I first met Jon Anderson while trying to return a pair of yellow jeans to Topman in the White Rose Centre, Leeds.
They make me look like half a banana, I said.
That’s not a valid reason, sir, said the small eyed man at the cash register.
Do you want to look like half a banana? I asked
I like bananas, he said.
That wasn’t the question. Would you go out of your way to look like a banana?
It’s not my first choice of fruit.
What if you had an apple, an orange, a pear, a nectarine, a plum and a banana, I said. Which would you choose?
He thought about it for a good thirty seconds, much to the irritation of the people in the queue behind us. How soft is the pear? he eventually asked.
As soft as the banana, but not as soft as the plum.
You’re saying the plum is the softest?
Excuse me, said a relatively small gentleman approaching the counter, but do you sell waistcoats?
I’m talking here, I said to the man.
I know, he said, and as much as I am interested in your fruit-based conversation, I’ve got places to be and waistcoats to buy to wear in those places. Also, I wasn’t talking to you.
Are you talking to me now? I asked.
Plum, said the counter man.
Wrong, I said.
Yes, said the short man.
Wrong again, I said, and turned to the counter man. They don’t fit. Is that good enough?
How can I be wrong? I was choosing the fruit I wanted.
You didn’t choose the pear, I said.
Waistcoats, said the short man.
You can’t return those, said the counter man, indicating my trousers. And, we don’t sell waistcoats, he said to the short man.
Asshole, said the short man and myself together.
Security! shouted the counter man.
On the pavement, brushing ourselves down and trying to look like we meant to leave Topman carried by the scruff of our necks, the short man and myself caught each others eye.
I know you, said the short man.
I don’t owe you any money, I haven’t seen your dog, and I found these shoes in my house. Saying this is a common tactic. I try pre-empting the most common accusations.
Nice shoes, he said. Whoever bought them had taste. That isn’t it. No. Your face. I know you. Déjà vu swims in your eyes. It’s something about your gait. Your stance. The shape of your knees. You’re a fan.
I checked my reflection in the plate glass of the Topman shop window. My eyes look fine to me, I said.
I meant me, he said. I’ve met you, or will.
Did you hit your head when we hit the pavement, I asked.
My names Jon Anderson, said the man, holding out a hand.
Cool, I said. Look, this has been fun, but these jeans need to be returned, and if I can’t return them here, I have to find some other shop that will take them. I can’t have them hanging around. They have bad ju-ju. I feel like they are looking at me.
Jon Anderson? asked the man. You don’t know who I am?
Unless you want to buy these jeans, I’m not that interested in finding out.
I won’t buy the jeans, said Jon Anderson, but I know someone who might.
Might? Not good enough. I need rid of them, today. This is important to me.
If I buy them, will you help me rescue John Lee Hooker from North Korea?
Today? I asked, looking at my watch.
You have anything better to do?
Not if you take these jeans off my hands, I said.
During this exchange, what I hadn’t been seeing was the change in the people on the pavement. When we had landed, the people had been the everyday shopper sorts, milling about in their semi-fashionable clothes, pulling along children on leashes, eating triangular sandwiches, talking into mobile phones, and just generally being people with innocent agendas that involved spending money on things they desired. This demographic had subtly shifted more towards being men in black suits wearing sunglasses talking into unobtrusive earpieces. I say subtly. What I meant was surrounding us with guns and telling us to get on the floor.
I dropped the yellow jeans, fell to my knees and put my hands behind my head. I may have cried out. I may have said something like, pleasedon’tkillmeIhavehouseplantstofeed.
Jon Anderson stood there looking mildly amused. Boys, he said, I know you have orders not to kill me, so why the guns? You know you can’t stop me. So, either back up, or I start singing.
The men in black looked at each other out of the corners of their eyes.
I mean it, said Jon Anderson.
We have to take you in, sir, said one of the men. He didn’t sound as certain as his gun looked. There was nervous shuffling in the circle.
Jon Anderson shrugged. You asked for it, he said, and began to sing. It wasn’t just a voice. It was a whole range of instruments. The sound surrounded us, pulled at us, became a texture, a colour, a world. We were no longer outside Topman, we were stood on a vast, undulating plain populated by dripping mushrooms, each as big as a city. Trees in the distance curved up to the sky in grand, cathedral sized arches, their purple foliage covering the sky. The men in black were gone.
Holy tripping balls, I said.
You like it? Jon asked. This is my song Meeting(Garden of Geda) from my first solo album Olias of Sunhillow(1976).
I looked to my feet. Where’s my jeans? Godammit. They were worth money to me. How the hell do we get out of this song.
Don’t worry, said Jon. We can get back soon. The song will begin to fade in a little while. For now, enjoy it. Take in the sights. I made all this, yet, I didn’t. If you get my groove. I found it. It was always here.
I was not amused. I want my jeans you cryptic post-hippie fuck, I said.
Look, just chill. Possessions are fleeting, just like this place. If you were meant to have them, you’d have them. This place can hold no evil, no dark forces. Your jeans must truly have bad ju-ju. Relax. Have a lie down. The ground is soft. Eat some mushroom. Drink some collected dew. Watch the planets rise.
When in Rome, I said.
This is not Rome, said Jon, it’s Sunhillow, and we are currently on the plain of Tallowcross.
The Seventies were pretty wild, right? I chewed on some mushroom. It wasn’t bad. Anyway, while we’re here, tell me about this John Lee Hooker gig. I might be up for some adventure.
Trust me, it’s an adventure, he said. He laughed a melody, chewed some mushroom, and we’ve been friends ever since.