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I WALK WITH THE HOMELESS

Morocco, Spain, and Gibraltar are, when you're on a ferry boat crossing from Tangier to Algeciras, within fifty miles of one another. You can see the coasts of both Spain and Morocco during most of your two and a half hour ferry journey aboard the Bishmillah, the selfsame boat which first hauled me into Tangier ten years ago. For the last hour of the northbound trip you can see the Rock of Gibraltar, undoubtedly a thing of beauty.

Steven Ryan (who used to sing with a superb Dublin band, The Stars of Heaven) grew up on the south coast of Spain with his family. His mother Sammy Sheridan was a great short story writer under the pen-name, F.D. Sheridan. Steven's song, The Lights of Tetouan, which he wrote for The Stars of Heaven, is a dreamy recollection of seeing the Moroccan town of Tetouan from his Spanish childhood home. The tune was subsequently covered by Everything But The Girl.

I'd holed up in Tangier for the night, having travelled up from Marrakesh by train the previous day. Crosby Stills and Nash must've taken some particularly good acid to come up with Marrakesh Express. Stopping at every two bit desert town south of Casablanca, it's a ten hour saga of a journey.

Before heading for Tangier port I did some early morning shopping in the market. Sea salt, almonds, olive oil-based soap, garlic, sesame seeds, Ceylonese tea. Then I passed a stoned leisurely lunchtime at the Caf?© de Paris before going to the boat. My plane was due to leave Gibraltar at 7.30pm.

Three hours after I arrived in the port (two hours late), Bishmillah cruised out of the harbour and I left Tangier behind for the umpteenth time. It was a hot and breezy mid afternoon; my thoughts were partially with my pal Nou. I was now convinced that he was locked up in Tangier Prison. I will always remember exactly what he once said about his previous visit to what the town's petty criminals call Hotel de Tangier. He said, "Hell. Hell." And he didn't say a whole lot more. I knew that the vast concrete complex was particularly bad in the hot weather, when its inhabitants are left to stew in the sun. At night, in the cells, they have to take turns lying down on the floor to sleep. There are so many people in each cell that the majority have to stand up most of the time. I was out in the fabulous sun listening to Sizzla on my walkman, drinking cool spring water, watching out for dolphins, trying to forget about Nou.

What with the Bishmillah stalling in port until mid-afternoon, with the journey taking the bones of three hours, with me miscalculating the different time zones between Gibraltar and Morocco due to some particularly good hash, I missed the plane. I crossed the border from Spain into Gib to see my British Airways plane mount the sky. It was now 7.45pm. I made my way, reasonably calmly, to the BA desk where a friendly queen booked me onto the next flight to London, due to depart early the next morning. This was really good of the queen because my ticket was the cheapest known to man, strictly non-refundable or changeable.

I know that neck of the woods pretty well, Gib on one side of the border and the small Spanish costal town on La Linea on the other. I dumped my travel bag in the airport Left Luggage and went to a coin box. I know all the cheap hotels in Gib; there are only three because Gib is a reactionary rich folks spot governed by living breathing 1950s English Home Counties values transferred to the Mediterranean, The cops arrest you if you try to sleep on the beaches at night.

Three phonecalls later I knew that all three places were booked out so I walked back into Spain and went from one cheap La Linea hostelry to the next. These were full too. I could've gone to one of the pricier joints but I'm tight with money and was running low on funds anyway. The hash played some part in the next decision I made - to pass the night on the dusty streets of La Linea. The sun was baking the town's lovely boulevards, and it was particularly good hash.

The evening passed happily enough. I walked into Gib where I ate good in the town's only decent restaurant, a sort of right wing health food place run by this retired military guy who'd obviously gotten the health food bug after his first coronary. I'd eaten there before and enjoyed the buxom brassy waitresses who, in another universe, could've won starting roles in afternoon soaps.

Mindful of the ban on beach sleeping in Gib and of the colony's vaguely police state attitude, I crossed back into Spain as the sun set, making my way to a beachfront picnic area where I hung around listening to music until it got so late that the local yokel skate kids were giving me the suspicious eye

La Linea is a small place without much by way of nightclubs or late night dives so my next port of call was the waiting room of the local A&E. Being a small place, the town didn't seem to have much to offer by way of drive-by shootings, stabbings, or crashes. Back in the big city, A&E is always a good place to go hang out and hide, especially at the weekends until about 5am. There were three cases in front of me in La Linea; a fat old guy, a Hassidic Jew, who looked like he'd had a heart attack, an accident victim with her prosperous looking boyfriend or husband, and a dude in his mid thirties, in the company of two cops, who looked like he'd taken a bit of a beating. I was able to lurk there until after 2 but, eventually, I attracted attention there too.

So I took off for a beach I'd never previously been to, way off on the other side of town. Life was winding down but I passed some sort of football team clubhouse in front of which fast cars, full of twehtysomething jocks and their babes, pulled up, moved off, revved and roared.

I found a shut up California-style beach bar with beach furniture strewn every which way out front. Having made myself comfortable I noted how desperately cold it'd suddenly become and I noticed a tractor-type beach vehicle, complete with yellow flashing lights and a penetrating siren, combing the beach methodically sifting out and collecting the day's rubbish. It took the clean-up team half an hour to get from one end of the beach to the other. They passed by me five times during the next three hours. While they worked I listened to Live in Hyde Park by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, No Other Love by Chuck Prophet, We're Outta Here by The Ramones, and Wildwood Flower by June Carter Cash. At least Chuck and the Chilli Peppers are still alive.

That was a tough period. I railed against myself for being such a stingy, crazy, motherfucker. I looked at my watch ever five minutes and, every time I checked, only five minutes had passed since the last look. All I wanted at this stage was to go book into a nice comfortable hotel bedroom no matter what the price. I was cold, bored, and frayed. It was too late to go looking for a room in smalltown Spain and, anyway, before I knew it, it was 5.30am.

Any boho (or hobo) worth his salt knows that bus stations open up early all over the world.

It wasn't too bad after that. La Linea bus station is a good spot if you ever find yourself homeless, with nice prints of old La Linea on its walls, clean rest rooms with loads of hot water in the taps, and a coffee shop that sells coffee that'd wake the dead. I lingered 'til life kicked off in Gib. At 8.30 I had a good breakfast on Casemates Square while the Mediterranean sun work me up. I was joined, over coffee, by the wife of a British Army guy who was on her way to do her first Tupperwear party of the day. I got chatted up by the Tupperwear Lady.

I didn't miss my plane the second time. Daylight come and me wanna go home.


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Any boho (or hobo) worth his salt knows that bus stations open up early all over the world


author

Joe Ambrose,
Literary Editor

Joe Ambrose has written 12 books, the most recent being Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. He is currently writing a book about the Spanish Civil War.

bio

Joe Ambrose works as a writer, filmmaker, and arts agitator. A member of Islamic Diggers, described as "rai-hop terrorists" by The Wire, he co-produced the CD 10%; File Under Burroughs which features tracks by Paul Bowles, Bill Laswell, The Master Musicians of Joujouka, Marianne Faithfull, Chuck Prophet, John Cale, Scanner, and William Burroughs.

After a turbulent career as a Dublin student activist - working on Trotskyist, feminist, and anti-imperialist campaigns - he ran The Irish Writer's CoOp in the 80s. This writers collective published early work by Neil Jordan. Sebastian Barry, and Desmond Hogan. Ambrose edited - for the Co Op - an anthology of new Irish short stories and three volumes of modern Irish drama.

While working with the Co Op he met Eamon Carr, drummer with Horslips. This meeting brought about Joe's first dalliances with the music industry via tours, pranks, and albums.

Throughout the 80s Ambrose had a career as a literary journalist, interviewing, amongst others, Nina Simone. Nick Cave, Anthony Burgess, James Ellroy, Michael Herr, Bill Wyman, and William Gibson. He became a controversial columnist with In Dublin, the city's alternative listings magazine.

His first book, in 1981, was a biography of Dan Breen, the I.RA leader who started the Irish War of Independence in 1919. The history of Irish separatism remains an interest, and he has written three books on Irish history.

While working as a journalist he met a musician, Frank Rynne, who became a major artistic collaborator. Ambrose managed Rynne's punk rock band, The Baby Snakes, as they made a series of albums and singles. The Baby Snakes recorded Four Toe Tapping Greats, a homage to Johnny Cash. Ambrose, along with the band, subsequently met with Cash, who endorsed the band's work.

It was as manager of The Baby Snakes that Ambrose moved to London in 1986. He lived in a Brixton squat - the emergent hip hop scene he observed made a profound impression and much of his work in the 90s was inspired by the remorseless urban beat and style absorbed from Brixton's Afro Caribbean community.

Returning briefly to Dublin in 1992, Ambrose helped organise The Here to Go Show, a celebration of the wild cultural experimentation of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. Collaborators on this included Iggy Pop, Hamri The Painter of Morocco, Marianne Faithfull, The Master Musicians of Joujouka, and Burroughs. The Here To Go Show gave rise to the movie Destroy All Rational Thought. This was subsequently issued as a sell-through video in Europe and the U.S.A. It is now available on DVD.

Man From Nowhere, the book which accompanied The Here To Go Show, was written by Ambrose, Rynne, and Terry Wilson. Now considered something of a collector's item, it features handwritten texts by Burroughs, Iggy Pop, Keith Haring, Paul Bowles, and others. The album 10%; File Under Burroughs developed out of the work undertaken at this time.

In 1993 Ambrose helped launch The China White Show, an anti-art exhibition involving graffiti artist China White, William Burroughs, Genesis P. Orridge, and Hakim Bey. This project was catalogued in Radio Alamut, a counterculture zine featuring Patrick McCabe, Allen Ginsberg, Negativland, Stanley Booth, Lydia Lunch and Ira Cohen.

In 1993 Ambrose also began managing The Master Musicians of Joujouka with Frank Rynne. He conceived and realised a major political publicity campaign on behalf of the Musicians - whose copyrights were being undermined by powerful music industry figures like Philip Glass - leading to a global debate on ethics in the corrupt World Music industry.

Ambrose recenlty jold a Greek journalist that, "while the Master Musicians are probably the best-known Moroccan musicians in the world, they're virtually unknown within the country. People in Ksar el Kebir, the nearest city to Joujouka, know all about them of course. That's where Hamri, their "founding father" in terms of there being a recognizable band putting out records and doing gigs, came from... I had lunch with a very senior and well-connected member of the Moroccan Royal Family last year. This individual made it clear to me that Joujouka was not part of the Moroccan cultural heritage. I argued otherwise to no avail."

His books include two novels for Pulp Books, Serious Time (1998) and Too Much Too Soon (2000). his punk rock books for Omnibus Press are Moshpit Culture (2001), an investigation of covert punk culture from inside the moshpit, and Gimme Danger (2004), a biography of punk icon Iggy Pop. He contributed, along with Brion Gysin and Genesis P. Orridge, to Flickers of the Dreamachine (1996). His short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies published by Serpent's Tail, Hodder and Stoughton, etc.

In 2000 Islamic Diggers promoted No Expectations, an evening of 60s Super 8 movies by Anita Pallenberg accompanied by a live DJ soundscape created by the Diggers and Anita. These films, featuring Pallenberg's pals like Keith Richards, Allen Klein, Marianne Faithfull, Mick Jagger and Brian Jones were shown at the ICA and The Chamber of Pop Culture in London. During these years Islamic Diggers toured extensively in Europe.

Ambrose has performed live with Lydia Lunch, John Cale, Daniel Figgis, John Giorno, Scanner, Howard Marks, Tav Falco, Richard Hell, and The Master Musicians of Joujouka.

In 2005 he appeared, with Chrissie Hynde, on a BBC Radio 2 documentary about Iggy Pop. He has written for The Guardian, Time Out, The Idler, The Irish Times, and Metal Hammer. In 2007 he was invited by Iggy Pop to write the sleeve notes for an Iggy and the Stooges DVD, Escaped Maniacs. Chelsea Hotel Manhattan (Headpress) came out in 2007; Ambrose wrote the main text and there were ancillary texts by Ira Cohen, Herbert Huncke, and Barry Miles.

In 2008 Joe Ambrose went to live in Tangier, Morocco, and took time out from writing, performing, and promoting. "I did a bit of DJing in Marrakesh," he recalls, "just to keep my hand in. I'd been living in London for decades and needed a break. I'd dialled a few wrong numbers, personally and professionally, so I sought the freedom of Morocco in order to rearrange my priorities.n I spent a fiar bit of time in Marrakesh and in Ksar El Kebir."

In 2010 he participated in the London gallery show, Dead Fingers talk - The Tape Experiments of William S. Burroughs. This marked the commencement of his musical collaboration with Portugese duo Alma on an ambitous project inspired by his Chelsea Hotel Manhattan book. The Alma/Joe Ambrose single Radio E/He Also Took That Boat was released in October 2010 with vocals by Arthur Baker and Ira Cohen.

In 2012 Ambrose contributed the essay Festimad to Academy 23, a homage to William Burroughs which also featured Jack Sargeant and Gerard Malanga. He organised FINAL ACADEMY / 2012 with help from Raymond Salvatore Harmon, Gerard Malanga, Liliane Lijn, Tony White and Scanner. His short story, Whatever Happened to the Teenage Dream? Is due for publication shortly in Antibothis, a Portugese literary journal also featuring Scanner, Joe Coleman, Raymond Salvatore Harmon, and Mike Diana.

Visit Joe's web site, JoeAmbrose.info

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