It is hard to admit an affection for a band from Manchester. Yes this is a ridiculous bias I have, it is based on years of football rivalry and reinforced animosity towards anyone at the other end of the East Lancs Road. These are the petty centers of my stunted adolescent brain reinforced by my uncles and aunts over the years.
However I do have a deep affection for Magazine, maybe it was the keyboards or the choppy staccato guitars or Howard Devoto’s eccentric vocal style or the uncompromising lyrics.
It may also be the fact that Definitive Gaze is one of the best songs ever written. Don’t tell me you can’t hear a mix of Hawkwind, Bowie and some sort of post-punk prog rock goings on. So this evenings entertainment has been Play by Magazine, live and well in Australia.
I can nowadays admit to enjoying several of Manchesters poptastic bands starting with the Hollies, I am still however struggling with Steven.
My Dad taught me about Levis. Being from Liverpool in the 50’s and 60’s jeans apparently were important. He and his brothers would steal Levis from the ships importing them to England and then redistribute the wealth. They wore them for work, never to go out. They were utilitarian, not decorative. The kids they sold them to may have felt differently.
These were the shrink to fit variety, the most comfortable jeans in the world, cotton that fits to your form, not the pre-shrunk acid washed bleached stuff we know today. These were the pants of Guthrie and Dylan, Brando and Dean, the work wear of railway men and miners, prisoners and farmers. Made from raw cotton and riveted for strength.
There is the relentless customs/traditions/myths and rituals of shrinking the jeans. My Dad took me through all this, sitting in the bath, towel drying and then wear them wet until they dry and don’t wash too often if ever. The inevitable roll of cotton at the end of your leg, some would go with a broad roll, my dad insisted that your fold should no the more than an inch. He would sit there with his rolled up cigarette, his D.A. haircut and white t-shirt, skinny and lean and go through this so seriously, set by step.
I have never bought any other jeans than shrink to fit Levis. It’s a connection to my Dad in some strange way. Now I am not saying I do all that sitting in the bath tub shit still but some of the other stuff I still go along with. My wife thinks I am crazy not washing my jeans too much and never letting them near the drier and “why do you roll them up when you could buy them pre-shrunk to fit?”
I say all this because it is my Dads birthday. For 25 years now I have lived on a different continent from him. Sometimes things fade away, memories roll into each other and become confused, muddled forgotten. There is however that serious day when my dad sat me down and explained how to make your jeans fit. That lived on with me, especially as I work my way through difficulties with my own sons. They don’t wear Levi’s maybe that is the problem at it’s core.
Out of interest, as I walked down the street the other day I was accosted by this thing called a vintage jean shop. The world has surely lost its head, what normally would have been the rack in Goodwill is now a boutique stop for hipsters looking for their hip hugging vintage jeans. Of course two doors down is the used record store that caters to aging rockers looking for a clean copy of some obscure relic of the vinyl age…
All in all, it is all as it should be and I still wear my jeans too baggy according to my wife, however what does she really know about the secrets of raw cotton. Somewhere in my dads closet is a pair of Levis that must be 40 years old, they will never fit me or him again, they may however fetch some cash at that hipster store, that however may be a step too far, come the day I may frame them as art, a relic to a fading practice and an afternoon with an old cast iron bathtub in the back yard and the indigo dye staining my skin as I shrank my first pair of Levis. The other kids at school bought their jeans pre-shrunk, I am not sure we bought ours but we had to work to make them fit, after all my uncle Jimmy still worked on the docks.
Suddenly for some inexplicable reason I had a deep and insistent desire to hear Architecture and Morality by Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark. The odd thing is that I had never owned the album when it first came out in 1981, in fact it was supposedly the type of music that I despised, cold clinical and heaven forbid it was pop music.
As often happens when these needs arise I manage to find a way to fulfill the need. This time in the form of a complete set of the first 6 OMD albums in the brand new local used record store emporium. Obviously some floppy haired ex-student teacher had turned in all their vinyl for a few dollars allowing me to buy them all for $30.
Now they are all American versions or reissues without the cool die cut sleeves of the originals. After over 30 years of not listening I am not too surprised to say the album is pretty darn good. I had obviously been missing out in the eighties with my insistence that prog rock was what we needed to hold on to.
At times while listening I do have flash backs to the days of youth club discos. It’s all very nostalgic here this evening, memories of serious young men staring at self-conscious young women dancing. Maybe if we had all not been so caught up in our own posing we could have danced together and been happier.
I just discovered that ZZ Top were big fans so my rocker cred is intact.
Of course mine doesn’t look like that, it’s a book and not so biblical, however you can’t avoid the imagery of the ongoing block of endless writing. In my mind the scroll was one continuous piece of paper, obviously however it is each piece of paper being taped together as it was written. A note of comfort, there is punctuation.
It’s not my first rodeo with this book, although this is a different book to the one I read in the dim and distant past, this is the book that became Visions of Cody eventually. I’ll get to re-reading the originally published version when I am done. Currently I am in Bakersfield with Bea and Jack heading out to New York from L.A. Chino’s and work shirts and pretty Mexican girls listening to be-bop and drinking pints of whiskey.
I have driven I5 to L.A. twice, once as newly weds raging our way south from Portland after the wedding, sleeping in cheap motels and drinking Budweiser in the afternoons watching the sunsets. The joys of the intimacy of the road trip, the music, reading aloud from books, stopping at that weird looking shack at the side of the road to eat. Creating memories, heading out into Joshua Tree with a gallon of water, some chips, sunscreen and two sleeping bags. Watching the world turn around us as we were the center of the universe.
Stopping at Disney to laugh at the pirates and Goofy, meeting Andy who had lost his shoes and his sanity somewhere at the Whiskey on Wednesday night. This was a long way from Wood Street and the Freewhelers. He was wearing jeans, a vest and the huarache’s he had bought as replacement for his hi-tops, totally unprepared, dehydrated with a stare into the middle distance. His long red hair in a pony tail as he tried to make sense of the insanity he had fallen into. And then the laughing as we drove out to Palm Springs in the middle of the night to crash at the Roman themed vacation home we had been gifted along with pool boy and maid and the ever full drinks cabinet. Floating in the pool during a thunderstorm and watching the lightning set fire to the palm trees as the Byrds Greatest Hits Vol II played out of the artfully disguised underwater speakers. We were insane, two boys from Liverpool and the girl from Oregon laughing as we drank and ate and shouted at the lighting as McGuinn captured his Chestnut Mare. We new it had to end, Andy was jumping a plane back to Liverpool and we were driving the 1000 miles back to Portland and then the flight home.
Later with two children and two parents to the horrors of Disney and the joys of Legoland. Sleeping in overpriced hotels and finding, “family” restaurants to eat in, the tensions of riding together for hours in a vehicle all of us on top of each other endless straight lines between stops and then the stops were not what you wanted. Staying in the fortress of a house in L.A gifted to us. Concrete and heat and staying indoors as it was too hot outside to breathe. The silences as we drove on and on endlessly. 24 hours doesn’t seem too far until you have to drive it, never enough leg room and hardly enough space for suitcases, wishing we had flown, late night truck stops and endless white lines. A different insanity, pose for a picture, smile for the camera eat that hamburger.
At one point we sat on a bench in front of the Best Western and wondered what had happened. Holding hands as we watched the trucks and cars pass. The constant hum of traffic and the neon lights blocking out the stars. We were heading north and you can drive I5 for 24 hours or head out on 101 for four or five days. Shit my parents had no idea where they were so what the hell.
Pulling out of the Best Western heading north we took a left just as the Byrds Greatest Hits Vol II started.
“The river flows, it flows to the sea Wherever that river goes that’s where I want to be Flow river flow, let your waters wash down Take me from this road to some other town”
Heading north on 101, stopping in San Francisco and hugging the coast it’s only 200 more miles but its a slow road that makes you talk and laugh and sing. Stopping at those funky diners, watching the wales and dragging your feet through the sand every couple of hours so the boys don’t go crazy. Suddenly we were reading aloud in the car and laughing, my Mum sang those songs I remembered as a child and my Dad snored his way north, a weight was lifted and L.A. and Disney was forgotten as we watched the waves and smelled the salt air. Hitting the Redwoods we were dwarfed by nature and it’s bounty and suddenly those irritations as we set out were insignificant and in the past. The end of the road was more satisfying than the beginning and it was a jolly rolling van that pulled into the driveway at the end of the road rather than a van full of malcontents.
“All rock ‘n’ roll is about America and most other songs too son…” then he picked up his guitar case and wondered into the night.
I had sat there and listened to his Texas drawl as he told me stories of the west that were probably ninety percent bullshit and one hundred percent true. We had drunk out of the same bottle of whiskey on the station platform, he was leaving London and I was passing through. I believed he had wisdom and he was jealous of my foolish youth. I never got his name, we were only talking because he saw me opening a cassette, it was probably a John Lee Hooker compilation Dave was making me listen to.
I was full of questions about the USA and he was full of answers, none of which had made sense. I was an expert on the USA, I had watched Starsky and Hutch, Kojak, 12 Angry Men, Serpico the Godfather and Bullitt. I had read On The Road and Catch 22 and more importantly the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, what more was there to know. I’d been listening to American music most of my life, all the greatest hits albums. I even was beginning to “get” the Grateful Dead.
At this point it would be perfect to say and that’s when I learned who he was… Of course it would be, the truth is he could have been anyone or no-one, what did I really know and true to form at 17 I never asked.
We parted ways, the scruffy long haired kid waiting for the train and the floppy haired texan, we both shared the same dress sense, Levis and a work shirt, he however had some nice boots and a stetson, I had converse and was bareheaded. Later I learned he couldn’t have been a cowboy as he was not wearing Wrangler’s. No self respecting cowboy would wear Levi’s. I am not sure if that’s true but I was told it with finality by a Wrangler wearing, snakeskin booted rancher as he reached for his Coors Banquet beer. I wasn’t going to argue I could see the bulge in the small of his back. He told me he was probably an oil man, that was still romantic enough so who cared.
I never really decided to be living in the USA. I was fascinated yes, but I never thought of myself living here. It was a place you saw on TV or in movies, it was just too far away. I never really thought about the impact the USA had on me as a child, I was from Liverpool the town that single handedly changed the face of rock music. I never really understood that Little Richard, Bo. Diddley, Chuck Berry and a slew of others had already tried and failed and it had to come back to the working classes in the UK and then be taken back to be accepted, Paul McCartney and Jagger could whoop and holler and make millions, Little Richard had to toil in obscurity, this is the paradox of the USA. They don’t want the real thing they want the polite cute thing.
This year begins my 25th year in the USA without becoming a citizen. It may finally be time to take the big step and accept this is where I am.
Of course the best way of describing these thoughts is by a band from Liverpool.
Back in the dim and distant past when I was in the full flush of my self-righteous judgmental politicizing, no not last week. I was a pretty arrogant young man, convinced my ideals were the correct ones and that others should acknowledge my brilliance. On bad days this may still be true, or on good days depending on which side of the aisle you are standing.
I have recently been fascinated by the idea that as we get older we tend to become more conservative. This adage seems to be a confirmed belief for some a fact if you will. The basis appears to be that as we accrue more wealth we desire to protect it from taxes and the infamous “other” in the world. Never having actually accrued a whole lot of wealth in my life to protect this has not been a problem. So maybe it is just that some believe that as we get older we get less idealistic and more self serving, I have often been a self serving bastard in my life but usually when I was younger.
Again and again as I protested my way. through life, throwing eggs at politicians and ranting against injustice, the grayer heads would smile and say “he’ll grow out of it.” Maybe I am just too pigheaded, fixed in my ways or as some would say incorrigible.
So at 52 I am still somehow convinced that I am right, it is better to treat others with respect and value them as humans than treat them as the “other.”
This may go back to the evening when I sat on a cold floor in Northumberland as a young woman from Hull took the time to explain to me that Dick Gaughan may very well be the greatest political singer/songwriter in the world. Forget Dylan or Bragg or Seeger, Gaughan with his passionate voice and intricate playing was the real deal. She made me sit still and listen to the album Handful of Earth which in its two sides tackled intolerance and bigotry and political division in the most direct and straight forward way imaginable. Gaughan’s Scottish accent required attention to the lyrics. His intensity was tangible in every song and his sincerity could not be doubted. This was a man who walked the talk.
Two days later we were on a picket line supporting the miners and Gaughan was there, singing and ranting against the injustices of Thatchers Britain. I remember at some point in the night I shook his hand and he made eye contact and mumbled “you’ll do.” I have no idea what he meant, I have however since then felt the need to live up to some expectation to take care of my fellow man.
A couple of days later me and that girl from Hull went to see The Clash and screamed our souls into the chasm that seemed to be engulfing our small world at the time. She danced like a wild thing her green eyes flashing and brunette hair flowing and I thought this was what we should do forever.
Several weeks later we climbed up the Long Crag in Northumberland, we stood by the cairn and hollered into the wind.
Some days that’s all you can do is holler into the wind she said smiled and we climbed down.
A few years later when we had both moved on I went to see Dick Gaughan again, it was just as powerful an evening.
I like My Nation Underground, yes it’s a pop record, isn’t it all pop music after all?
What I really like though is that because of it Cope holed up in the studio and made the perfection of Skellington. I have no c story of what the album means to me, it does however consistently make me smile every time I play it.
It’s as if Cope downloaded the thoughts he was having at the time onto the record, that’s not necessarily a comforting experience.
I needed a smile so I played Skellington, happy new year…