MEMBER 001: The Adventures Of Captain Zero

MEMBER 001: The Adventures Of Captain Zero

Remembering Prazanna Abeysekara (Cancer & Sakwala Chakraya) By Natalie Soysa

Image : Natalie Soysa

Good riddance the freeloading bastard! I hope he fries!

Easily my favourite line from John Cleese’s eulogy to his best friend, writing partner and Monty Python co-founder Graham Chapman, delivered at Chapman’s memorial service in 1989. Cleese continued, justifying his insult-drenched eulogy with: “Anything for him, but mindless good taste”.

Could there have been any other way to honour the life of a darkly funny man? I doubt it. Cleese paid Chapman the ultimate tribute, omitting standard formalities to give his friend a good roll in the grave.

I wondered how I would honour the life of Prasanna Abeysekera. Thankfully, Monty Python came to the rescue. To honour him, I must ignore mindless good taste and remove the kind of sentimental bullshit that had little to do with him. Instead, I will remember him as he lived, with a lust for herbal remedies, Sunday afternoon jams and some strange sonic boom-boom he liked to call Postcolonial Trans Punk.  

And now for something completely different….

Image : Natalie Soysa

Let’s have a laugh!

On the 24th of August 1964, Bob Dylan first met the Fab Four at the Delmonico Hotel in Manhattan where the four Liverpool musicians were safely housed. Beatlemania had struck America, keeping them permanently fixed in their hotel rooms. The story goes to tell us that the Beatles offered Dylan some Purple Hearts for a hit, which he declined, voicing his preference for a toke. Dylan promptly pulled out a bag of bush weed, rolled a mediocre one and passed it onto the Beatles. Strangely, the Brits were apprehensive, but eventually smoked some, beginning with Harrison.

What followed was collective laughter that continued long into the night, making instant converts of The Beatles, now inducted in the ways of the herb. Ever since, whenever the Beatles would take a smoke break, they would signal to one another with, “Let’s have a laugh”.

I’m eternally grateful to Bob Dylan. One roll of a joint may have pioneered the paradigm shift in the Beatles sound. Pop music abandoned, the Beatles metamorphosed, giving us tangerine trees, marmalade skies and an eggman called walrus.

Beginnings are fabulous things, as the Fab Four may have realized on that August day in New York. At home, we have our own musical beginnings to be grateful for. We had Prasanna.

Image : Natalie Soysa

Above the Lionel Wendt Theatre, now occupied by the Harold Peiris Gallery, used to sit a place of raucous fun. The age of the hippie had finally found its way to our island and with it an urgency to bring this burgeoning movement together, housing the ideas of intellectuals, writers, critics, thespians and rockers alike, under one roof. Infamous stories surrounding the Arts Centre Club are aplenty, but few are documented. One of the darkest tales remain archived; Richard de Zoysa, a staple fixture of the Arts Centre Club spent his last night there, only to go home, be abducted and eventually killed.

But there are happier stories of the club that few know. One, I happened upon at Prasanna’s funeral, completely by chance: Prasanna was member number 001 of the Arts Centre Club; an unassuming pioneer, a quiet legend whose actions spoke louder than his awkward stature. To be first in line to embark on the chaos that would be the Arts Centre Club speaks volumes.

And it didn’t end there. In an era before information overload and access to new music, Prasanna’s and his band Cancer would be one of the first rock outfits to write, record and play original music here. Those of us with a natural aversion to pop music’s repetitive radio ga-ga have Prasanna Abeysekera to thank for the rich underground subculture that continues today.

1:05:18 Cancer – “Footboard Feeling
” / 1:08:39 Cancer- “Captain Zero” – The two singles are the first  documented Rock n Roll songs from Sri Lanka on The Colombo Tribe Project.

As a songwriter, Prasanna’s was a slapstick philosopher; his lyrics, filled with socio-political commentary were far left of the norm and a little too telling of his own rearranged head space. Thankfully, his free wheelin spirit has been recorded and immortalized in songs like Burn Down the Oberoi, Footboard Feelin’ and Captain Zero. I’d also wager that his songwriting influenced other Lankan musicians; listen to Mister Minister by Wagon Park or Paranoid Earthlings Rock n Roll is My Anarchy and you’ll know there’s a little bit of PA in all of us.

Of course, Prasanna didn’t sit on his laurels, comfortable in some ego maniacal knowledge of inspiring a new generation. I doubt he even saw himself like that. All Prasanna did, was keep making music, until the day he died. After Cancer, he kept his crew together, performing in various collectives under the moniker Prazana & Friends, with whom he performed his final show, just a week before we lost him.

Image : Natalie Soysa

Over the last few years, PA formed another band, Sakwala Chakraya. The SakChaks lineup comprised Prasanna on guitar and 5 other musicians, each less than half his age. You’d assume the man looked completely out of place performing with a bunch of kids, but it wasn’t so. PA was the coolest, damn motha-fucka in the band – and it showed. Listen to SakChaks debut album from last December; Captain Zero is testament to what Prasanna was capable of as a musician at a time when most of his contemporaries were long gone into retirement.

throwback to 2016 @ Rock N Roll

For many years, Prasanna lived at Green Path, his home an ever open house to a motley crew of talented outcasts – and it remained that way until recently, with a stage in the living room housing a drum kit and scattered guitar amps aplenty, bound together in a tangle of cables. If you were lucky to have stumbled upon a Sunday afternoon Green Path jam, consider yourself blessed. Musicians of all genres and all levels of experience have made music there, usually opening with a random, stoner riff PA would pick up and play. Prasanna began things. I guess that’s how movements are born. All we had to do was play along and build on what he started. Or roll him another one. In no time, a song was born. Could we remember those Sunday afternoons by continuing to jam together in his name? Lets also smoke a few tokes and crack a few inappropriate ones. I can’t imagine a better way to honour him.

Image : Natalie Soysa

Mostly, Prasanna was an original. A cool-headed, hot-blooded dreamer who lived like the music he made. Kapalla Beepalla, Jolly-Karapalla his anthemic track proclaims. So come, let us eat, drink and be merry in his crazy name. He was a round peg that refused to fit into a square hole, an authentic renegade we can only attempt to emulate. Prasanna was legend, living his life like a zero, just like heroes often do.

Listen to his unconventional songs and chase after his memory like a hell hound on its trail. Get reeling with that footboard feeling as the wind blows through your hair. Burn down the Oberoi, piss on the money – and most of all, be free of square-nosed, self-righteous wet-blankets who break your spirit. They are not our people. We are Prasanna’s people, children of his badass tribe. If you ever picked up an instrument, lit up a fat one and played in a rock and roll band, you too are one of us. And together we will honour the first of our kind.

Image : Natalie Soysa

If the lunatic in your head wants to be free, set it free. In the immortal words of the Cheshire Cat, we’re all mad here. Thanks to Prasanna, we are no longer afraid to let it show.

So, good riddance you freeloading bastard, I hope you fry!






Article by the very cool Natalie Soysa 

photographer/writer/sith lord

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