“Crowley, I don’t know how to ask you this… and you don’t have to answer, if you don’t want to…”
Crowley’s mouth was dry. He felt his heart rattling around in his chest like the last mint in the tin. Aziraphale’s gaze was relentless, peering past the protective barrier of Crowley’s shades and landing somewhere deep inside of him.
Just for a moment, Crowley truly let himself think that Aziraphale would shake his head, say it was nothing, leave the question unasked, and move quickly onto another topic of conversation. But then the angel breathed, and spoke again:
“Were you in a band?”
Oh. Well, then.
It was a Tuesday in June, and the annual plague of exams had descended upon Soho. University students swarmed A.Z. Fell & Co. in ever greater numbers, seeking out primary sources and first-edition bribes for proctors and, most importantly of all, a nice, quiet place to study.
Every year Aziraphale would try valiantly to stick to his principles, well-established as they were, and shoo out the students as quickly as they came. But they always looked so stressed, and his shop was quite centrally-located, so really he couldn’t blame them for slipping inside and hunkering down for hours on end as they worked through their term papers on Ulysses. Besides, they never bought anything, and over time they’d learned to bring eccentric old Mr. Fell trays of sweets from boutique chocolatiers in exchange for their peace, so it was all right really.
Around 7PM that evening, as usual, Aziraphale started to bustle ostentatiously about the place, picking up nonexistent rubbish and clearing his throat very loudly. Taking the hint, the scattered students began to pack up, stowing their tablets and notes and expensive wireless headphones. By 7:30 the young scholars were filtering out one by one, throwing exhausted, grateful smiles back at Aziraphale, who returned them all with that little wave that they thought meant thank you, come again but which really meant thank you for not buying anything and you can come again but only if you keep not buying anything.
Once they’d gone, Aziraphale went around the perimeter of the shop, pulling down the curtains, and that was when he noticed a mobile phone lying abandoned on a side table.
He gingerly picked up the device, turning over the smooth form in his hands. Crowley had been after him to get a mobile for, oh, twenty years now, but Aziraphale’s trusty Bakelite rotary had done just fine for him since 1943, thanks very much, so he was almost completely unfamiliar with how the damned things actually worked.
But he wasn’t an idiot. He knew very well that the numbers of family and friends were stored inside. If he could just access them, and dial the first one that came up, he could easily find out who the phone belonged to, and reunite it with its rightful owner.
The phone’s black screen stared up impassively at the angel. He poked at it, and it lit up. Hesitantly, he poked at it some more, and suddenly the screen flashed, changed, and there was noise blaring out of its tinny little speakers, so loudly that Aziraphale flinched and the phone clattered to the floor.
Startled, he bent over and peered at the image that had been brought up. It was a drawing of some kind, a close-up artistic representation of an eye sketched out in strokes of deep inky black against a yellow background.
Guitars and drums echoed through the darkened shelves of the shop, a male singer’s voice keening over the din. He realized the phone was playing a rock and roll song; that image must be the album cover. Mildly offended at the objectionable ruckus disturbing his peaceful closing-up time, Aziraphale picked the phone back up again and began jabbing wildly at the buttonless surface, trying to get it to turn off.
Bringing the phone closer to his face, trying not to think about how ridiculous he looked in this battle against a piece of glass and plastic he’d spotted five-year-olds on the sidewalk outside the shop manipulating expertly, he found himself staring directly at the album cover, at the big stylized eye, laying under a heavy brow, colored in the same as the yellow background and slashed through with a vertical pupil.
And then, with the speakers directly below his head, the lyrics of the song involuntarily settled themselves in his ears, and he was hearing a soaring chorus:
At that moment, just as the singer’s plaintive voice began to resolve into familiarity, Aziraphale’s fingers found purchase on the correct swipe-press combination, the music shut off, and the phone went dark.
It was silent in the shop again; the ghost of the song was ringing in his ears. That time you said / I go too fast. The black-and-yellow drawing of the eye lingered as well, an afterimage floating in the darkness.
Aziraphale laid the phone down delicately on his desk in the back room, went and made himself a cup of cocoa, and sat at his desk drinking it slowly, trying very hard to not think about what he’d just heard and seen, and what it might mean, and failing miserably in every way.
Aziraphale needn’t have worried about unlocking the phone; a bushy-haired boy in a plaid button-down arrived at the shop the next day the moment it opened, looking both mildly desperate and desperately mild.
“Sorry, ‘scuse me,” the boy said, approaching the counter, “but I think I left my mobile here last night, have you found it?”
Aziraphale retrieved the phone, and as he handed it back to the grateful student he asked, in the most casual possible manner, what the song was that had been playing on it when it had been left behind.
The boy tapped and scrolled on the phone, and then looked back up at Aziraphale with a grin. “Yeah, mate, great taste. That was ‘Too Fast’ by Yelloweye. You heard of them?”
“Can’t say that I have,” said Aziraphale softly.
“Shit, I’m always trying to spread the word about Yelloweye. Best Britpop band that never was. Should’ve been bigger than Blur, man, but they only made this one record in ‘94 and then peaced out forever. Broke up and disappeared.” The boy shook his head sadly. “Lead singer was this cool, skinny dude. Always wearing shades onstage. Great voice, great songs.”
Aziraphale was in the early stages of choosing what to ask next, perhaps Do you happen to know the name of the lead singer or possibly the slightly more daring Where might I obtain a copy of this record you speak of, but before he could open his mouth again, the student was sprinting for the door, shouting “Thanks again! Gotta get to my exam!”
Not knowing what else to do, Aziraphale fretted with the peeling laminate of the counter edge. He assured himself that there certainly wasn’t any sense in getting carried away. He’d be best off just asking Crowley about it, before any rash conclusions were jumped to.
Crowley had cleared his throat, scratched the back of his head, and then breathed out an embarrassed sigh of admission. “Yeah,” he said, “yeah, I had a band. For a bit, in the 90s. Weird times. Everyone was doing it.”
“But… why? You went millennia without showing the slightest aptitude for— for musical composition, unless I missed something big. ”
Crowley shrugged. “It began as an assignment,” he admitted. “1993. Got the word from Downstairs I was meant to start an earworm campaign. You know, tempting blokes with guitars into writing songs that would get stuck in people’s heads for decades . Terrifically inescapable stuff. But then they were churning out this pap, all according to plan, and I just couldn’t help but think that I could do it better.”
“Well,” said Aziraphale, “could you? Do it better, I mean.”
Crowley blew air out through his pursed lips, in that impolite way of his. “Nnnnoo, not really.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t be, angel,” said Crowley, rolling his eyes. “I mean, we got far enough. Some good press. Played the NME stage at Glastonbury 1994. But we were first up at noon so nobody saw us, except for the lads who’d passed out the night before on the field coming down off E and got woken up when we started to tune. Did share a spliff with the Beastie Boys backstage, though, that was nice.”
“So you were successful, a little bit?”
Crowley shrugged. “Enough for me. Every 50 years or so I like to get famous for a little while. Keeps my ego appropriately inflated. You remember my notorious-gangster phase, surely?”
“How could I forget,” said Aziraphale, involuntarily recalling a dark pinstriped suit, a handsomely peaked black hat, snakeskin shoes skipping over the stone floor of a church, the brush of hands atop a briefcase handle.
He wrenched his mind back to the situation at hand: “But my dear, I just can’t believe you never told me that you had joined a musical group. I would have come out to support you— at your gigs!”
“First of all, never say ‘gigs’ again. Second of all, not my fault you never noticed when I showed up to dinner with a great big guitar case slung over my shoulder.”
From behind his shades, Crowley now fixed Aziraphale with a strange look. “You haven’t— you’ve not actually listened to any of it, have you? How’d you find out, anyway?”
Maybe it was the demon’s tone of voice, or his imperceptibly stiffened posture as he asked, but Aziraphale understood instantly that it was quite important Crowley not find out about the song he’d heard yesterday. Not yet.
“A student in my shop. I saw the album cover on his phone. Recognized the, er, eye,” said Aziraphale stiltedly, not entirely lying.
Crowley relaxed back into his chair. “Right,” he said, and a bit too forcefully, “don’t go looking for it, you’d absolutely hate it. Not your kind of thing at all.”
“No, I wouldn’t think so.”
The clerk at the record store around the corner from the bookshop had never heard of Yelloweye. Neither had his assistant, a pinched-looking girl who dutifully typed the name into her point-of-sale terminal and told Aziraphale that the last time the store had sold a used copy of Downwards, the band’s first and only LP, was four years ago, when it had gone for £147 per its Discogs valuation.
“Well, they’ve certainly got devoted fans, going by that price,” said the assistant, “so I’m sure the whole record has been uploaded to YouTube by now.”
She looked the angel up and down as though seeing him for the first time. “You do know YouTube, yeah?”
He assured her a bit too enthusiastically that he did, and thanked her for her time, before walking back to his shop and situating himself in front of the computer.
Aziraphale’s ancient desktop did not have a graphics card that would allow for the playback of web video, or speakers, for that matter, but because he expected YouTube to load itself up with perfect clarity and speed on the screen before him, it obediently did just that.
Carefully, as though performing surgery, he typed in Yelloweye band into the search bar. And there, the first result, shining in pixelated black and yellow, was that album art, instantly recognizable. The video’s unwieldy title was Yelloweye - Downwards (1994) FULL ALBUM VINYL RIP [TRACKLIST IN DESCRIPTION].
He clicked. The album began to play, a bit crackly, but clear enough. Acoustic guitar, drums, then the deep hum of the bass and the electric guitar, and a voice, warm and full and familiar:
Say hi through the centuries
I’ll apologize till the end of me
Sometimes I think you care
I didn’t mean to fall
But when I did you were waiting
It doesn’t matter at all
That I am beyond saving
Taking all the time to work it out
I won’t run away, even if I doubt
You’ll be there when I call
I didn’t mean to fall
Though the sound from the computer was as perfect as it could’ve been, generated as it was from thin air by sheer angelic belief, not even the power of the Almighty was capable of turning a 192kbps vinyl-to-MP3 rip into high-definition lossless audio.
So, recalling the website the girl at the record store had mentioned, Aziraphale logged onto Discogs.com and placed the winning bid (£161) for a rare first pressing of Yelloweye’s Downwards with the finesse of the retail professional that he, in fact, happened to be.
He purchased expedited shipping; within a day it had arrived at the shop, sheathed in layers of plastic and foam that he peeled away as reverently as he would with any Wilde first edition.
The cardboard sleeve was a glossy yellow, with only slight foxing around the edges; and that eye, sketched out in black, blown up twelve by twelve square. Aziraphale knew that eye. He’d known it for a very long time.
The angel placed the record on his turntable, and set the needle down. He let side A play out. Then he flipped it to side B. And then he did it again, and again, and again.
Within two days he’d memorized both sides of the album, all twelve tracks. There was “Too Fast” and “Didn’t Mean To Fall,” and the title track “Downwards,” the stomper “Not Like The Others” and the ballad “Burn You.” But his favorite was “First Time,” a gentle mid-tempo number with stirring orchestral string parts behind the chorus:
He could hardly pretend this was the type of record he’d be able to tolerate under normal circumstances; the guitar solos wheedled at his eardrums and the compressed, repetitive smash of the drums strained the limit of his appreciation of percussion.
But the melodies were undeniably charming; the lyrics may have been simple, but they had rhythm and grace and humor all the same. Aziraphale recognized hints of the Beatles and Queen in the rise and fall of the verses, touches of Bernstein in the passionate choruses.
Writing music, making art: these were not things angels nor demons generally did; it was all well-known to be the sole provenance of humans, whose finite lifespans necessitated every emotion felt to its absolute fullest, exploding out from their hearts and onto the page, the screen, the grooves of a record. But immortals didn’t experience that same exigency, that need — no, they were there to inspire art, to facilitate its creation, to tempt into lustful expression or strike with divine influence as the situation demanded.
Aziraphale wasn’t the greatest judge of popular music, hadn’t been since at least the 1830s, but he was fairly sure Crowley was more or less right; the songs were competent enough, expressive, heartfelt, but they weren’t exactly top ten hits. For a demon to even take that step, though, to bring himself to that level, to gather a band, rehearse the songs, and then etch his eternally damned soul in permanence into vinyl, implied a level of passion and commitment that was nearly inconceivable.
But Crowley had done it, he’d done it long ago and then gave it up after barely a moment, and Aziraphale had never even known. He would have gone right on not knowing, too, if not for the ineffable coincidence of just a few days prior— the right mobile left behind, the right fumbling presses that revealed it all.
Aziraphale was quite sure that he’d eventually be able to work out how best to bring this all up to Crowley. He just needed to find the right words.
Have you really been in love with me since the day we met, like you sing about in “First Time,” that’s really remarkable, such a coincidence as it happens, because I’m madly in love with you as well, what a lovely thing for you to find out, I’d think— no, too long.
I listened to your record, and I really liked it, especially all the parts where you say you’re in love with me— no, too casual.
It sure is a good thing I found this record after the Apocalypse, after we got Heaven and Hell off our backs, because otherwise I surely would’ve pretended I’d never heard it and just let the impossibility torture me for years— no, absolutely not, too pessimistic.
He continued this way for a good long while that evening, while the record played out for the hundred-and-somethingth time. There was a book propped in his lap but he wasn’t reading; he couldn’t make the words on the page come into focus, not when Crowley’s voice was crooning the bridge to “Burn You,” with a heartfelt tone he’d not once heard the demon speak aloud with, but there it was, impossible yet issuing forth:
Don’t we all need a darkness
Someone to stand beside
Being what we cannot be
Across a great divide
And then, from behind him, a sound—
Crowley had walked in, carrying a bottle of wine ( “but maybe we can share a conversation” ), his suit jacket rolled up at the sleeves, hair stylishly swept up in that cresting auburn wave. He heard the sounds from the stereo, and froze.
“Angel,” he said, as the last chords of “Burn You” spun out, and the record player’s arm lifted and returned, leaving the room in silence, “I thought you said you hadn’t heard it.”
“Oh, Crowley,” said Aziraphale, standing up, putting his book down. “I’ve just been listening—”
Crowley began to pace, his knuckles going white gripping the neck of the bottle. “Aziraphale, I’m sorry, you shouldn’t have had to hear that maudlin tripe, honestly, it’s rubbish, I gave it up, I wasn’t any good at it, couldn’t write a bridge to save my life, really I should’ve never even bothered—”
“Crowley,” Aziraphale said, seizing the moment, “they’re about me, aren’t they? The songs. All of them.”
Crowley stopped pacing, stood there cringing, one hand in his pocket. There was a hot flush creeping up his cheeks, past where his shades met his skin. “I never ever thought you’d hear them. Not in a million billion years, I thought, will Aziraphale ever have a Britpop phase. I was safe. ”
“The lyrics. You felt that way,” Aziraphale pushed. He was trying very hard to not put words in Crowley’s mouth, to not lead him on; all he needed was to hear it from Crowley, now, the Crowley standing in front of him, not the one singing on the record from a quarter-century ago.
But he’d said it all wrong, he’d held back too much, made it too much of an accusation, because now Crowley was backing away, towards the threshold, canted in a parody of full-body denial.
“I— I was just going through some stuff— really, I got it all out of my system, like an exorcism, whoop, yep, done. Definitely all out of date now. Definitely over it. Back to normal. Best friends, we are, now you’ve heard it so you can go right back to your Sondheim—”
Aziraphale took a deep breath, and stepped across the room, positioning himself inches away from Crowley, who stopped moving backwards, stopped his jabbering.
“I love the songs,” Aziraphale said, looking up at the demon, as calm as anyone could be with their heart about to pound right out of their chest. He was forcing his fear down, down and away, it was difficult, so difficult, and he’d have never ever dared but for the verse in his mind, that last stanza of “Didn’t Mean To Fall,” if you can forgive the things I’ve done / I can say that you’re the only one, oh, he was capable of nothing else but forgiveness in this moment, nothing else but wanting to hear Crowley tell him, please just tell me—
“They’re beautiful, Crowley. And I...”
He shouldn’t have spent so long worrying about what to say. When it came down to it, it was more than obvious what he needed to do, to get Crowley to understand that it wasn’t the songs, really, they were lovely enough, sure, but it was what was held inside of them, what they meant, that had been sending thrums of impossible joy and hope deep into Aziraphale’s chest since the very instant he’d heard “Too Fast” shaking itself loose from those tiny phone speakers.
Aziraphale’s hands went to Crowley’s face; a half-second of staring into dark glass and then he pulled the demon’s mouth to his, kissing him deeply, sweetly.
The chorus of “Burn You,” if I kissed you would you burn, was stirring in his mind’s ear, but there was no burn, no pain, just the warm taste of Crowley’s breath, like coming home, like the resolution of a long-suspended chord that sent Aziraphale’s whole body singing in utter relief.
Crowley’s hand loosened dangerously on the bottle as Aziraphale’s arms wrapped around the back of his neck; with an almost invisible gesture of his fingers Aziraphale miracled it to the table behind them, and then both of Crowley’s hands were free and they were burying themselves in Aziraphale’s hair, gathering up his featherwhite curls with an urgency that shocked their owner.
“I’ve never had a song written about me before,” said Aziraphale, a moment later, as he drew his face away, leaving space for his hands to come and lift Crowley’s shades off, placing them gently in the demon’s pocket.
“That is not true,” said Crowley, breathless, his eyes catching the light, “in Greece you couldn’t move for the boys with lyres writing odes to your soft skin and sea-glass eyes— oh, and the monks in that abbey, thirteenth century, pretty sure angelus in their chants wasn’t in the abstract—”
“This is different ,” said Aziraphale, not quite able, in that moment, to explain why and how, because he was too busy pressing his hips to Crowley’s, wanting the demon to feel his growing hardness; he was leaning back in and kissing Crowley again, again, again.
“You’re— you’re sure?” hissed Crowley, as Aziraphale’s mouth nipped down to the hollows of his neck, tongue pressing against his hot pulse.
“I wasn’t, for a long time,” said Aziraphale, whispering his words directly into the smoothness of Crowley’s skin, “but I am now, I’m sure, Crowley, darling, I’m so sorry you had to wait—”
“ Don’t apologize,” growled Crowley now, “ never say sorry, please, you’ve nothing to be sorry for, nothing—” His breath caught as Aziraphale brought a hand down to the small of his back, the simplest movement, the gentlest of touches underneath his shirt at the base of his spine, and he let out the most fragile sigh, he was liquid in the angel’s hands, loose and eager and ready.
Aziraphale stumbled backwards, bringing Crowley with him, they would’ve crashed into the table but it bent itself politely out of their way with a snap of Crowley’s fingers. Aziraphale pivoted around, pushed Crowley down onto the sofa and straddled him, hands still at his face, unable to tear them away.
Crowley’s fingers flew up towards Aziraphale’s neck, towards his bow-tie, ready to tug it loose, and then he paused, holding himself still, trembling. He drew his head back to look into Aziraphale’s eyes.
“You want this?” he said, suddenly small.
“I do, and I always will,” Aziraphale answered. “In ‘First Time,’ you sing Let me be your driver / Take you anywhere you wanna go, well, here, I want to go here, so take me—”
“Oh, fuck you,” said Crowley, emboldened now, “don’t quote my own terrible lyrics at me, you bastard, just let me get your clothes off.”
“Very well,” said Aziraphale, and within an instant Crowley had made good on his promise, Aziraphale’s layers stripped away one by one, and Crowley’s gone too, until they were both bare and breathing and warm against each other, open, arching, crying out in pleasure and relief and joy.
Aziraphale was a bit too distracted at the time to realize what was happening, but the interesting Soho night people walking past the bookshop certainly didn’t fail to notice the strange white glow flickering from behind the closed shades, pulsing with a steady rhythmic throb.
“Didn’t know they held a disco in there,” said one to her friend.
“Probably one of those private things. You know, exclusive.”
“Well, let’s try and get tickets for next time, I’m keen to get shitfaced in a bookshop.”
The guitar appeared one day next to the sofa in the backroom, a brand new Martin acoustic, with glimmering turquoise inlays on a rosewood neck.
It took a few days for Crowley to acknowledge it, with a nod of his head and a roll of his eyes at Aziraphale; a week after that for him to reach out, run his hand down its carven body, long fingers gently brushing over the golden frets.
And then, finally, Aziraphale returned one afternoon from a haircut to find the demon sprawled on the sofa, legs up on the table, shades pushed up on top of his head, strumming the guitar with fluid ease, and singing quietly:
“Cause you make me feel like / I could be driving you all night / And I'll find your lips in the street lights / I wanna be there with you / Baby, take me to the feeling / I'll be your sinner, in secret / When the lights go out / Run away with me, run away with me.”
Aziraphale, stepping into the room, cleared his throat. Crowley startled, and the guitar fell into his lap.
“Sorry,” Aziraphale said. “That was beautiful. I— did you write that…?”
Crowley made a choking noise. “Er, no,” he said, “that was Carly Rae Jepsen.”
Aziraphale sat next to him on the sofa, letting his eyes rake luxuriously down the whole of his dark body, taking in every inch: endless legs sheathed in black, sharp shoulders askew, wrists delicate as grass disguising a deep and dizzying blood-iron power. It was so good to look at him that it threatened to feel sinful, but Aziraphale knew from sin and he knew that this was as far from it as one could get. This was right.
“Play me one of yours,” Aziraphale said.
“I’m... a little out of practice, angel.”
“You sounded fine, just now.” Aziraphale laid a hand atop Crowley’s, feeling the knowledge held within; the shapes of the chords, the pressure applied to the strings, the bend and the pluck and the hammer-on. No demon had ever written a song, before Crowley. No other one probably ever could.
And Aziraphale, too, was different; he was finally prepared to admit it to himself, the gulf grown so wide between him and his kind, no angel had ever loved a demon, not like this, not hands tangled together, teeth against tongue, wing to wing atop the weight of the world.
Crowley sighed. “I guess— well, all those songs are a bit outdated. Gloomy, really. I can’t play you those . All that he doesn’t love me and we can never be together shite , well, that just isn’t true anymore, is it?”
“Then I guess you have no choice,” said Aziraphale. “You’ll simply have to write some new ones for me.”
Crowley smiled. “How about that,” he said, thumb brushing the palm of Aziraphale’s hand. “I suppose I will.”
NME EXCLUSIVE: YELLOWEYE RETURN WITH NEW SONG “HEAVEN AND HELL”
Fans of the cult Britpop act Yelloweye have something to shout about: after over twenty-five years of no activity, they’ve returned with a brand new song. “Heaven and Hell” is their iconic 90s sound updated for the modern era— that trademark acoustic jangle shot through with a dynamic synth twist. The lyrics show off a marked uptick in optimism, at least contrasted with the heartbreak of Downwards, and it may be safe to declare this track will end up on our Best Of The Year lists come December.
Artists have flocked to social media to show their support for the return of the London group, who only released one album in 1994 before disbanding. Best-selling singer-songwriter Hozier tweeted, “Utterly brilliant new one from Yelloweye. Never thought I’d see the day. Fun fact, this band was a massive inspiration to me growing up.” Matty Healy of the 1975 posted the song to his Instagram, captioned “WELCOME BACK ABSOLUTE LEGENDS xx.”
In addition to the new single, Yelloweye has announced a one-off London reunion show at the Lexington in Angel on 20th January. Tickets £22, available on DICE now: dice.fm/yelloweye-angel
The lights beat down onto the lip of the stage. Crowley was already sweating, even though he was still ensconced in the cool darkness beyond the stage door. He held the Martin by its neck, its brand new black leather strap dangling, decorated with a curving design of intertwined serpents.
He took a deep breath. Looked back at his band, standing at attention beside him. They weren’t the same lads as he’d had backing him in ‘94, those guys all had corporate jobs and families now; he’d grabbed these kids off Craigslist and they were good enough. One of them was even a fan.
Thumbs up, across the board.
“Alright. Let’s do it with style.”
Out onto the stage they went, Crowley leading the way, and the applause was a solid block of roar, the club was packed over capacity, two hundred seventeen people charged up for the glorious return of Yelloweye.
Standing there, strapping the guitar on, he thought: Fuck. Why am I doing this again, this was supposed to be a hobby, a phase, something to pass the time a long while ago, and then as his eyes fell across the front row, crowded up against the stage, he remembered, all at once with a simple ease: that’s why.
Aziraphale, his pale overcoat coat wildly out of place amidst the sea of hipster black, beaming up at Crowley. His hands were clasped in front of him primly, but upon seeing Crowley’s head turn his way he lifted one in a wave, accompanied by that impossibly bright smile of his, brighter than the stage lights, drowning out the rest of the room until it was the only thing Crowley could see.
It was quiet. They were all waiting.
“Here’s the new one,” said Crowley, never much one for stage banter. “It’s called ‘Heaven and Hell.’”
And the drums kicked, and the bass slammed, and his fingers locked into the arpeggiated D chord of the intro, and then he sang: