Dreams of America have been part of my consciousness my whole life.
I used to sit with my Grandad as he told me tales of ocean voyages and Times Square in New York. He had travelled the world it seemed to me, he had actually travelled the world but that’s what happens when you are a chef for the Cunard line. He was a larger than life man who had sailed the oceans and fought in the war. He was a role model, I know he was flawed as a younger man but in his age he had grown into a gentleman.
He told me about skyscrapers and fancy suits and sandwiches as big as your head. He also told me about sharks in Australia so I never really had the fantasy of visiting as it sounded too dangerous, We used to sit for hours watching cowboy movies and Cary Grant films, sometimes these were the same thing, it seemed every week there was a new movie to watch. One night we stayed up until midnight to watch High Noon. This was in the days before video machines. Then he would tell me about the cars and later the girls and jazz music. Right about this time my Nan would send me out to play and tell him to stop filling my head with nonsense. I think she was afraid I would take off.
My Nan had tales of Americans as well, they were not so complimentary. Stories of brash arrogant men in uniform who would harass young women. Tales of caution. She was however not averse to taking advantage of the odd yank, as she put it although she also guarded her two daughters with a ferocity that was probably legendary in the alleys of Liverpool.
My Dad also had tales of America. The American cousin who sent candy. This caused my Dads legendary dislike for wintergreen. He remembered the big cars coming off the ships though and the Levis you could get cheap in the pubs on the Dock Road. He also laughs at the thought of sitting in the bath so they fit perfectly.
Later on for me there was music and books and more movies and more music. I was almost cured by Jaws, damned sharks again. Then I read On The Road and all was forgiven, this was the America I dreamed of. Art and words and vast panoramas and infeasibly massive cities. Then I read Hunter S. Thompson and was convinced all Americans were in a drug fueled frenzy moving at 1000 miles an hour. All of America was Vegas, the Rat Pack, the chase in North By Northwest and Dylan’s Brownsville girl wrapped up in a mess of beat poetry and Rock’n’Roll.
I had however never met an American. I knew they were around and we hung out in the American Bar on Lime Street, pretending to be cool and hoping a real American would walk in. For some reason we were convinced the name of the place would drag them in like a magnet. I think they have knocked it down now. It was a rowdy bar at the best of times but I am not sure it deserved knocking down.
I would hear the accents on Matthew Street on Friday and Saturday but those sweaty overweight men bore no relationship to John Wayne, Johnny Cash or Bob Dylan. They could not be real Americans just some bellicose imposters to confuse me. Everyone in America was cool, I knew this because it was the land of Dylan, Kerouac and Todd Rundgren and the A-Team and the Wild Bunch. A land of mavericks and loners and super heroes.
All of these thoughts have been stirred up by listening to Ray Davies new album Americana. The realization of how pervasive America was in my life and how far away it was even in the 80’s. Also how glamorous it still is in my mind. A place to be aspired to, a dream a goal to attain. Even as I live in the USA today I feel more a stranger than ever before.
It’s a strange old world I suppose.