Friday, 23 November 2012

Rainbow George & the Missing Rainbow Tapes ~

Unlike any other comedian, Peter Cook was funny all the time. He was funny on TV, on radio, in the pub, with friends and strangers; on his own in his front room he would hurl ripostes at his TV screen. He was ceaselessly responding to the comic horror and boredom of the world (a world he once described as being created by God in the grip of a particularly appalling hangover). Sometimes, he would ring up radio phone-ins, creating an impromptu character on air. Sometimes, he would haul passers-by into a pub and harangue them. Cook couldn't stop being funny; he never turned himself off. And there was a terror in this, a hilarious nightmare.
George Weiss - Rainbow George - who's got his own political party of just one member; madcap George who spends his days on endless, impossible schemes and notions; mystic George who, along with thousands of millennarians believes Utopia will happen in 2000, could have been one of Cook's absurdist creations. He is a cross between the extraordinary and the tedious, the wonderful and the worrying. In fact, Weiss was Cook's neighbour and friend. Until the last year or so of Cook's life, they saw each other most days. Weiss would yammer on about his political beliefs and Cook would be his deadpan commentator. Dudley Moore went to Hollywood and Peter Cook went round to George Weiss's house.
On Weiss's mantelpiece, among the balls of dust, are hundreds of labelled tapes. The tapes are why I am here - Weiss is finally planning to give the world access to them. He tells me there are two or three people wanting to write a book about his friendship with Cook (although he will not name names). He slides one into the tape machine and Cook's laughter (laughter that Weiss has edited from various conversations into a continuous cackle and wanted to play at Cook's memorial service) fills the room. We sit and listen to the dead man laughing. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! 'I loved to hear Peter laugh,' says Weiss cheerfully.
Weiss lives in London's Hampstead, in the cobbled Perrins Walk, where Cook had his three-storey house, and 100 yards or so from the house where Cook's wife, Lin, lived in the strange, semi-detached arrangement which suited Cook so well. Weiss's house is rented (he says he is 15 years behind on the payments, and only receives £39.10 a fortnight from social security) and stands out from the others because it is a garish bright green. In the spacious living-room, there are two chairs, one ink-stained sofa, a TV on the floor and a very large phone-fax. There are piles of yellowing newspapers everywhere and all those tapes. He says the tapes are his diary.
After his religio-political conversion to the Rainbow dream 15 years ago, he would tape anyone who walked into his house. He felt that history was in the making in his front-room and so he recorded it. It's a bit like the scene in Seven where the detectives find the murderer's diaries - millions and millions of words; there is simply too much data to interpret. It's also like Peter Cook's long, last years, when his comic genius was everywhere and nowhere, for everyone and no one.
A complicated story follows, during which I struggle to find the plot among the thickets of sub-plots. There's the tale of how Captain Rainbow's Universal Party (Crup) was born out of Peter Cook's What Party, in which George Weiss served as Minister for Confusion. Then there's a bit where Weiss spent four-and-a-half months in prison for selling a few tabs of acid to two reporters from the News of the World. There's the part where Weiss tried to launch a series of 'penny parties' (a penny to get in and £3 to get out) in order to raise cash. And then there was the time he attempted to hire Wembley Stadium (he wanted everyone in the world to spend five minutes thinking about the same thing), and the time he inherited several thousand of pounds and advertised in the press for Rainbow candidates to run in the general election (they mostly took the money and didn't run, of course). Money drips through this ex-diamond dealer's hands like water. From this we slide, out of control, over Weiss's failed love affair (his final relationship, after which he decided to take the mystic's lonely path); his constant calls to radio phone-ins; his conviction that everything he believes will come to pass.
He tells me about the by-election when he stood against Michael Portillo (Portillo pipped him at the post, gaining 16,000 votes to Weiss's 48), and his desire to solve the problem of the Orange marches in Ireland by having Blue men, Purple men, Yellow men too. On another tape, there is his voice, saying, as if he's just made it up, 'In the beginning was the Word', and there is Cook's inimitable tone, responding, 'And the Word God around.' Ha! Ha! Ha!
Weiss has had lots of failures - he's banned from radio phone-ins nowadays and he has decided he is only an apprentice prophet after all. He knows everyone thinks he is crazy (he plays me a tape where he tries to make everyone in the room tell him how mad he is, and again we hear Cook drawling: 'Oh no, we're not going to fall for that one. Ha!'). But he clings to the world he has fashioned, in which he is the hero. It's not a game to him, though it was to Cook.
We listen to a recording of an interview Weiss did some years back for LBC. He had persuaded Cook to phone in and lend support to Crup. When Cook comes on air he is E.L. Wisty, and he had deadpan fun claiming that the What party and Crup have taken control of the media. He makes Weiss look quite mad. 'I was gutted when he did that,' says Weiss, prowling the room with his cigarette. 'I wanted him to be serious for once. He could have helped me and he didn't. Peter never really helped me when it wouldn't have cost him much.' I ask if he's resentful. 'Resentful? Me? No! I'm Rainbow George. I believe totally in fate. What's meant to be is meant to be.'
He says he's found a substitute for Cook, 'someone who fills the space he left behind'. His latest 'acquaintance and not quite friend' is Ian Dury. 'I see him three or four times a week. He doesn't help me either, though he could; a word in the right place.'
He picks up his oversized phone and rings Dury. He wants to tell him that when he's at the Brit Awards, and if he gets to present Robbie Williams with a prize, he should mention Weiss's idea of hiring Wembley Stadium for Crup in 2000. But Dury has already left. 'That's OK; he would have just told me to get lost anyway,' says Weiss cheerily.
He plays another tape. This time Dury is singing a song, words by George, in his lovely voice: 'A door is opening that nobody on earth can shut. That door leads to Rainbow Land É ' Weiss says casually that everyone is listening to what Dury has to say at the moment, because they think he's dying. He is dying, I say. 'Everyone's dying.' Lisa Lovebucket is standing for London mayor; she's a Rainbow supporter who believes in the 'iridescent' power of football. The Rainbow party is fielding lots of candidates in the Euro elections (they want to abolish the EC and create the Emerald Isles). 'Peter never really got what I was trying to do.' Some might think he got it off to a T.
Then another tape, in which I get to hear Bronco, the Hampstead vagrant. This is really like being stuck in a nightmare. Weiss has a newly installed kitchen but has never cooked anything in it. He has no food. Bronco is starving. Cook is trying to get Weiss to cook. He's going to fetch food from his own place, so that Weiss can cook something for Bronco. It's funny, but I'm starting to feel desperate, sitting in this hot, dusty room inside a man's fantasy, listening to tapes which could go on until tomorrow, forever.
'Peter's still around,' says Weiss, 'just like John Lennon is.' There's the laugh again. 'He had a big heart', says Weiss. 'Nothing wrong with that man's heart.'
He seems disappointed when I leave. I think he enjoys sitting on the sofa, drinking tea, listening to him and Peter being funny, laughing at himself laughing at himself. 'Things aren't the same nowadays,' he says without self-pity.
He follows me to the door. There are a few things he hasn't told me, connections he has failed to make. He gives me a CD which, when I get home, turns out to be an empty case.
Later, he phones me, a benevolent megalomaniac wanting to help me to tell the whole story. The whole story never stops, and I can't work out if it's a horror story or a happy one. I find I feel glad he's around. There's no one else like him. And I'm rather glad about that, too...end credits; ...every thing here is stolen..thank U _

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