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Roger Lucey Launches Back in from the Anger with Musical Performance and Readings

Roger Lucey

Back in From the  AngerThe launch of Roger Lucey’s book, Back in from the Anger, at The Bioscope near Arts on Main was a lyrical, poignantly honest and captivating event. Guests, nestled in car seats, were treated to a live performance by this troubadour and renowned musicians Dan Chiorboli on percussion and Brendan Jury on keyboards and violin. Behind them, pictures from Lucey’s past were projected as he interspersed his songs with readings and anecdotes. He is as powerful and masterful an author as he is a song writer. Lucey has a remarkable capacity for emotionally engaging storytelling. He is an iconic troubadour and a revolutionary folk singer and, through this peaceful medium, was a freedom fighter against the oppressive apartheid regime in the seventies and eighties.

Lucey opened saying, “It is great to be back in Johannesburg, so much has happened since I was last here.” He has recently returned from the States where he completed a masters degree at Duke University, despite first having left school in standard 8 (grade 10) years ago. While in America, he also embarked on a monumental road trip traversing 28 states with his wife Karen Glynn, who he met there. He said, “It’s wonderful to have friends who are so consistent in my life.”

In apartheid South Africa, the security police, he discovered years later, had made every effort to destroy his musical career. Amongst other professions, he was also a sound technician and news cameraman.

At the launch, Lucey read excerpts from his book. The first extract began with a description of the acacia trees around the Grayville racecourse, as at the age of fifteen he made his way on his bicycle through the run down area of ducktails and drunks, warehouses and dark seedy shops. He was on a mission, in a completely black area, that led him into a Zulu ritual shed smelling of umqombothi, to get a handful of dagga from an old Zulu man, which he exchanged for a one rand note.

Lucey thanked his publishers, Jacana Media, saying, “After all the things I heard about publishing, they were just so different and so amazing. They just took me in and made me feel very special.” He followed this with a song that seemed very apt to the book launch, “These are the days of reflection, these are the days to count the costs, now the winter is finally over and the deserts and oceans they have been crossed.”

His said that he had difficulty choosing which portions of the book to read. He recounted how Glynn, before she was his wife, read the manuscript and fast forwarded to all the sex scenes and then almost reneged on the engagement.

Lucey read, “A few months earlier, Charl and I had been hitchhiking in the hills outside Durban, on the side of a narrow dirt road leading from the McIntosh Falls where we’d just attended a concert. Robin’s little van that we’d borrowed sat sadly on the grass verge, a thin line of smoke rising from its engine. We were draped in kikoys – colourful east African sarongs – to project ourselves as Africans, not Europeans in waiting. That white South Africans were also Africans was a fresh concept. As third, fourth, sometimes even seventh generation South Africans, we’d lost our European roots and had nowhere else to go. It was an idea we were fumbling with in our songs and conversations, but something we felt with power and passion.”

They saw headlights, which belonged to a police van. The white constable handed his shotgun to the black “cop” who before had been holding an assegai. The constable beat them both, badly kicking Lucey on his torso until he spat blood, and grabbing Charl by the hair and head butting him. They were both flung into the back of the van, which the constable drove as fast as he could over the rough pot-holed road without actually crashing. Lucey read, “I clung to Charl in a bear hug to try and steady us both. By the time we reached the tar road, the van was awash with blood and we were in extreme shock.”

They were thrown into Hillcrest police station for the night and driven to the Pinetown magistrate’s court in the same blood stained van the next morning. Lucey read, “The magistrate glanced at us only once, our kikoys now stiff with dried blood. We were granted bail, and I have no idea how we made our way home to wash the caked blood off our bruised and aching bodies.” After somehow making their way home, he returned the next day to the Hillcrest police station where he collected his things. He was handed his guitar and flute case and nested in the top of his flute’s mouthpiece were two microdots of LSD they had planned to take at the McIntosh Falls concert.

Months later, at the court, his lawyer had asked the constable why he had beaten them up, to which he replied, after looking at the magistrate checking if such a question warranted a reply, “They were wearing tablecloths your honour,” then as an afterthought, “with nothing underneath”.

The lyrics from his next song seemed pertinent: “Did you ever see a free man and that man is me, but freedom doesn’t just happen, freedom grows and I’m back in from the anger of the winter, back in from the prison and the road, I’m back in the comfort of a small house in the suburbs … did you ever find a fire still burning in a part of you, you thought had turned to stone.” He then had the audience singing along to his next song, “It’s all in the heart my friend, it’s the heart that tells the stories.”

The book also tells of Lucey’s childhood and his rather wild father and their trips to Mozambique where he met black prostitutes popular with white South African men. His trips to Italy with his band, his masters degree and his 20 000 mile road trip with his wife in her old station wagon are also covered. Lucey ended saying, “There is no time like the moment, no time left in the past, no point in waiting for the reaper or in fearing the end, now is the time.”

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