My name is John Doran and I write about music. The young bucks who run VICE’s website thought it would be amusing to employ a 40-year-old man who looks like he had a rough time in the Mines Of Moria.
In case you were wondering or simply too lazy to use urban dictionary, ‘menk’ is Scouse/Woollyback slang for a mentally ill or educationally subnormal person, and is a shortened version of mental. As in, “Your Sergio Tacchini trackie is sick la, look at that menk Doran, he can’t even afford a Walker trackie. Let’s hit him with a brick and push him in the canal.”
When you get in a floatation tank it’s a bit freaky before the music starts. Yesterday I visited a small firm in South London, to be suspended in a super saline solution so I could listen to and review Coracle, the new album by Walls, an Anglo-Italian cosmic electronica duo signed to Kompakt. They leave you in the tank for a ten minute ‘acclimatisation period’ before they start the album. Trying to pay tribute to VICE’s …On Acid! column, I buy some MDMA the day before. I can’t take LSD any more after what happened in 1992 but ecstasy tends to drive me slightly less mad. I’m not sure what I think of this current rebirth in the popularity of acid, but it is reminding me that, out of necessity, I have to be slightly effete with some narcotics.
When I lived in Manchester in 1993 I was out in the Roadhouse with Big John, Little John, Bad John, Good John and Johnny Mugwump and a bottle of poppers was being passed around. I said that, because my girlfriend was visiting the next day and I didn’t want to be in too much of a state, I would just dab a little on the neck of my T-shirt. This way an occasional, atmospheric tendril of the profound anal relaxant would drift up to my nose, sending a shiver of enjoyment rushing across my synapses. When you turn a bottle of poppers upside down on the neck of your T-shirt though, what actually happens is the entire contents pours out and immediately your brain’s hard drive gets hit with a sledgehammer. I started pulling my top off and running for the toilets simultaneously. The T-shirt got wrapped tightly round my head like a Tusken Raider’s bandages and I collapsed by the door, from where it was relatively easy for the bouncers to throw me whimpering out into the street.
Back in the near-present, I almost immediately regret buying the floatation tank MDMA. I won’t take anything back to the flat because of my family, and it’s not practical to come back to work before going to float. So I take them at work, wait until I can see straight and then when I get in at midnight, listen to all of Oneida’s eight-hour Ocropolis set from ATP’s "I’ll Be Your Mirror" festival in New Jersey on NPR. It’s fantastic, but then I only have time for two hours sleep before setting off for the playback. I’m losing the plot and pretty much in need of a transcendentally relaxing experience by the time I get there.
Inside the room is what looks like a giant, white plastic clog with an ergonomic lid, semi-filled with a salt water solution that would probably kill you if you drank a pint of it. With the lid down it is very dark, but luckily there is a fine band of yellow curved light marking out the edge of the lid. You float very close to the surface of the water and, because it’s at body temperature, after a few minutes you start suffering from the sensory illusion that you’re suspended in a void, bar maybe the light feeling of the meniscus round your face. Then someone turns the light off in the room and the blackness becomes complete. My immediate thought is: “Sweet fucking Christ I’m in outer space!” And I start splashing about like a fat, hairy, giant dying trout. Then one of my outstretched fingers brushes the plastic wall and I calm down for a bit. Then it occurs to me: “Who turned off the light?” Unbidden, the image of HR Giger’s Alien wearing a nurse's outfit springs into my mind. Behind it on the chair where I left my clothes is David Cronenberg’s terrible rubber crayfish from Naked Lunch, flapping about. I become discombobulated again.
After the panic subsides I start to almost enjoy myself. I feel a bit like Ray Winstone at the start of Sexy Beast, but that just makes me imagine that Don Logan is floating next to me patiently in the dark. I don’t actually feel as ungainly as I thought I would, not like a methane inflated corpse waiting to be burst by seagull pecks. I feel quite light and ethereal, no mean feat when you’re over 17 stone.
When I was in university in Hull, my friend Welsh Tony was in a band called Gas Filled Dolphin Carcass. He explained it to me one day: “When they find me dead, I’ll be face down on Barry Island beach, dressed like a Nazi from the waist up and naked from the waist down. The toxicology report will be disturbing but inconclusive. They will retrieve a pool ball from my anal cavity and as they erect a tent round my body a gas filled dolphin carcass will float past in the bay.”
Floatation tanks are actually brilliant, once a certain amount of time passes you can get used to almost anything and this is genuinely really relaxing with a pleasant background field of psychedelic madness. I feel like Jay-Z. I should have a cigar. 99 problems but suspension in salt water isn’t one. Half a grand for bail because I’m Liverpudlian. I bellow: “Ha ha ha! I’m Jay-Z!” But it sounds really stupid so I don’t say anything else out loud. And then when the music starts it’s beautiful.
I don’t need drugs any more, I don’t think I even like them any more, but stopping buying them is another thing entirely. It takes so much effort. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve quit for good. I’ll go for ages and then the stupidest reason will have me deploying ever more ingenious methods of retrieving phone numbers. Maybe I should go on some kind of course. Or buy a book. How To Stop Taking Drugs For Dummies. It’s a young man’s game. Which is why I’d like to suggest that if you do wish to read about a VICE journalist taking LSD in a floatation tank, you should email in and start suggesting names of people younger than me. My vote goes to either Kev Kharas or Tom Watson.