adored Love, Spirit, the Beach Boys, the Mamas and Papas, and the sunshine and sand their music invokes. That was what informed I'm Hanging Upside Down and even more the other tracks on my album The Way to San Jose. The main difference between me and Crystal Passion was that her influences encompassed just about everything and everyone she'd ever seen, heard, read about or imagined. And that was a lot!
Back in the 1990s, when we performed together as the Crystal Passion band, Grunge was the coolest sound in American Rock and World Music was beginning to open ears to new possibilities on both sides of the Atlantic, but for us in the UK the sound that best defined the time was what the Americans now call EDM but we just called Dance. Mostly it was House Music, but there was also Techno, Drum & Bass, Trance and a whole load of shit that's since got lost by the wayside. There was some kind of Brit Rock scene emerging, represented by groups like Oasis and Blur, but the most notable British Rock groups at the time were the likes of Ride, the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses. If there was anything that could be described as unique about Crystal Passion's music it was that its scope was way beyond the usual set of boundaries. It wasn't really Rock. It wasn't really Dance. It wasn't really World, Folk, Jazz, Soul or Pop, but it was somehow also all these things at the same time.
God knows how Crystal ever found the time to hear all the shit that inspired her.
From a brief listen, you'd say that Crystal Passion and her eponymous band was some kind of an electro-acoustic outfit. The few critics who mentioned her at the time referenced Nick Drake (obviously!), Joni Mitchell and Tracy Chapman. Her preferred instrument was the acoustic guitar and her voice had a peculiar breathy quality that superficially placed her in the Folk Rock tradition. But it soon becomes obvious as you listened to her that she was also inspired by a load of weird shit that included György Ligeti, Edward Vesala and Oumou Sangare. She understood twelve tone and microtonal music. She appreciated the essence of Krautrock, Cajun, Duduk and Mugham. She was as much at home with Nick Cave as with Stock Aitken Waterman. And if there was a musical legacy she most truly followed, it was the anarchic, free-form aggregations of the likes of the Sun Ra Arkestra, Funkadelic and Planet Gong. It was never obvious what kind of music Crystal Passion might play, what character of musician would play in her band, and what new ideas and sounds she'd come up with next.
There was much about the 1990s that was weird. The best way to describe the decade was as the period of time squeezed between the age of vinyl and family television and the coming new era of mobile phones and the internet. There were real expectations that a new defining chapter in the history of recorded music was about to arrive—for American Rock critics like Polly Tarantella—Crystal Passion's music sounds weird enough to seem to herald that long anticipated musical revolution. Perhaps sufficiently weird to support Polly's claim that her music 'defies definition'. But when Crystal assembled together her amorphous band of miscellaneous musicians I don't think her music was really that much out of step with the stuff you could hear most nights in those days on John Peel's show on BBC Radio One.
The truth is, of course, that not many people at the time much liked Crystal Passion's music the first time they heard it. But it made more sense the more you heard it. And then it got under your skin and you couldn't get enough of it. It must have made a real impression on me because it persuaded me to abandon my studies in Marine Biology at Bournemouth Poly and join Crystal Passion's ramshackle group for what became a never-ending tour of crappy venues and muddy festivals all around the UK and, on occasion, as far afield as Belgium, Denmark, Spain and Sweden.
But that last concert tour in the United States was just one step too far.
For that was the tour that killed Crystal Passion.
And, until Polly Tarantella championed her legacy after decades of obscurity, this was also the tour that killed off Crystal Passion's music and pretty much all public memory of the woman who was, for me, not just a colleague, an inspiration and a muse, but also a close friend and, most important of all, my lover.
You'd think—given the huge amount of attention now devoted to all things Crystal Passion—that our arrival in the United States was like the Beatles' British Invasion in the 1960s.
In fact, it could have hardly been more low key.
Our record label, Gospel Records, couldn't afford more than a partial advance on the projected (modest) record sales of what turned out to be Crystal Passion's final and posthumously released fourth album, eventually to be entitled The Last Word. So, to finance the tour, we had to dig deep into our even more modest funds and Crystal's mysterious personal allowance. I don't think anyone had even heard of us in America, but Crystal's agent, Madeleine Tartt, managed to book us gigs on the basis of America's continued fascination with British Rock and Pop music.
Like everyone else associated with Crystal Passion, Madeleine worked for her not because she believed that her uncategorisable, defiantly non-commercial music would ever sell in the vast quantities that it actually now does, but because she had an intangible faith in Crystal and everything she seemed to represent. And also because Crystal was so generous with her body to almost everyone who got to know her.
Madeleine's promotional material did well to advertise the facts that the Crystal Passion band was an all-woman group whose appeal bridged a wide spectrum of tastes, including House, Rock and Folk. Madeleine could also have mentioned Country, Jazz, Bluegrass and the Blues, if she'd wanted to claim that Crystal Passion's influences would appeal to every possible American palate, but she had to consider audience expectations.
And, most significantly, her publicity slyly omitted to mention the main reason why American Rock fans and their parents might get more than they expected from a Crystal Passion gig.
The flight across the Atlantic from Heathrow to JFK was on the cheapest possible seats. In the 90s, however, they weren't quite as cheap as they can be these days, but at least the food, the luggage space and use of the toilet was inclusive. We all tried to get a good sleep on the plane, because we knew that the five hour time lag between London and New York could be a real killer.
I don't know how many of us had ever visited the States before. I certainly hadn't, however much I'd fantasised about the West Coast and all that surf, sun and roller blades. I'm pretty sure Crystal hadn't been there either, even though she'd travelled pretty much everywhere else in the world. But however much an experience India, Morocco or Thailand might be, America was another place altogether. Like me, I guess Crystal thought we already knew what to expect given all the American movies and TV shows we'd seen.
But as it happened the differences between America and Europe were greater than we'd anticipated.
Most of us were pretty much shagged before we'd even got on the plane. We'd all gone to an Indian Restaurant on Brick Lane the night before where Crystal had booked a table for everyone and most of us had rather too much to drink. Well, I did anyway. The restaurant was jam-packed from wall to wall, so it was a miracle that Crystal had managed to book a table for so many of us, but I guess she just called in a favour like she so often did.
Crystal was obviously anxious about the coming American tour. She sat between me and Judy, and spoke pretty much equally to both of us. She told us that America was going to be the band's make-or-break tour and that she was fairly sure our chances of breaking into the American music scene weren't very good.
"I just hope nobody's gonna split from the band during the tour," she confided. "That would really sink us." She seemed to address this to Judy who was discreetly looking away out of the window.
Crystal was right to be concerned about Judy's loyalty. In many ways, she was the most talented and most ambitious member of the band other than Crystal and she wasn't the only one who thought that it was just a matter of time till Judy left and went her own way. She was nominally the lead guitarist, but in a band like Crystal Passion she also played keyboards, sax and bass guitar. And in a band of so many colourful characters she stood out as the one who best fit the description of a Rock Chick. She dressed—when she bothered to dress at all—in a black singlet, black leather jeans and knee-high black leather boots with stiletto heels. She had tattoos down both arms and pretty much everywhere on her body below the neckline. And these tattoos included fragments of Biblical text (but not the famous one from Ezekiel, as Pulp Fiction had only recently been released and there'd not yet been an opportunity for Judy to get the words engraved on what little of her skin could still be used as a canvas). The skinscape also featured images of Mythical Rock & Roll icons like Dragons, Demons, Skulls and, of course, Naked Women.
It wasn't like Crystal to even hint at discord in the ranks, so her remarks shocked everyone who heard them. But at the same time, everyone knew that Judy had written several pretty good songs herself and had events turned out otherwise, I think she'd soon have been recording her own album. But whether she'd use her real name, Judith O'Hara, or her stage name of Judy Dildo there's now no way now of ever finding out.
After we'd paid for the meal and were presented our complimentary mint sweets, a few of us returned to the shared house in Hackney that was Crystal's rather basic digs. This was where we intended to round off the evening with a few restful joints, but we didn't expect Crystal to be more than a passive presence. She wasn't known to indulge in drugs. She wasn't even a smoker. In fact I don't think I'd ever seen her smoke a joint before, even though most of us, including me, almost always had a stash of a few grams. But on this occasion, Crystal had scored some potent Paki Black which she crumbled into some borrowed Rizla papers and then rolled into a modestly functional spliff. And this she passed around with due ceremony. This was accompanied by a fresh bottle of red wine, which would have been a potent mix in itself, although I'd already snorted some Charlie and I suspected that Judy had sampled a tin-foil of brown.
"This is the last dope and booze we'll have in England for at least a while," said Crystal. "I hope this evening will be one we'll all remember fondly."
"I'm sure we will," said Philippa as she took a long toke. "This is really hot shit. I certainly won't forget this in a hurry."
"We'll be friends for life," I said drunkenly, placing my hand on Crystal's. "I'll never deny you anything."
"I don't think I can be so sure of that, Simone," said Crystal mysteriously and then, again uncharacteristically, changed the subject. "Do you think we'll break America? Or do you think America will break us?"
"Whatever happens," I said loyally. "We'll stick together as a band. I'll stay loyal. Come what may."
The plane from Heathrow was a Boeing 747 with space to seat almost the whole band in a single row. Crystal and I sat together in the middle aisle beside Jacquie and Jane: the two sisters who made up the rhythm section of drums and electric bass.
Crystal was still not her usual self. Normally, she'd be bubbling with optimism, enthusiasm and energy, but on this occasion she was almost despondent.
"I'm really not sure about all this," she confided to me.
"Sure about what?" I said, more intent on having a doze than a conversation.
"I'm sure it'll be no worse than our gigs in Sweden," I said. "That was so bloody sweltering! Who'd have imagined that Stockholm could be so hot in summer?"
"Indeed," said Crystal. "Anyway don't worry about me. I'll let you sleep. Just like the others. But if you could first let me squeeze by, I need to go to the loo."
"Of course," I said. "Shall we swap seats so you don't have to disturb me when you come back?"
"Feel free," said Crystal. "Sleep on now. Take your rest."
And then she walked down the aisle towards the toilets at the rear, nodding at whichever band members might still be awake.
I guess I should have tried to talk more to Crystal about her anxieties, but I was well and truly knackered. I didn't have the energy for a long discussion. But not so tired, of course, that I didn't accept the complimentary small bottle of Californian Red when the drinks trolley came by. And Crystal gave me her own complimentary bottle as well when she returned.
"Take away this cup from me. You need it more than me," she said as if it was actually true.
I glanced towards Crystal as I took her cup and the small plastic bottle of Californian Chardonnay. She seemed totally bathed in sweat. If I hadn't known her better, I'd have guessed she was suffering from withdrawal symptoms, but although Crystal didn't condemn other people's drug use, especially not mine or Judy's, she rarely had more than a single glass of wine or the briefest toke on a joint. I don't think she'd ever even dropped Ecstasy. She was about as clean as anyone could be in the Rock & Roll industry.
Our trials began almost as soon as we touched down at JFK.
It was inevitable really. We looked pretty much like the usual suspects, although the movie of that name hadn't yet been released.
Of all of us, Crystal seemed the most straight with her long light brown hair, her pretty and misleadingly innocent face, and a choice of dress that owed more to Laura Ashley or Liberty Prints than what is more often associated with Rock, Pop or Dance music. In fact, she dressed like a Folk singer with an unusually good sense of style and virtually no interest at all in contemporary fashion.
The rest of us ... well!
In those days, Judy was probably the most startling. Tattoos weren't nearly as ubiquitous as they are these days. Her peculiar hairstyle—a mixture of short crop and long hair—belonged to a time when no one could make up their mind where fashion was supposed to go. I also stood out with my shaved head (in the style of Sinead O'Connor), but my clothes were more in the style of the Riot Grrrl movement; that is, a kind of gross caricature of girliness. The rest of us were dressed in a motley selection of styles and fashions, hair-styles and body piercings. I don't think there was a single person on the plane and most certainly not at the airport whose head didn't turn and stare at us.
As we were about to find out, the United States of America, despite its history of Liberty and Freedom isn't an especially tolerant society and thanks to the efforts of Al-Qaeda it's even less so now. In a sense, we were already asking for trouble if we thought we could get through Customs and Passport Control without incident.
These days it's a much bigger hassle to leave the UK and enter the States than it was then. In the 90s, you didn't have to go through scanners; you didn't have to take off your shoes and trouser-belt; and you could carry your toiletries as hand luggage. But on the other hand, a bunch of weirdo women with rings in their noses, piercings through their eyebrows and dressed in clothes which were only technically on the right side of legal and decent: we were exactly what most Americans would consider undesirable aliens whatever our passports might claim.
And so it was that, with the sole exception of Crystal, the process of getting through Passport Control was a lengthy and painful experience in which everything I'd written on that antique green card was checked, double-checked and cross-referenced with what the other band members had written. Yes, I was staying at the Gettysburg Hotel on 54th Street West. Yes, the rest of the band had also all been booked into the same hotel. And yes, we were going to be staying in America for less than three months while we toured a very miscellaneous list of destinations across the Eastern United States: both North and South. And I did play keyboards in the band. But eventually Simone Kopernik, more commonly known as Pebbles, was allowed onto American soil. And so too was Judith O'Hara (aka Judy Dildo).
Crystal was patiently waiting for us after the Passport and Immigration desks balancing the cloth bag that doubled as an all-purpose handbag on the lap of her knee-length floral pattern skirt and holding open a paperback novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. We hovered around her, most of us smoking as you still could in airports in those days, while we waited for the other band members to get their passports stamped. It was actually Tomiko Morishita who got the most grief. I guess they found it difficult to believe that a girl who looked Japanese and dressed like a character from a Japanese manga might actually be Irish. I think the rest of us found it incredible as well, especially as her accent was cut-glass English public school.
We thought the worst was over, but we were wrong.
As before, Crystal had sailed through the Nothing to Declare channel, but she chose not to rush onward to the airport lounge where we were expecting to meet a guy called Kai Pharrel from Sanity Records, New York, New York, which was Gospel Records' distributor in the States. I could envisage him standing out there holding up a cardboard sign reading 'Crystal Passion'. He was so tantalisingly close.
"Just a minute, madam," said one of the Customs Officers, a large black woman with a massive bosom and no evidence whatsoever of a sense of humour.
I ignored her in the hope that it had nothing to do with me and continued to walk towards Crystal, but the woman repeated her demand and a thin Customs Officer with a weird toothbrush moustache stepped in front of me.
"If you would be so kind..." he said as he gestured with an open palm towards a Formica-topped table where Judy, Olivia and my sister Andrea were also standing.
I walked over, dragging my suitcase behind, while hoping that New York customs didn't have sniffer dogs that could smell Ecstasy tablets and also wondering whether it was an offence to import a copy of Viz into the United States (I was especially keen on Johnny Fartpants and the Fat Slags).
"Please place your bag on the table, madam," said the black woman.
"This is fucking harassment," said Olivia, whose uniform of ripped denim must have made her seem especially scruffy to the Customs Officers. "Why're you picking on us?"
This was exactly the wrong thing to say, of course, and before long all of us with the exception of Crystal and Tomiko were detained by the United States Customs Service and our bags emptied in the search for contraband, illegal drugs and firearms.
It was typical of Crystal that although she didn't have to, she let Tomiko go ahead with her bags, which were just a guitar case and a modest rucksack for her clothes, and returned to stand beside her band-mates.
"Can I be of assistance, officer?" she asked the large black woman, whose plastic name badge displayed the name Kate Phillips.
"How could that be, madam?" the officer asked as she held up to the light a bottle of duty-free whisky she'd found wrapped up inside a towel in Philippa's bag. Perhaps she thought it might contain dissolved Lysergic Acid.
"All these girls are members of my folk group, Crystal Passion. We're on tour in the United States of America as you can confirm by talking to our record company. I'm sure none of my companions would ever break the law, officer."
"What you're sure of and what is the case, madam, might well be two different things," said Officer Kate Phillips.
"You have a lot of phials in your case, madam," the other Customs Officer known as Miguel San Antonio said to Judy. "What's in them?"
He emptied half a dozen pills into the palm of one hand and theatrically exhibited what I immediately recognised as White Doves.
Fuck! We were as good as bust.
"Sweets," said Judy straightaway. This was quick thinking on her part given that they were too uneven and unpolished to have been supplied by a pharmaceutical company. "English sweets. I've got a very sweet tooth."
"A bit odd, don't you think, that you keep sweets in this kind of container."
"They're sold loose in English sweet shops," said Judy. "I had to carry them in something."
"Hmmm," said the Customs Officer, who nevertheless returned the tabs to the phial and therefore ensured that this modest flow of Ecstasy to America from the Netherlands via England could continue unimpeded.
Our suitcases, rucksacks and flight bags were emptied out onto the Formica desktop, but it was actually our array of musical instruments that the Customs Officers seemed most interested in.
"There have been cases of drugs and contraband being smuggled into the country in violin cases recently, madam," remarked Officer Kate Phillips when Bertha challenged her about this.
However, we probably wouldn't have been detained for much longer at all if a small plastic bag of Moroccan hash hadn't been found discarded on the airport corridor floor just before the entrance to the Nothing to Declare channel. A corpulent self-satisfied Hispanic woman with bizarre schoolmarm spectacles waved the small plastic bag in front of us and asked sarcastically: "Do any of you claim this as your own?"
Although it wasn't mine—my stash had already been seen and disregarded in the Tic-Tac container I'd popped them in—I was pretty sure I recognised it. It was the sort of sealable cash bag that Jenny used to carry her dope. Along with Bertha, she was one of the two roadies and famously could scarcely function at all without a joint either in her hand or mouth. I guessed that she'd panicked when she saw that we'd been stopped and just let her stash drop to the ground. A sensible plan, but not one that had worked as planned. The Customs Officers weren't so stupid as to imagine that a bag of dope had appeared from nowhere. I just hoped they weren't going to fingerprint it, although in that regard if it was Jenny's stash, her affectation of wearing little leather gloves might well protect her.
"I think we're going to have to detain all you girls for further questions," said Miguel San Antonio who seemed to be the most senior Customs Officer.
"Does that include me, sir?" asked Crystal. "I've already been cleared by customs."
Officer Miguel San Antonio glanced at Officer Kate Phillips and the Hispanic woman whose name-badge read Costanzia Rodriguez as if for advice, and then, spotting Judy's surly expression, he said: "You claim this is your Folk group, even though they look more like a goddamn freak show like those Rock groups my son listens to. If you want to represent them, my dear, then I guess you'll also have to accompany us."
And so it was that my introduction to America, and that of most of the Crystal Passion ensemble, was to be in a bare detention room on the wrong side of the United States border where we all had to wait together until we were individually interrogated. The waiting room was in the midst of a series of corridors hidden well away from anything that international air-travellers would normally see. We had to sit on hard-backed plastic chairs of the kind I'd only ever seen before in a dentist's surgery. And, of course, just like at a dentist's waiting room we waited apprehensively for the drilling we'd inevitably get.
I got the impression right from the start there was no real expectation that we'd be exposed as international drug-smugglers and that the only real hope the Customs Officers had of finding anything was if we incriminated ourselves or if the stage gear the forensic staff were going to examine happened to be crammed full of heroin or crystal meth or acid or whatever else the Customs Officers were looking for. Which thankfully wasn't Ecstasy pills.
"All our gear!" moaned Philippa, who'd only recently bought a new tenor saxophone.
"My Fender Stratocaster," echoed Judy.
"And my Roland," I wailed.
"Well, not everything," said Bertha, the other roadie. "Tomiko's got the gear she needs for the sound desk and she's got Crystal's acoustic guitar."
"Fucking great!" said Judy. "So, our first gig in America is gonna feature solo guitar and a huge fucking orgy of backing singers."
And so we sat together in a decrepit waiting room that was pretty much crammed full with the dozen of us including Crystal. If anyone else was to be interrogated that day they'd have to sit and wait in another room.
As the most stroppy, Judy was the one to be interviewed first; leaving the rest of us to sit and wonder what she might be saying. I don't think any of us had much to worry about really. Our bags had already been searched and cleared, and surely nobody was stupid enough to stash drugs inside the musical instruments or electronic gear. I knew I was alright anyway. I don't think it'd have been easy to hide much stash inside solid state circuitry even if I'd wanted to, but I speculated whether there might be drugs stuffed into the violin case, the drum kit, or even the electric guitar. And with Judy being interviewed first, I couldn't help wondering whether she might be pushing her luck a little too far.
"No sweat guys," Judy announced when she returned. "The questions they asked were so dumb I didn't have to lie even the teeny-weeniest bit. They don't know fucking shit about anything. I guess they think 'cause we're not like Joe Public we must be Public Enemy Number One."
"And that's crap, right," chimed in the Harlot. "All we want to do is get out there and play our songs to the people of New York..."
" ... Or Brooklyn at least," said Philippa. "So, what actually happened, Judy?"
"A lot of the questions were just about who we were, where we came from and what we're gonna be doing in the States," said Judy. "My guess is they just want to find a hole in our story that make us seem like liars. And, of course, there's the issue of the dope. They took my fingerprints, but I know for sure that my dabs aren't on that little plastic sachet..."
"Yeah right," said Jenny, who we all suspected was the real cause of our suffering but none of us could admit. "What would that prove anyway?"
"Quite a lot, I suspect," said Crystal diplomatically. She looked at Judy intently. "There wasn't any of that plea bargaining stuff you see in American legal movies?"
"What d'you mean?" said Judy.
"You know, like in those films based on John Grisham's crime books," Crystal elaborated. "You know: 'If you cooperate with us we'll make things easier for you.'"
"Nah! Nothing like that. They asked a shit load of questions about money though, so perhaps they were digging a bit. Y'know, how much an electric guitar costs. How much we each get at gigs. Whether I've got another job to make ends meet. Just general questions on how we manage to get by."
"I think we'd all like to know the answer to that," laughed Philippa, who in actual fact lived mostly off the generosity of her solicitor boyfriend.
"I guess what they want to do is find out whether one of us is so far from making ends meet that she'd be tempted to smuggle drugs into the US," said Jacquie.
"And who would we sell the stuff to anyhow?" said Andrea. "None of us know anyone in the States and I'm sure any Yank hip enough to be into our music would be well able to score shit cheaply enough for themselves without our help."
There wasn't much of a wait until Crystal was summoned for questioning. Her session was almost as long as Judy's, but no one after that was questioned for more than five minutes. My guess is that after they'd questioned Crystal and Judy, the Customs Officials didn't think there was much of a case to pursue, but that there was a small chance that one of the rest of us might say something incriminating.
"What happened in there?" I asked Crystal when they'd finished with her.
"Nothing much to worry about," she said.
"You look a bit shaken," Jane remarked.
"I've never been interrogated by Police or Customs or anything like that before," Crystal admitted.
That was almost certainly true. In most ways, Crystal was the good girl in her ensemble. Even I had once been pulled to one side and searched at the Notting Hill Carnival. And that was before I'd shaved off all my hair.
"So do you think they've found anything to charge us with?" Bertha wondered.
"They asked about the band's political philosophy," said Crystal. "I guess they thought we might be anarchists or political extremists of some sort. I showed them the publicity stuff that Madeleine produced and pointed out there was nothing in it about our allegiance to a terrorist or extremist group of any kind. The officers in the room are that Miguel guy and a woman who looks like a specialist in interrogation. The name on her badge was Anna something. 'But you're all feminists, right?' Miguel asked. I had to squirm a bit there. I was about to say that I didn't think being a feminist was like having a political affiliation, but I asked instead: 'Why do you think that?' He then looked at this Anna a bit sheepishly. 'You're all girls, ain't you? And you dress like a bunch of dykes.' But before he could go any further on this line of interrogation, Anna said quite firmly: 'I really don't think this is at all relevant to our inquiries.'"
"Sisterhood solidarity," Olivia remarked with a mock clenched fist salute.
"Maybe," said Crystal doubtfully. "Anyway it was Anna who asked me in a kind of sarcastic way. 'So, what kinda rock group, are you? Are you the next big thing? The next British invasion?' So I said: 'You mean like the Beatles?' And she said, which was a bit weird: 'It's been a while since you Brits came up with anything worth listening to. I've heard of this new pop group called the Take That. Are you like the Take That?'"
This assertion split those assembled in the waiting room into two camps. There were those who hated anything to do with Pop and immediately rolled their eyes and said things like "Fuck yeah!" and there were those, like me, who mightn't like Boy Bands as such but were seduced by the notion of Pop success.
"So what did you say to that?" wondered the Harlot who was the most vocally anti anything that stank of commercial success. "Did you tell her where to stuff her 'British invasion'?"
"On the contrary," said Crystal with a conspiratorial smile. "I said that we were a relatively new group struggling to make a living and that our image was just a way to make new fans."
"You what?" remarked Judy indignantly. "What fucking image? We just dress the way we would anyway, Crystal Passion or no Crystal Passion."
"In fact, I said more than that," Crystal continued. "I said that our biggest hope was to be just as popular as Take That and that we hoped that teenagers who enjoyed their music might also come to enjoy ours. I said that if all went well on this tour, we hoped to sell as many records as Elton John, Phil Collins and Rod Stewart."
"Fucking Phil Collins!" Judy snorted. "You might as well have mentioned Val Doonican and Max Bygraves."
"I would have done if I'd have thought either Anna or Miguel had ever heard of them," said Crystal. "Look, the more we appear to be a non-threatening pop group and the less like Alt-Rock, Grunge or Punk the better for all of us."
"And how did this Anna react?" I wondered.
"'Waaalll!' she said in that weird over-the-top way only Americans can get away with. 'If you're even half as good as that Elton John, I'll be coming to see you on stage myself.'"
"Did that clinch it then?" Andrea persisted. "Can we all go now?"
"I don't think so," said Crystal. "But if we play this cool, we might still get to do our gig in Brooklyn as planned."
My time for interrogation came not long after Crystal's and that was when I again met Miguel San Antonio and this woman, Anna Walentynowicz, who, like so many American women, was exceptionally big and bosomy. She was probably older than my mother and sported a distractingly large hairy mole on her chin. It was obvious by this stage that our interrogators were just going through the motions and neither Customs Officer thought there was much more to gain.
"This Crystal Passion seems to have a reputation for having lovers of both sex," remarked Anna Walentynowicz. "Obviously, it's none of our business what you do in private, but I can still ask whether you two are what you might call 'an item'."
She was right. It was none of her business. But I wasn't going to make it an issue.
"No, we're not," I lied.
"You're not what?"
"We're not lovers," I elaborated.
"And you never have been in the past?"
"Never," I lied again.
"Well, so many other girls in your pop group have been, according to what they've told me," said Anna Walentynowicz with a weary smile, "that I assumed you would have too."
"Well, I'm not and I never have been," I volunteered unnecessarily.
And then the telephone rang. Miguel picked it up and while he was replying with "Yes", "No" and "Of course, sir", Anna waved me away almost dismissively with the back of her surprisingly slender-fingered hand.
"You can go now, dear," she said. "I don't think we've got any more questions for you."
It was about an hour later that the last of us was interviewed and that was Jenny Alpha. It was then that Anna Walentynowicz strode into the waiting room to address us, accompanied by another Customs Officer we'd not seen before who appeared to be even more senior and was apparently somewhat disengaged from normal day-to-day proceedings. He was a relatively dapper guy with greying hair and cuff-links that protruded from the sleeves of his official uniform. Unlike the other Customs Officials, his name badge was discreet and difficult to read, but it seemed to say 'Peter Piper' or something like that.
He regarded us all with an indulgent smile. "So here's the British Pop Invasion of the 1990s," he said. "The Beatles of the future."
"We certainly hope so," said Crystal with a winning smile.
"And none of you girls are smuggling drugs into the country or have any idea where the marijuana we found on the floor might have come from?"
"Absolutely not," said Crystal emphatically.
It was Anna Walentynowicz who now addressed us.
"The good news for you girls," she announced, "is that you can all now proceed to your hotel in Manhattan. I hope you have a good night and y'all beware the muggers that hang around 54th Street. It's not always safe in the Big Apple."
She paused for affect and let the smiles of relief sweep across our faces. We'd be able to do the gig after all.
"However," Anna Walentynowicz continued after a pause, "the bad news is that we'll be holding onto your musical instruments and electronic equipment for at least until tomorrow. We have some extra checks we still need to carry out."
The relieved smiles on our faces were transformed into alarm.
"But we're due to do a gig tomorrow night," said Andrea, who hated to be parted from her violin for even a matter of minutes. "How're we going to manage without our instruments?"
"I guess you girls are just gonna have to find a way," said Anna Walentynowicz with a smile. "Contact the airport tomorrow and you'll know then whether you can pick up your possessions. In the meantime, y'all can walk out through Departures. Have a nice stay in New York, girls."
And so it was that the least of all our worries came to be resolved. We weren't going to be deported from America and none of us were to be charged with drug dealing (at least not yet), but the only equipment we had for the gig was Crystal's acoustic guitar and the sound desk equipment Tomiko had brought along.
Judy was the most annoyed of all of us. "What the fuck are we gonna do?" Judy asked Crystal. "Is it just gonna be an acoustic solo set. You, the microphone and a six-string guitar."
"I think so," admitted Crystal. "You'll all just have to sit it out, though Thelma and the Harlot can help with the vocals. I'll just have to manage most of it by myself."
"How the fuck is that gonna work?" said an equally aggrieved Olivia. "There's almost a dozen of us. We're a big band. How can we do a gig with just you?"
"My first album was mostly just solo guitar and vocals," said Crystal reassuringly. "For most of the first year or so of Crystal Passion as a performer it was just me on stage. I can manage. It won't be as good as it would be with all you guys, but it'll work."
"The Yanks'll fucking crucify you," said Jacquie angrily. "They're expecting fucking Bob Dylan and the Band and all they'll be getting is Bob Dylan. It'll be more House of the Rising Sun than Like a Rolling Stone."
"Well, at least no one'll be shouting out 'Judas!' like they did at Dylan that time," Philippa remarked.