to read from the FIRST CHAPTER
Next morning, when I quietly resumed painting the studio's exterior walls, entering the mansion by a service side gate, I was surprised to see Barbara coming up to meet me. I honestly did not expect any more personal contact with that extraordinary couple -- I felt so far detached from them and their self-absorbed behavior, perhaps too common in the realm of the rich and famous, but so distinct from my world of natives and servants.
Barbara left her social veneer aside for a moment and showed herself elated. For the first time in a long while, Davez had locked himself into the studio, and every time she had checked to see if he was okay, she had been able to hear him composing.
But to me it was still a major surprise when, that afternoon, he slipped out of the studio for a moment, to hook Barbara and me, inviting us to listen to his compositions.
'Man, I owe you, forever...' -- he told me, driving me by one arm, while tugging Barbara by the other.
Davez had actually located his producer at a party in London, and through the extension put him to listen to while he played for us each of the tunes he had composed during the night -- one of them the song inspired by you, Laurent. If I remember correctly, he first named it "Seed of a Son".
What am I doing here, I wondered. Never had I heard a song like that, hypnotic and incomprehensible -- and as formerly I had seen intriguing paintings in the museums and galleries of Paris, and Armand had advised me not to judge beforehand, not to close myself to the new -- I tried to approach Davez' compositions through my own painting process, trying to understand how he planned to add other instruments, as he was narrating it to his producer.
Davez abruptly ended the session, frustrated at not succeeding in harmonizing music and lyrics, and annoyed by the festive din which reached us through the mouthpiece of the phone, as a background to the producer's drunken voice.
And after he angrily left the studio to lock himself in the bedroom, Barbara cautiously walking behind him, I quietly and humbly returned to my painting job which was, after all, the only thing that had brought me to that house.
Several days later, I received a call from them. I figured they were going to rush me back to the job, because I had not attended it for days now, to stay home taking care of you, Laurent, who had been sick. Do you remember it? I had been spending a lot of time away, working at Davez' house, but nevertheless I had been able to realize how my absence increased your sadness, paired with the fact that Catherine was not there either -- and she hadn't even bothered to phone you... us... from France yet. I think you got sick from grieving in silence, and I realized that no matter how much Joanna cared for you with great love and dedication, you would not heal without my presence. If you were to heal at all, I feared, without Catherine.
I had intended to spend the night at home in your company, but after putting you to bed, Davez phoned me at the colonial mansion, summoning me to his house. And he did not accept my apologies for not attending work, nor even when I said I would be there the next morning very early, to finally finish painting the walls.
'You're fine, man. You can come right now.' -- it was not a marching order, but neither was it a question.
The rock star's mansion was on the other side of Punaouilo, and when I got there, and a long way it was on a bicycle, it was late, far more than I used to stay awake.
But maybe having slept all afternoon, Davez and Barbara were fully awake and in high spirits. If I had arrived a little later I would no longer have met them, as they were on their way to the bedroom, but not to go to sleep.
They had dined at the best restaurant on the island -- one praised even in international guides; after all, Punaouilo was an international resort for millionaires -- but before that, they had paid a brief visit to the local art gallery.
'I've never seen so much crap together!' -- Davez spit the words, tracing back to the same viral disdain with which he had treated me on that first afternoon, and I wondered if I had gone there to be humiliated -- 'And what was that creature?' -- I was sure he was referring to Danny Douxis, the poor cover we had for an art dealer in Punaouilo, and I felt embarrassed for him too -- 'How do you leave your paintings sitting there, man? Schatz...' -- I'd never heard the word before, and figured it must be Barbara's family name, who was not hiding her boredom doing the translation -- 'What did we think of our friend's paintings?'
'Good...' -- Barbara replied, without even looking at me -- 'Very good...' -- she said, without enthusiasm.
That woman, so beautiful and sophisticated, made me think of Catherine. Not only by the disdain both women treated me with, but mainly by the differences between them -- how your mother would have liked to be as rich and famous, and how I was the one bloking her path... Catherine did not blame me for her bad luck in life -- to her, I impersonated her very own bad luck.
'Good?' -- Davez cried and spun in his heels, excitedly -- 'Dude, your paintings are fantastic! Pure poetry... That blue one, it's like cosmic dust...' -- Davez seemed genuinely enthusiastic, and I was truly surprised -- 'Why didn't you tell us?'
Because no one ever wanted to know, I thought. At that point in my life, painting had become a mere hobby. Although it was not a secret, and in not having an atelier I used to paint in the open, in our garden, no one had ever seen my art. In Punaouilo, people knew me as a house painter and gardener. I felt as invisible as my paintings, and defeated.
I didn't ask which blue painting he meant, because I found myself in a "blue period" -- not inspired by Picasso's, but to Douxis' request. He held blue to be the latest fashionable color in insular decoration, and he was only accepting blue paintings, to meet his customers wishes and to match their sofas and lampshades.
'Have you ever painted ghosts, man?'
I wanted to laugh at Davez question, just as Barbara's subtle perfume made me want to cry. Before that stellar couple, I felt like crap, so poor and a failure, having given up on my own talent.
And as I did not have anything to reply to Davez, I again thought of you, Laurent, who had reported having seen people in my paintings ... Invisible people, you had clarified. Sometimes, after having finished a painting, I had the desire to scribble and draw on top of some of them, and you could see people and other figures in those lines, Laurent. Do you remember it?
Davez wanted to know more about my paintings, about those invisible people, and my ink scribbles... I said I felt it was a process similar to his composing music, as I had heard it a few days ago. "Not always all things can be expressed in the same layers", I told him, and so I would add those lines later, as if they were an afterthought of poetry. "PS* Poetry. You know what I mean?", I concluded, thinking I had sounded stupid.
Just like Davez hadn't been able to harmonize melody and lyrics, I had clarified -- fearing to sound arrogant or disrespectful to the rock star --, because lyrics were not simply a complement, but they existed by themselves, as poetry, and I had recognized in his process the same difficulty I had with what I called the "layers" of my paintings.
Again I watched Davez jump to the middle of the room, exclaiming -- "What are you telling me, man?" --, standing there for a minute or two, wide-eyed, staring at me, without seeing me however, to finally leave the house, darting towards the studio.
I immediately said goodbye to Barbara, politely. She must have been as embarrassed by Davez' sudden departure -- the second time he had left us alone. At least, I thought, this time I was not naked as I had formerly been, in the tub, though I felt as bare once again, since the girl had already checked my nudity up and down. And the rags that covered my body made a depressing contrast to her beautiful designer clothes, as much to everything else in that stunning house. I excused myself, and left by the service side gate.
A few days went by without me seeing Davez, although I had resumed painting the house. Barbara was always at the pool, but I never approached her, and she didn't walk up to me either. Maybe she could feel the tension and extension of my desire for her, but it seemed she didn't nourish any sexual fantasies with a wall painter, no matter how hung, and thus she avoided me.
Just once she told me, showing a bit of happiness and enthusiasm, that Davez had again locked himself in the studio, since that last night he had talked to me. Composing. He would leave the studio for his basic needs only -- and by her languid sigh I imagined that she herself would have been one of his most basic needs.
Many years later I would discover that Davez had come to the island in a renewed attempt to get away from drugs and the depression that made him incapable of composing -- such a long creative hiatus that the music industry had practically forgotten him, if not his glorious past stardom. He himself had become invisible -- a ghost of his former self. Just like me.
"I'm a ghost now" -- he had told Barbara in one of his worst moods -- "Aren't you afraid of ghosts, Schatz? Perhaps you should be afraid of me..." -- but that had been before, in London, and once in Punaouilo he had met and spoken to me, ghosts had taken on a different aspect and perspective to him.
Barbara, who had never even smoked and drank only pineapple juice, was his great support at that time. She truly loved and admired him, both as a man and as a musician, and she was happy with his new creative phase, that she perceived as having sprung from me -- and thus she had begun to sympathize with me. But she never failed in treating me like a mere employee, though I wasn't on their payroll, asking me to clean the pool and water the garden. For all matters, they had never even hired me.
During Davez' period of isolation, I was called to the art gallery by Danny Douxis. He treated me more politely than he ever had. I had been recommended to him through the friend of Catherine's mother, who owned the mansion we lived at as a favor. But I felt Douxis was working with me much more because he was interested in the people who had recommended me, and not for my paintings.
Douxis wanted to know more about my relationship with the rock star, since he was convinced of selling at least one of my paintings to Davez.
'He has an exotic taste! Oh, exotic like the man himself...' -- Danny rolled his little eyes, two little green dots on a perfectly round, plum face, thus demonstrating his pleasure -- 'Remember how I said that your paintings were exotic, Carlino darling? Wasn't I right?' -- he had clapped his fat hands -- 'Now someone who has an exotic taste wants to buy them! See the connection? I had envisioned it, haha!' -- and next, for the first time he asked me to bring more paintings to his gallery.
But because I had been painting more walls than canvases, I had nothing new to offer him.
However, Davez' interest in my paintings finally did touch me, and I resumed painting with enthusiasm, even though they were all blue, all blues...
At that time, I had been trying to paint the water as a theme, especially its reflections, and I used both the swimming pool of our colonial mansion, near to which I kept my easel, as much as the Pacific Ocean just across the street.
A long time went by without news from Davez and Barbara, and just because local society was so reduced outside the high season, and there was a lot of gossip, did I learn that they remained on the island. Apparently, the rock star had swum naked one night -- in fact, he had already left his mansion naked, had crossed the street, swam in the ocean and then came back home.
Two, three weeks had already passed since I had finished painting their house, and I thought they had forgotten me.
Then one afternoon, Barbara called and left a message with Joanna -- Davez wanted to see me and my paintings, and they would stop by to visit me that evening.
I had little time to prepare myself, choosing the paintings I liked best and stacking them in the garden -- and to hide you, Laurent, for by no means I wanted the rock star to meet the boy from the song he had composed. I could not imagine what his reactions would be at your intriguing temperament, quiet and centered at six years old, with the presence of an ancient sage and the appearance of an old man, with your white hair.
I did not want to share my son with Davez Drew -- not more than I already had, anyway.
An unforgettable night it was, and in many ways, it would change my life.
I hadn't known yet, but Davez and Barbara had already decided to leave the island, without having remained the three months for which they had rented the house. Nothing against Punaouilo -- the rock star wanted to return to London as soon as possible to start recording with a band the songs he had been composing on the island.
Davez was a very generous man, as I was to discover shortly.
I now think he came to our house that night with a clear intention, yet unknown to me. I had imagined he also wanted to visit the colonial mansion, one of the oldest buildings on the island, but he squinted and said "Creepy", going straight to the backyard garden where my 'studio' was set.
'Tonight, it's your turn to show me your songs and poetry..'. -- he told me upon arrival, hugging me.
That evening, Barbara was looking more beautiful than ever, and she gave me a charming smile, like never before. She looked relaxed and happy -- and she had reasons indeed to feel like it, seeing Davez healthy and active again, all dedicated to his music. And she could be considered successful, too, since all other Davez female companions had only managed to drag him deeper into the hole, and away from his inspiration.
Barbara would be forever remembered as his savior, the companion of his revival, and in one of the tracks from "All things transient", Davez would ask her to record the reading of a long poem about transcendental love, dedicated to herself.
Under the light of the stars, and by a single gas lamp that I had borrowed, emanating a not very poetical but cold light, Davez contemplated at length each of the paintings I showed him. He listened carefully to what I had to say about them, although it may have been not more than its title, if they had had one, and the places where they had been painted. I wasn't very eloquent, I didn't feel like I was selling him anything. It was more like as if I was telling him a secret, still reluctantly, for I had come to like him, but not completely trust the rock star.
That evening I found out about Davez almost psychic sensitivity, as I proceeded with that little retrospective of my paintings. On one of them that I had painted in the old abandoned factory, when I was sick and starving, he said "It hurts, man." On the first canvas I had painted in Punaouilo, after having left the Île du Blanchomme with Catherine, he said "hurts even more." I don't think I have ever found anyone again to feel pain from looking at a painting -- I've seen people cry, I've seen people disgusted, shocked or be touched, but nothing like Davez' feelings.
But it was my most recent series that made the strongest impression on him. He stared at the first blue canvas before him, and confessed it was giving him goose bumps.
'Ghostly...' -- was the first word he used, and coming from him I could understand it was a compliment -- 'It is a light hole... I'm falling into your painting, man... Hold me...' -- and I had to actually grab him, but his momentary dizziness might have been caused by drinking a bit too much at dinner, for I could smell the whiskey, or perhaps by the uncertain gas lamp light that kept flickering in the garden.
'How did you do it, man?' -- he was breathless -- 'You have erased the canvases with your painting... Do you know what I mean? Your canvases... They are invisible... transparent... nonexistent...' -- he was ecstatic -- 'You've turned the canvas itself into water... No, into light!' -- he groaned -- 'Man, how could you do that?! You have transmigrated these canvases! Man! You are a fucking painting god...'
I was astonished, and even more when he finally announced that he wanted to buy my paintings. Not from Danny Douxis -- he wanted to acquire them directly from me.
Three from the older ones, and all three from the most recent series, although they were still unfinished. I was surprised and did not know what price to give him, but figured they should cost less than in Douxis gallery, and so I gave Davez the discount based on the percentage the dealer would have taken from me.
And I finally understood his intent for that visit. Even if I had shown him a collection of scribbled napkins, he would have known how to praise them, and would have choosen a few to buy from me.
That night, Davez gave me more money than I had ever seen in my entire life. And many valuable advices.
'Too cheap, man. Never sell yourself cheap, man. Your art is grand. Never give up. You have a great talent. I love it. Really do. And I can give you twenty times this amount, yet it would never have been enough to thank you. Thank you. But I think I can help you. More. Later. Forever.'
They then told me they had come to say goodbye, and Barbara even kissed my cheek -- "Thank you for all." -- she said tenderly.
We would never again be reunited, not the three of us.
We would never again be reunited, not the three of us.
Surely enough, Danny Douxis learned about my deal with the rock star. Perhaps he had even seen the paintings being taken from the mansion where we lived, to be packed and shipped to England. After Davez and Barbara's visit, I still had had a few days to retouch the paintings, but not enough to be satisfied with them. Davez, however, did not consider them unfinished -- he had called them 'brut'.
'Natural like a rock, man. You're a rock.' -- again without knowing it, it was as if he was connecting to my mountainous roots -- 'Like your poetic lines. Simple. Direct.' -- the musician had told me, as if reading my soul -- 'Do not try to be like the diamond. It would be artificial. It's not you.' -- he had advised me.
Danny was furious with me about the deal that had excluded him, and kicked me out of his gallery, accusing me of being unethical. I tried to explain to him that Davez had chosen some old paintings, which he himself had already seen and despised, and others that were still unfinished.
'Liar! They were blue!' -- he screamed -- 'And blue was my idea! You cheater!'
Unfortunately, a year later he had humbly to apologize, trying to have my work at his gallery again.
Because we were to find out, when Davez' album was released, that the musician had chosen one of my blue paintings for the cover. Even nowadays, "All things transient" is among the best LP covers of the century, and I keep getting compliments for that painting from almost thirty years ago. People still send me poems and songs inspired by that painting. It was my first painting ever to be sold for a million bucks, after Davez death.
But what happened at that time, the beginning of the 1980s, was that my work suddenly became known and desirable. Davez, besides mentioning my name in some interviews, always referring to me as a "fucking painting god", had recommended me to a major art dealer in London, Martius Dall who, even before the album had been released, and prior to all the visibility that cover was to give me, had sent a carrier to acquire all my blue series paintings. And so I began being represented in London, and soon after, a gallery in California followed... Since I had no paintings in stock, I was especially commissioned by them, and even received cash in advance... Davez appreciation of my work changed my life! After his studio in Punaouilo, I never had to paint walls again... But it was your apparition, Laurent, to change his life and my life as well... Do you realize it now, and how the "Sunrise Son" became a mythical song, even to me?
After my father's story, I promised myself to listen one more time to the song, and even to that album -- in the rarities market I owned the most expensive of all copies, dedicated "to the Sunrise Son" by Davez Drew himself. Usually, I was troubled from the very beginning, with bells ringing at the song's opening, and would even get a headache with the guitar becoming louder and more pungent as the sun was rising... The poem however, was beautiful, and as Carlo had given Davez the hint, the poetry had been recorded spoken and not sung. The words had not been added to the songs as lyrics, which made the album so unique and special.
'Thank you for telling me this story, Carlo...' -- I was grateful, and sincerely moved -- 'And I apologize for having lost patience and having been rude at you... But...' -- an important detail, maybe a fundamental thing, drew my attention during the story -- '...at some point you said... you left the Île du Blanchomme along with Catherine... Didn't you say that?'
'That's right ...' -- Carlo replied quietly, averting his gaze to watch the immense moon slowly rising over Vice City.
'But how could she be there with you?' -- I swallowed painfully -- 'Haven't you met in Punaouilo, where I was born?' -- I asked, puzzled.
That had been the story I had heard from them all my life.
'No.' -- Carlo replied, turning a sad gaze back on me -- 'I mean... yes, you were born in Punaouilo. But it wasn't there that Catherine and I met...' -- Carlo sighed heavily -- 'We finally come to the hard part of this story, Laurent. The part that no one ever told you. The part in which Catherine made me an accomplice, forcing me to lie to you, along with her.'
Davez Drew 1981 album
cover painting by Carlo D'Allegro