He has been variously described as :
"The Aleister Crowley of his era, but more insidious." (Guardians
of Youth, media-watch group)
"A man of great courage, principle and humanity." (The Archbishop
"A cheap, flashy little crook." (his father)
"Dangerous to know" and "A thoroughgoing bastard." (Ted 'Gold' Digger, unconvicted acolyte of the Manson Family)
"A good mate of mine." (John 'Pearly' Grey, Eastend autocrat of crime; reputedly the only man feared by the notorious Kray Twins)
Got him yet? No? A few more clues then.
Lead singer with the short-lived but brilliantly vitriolic MUCOUS MEMBRANE back in '78.
Notorious occultist who spent two years in the bin after failing to pull off, in real life, an exorcism as successfully as William Friedkin did on film.
No? You disappoint me. I thought you were street people.
For as long as this hack has been on the scene, people who know people have been talking about John Constantine. I mean it, this guy's contacts are incredible - he's got history.
Whaddaya mean, you never heard of him? The man is a legend, for chrissakes.
Remember the free rock festivals in the early seventies? Nah, maybe you're too young. Well, it was Constantine who hustled the cash to make them happen by making a bet to predict the exact
date and time of Lyndon Johnson's fatal heart attack. The bookies squealed a bit - but they took the bet and they had to pay up. How do you like that then? All this time I bet you thought it was love that hired the sound system.
And what about Chief Inspector "Basher" Babbidge, yeah? That's right, he was the cop filmed by network TV smoking a huge reefer on one of the Vietnam war demos in Grosvenor Square.
You must remember - it was a great shot. There's the
American Embassy, like some medieval fort, in the background - thin blue lines of cops facing the crowd. Everyone's chanting, pushing, burning flags and all the other protest stuff: pigs on horses are cutting through the throng, playing polo with the kid's heads - chaos.
Then, suddenly, the camera picks up this cop with brass glittering on his shoulders, leaning back on the railings, toking away with his stupid face cracked by a beautific grin. Afterwards he claimed he couldn't remember anything except speaking briefly to one of the
demo stewards. The doctors put it down to stress-induced memory lapse and he was told to resign. But the word on he street was that Constantine was the steward and had set him up for the film crew - hypnotized him or something.
Yeah, I hear you. You're eighties people. You're young and hungry, you don't want to hear about some has-been hippie who pulled a few stunts, back when dinosaurs still lived in Hyde Park. But there's more to this guy than stunts - a lot more.
Trouble is, the man is rediculously shy of the media. Getting to grips with John Constantine is like trying to nail down a shadow. As far as journos are concerned, he seems to present a surface as impenetrable as the hulls of alien saucers in the 1950s space movies
- the astounding and amazing knowledge and experience is locked firmly inside.
The first thing your intrepid scribe learned, on setting out in pursuit of this shy beast, was that everyone who has had anythig to do with John Constantine has an opinion. They either love him or hate him - but, you better believe it, this boy makes an impression.
Lets go back a couple of weeks.
My companion and I are having a very nice time, tucking into the copious hospitality at BETHLEHEM SLOUCH's end-of-tour bash, when he is assaulted with a totally uncalled-for but hilarious verbal ""lese-majeste" " against the indisputably regal glory of his current hairstyle.
This comes from a smallish, fit-looking fellow who wears a trenchcoat, speaks with a naff 1970s South London accent tinged with scouse, and who drinks what smells like neat Geneva from the cap of a hip-flask.
Having his origins "on the street" and being dangerously full of freebie Guiness, I half expected the deeply wounded victim of this slight to fall upon the upstart and, belabouring him with oaths, rip out his gizzard. Perhaps it is something about the guy's eyes, which
burn with an intensity reminiscent of the heat lamps in a B-movie third degree; or the way in which the thin mouth curls in a cruel but innocent smile, as if to say "C'mon, mate, it was just a joke, don't let's get silly. You don't want to make anything of this - but if you do
I'll bloody kill you."
Whatever, my companion's machismo wilts like a hard-on at a circumcision and, contenting himself with a snarled "Who the hell does he think he is?", stalks off to torment a waiter. His question, though, stays with me. It would be, I think, intriguing and possibly profitable to find out.
By now, Constantine is whispering into the beautifully sculpted ear of a woman, clad mainly in clammy-looking black-vinyl, who I recognize as Suzuki Skreem, bassist with the CHOICEST CUT.
However, before I can negotiate the throng, she delivers to Constantine's jaw a right-jab that could have put out the lights of a
"Ya sick, Constantine. Ya mind's inna toilet!"
She is gone in a creaking flurry of plastic and red hair.
"Ha! You weren't so choosy when y'thought you were pregnant by that demon stud in Berlin, darlin'."
The mind boggles.
I step forward to present my credentials but he walks 'round me as if I am a piece of furniture and ducks between the giant minders who guard the door, behind which the illuminati of the BETHLEHEM SLOUCH entourage party are in seclusion from the hoi polloi. I see the crowd nod and greet him by name... and he is inside.
My opportunity is slipping away; recklessly I try to follow. Two fingers jab me in the chest, like the prongs of a forklift truck and I fall back in disarray. From behind the closed door, I hear the unmistakably raucous greeting of the Great Beast, self-styled Svengali and lead singer of the group.
"John, you old bastard. Drag up a bottle and tell us how goes the war with Hell. You've been a stranger. Ever see any of the old crowd, like that nutcase - what's his name, Gary Lester?"
"Nah, not for years. I reckon he's history. He was about three steps from the boneyard then. Let's talk about something else, eh, mate?"