93 Edgewater Drive, Pakuranga, February 1982

I’ve got the spirit, lose the feeling, take the shock away

The day Martin died was a humid summer day, like any other. He’d run out of cigs. The shop was three minutes away. He jumped on his motorbike to grab a pack of Camels. No helmet, no shoes. Our local traffic cop lived a few doors down from Martin. Everyone knew Mr Emmett, he taught all of us kids road safety at school. He was sitting in his patrol car in the driveway, just about to go on duty. Martin sped past and glanced back, worried that Mr Emmett had seen him. He hit a concrete power pole headfirst and died right there, on the street where he’d lived.

My older brother Paul had a close set of friends he’d known since high-school and he was generous enough to let me hang out with them. They did what bored suburban teenagers do – sit around, talk rubbish and finesse new ways to get trashed as quickly and cheaply as possible. I watched mostly, and listened.

I watched them grate and snort mountains of nutmeg and drink themselves to a standstill on pilfered spirits. I was there the night they did a masked machete raid on the psychoactive cacti in our neighbourhood and I saw them boil it up and drink it down, trying not to vomit. Between adventures they sat around in the dark, smoking and listening to music. They took their music more seriously than anything else in their lives, it seemed to me at the time. They listened to The Fall, Pere Ubu and Joy Division.

In someone’s darkened living room I heard Unknown Pleasures for the first time; felt its presence, fell for its wintry austerity before I knew the names of the songs. I was seventeen. This music had stature. There was a spatial quality to it – monumental, tender, brutal and precise. The singer sounded as though he’d gazed too long into the abyss. And though the gravity of the vocal took some getting used to, his words reached out to me from the first line: I’ve been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand.

One by one the boys left the neighbourhood; found work in cafes, shops and factories, scraping up enough for beer and rent. After sharing shabby flats for a few years, some of them travelled and others, like Martin, moved back home. Martin was the smallest, smartest and shyest of my brother’s friends. He had dark hair and big glasses, like a fun size Elvis Costello. I can see him in his grey school uniform, all elbows and knees, cig in his hand – a champion smoker, despite the asthma. Martin never said much, but when he did, hi