Quietly turning over a pack of tobacco at my desk, I found myself melting nostalgically as I stared at this image (printed as a health warning). It is I believe the first medical photo I have seen that even begins to approach the awesome horror of Simon Green’s teeth circa 2002, when he was living in the antiquarian section of George Whitman’s celebrated Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris.
One version of memory has it that incidents are like jars of air, sealed in time and strung out along the washing lines of our past. Another suggests memories are living, shifting memories of themselves, rescripted every time we visit them. Lingering over the photo, I felt I saw Simon’s teeth in my mind’s eye, and heard the cackles and phrases bubbling up through them. Moments later I was ransacking my archives to find the following description, written that winter, shortly before they were gone forever …
‘Simon is set to have his teeth out on Monday, with titanium implants soon to follow. I am sure they will be quite the hardest thing in his head. Still, I will rather miss the old teeth in his ruined cathedral of a mouth. It’s not so much Gothic, but more like the remains of an Anglo-Saxon effort, with earthen banks spiked with bits of old stone and pots and armour, and some wrecked ends of rotten wood in there alongside snaggly old combs, and a dog’s femur, and the mead stains and stench and meady filth from the days when the hall still resounded with splendid warriors. Simon’s has been a horsebolt smile, used often and to devastating effect upon the bookstore’s customers. I remember one time he turned it upon a mild couple who had asked if the little well by the history section had any special significance. “Yais!” he rejoined, “Yais! That stone at the bottom seals the chamber where we kept the two boy princes imprisoned! Coins thrown in the well go toward ransoming their bones! They starved away there eating each other’s flesh some fifty years back — yaah-heah-heah!” Black cackle, and the wrist drags off streaming saliva to produce the smile. Lean in, eyes writhing, mouth a bunch of broken piano keys. Lean in and smile. An absolute killer. The couple fled before their tears even hit the ground, leaving books they had selected on the counter (one Little Prince and one The Best Ever French Cookbook). History shall weep on Monday at her loss — his has been the smile that turned a thousand ships back. There is promise of a new image however upon the lip of Time’s horizon. Simon is planning a long holiday in Indo-Chine, where Prophesy and I see him silvered in a skeinish opium den, sucking umbilically at his pipe while the bone marrow goes and all those implants drop on out …’
Simon did have the teeth removed that Monday, though he never followed through with the implants. He never made it to Indo-Chine either, preferring instead to remove to Belle Île, off the coast of Brittany. His friend Loïc did though — make it to Vietnam that is. Loïc and Simon had swung through the gaudy sixties together, with swirls in their eyes and ash on their cuffs: a French Easy Rider with an English Candide. Years later I remember visiting Loïc’s apartment in Paris, and noticing how he kept bills and old letters posted in the line of cowboy boots by the door. At the time he was in Hanoi, where he died a not long after, an ageing hippy all full of heroin.
Rest in peace, Simon’s teeth. And rest in peace Loïc.