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The world's biggest rock star tries to kill himself. To survive, he tries to find the only girl he ever loved. But can he track her down 10 years later, through her fellow backpackers' stories? Jack Wolf is the world's biggest rock star, and he's just tried to kill himself. Refusing the 12-step programme to overcome his drug addiction, he instead tries to find the only girl he ever loved, Cath Pearson. But he has a problem. The last time he saw her was ten years previously on a beach near Bali. As he tracks down Cath through the backpackers she met on her travels, Jack learns about the lives of each of them. Each story brings him closer to Cath, but in the end he must confront a final question: did she survive that fateful year? Backpackers captures the beauty and excitement of South East Asia, and the drama of young people trying to stay sane so far away from home and everything they've ever known.

Drama / Adventure
Graeme Maughan
Age Rating:

Jack's Story - The Show Must Go On

London, 2013

The crowd had gone wild, but then that’s what they’d paid for. Their sea of faces was a tsunami of alienation; not a single one could I pick out but I felt the pressure of them all. I squinted against the stage lights. Among those dusty motes that fell between stage and my audience and against the glare of lighting, I could just make out one of them, a brainless smile smeared across her face; she gurned at me in delight. God I hated her. What did she think she knew about me?

“Yeah, you love that don’t you?” I called across the stadium. “Pathetic plebs. You’d eat shit if it was put in a shiny box.”

A silence settled across the ocean of heads. The distance between the stage and my fans had never been greater. It wasn’t for security concerns, it was because that’s where they belonged and as close as I could stand them.

I get that they’d come to hear my music, but I couldn’t get over the fact that they’d paid all that money simply to give themselves permission to have a good time. But that’s what they were having that evening. Of course they were, they’d come to see Jack Wolf. I was the world’s biggest rock star. Why wouldn’t they? And I was about to give them a treat. Even the ones at the back of the stadium, almost half a kilometre away by the looks of it, were enjoying themselves. What possible enjoyment could they really be getting from what we were doing on stage? I couldn’t stand it. The same old songs, the same gormless faces. They didn’t adore me, they adored the manufactured image that I’d become. Even I didn’t know the real me anymore.

The sound in this place was awful with the competing speakers; at the back it would be a wash of tinny guitars, echoey drums and muffled bass. God knows how my voice sounded: as distant as the crowd, as far removed as how I felt. And all of it a micro-second behind the image radiating from the huge screens. How dissonant life is when taken into account. As dissonant as the gap between a loved riff and the wild hollering which follows an odd second later. They were lapping it up and I guessed they had to after paying so much. You wouldn’t dare admit you’d paid enough to feed and house scores of families in a developing country just to hear some shit sound and watch matchstick men hundreds of metres away.

“This one’s for all the girls,” I said into the microphone. I turned to the band behind me, “Fucking idiots all of them.”

“Jack,” whispered the drummer, “microphone!”

The guitarist stared at the set list taped to the stage and the bassist scowled.

“Fucks sake,” I muttered.

We played a new song, Cat’s Gotta Have It. The entire stadium went quiet. When we’d finished, there wasn’t even a smattering of applause. “Clap or we’ll play it over and over til the end of the gig,” I commanded. A ripple of polite applause betrayed the socially pliable.

“Clap, I said!”

“Fuck you,” some guy shouted.

“Jack, not again,” my bassist said behind me.

I turned on him, “What?”

“You did this in Rio. People just don’t like the song.”

“Rio? We haven’t played fucking Rio on this tour,” I spat at him. Behind me the crowd had started a slow clap, wanting us to start again.

“We were in Rio three days ago,” said the bassist.

I stared at him. Were we? I couldn’t remember a thing. The endless waves of mutilation and travel sickness drugs I took were making the tour a blur. And who cared if we’d upset Rio? Fuck them. Fuck everyone.

I stormed off stage.

The crowd cheered, and the band struck up an instrumental, Hindu Strut. I changed costume at stage side, my eyes darting over the rigging, wondering what the bassist was talking about. Rio? That was in Brasil. We were in London now at the O2. I had no memory of a long haul flight in the last week, or even two weeks.

“I’m not going back on,” I said to the costume girl. She stared at me. “Oh, you’re useless. Where’s Harry, my manager?”

She just shook her head, looking terrified.

“Go and tell your friends you heard it first,” I put my face in hers, “Jack Wolf is dead.”

Jack had existed in the public’s mind for over fifteen years, but with me for twenty. He was a behemoth across the music scene. He was everywhere, in magazines, on billboards, posters and bedroom walls, iTunes and Amazon. He was on soundtracks and commercials and radio and Letterman and a role model for how rock stars should act in public. He was a goody two shoes who donated to Cambodian landmine charities and refugee camps and I fucking hated him and everything he’d taken from me.

Behind me, on stage, the band played well. We hated the term ‘tight’; it sounded so old fashioned, so honky tonk and wanky. But that’s what they were. A tight ensemble, like a psychedelic rock version of an old time R’n’B band. It was Captain Beefheart crossed with The Temptations. My band were all session musicians, coming and going as my mood changed. But before I kicked them out to stand in rain-washed bus stops wondering what had happened, and before they could start suggesting anything artistic, they earned enough to change their lives. They were people who’d been in great bands who’d never had the ambition to make it big. The bands you see in crappy pubs and tell your friends about, the next big thing, who simply fade away and become fathers and 9-5ers. At that gig I had a guitarist who I’d originally seen in Camden dives blistering his fingers, setting fire to the very air. A bassist who played his own seven-string bass without thinking it peculiar. A keyboard player who channelled James Brown himself on some nights. And a drummer who was a mix between Ginger Baker and Dave Grohl and Meg White and would have sunk into regional drum workshops in small town America if I hadn’t saved him, given him a chance in the limelight. And all of them, when I found them, thought that a music career would just happen because they were brilliant. And do you know what? That’s why I picked them.

I had to fight my way to the top. I screwed over my friends, had a string of failed relationships, even sucked some cock on occasion. I camped outside doors, pushed C90 tapes, DATs, CDs into hands, bags, briefcases, to get my break. I called people constantly and out of the blue until they were tired of saying “No.” And when my break came, I did whatever I was told. It sounds like a cliché, but that’s how you get ahead in rock’n’roll. You have to be your own best publicist, you have to give everything of yourself, and then when you run out of self, you give everything of all those around you. You sell out band members, steal ideas for riffs, plagiarise lyrical approaches until you have success and can make your own music and your own way in the industry. And as long as you give good stage, and the audience is happy, the label is happy, and the money men are happy, then the poor bastards you crawled over on your way to the top can go fuck themselves with a pay off that makes them mortgage free and just as cock-sucking greedy as I was.

There are so many shit song writers and musicians making money out of a pocketful of talent, that I wanted to give something back. It’s the only decent thing I’ve ever done in my life: giving a bunch of brilliant musicians with no idea about the music industry the chance to be somebody; if only for a moment.

With the band coming to the end of Hindu Strut, I stormed back on stage in a coat of feathers and a wild avian head dress. My audience went mental, their previous ambivalence forgotten. It was a mélange of the pack mentality, the devotional beat of the drums, the sour notes of cheap beer and the heady whiff of sex. The crowd were loving it. And they were about to love it even more.

And I wasn’t. I hated them all.

I looked at my image on the giant screen: a feathered twat. Even I couldn’t fathom why I now dressed like this. “Flamboyant Jack Wolf,” the articles said. It was affectation, a pretension to being somebody, to make up for the vacuum, the black hole event horizon in my chest. The crushing emptiness that I’d never been able to fill.

We played the hits when I came back on. Adapt or Die. Kiss of the Wolf. Our Secret Names. Typically, the crowd went wild as the guitar solo at the end of Our Secret Names crashed into the old Hammond organ riff I’d dreamed up ten years previously in a concrete hell hole in Cambodia. Once our signature concert-closer came to its blitzkrieg end, the band put down their instruments, waved and walked off. Leave the audience wanting more, P.T. Barnum said. And that’s what we did every night.

The applause was thunderous. I stared at my audience, baleful, wafting my hands in the air to bring more in. It was my energy source, the thing I craved and hated most in the world: adoration.

That sound, that wall of noise that had for so many years been the only indication that I was alive, the only fucking thing that told me blood still pumped in my veins, that I still existed in the outside world, rode over me. And, just like in The Wall, I suddenly felt it. The crushing emptiness inside was no longer filled by the adoration of the masses. Seventy thousand pairs of hands slapped together, making a sound that could be felt on the skin. The stage lights were burning my head and yet still I was cold. A waxy sweat broke out all over my body and I shivered despite the heat.

Around my arms the coat of feathers drooped, and on stage, with a few single spot lights left to light me, I knew what sort of image I cast. The fallen angel, head hung, one arm resting on the microphone stand, the only thing that was still keeping me up. I knew it was iconic; fifteen years in the industry makes you image conscious at all times. But inside that coat of feathers was nothing. The hoots and calls and screams of the crowd flew around me like so many maddened crows, the noise of their clapping the thunderous beat of panicked wings.

The song was over, the concert had ended, the stage lights were going dark. My audience shuffled, picked up coats and bags, and prepared to head for the exits.

“Thanks for coming. Fuck you all,” I shouted.

People paused in the stalls and aisles.

“That’s right. Fuck you all. You couldn’t even clap a new fucking song, you fucking sheep.”

“Fuck you too!” someone shouted.

“Too late, I’ve taken a hundred quid off you.” I had to shout it, the microphone had been turned off.

The booing started then. Calls, shouts. Somebody threw an old beer bottle.

From nowhere came the impulse to pick up my guitar. I watched my hands pulling the strap over my head as if they were being controlled from outside, as if I were a puppet dancing to someone else’s tune.

My audience, unused to encores – I found them gauche, an horrendous affectation to popularity, a woeful manipulation of the crowd – fell quiet. Who knew what they thought was going to happen. I hadn’t played an encore in over fifteen years. Where before had been pregnant applause and primate screams was now born a state of silence so deep that everyone’s hidden heartbeats threatened to shatter it.

“This is for Cath Pearson,” I said into the mic. Only the people on the front row heard me, rushing to their phones to tweet it immediately to the world. It was picked up by Rolling Stone, the NME and the papers and circled the globe before the first few bars of the song were strummed.

Who is the mysterious Cath? the headlines said the next day. And, Rock star Jack Wolf in stage meltdown.

Who indeed. And yes indeed. My head was an empty nest. The birds had flown the coop, and cuckoos had come to stay.

Guitar in hand, an acoustic I’d picked up in Cambodia when I’d written Our Secret Names, its strings ever so slightly out of tune under the stage lighting, I picked out the opening of another song from my third album, Incognito. It was a song I’d never played live, and had refused to talk about in any interview since.

I closed my eyes, and sang to the only person who had ever filled that emptiness inside:

I stood

in the temple that mirrored

my love

and watched as its walls

up above

were ripped apart

like my heart

by the roots of the trees

your indifference I couldn’t see

that stood in the way

of my love.

And you,

you were always a sentence

ahead, you could cut me dead

from your

distance on wings

too many

heart beats … away

But your heart was

only yours, under cold stony


You said.

Oh please,

won’t you take me there?

Take me to her,

the girl

with the butterfly hair?

Take me to sing

And let my heart ring

Take me to where

her black silken hair

shines like the night -

where I know it’s alright

And we know she’s there

The girl with the butterfly hair

I stood

in the temple that mirrored

my love

and watched as its walls

up above

were ripped apart

like my heart

by the roots of the trees

your indifference I couldn’t see

that stood in the way

of my love.

In the sprawl

I was drunk in the street

and I fell,

I fell at your feet,

and you took me to

where I could stay

You fed me and

showed me the way

Your laugh like butterflies,

gliding away.

How couldn’t you tell?

Oh please,

won’t you take me there?

Take me to her,

the girl

with the butterfly hair?

Take me to sing

And let my heart ring

Take me to where

her black silken hair

shines like the night -

where I know it’s alright

And we know she’s there

The girl with the butterfly hair

The final chord rang out over the crowd. I took in a breath, opened my eyes and looked out.

I’d gone over the curfew. My guitar hadn’t been amplified. I was just one man on a large stage playing to an enormous stadium.

Where before the stage lights had beat down on me, now a sea of glowing mobile phones were held up recording this encore for posterity. Within minutes it, too, was all over the internet.

I turned to the stage technician. “Turn my mic on.”

“Can’t,” he said, “licence conditions.”

The ocean of fans looked on. There was a murmur running around the stadium. People were trickling out of the exits. I wanted them all to go, but I still couldn’t bear to lose their adoration, even though it meant nothing any more. It was the only thing that kept me alive.

“Fuck the licence conditions. I’ll pay the fine. I only need ten seconds.”

There was a flurry of activity. The stage manager came over.

“Jack, I need you off stage. I’m sorry.”

“I just want ten seconds to speak to them.” I pointed out over my audience.

“We’ll be fined fifty thousand,” she said.

“I can afford it. Put my mic on.”

She looked at me. I don’t know what she saw in my face, but she turned immediately and talked to the venue management. Within seconds I heard the familiar hum from my mic. I tapped it, pock pock.

Suddenly there was a lump in my throat, the first time since I was thirteen years old that I found it difficult to speak.

“Thank you for listening,” I said. I hadn’t actually planned anything to say, I just knew that I had to say something. Something was cracking open inside me. Fans were paused and poised at exits, and only a few devoted ones had stayed near the front.

I swallowed over a hard throat.

“Jack Wolf is dead.”

I pushed over the mic stand which set off a noise like a gun shot, the blast that took down the feathered star, took a last look around, and walked off stage.

Normally noise would erupt as I left the stage, but I walked off to a glacial silence.

It was backstage where the eruption occurred. Hands reached over hands, below angry and shocked faces. It was a blizzard of caws and beating wings, like my audience, like being mobbed by fans and autograph hunters. I put on my dead eyes and walked through, blanking out the calls and curses and exhortations, shaking them off like water after a rain storm.

Finally I was free of Jack Wolf. But I knew he would come back, if only for an autopsy, to pick over his bones and dissect his legend. The shouting at my back was growing louder. I could hear Harry through the tumult, and walked as quickly as I could to ensure he didn’t get me and pull me back into the maelstrom.

I made my way to my private tour bus, climbed aboard and sat in my bunk. There was shouting outside. Carefully I opened the small case I kept tucked under the mattress, pulled out a syringe, prepared a hit, and plunged the needle into my arm. Now I would finally escape Jack. This was the final line to ensure Jack would never come back. I had time to remove the needle, put it back in its box and lie down before the wave of satin unfolded in my head, carpeting the emptiness inside. For a few blissful moments, that event horizon in my chest relaxed and some light crept out from a cold and distant star. I bathed in its weak rays and remembered my secret name before the black velvet of night rushed in.

So, so far away, further than the back of the stadium, further than another land, my chest registered pain.

There were sounds, more shouting.

Something warm bubbled in my mouth, and the only thing I could think, ridiculously, was the line from Spinal Tap, “You can’t dust for vomit.”

Quickly it became too difficult to breathe, and I was glad.

The darkness consumed me.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”


“Don’t Harry me, you fucking prick. What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“Had enough. That’s all.” I hadn’t the strength to say much more. I’d just woken in a hospital room, my throat raw and my head full of dark shapes.

My manager, squat, bald, constantly sweating, always in a badly fitting suit, was standing over my hospital bed.

“Listen, Jack, the doctors have told me not to talk about what you did on stage, so we’ll talk about that later. The press has gone fucking mental, by the way. If this is a PR thing, then it’s brilliant and we’d better do something with it soon. If it’s not -”

“The docs said don’t talk about it,” I finished. I lay under the pristine sheets, feeling like paper.

“Listen, Jack,” Harry said.

“Jack’s dead,” I insisted.

“Whatever. What’s going on? You told me you had the smack under control. You were dead for seven minutes.”

“I’m empty, Harry. There’s nothing inside.” I couldn’t bring myself to look at him.

“Nothing in your bloody head,” he muttered.

We were silent for a minute. Me because my body was wrecked from constant touring, partying and the OD. Harry because. Probably because he was trying to phrase something without swearing.

“Do you need a stint in The Priory? Dry out, find God, do the twelve step thing, all that.”

I turned to answer, but instead said, “What are they saying?”


“The press. NME. My audience.”

“About what?”

“The encore.”

“Oh fuck me,” Harry could never go too long without swearing. “The whole fucking world’s gone mental. You should never have mentioned her.”

“I couldn’t help it.”

“You told me -”

“That I’d got over her. I know.”

“Jack, it’s been ten fucking years.”

“Jack’s dead,” I repeated. It was becoming automatic now. There wasn’t any emotion either. Whenever I said Jack’s dead I expected to feel a twinge, a longing. But there was... nothing. Not like the nothing inside, the emptiness where my heart should be, where any aspect of caring about the world should sit. This wasn’t the absence of a thing. It was as if Jack Wolf, the rock star persona I’d spent so long creating as a teen and bringing to life as an adult, had never existed.

“Do you need some time off?” Harry said. There was almost an element of caring there, “Tour’s over. There’s only a few junkets left. I can cancel them.”

“I’m retired, Harry.” I looked at him properly, held his gaze for the first time since our hospital bed conversation had started. “Jack Wolf is dead. I’m done with music.”

“Good fucking job I’ve paid off my mortgages, then.” Harry looked around the room, pulling a handkerchief over his head as he did. “Listen, you need something to fill your time, otherwise you’ll be back on the smack. And there won’t be any roadies around to find you next time.”

The hospital room was beautifully decorated. Somehow the décor was modern, stylish while being completely inoffensive. I admired it. It took a good designer to make a room both appealing and invisible at the same time.

“I want to find her,” I said, more to myself than to Harry. It hadn’t really occurred to me before.

“Find who?”


“Oh Jack for fuck’s sake. You’ve got to let this go. We went through this obsession back in oh-three.”

“It’s different this time,” I smoothed down my bed sheets, which were a beautifully deep tone of burnt vanilla, “I won’t be touring. There’ll be no gaps of eight months while I’m on the road.” My arm was full of tubes. In the back of my hand was a cannula, which snaked away to a bag of dull simplicity above my head.

“What is it you think you’re gonna find? True love?”

“Just answers. Why she turned cold that time. I already have true love, Harry.”

“Obsession is what you have.”

“Isn’t it the same thing?”

At the door to my room was an opaque window. I saw a nurse arrive and pick up the medical notes that would be pinned to the door.

I turned to Harry, and just as the door opened and the nurse walked in, I said, “I want an end to the torment, Harry. I want to find Cath and find out what happened to her, and why she was so cold to me that second time.”

“Ah, patient’s awake,” the nurse said, entering. She wore a professional smile. She saw all kinds of celebrity fuck-ups in here. “Is there anything I can get you?”

I shook my head at her and turned to Harry, “Can you get me a phone and a number?”

“I give up,” said Harry.

“Just get me Matt’s phone number. The guy who set up our website. I’ll take it from there.”

“You know you’re riding for a fall, right?”

“It’s this or the smack.”

“Fine,” Harry walked away from my bed, “but just remember. I can get you to hospital to fix a drugs fuck up, but I can’t mend a broken heart.” He walked out of the room, slamming the door as he went.

“There is no cure for a broken heart,” I said.

“Time,” whispered the nurse, “and a journey into the dark places.” She adjusted my cannula, checked my IV and poured a glass of water for me. “You have to become someone new to fix a broken heart.”

“That’s fine, I’m already dead,” I answered. I lay back into my pillows and closed my eyes, waiting for Harry to return with the phone, and to start my journey into ten years gone, and to find Cath Pearson, the girl with the butterfly hair.

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