Monday, 7 February 2011
Im not a superstitious man. Ive never owned a pair of lucky pants, I dont do the lottery, i have no Hornby-esque pre match rituals that I kid myself into believing will turn a football result a certain way. I once entertained a notion that horror scopes stopped being utter rubbish if you actually needed the advise, but thinking back, it was probably thought up on the spot to impress a pretty girl or something. I stopped believing in god and Jesus shortly after figuring out that it was my parents that were putting my Christmas presents under the tree and not Father Christmas.
Its with a little shame then, that I admit to honestly thinking that there is some sort of supernatural hand guiding me towards music. Or rather, guiding music towards me. There must be. Theres no way I could have discovered all these wonderful bands and albums by pure fluke or some sort of random. When I do a mental time line stretching from the last record I bought to the very first, and think of all the weird twigs that reach from the branches of my musical family tree, well, its impossible that it could of happened by itself. I think about, aged 20, puting 'Pop-Up-Video' on the telly as I ate my dinner, for a lack of anything else worth watching, and my ears pricking up and drawing my eyes from the newspaper to catch the end of the video of 'Carnival' by Natalie Merchant, and how buying the album the next day lead (by various odd and confusing short cuts and roundabouts) to discovering Gillian Welch, Gram Parsons, Neil Young, Saint Etienne, The Housemartins, and Judy Collins. I think about how, years later, i took a very depressed friend to see Natalie Merchant play a gig in Manchester and how for one night I managed to take her away from her demons and black cage and see the light and possibilities of art. Would that have happened if I hadn't been watching VH1 as i ate my crispy pancakes? No, we would have been in the pub. Probably sat in silence.
I think of how one day I was half heartedly clicking through the Teenage Fanclub message board when I saw thread entitled 'Recommend me some new music'. The author of the thread had put down how he was bored of the the music he was listening to at the moment, and could someone suggest something? Right underneath this request, someone had posted a picture of the sleeve of 'Lets get out of the country' by Camera Obscura. No further information, just the sleeve. Christ knows what got into me, but I knew I had to have this album. Knowing full well it wouldn't be stocked in the Shrewsbury shops, the next day I took myself to Manchester to buy it. And there it was, under C in the indie/alternative section of Piccadilly records. A record that changed my life. A record that took me to 5 different cities to see the band play, that led my to go to Kissing Just For Practise in Manchester and being semi adopted by the Indiepop community. A record that lead me to meeting countless wonderful, beautiful and inspiring people. (a few months ago, for example, I was at a gig in London when a very pretty girl raced up to me at the bar and told how me how much I should go to her Indie night. I didnt, but we have been inspiring each other ever since. She told me later she approched me because I had a Camera Obscura t-shirt on.)A record that lead me to have a part in putting the band on in my home town and have one the best nights of my life. Its mental to think how one JPEG could have such an affect on me and my life. But thats music my friends. And thats one tiny brick in the Lego house that music made.
By far and away though, the most important record to find its way into my life is Quadrophenia by The Who. I know what youre thinking, but stop. Let me get rid of some misconceptions before we start. Quadrophenia is not a mod album. The film is a mod cult movie, but the album (NOT the soundtrack, the double LP affair) is no more an album for mods than Grease is an album for rock 'n' rollers. Ive got nothing against mods, indeed, its one of the only movements you can take into middle age with any degree of dignity. But im not a mod, i was, i suppose one very briefly, in my younger days. But when i discovered that a close crop escalated my already babyish features and therefore wouldnt get me served, and that the medium sized Army and Navy parker (the only one I could find in Shrewsbury) made me look like for all the world like Rodney Trotter, I soon stopped. It takes discipline to be a mod, a discipline I simply didn't , and indeed don't, have.
When i was ten, I received my first stereo as a Christmas present. I can see it now, its oatmeal coloured plastic and its tiny grey buttons and knobs. It had tiny chipboard speakers and the little grey plastic turntable was smaller than a 7" single. But i loved it. It was, for a fair period, my world. Its where i made my first compilation cassettes and first fell in love with music, but all that was still to come. With the stereo, I received two LP's. If memory's serves, they were the soundtrack to Top Gun and the latest NOW! compilation. I propped them up between the stereo and the right speaker, but music library looked a little thin. At the time, my dad was a guard on the trains. He came home one night with a gift. Someone had left the sleeve of Quadrophenia by The Who on a train. No records, just the sleeve. Dad had bought it home for me, thinking thinking the thickness of the double sleeve may aesthetically flesh out my anemic collection. Well, what a gift.
The LP has a booklet with pictures depicting the life of Jimmy, a mod kid whose tale was told in a little essay printed on the sleeve. There was pictures of him out on the town, riding his scooter, walking down an underpass, of a breakfast with a fag stabbed out in it, of Jimmy at home in the kitchen with his parents (his mum looks a bit like the queen) of him working on the bins and smashing up a car. Theres also one of him passed out fully clothed on his bed. On the walls of his room, next to his leopard skin littler bin, are pictures of the Beatles and the Who. There also pictures of women taken from girly mags. I was ten, and it was the first naked woman I had ever seen. Clearly, dad had not had a flick through before he passed it on to his first born. Jimmy's world, though, had intoxicated me. There was no turning back.
A little while later (maybe a couple of years), I saw that the movie Quadrophenia was on the telly, and somehow managed to convince mum to let me stay up and watch it. I have no idea how old I was, but I know I must have been very young still. I remember watching a scene where Jimmy starts the preliminaries to masturbating over a picture of a model he had stolen. confused, i asked mum what he was doing. "He's just being silly" was her terse reply. Very young. The film was a wonderful introduction to adolescence. The loneliness and longing. The shit jobs and brilliant kisses.
The soundtrack was even better. Often mooted as a mod album, Quadrophenia is in fact a concept album about the period of your life between leaving school and discovering yourself as an adult. Im yet to discover an album that covers it quite so brilliantly. Even taking into account the flabby production and slightly misguided 'four themes' concept, its a thing of rare beauty, and single handedly got me through my youth.
Songs like 'Is it in my head?' have, not a sound but a FEEL, that frustrated kids can not only relate too, but wrap themselves up in. Its melancholy, haunting but rich and beautiful. Its the perfect soundtrack for being a sulky little twat.
'Cut my hair' is a tale of trying to fit in at home and with your parents whilst aching to break free from the awnings and immerse yourself into the excitement and bright lights of the youth movement. Im too old for Quadrohenia now of course, but it did its job. And its weird to think why someone would leave a sleeve with no records on a train and the effect it would have on my life. I have no doubt I would be a completely different person without its effect. Without having the albums sense of pop-art poetry and aching romance, im certain I would have not fallen in love with the woman I did and followed the art that I have. For all the money and advice and favours my dad gave me over the years, its still my favourite present. and the most important.