Rubbish, piffle, tommyrot, drivel and utter bilge

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lookin' After Number One

WARNING: The following diatribe contains subject matter that may offend some people of a sensitive nature, as it concerns bodily functions. If you are offended by this topic, buy a pair of sunglasses to don next time you go to the loo.

In this post I am going to let slip a little known fact about me: I sit while peeing, if I can possibly help it. My personal reason for this is that many years ago I read an article in a magazine (I forget which one, it could have been TVTimes for all I remember) that was to do with a medical study in which doctors found that peeing while sitting is better for men, something to do with more complete emptying of the bladder, less annoying dewdrops etc. Now, that is one thing that always aggravated me... you go pee, shake off the drops, tuck it back in, zip up, take two steps away from the loo and.... dammit! A stray drop. Now you have to walk around with damp Y-fronts for half an hour till it dries. Icky, right? So I resolved that day to sit while peeing from that moment on. And I am glad I did. I mean just think of all the side benefits:

  • Firstly, you get to sit. And when you sit, you can take a nap, or read the paper.
  • If, as often happens when I pee, I suddenly get the urge to #2, I'm already ready.
  • I make less noise while peeing.
  • There's none of that 'put-the-seat-up-and-put-it-back-down-when-you're-done' palaver, and less trouble with the missus/girlfriend/significant other.
  • Don't have to stand awkwardly next to other guys and get paranoid about how they might be looking at your schlong. And judging you.
There are, of course, a couple of disadvantages to peeing in a sitting position:

  • If in a public toilet, whoever went in there before you invariably peed standing up and splashed the seat. I don't care how great your aim is - you splash when you pee. Even if you can't see it, it is there. Wipe it off, asshole. I don't want a ring of someone else's piss on my buttocks. 
  • Errrr... that's it.
However, it seems there are a large proportion of males who will refuse to sit. Why is this? We males are naturally lazy, so why not sit? Because there's no remote and/or cold beer next to the loo.
No, honestly, I've scooted around the web researching opinion on this and the men that are against it seem to be aggressively male about it, like "Grrr! I'm a man and I'll piss standing up because I can, grrr! Only girls and poofs pee sitting down! Grr! I'll splash all over the damn seat if I want, grrr! I'm a man, grr!". Yeah, a cave man.

Anyway, I've had my say. Apologies, but I had to vent. Sitting down.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

100 Records That Shook The World, # 62

My Generation

The Who

One of the most celebrated, covered, cited, quoted songs in the entire pantheon of rock, arguably the first true punk single, and probably the first ever appearance on record of a bass solo, 'My Generation' was supposedly written by a young Pete Townshend as a direct reaction to The Queen Mother, who allegedly had Townshend's car, a 1935 Packard hearse, towed from its parking spot in Belgravia because she didn't like seeing it as she drove through the neighbourhood. Its direct influence, though was from a song by blues and jazz pianist Mose Allison, "Young Man Blues", which The Who used as a staple of their live shows. Townshend was quoted as saying that the song was about  "trying to find a place in society" and that "when I wrote the song, to me 'old' meant 'very rich'". Daltrey's angry stutter, influenced by John Lee Hooker's "Stuttering Blues", served a dual purpose - firstly, it emulated the speech style of young Mods on speed, the drug du jour for their fans, and it also gave the group room to imply an expletive in the lyrics ("Why don't you all ffff...fade away!"). Whether this was deliberate or accidental has been debated. In fact the BBC initially refused to play the song because of this, and also because they did not want listeners that stuttered to be offended, but eventually as the song increased in popularity they had to relent. Moon's wildman drumming, coupled with Townshend's feedback-laden guitar delivery propelled the song to number 2 in the UK chart.

It was named the 11th greatest song by Rolling Stone on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and 13th on VH1's list of the 100 Greatest Songs of Rock & Roll. It's also part of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll and is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for "historical, artistic and significant" value. In 2009 it was named the 37th Greatest Hard Rock Song by VH1.

Poetry Corner, Part 3

Some more of my favourite poems, some of which have a special meaning to them.

A Great Poem

This is a great poem.

How I suffer!
How I suffer!
How I suffer!

This is a great poem.
Full of true emotion.
-- Gavin Ewart

Sonnet: Dolce stil novo

That woman who to me seems most a woman
I do not compare to angels --- or digress on schismatic Popes ---
or exalt above the terrestrial or consider a madonna.
Nor do I search in others for her lineaments,
or wish for Death to free me from desire,
or consider Love an archer; or see her as a Daphne,
fleeing the embraces of Apollo, transformed into a laurel.
I am not lost in the amorous wood of Virgil.

But although I do not rhyme or use the soft Italian,
my love is a strong love, and for a certain person.
Human beings are human; I can see a man might envy
her bath water as it envelops her completely.
That's what my love would like to do; and Petrarch
can take a running jump at himself --- or (perhaps?) agree.
-- Gavin Ewart


Philip Larkin

Why should I let the toad work
  Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
  And drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it soils 
  With its sickening poison -
Just for paying a few bills!
  That's out of proportion.

Lots of folk live on their wits:
  Lecturers, lispers,
Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
  They don't end as paupers;

Lots of folk live up lanes
  With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
  they seem to like it.

Their nippers have got bare feet,
  Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets - and yet
  No one actually starves.

Ah, were I courageous enough 
  To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that's the stuff
  That dreams are made on:

For something sufficiently toad-like
  Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
  And cold as snow,

And will never allow me to blarney
  My way of getting
The fame and the girl and the money
  All at one sitting.

I don't say, one bodies the other
  One's spiritual truth;
But I do say it's hard to lose either,
  When you have both.


Robert Frost (1874–1963)

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;      

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,      

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.      

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.      


Denise Levertov (1923-1997)

My wedding-ring lies in a basket
as if at the bottom of a well.
Nothing will come to fish it back up
and onto my finger again.
                    It lies
among keys to abandoned houses,
nails waiting to be needed and hammered
into some wall,
telephone numbers with no names attached,
idle paperclips.
          It can't be given away
for fear of bringing ill-luck.
          It can't be sold
for the marriage was good in its own
time, though that time is gone.
          Could some artificer
beat into it bright stones, transform it
into a dazzling circlet no one could take
for solemn betrothal or to make promises
living will not let them keep? Change it
into a simple gift I could give in friendship?

The End of Love

The end of love should be a big event.
It should involve the hiring of a hall.
Why the hell not? It happens to us all.
Why should it pass without acknowledgment?

Suits should be dry-cleaned, invitations sent.
Whatever form it takes—a tiff, a brawl—
The end of love should be a big event.
It should involve the hiring of a hall.

Better than the unquestioning descent
Into the trap of silence, than the crawl
From visible to hidden, door to wall.

Get the announcements made, the money spent.
The end of love should be a big event.
It should involve the hiring of a hall.

— Sophie Hannah

If People Disapprove Of You

Make being disapproved of your hobby.
Make being disapproved of your aim.
Devise new ways of scoring points
In the Being Disapproved Of Game.

Let them disapprove in their dozens.
Let them disapprove in their hordes.
You'll find that being disapproved of
Builds character, brings rewards.

Just like any form of striving
Don't be arrogant; don't coast
On your high disapproval rating.
Try to be disapproved of most.

At this point, if it's useful,
Draw a pie chart or a graph.
Show it to someone who disapproves.
When they disapprove, just laugh.

Count the emotions you provoke:
Anger, suspicion, shock.
One point for each of these
And two for each boat you rock.

Feel yourself warming to your task -
You do it bloody well.
A last you've found an area
In which you can excel.

Savour the thrill of risk without
The fear of getting caught.
Whether they sulk or scream or pout,
Enjoy your new-found sport.

Meanwhile all those who disapprove
While you are having fun
Won't even know your game exists
So tell yourself you've won.

--Sophie Hannah

Puck's Song

See you the ferny ride that steals
Into the oak-woods far?
O that was whence they hewed the keels
That rolled to Trafalgar.

And mark you where the ivy clings
To Bayham's mouldering walls?
O there we cast the stout railings
That stand around St. Paul's.

See you the dimpled track that runs
All hollow through the wheat?
O that was where they hauled the guns
That smote King Philip's fleet.

(Out of the Weald, the secret Weald,
Men sent in ancient years,
The horse-shoes red at Flodden Field,
The arrows at Poitiers!)

See you our little mill that clacks,
So busy by the brook?
She has ground her corn and paid her
Ever since Domesday Book.

See you our stilly woods of oak,
And the dread ditch beside?
O that was where the Saxons broke
On the day that Harold died.

See you the windy levels spread
About the gates of Rye?
O that was where the Northmen fled,
When Alfred's ships came by.

See you our pastures wide and lone,
Where the red oxen browse?
O there was a City thronged and known,
Ere London boasted a house.

And see you after rain, the trace
Of mound and ditch and wall?
O that was a Legion's camping-place,
When Caesar sailed from Gaul.

And see you marks that show and fade,
Like shadows on the Downs?
O they are the lines the Flint Men made,
To guard their wondrous towns.

Trackway and Camp and City lost,
Salt Marsh where now is corn--
Old Wars, old Peace, old Arts that cease,
And so was England born!

She is not any common Earth,
Water or wood or air,
But Merlin's Isle of Gramarye,
Where you and I will fare!

--Rudyard Kipling

Richard Armour

 That money talks, I'll not deny,
I heard it once; it said 'Goodbye'.


Three of my previous posts concerning poetry:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bubba Fotherington-Smythe

When I first arrived in the United States back in 1991, I rapidly became aware of how soft-spoken I was. I must have spent half that first year repeating myself for the loud annoying American and the other half explaining that I was not from New Zealand, Australia or South Africa. Gradually, though, I got into it, and because I am a natural mimic, started sounding American. Every time I got on the phone to Mum or Sis or my grandparents, they always would say, "Ooh, you don't half sound American, Jeff." to which I would incredulously reply, "Oh... do I?" I started to get into the local culture as well, and it only got worse when I moved from the fairly generic-sounding Northwest to the yee-haw lawdy hush ma mouth State of Georgia. I started pronouncing thangs like them folks did, and began to see the phrases "Y'all" and "Fixin' tuh" creep into my vocabulary, as well as an appreciation for creamed corn and buttermilk biscuits. It was while working in the public eye in places such as Old Navy, Red Lobster, Cracker Barrel and Outback that people picked up on my accent being a little different and once more was asked on a regular basis whence I hailed.

"Y'all Australian?"

"Ye're not from round here, are ya?"

Let me back up a little at this point. I am not the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to picking up on whether I am being flirted with. Neither am I fully aware that my natural sunny disposition and chatty demeanour might be construed as flirtatious to some. I had sorta figured out that some American ladies find a man with an English accent quite sexy, and that did come in handy at times when I wanted a bigger tip. But on the whole I was blissfully ignorant that what seemed to me to be a friendly conversation with a person of the opposite gender could actually be a flirt-a-thon. Usually, flirting has to be blatantly obvious in order for me to recognise it as such. For example, I recently burnt myself at work and it was bad enough that I had to go to the doctor to get it treated. When talking later that day with a lady friend on the ol' computer, I informed her of my injury and she replied by asking if she should put her nurse's uniform on and come over and take care of me. Now, that I understood.

By the time I came back to the UK, about 18 and a half years from when I started, my accent was all over the map, and so was my vocab. And once again I found myself having to repeat things because people weren't getting the lingo. So began the process of re-learning different phrases and terminologies (like calling my cellphone a 'mobile') until one day, about four months ago or so, while at work, serving a customer a pot of tea, I said "Would you like some extra hot water?" which is what you do when you are serving someone a pot of tea. The thing was, though, I heard myself saying it and was shocked to hear myself say "water" and pronouncing it "Waw-tah", i.e. the English pronunciation. About 6 months before that, I would have said "wah-derr", the American way of saying it. It was a revelation not unlike the one I experienced in Lake Stevens, WA back in about 1994 when I saw a classic automobile that had been lovingly restored, and said " Look at that awesome CARRR." The English say KAH. Shock horror! I was a Yank!

But the reality of my 'hot water' pronunciation has sunk in. I am beginning to lose my American-ness, and that depresses me. I like being unique. I've always liked attention (duh!) and the fact that a person's unique qualities can generate desirable attention has not escaped my notice. To this end, I have always tried to cultivate my uniqueness accordingly. Having a jumbled-up accent is unique, and it seems English women find my semi-American twang quite interesting. And of course, being able to flirt in English and Americanese does not hurt, either.

I find myself now in the position of having to brush up on my Southern drawl and my California surf dude lingo, for fear of waking up one morning and not being able to say that I 'might could' do something or I 'used ta could' do something.

 It's a funny old world we live in and no mistake. Or should I say, 'Laaf is laak a bowks-a chowk-lits.'

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Please Help

I am a little late out of the starting blocks, but I was shocked and saddened by the news that Mick Karn, multi-instrumentalist and bassist for two of my favourite bands, Japan  and  Dalis Car,  has been diagnosed as being in the advanced stages of cancer. Mick has been struggling financially recently due to medical costs and so has launched an appeal via his personal website Midge Ure already has a benefit concert in the works for later this month. Please go to his website and find out more.

Now I've Seen It All

Every time I say, "Now I've seen it all", that usually means I'll see something worse the next day. But sometimes you're walking around in a shop or on the street or watching something on TV and something appears in front of your face that just is so odd or off-kilter that it makes you go 'Whoa!' and you think that now you've seen it all. The absolute limit. Well, today just such a thing happened to me. My Sis and I went to Ashford (joy of joys) with our shopping list and as we were merrily trotting around Tesco and making a spectacle of ourselves (dancing around the aisles, singing along with the in-store muzak and generally being loud and annoying was just the tip of the iceberg), we entered the aisle where the air fresheners reside. As we were reaching for the Febreze, I spotted this on the top shelf:

Yes folks. You saw it here. National Geographic Plug-in air fresheners. Evidently this is not a new phenomenon. I said to Sis, "Well, it's news to me!" And that wasn't all. There were Nat Geo reed diffusers, sprays, candles and the like as well. I was gobsmacked. And it was then that I uttered those words, that I'd seen it all. 
So I came home and did a bit of digging around and found that if you go to
you can read all about them (it's a gorgeous website by the way, with stunning photos - but then what else would you expect from Nat Geo?). There are even wallpaper and screensaver downloads on the site, and a video of the commercial. Is it just me or do other people find the concept of National Geographic Magazine becoming a brand of air freshener a little, well, I dunno... bizarre? Please tell me I am not alone in this.

I mean, what next? Wall Street Journal Beef Jerky? Daily Mirror Detergent? Or a little GQ candy bar? Where will it all end?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Let The Grass Grow

A while ago, I mentioned in a previous post that I had been the drummer in a rock 'n' roll band while in high school. This band was called The Grass, not a monicker I was particularly fond of, and we were not exactly the tightest combo that anyone ever heard. True, we had a few hummable ditties, but most were very derivative, and a lot were covers. We were led by Alastair, who was heavily into '50s and '60s rock & roll, and so several of his songs had that Eddie Cochran/Bill Haley/Gene Vincent feel to them, very out of fashion at the time (early '80s), a time when bass player/rhythm guitarist Nigel and myself were listening to Bauhaus and The Boomtown Rats. However, since Alastair seemed to own most of the equipment, Nigel had very little say, and I had even less.

Why am I telling you this? Because this afternoon I put on a couple of old rehearsal tapes (yes, I still have them, 28 years on. All of them.) and I was staggered at (a) how bad some of it was; (b) how there were occasional - note, occasional - flashes of brilliance; and (c) the fact that I had forgotten some of the songs. Let me just run through the track listing of one of the tapes, a tape entitled "Grass Live Charm Wood" (Charm Wood being the name of Alastair's house). The dates on the label indicate that these rehearsals took place on February 24th 1982, and July 17th 1982. One of the things that makes me squirm about these tapes is the fact that at 16 years old, my voice still had not broken and sounded all girly. It did enable me to punctuate the songs with high-pitched squeals though, as if some flock of adoring teenyboppers were about to mob us and rip our clothes off.

Side 1:

  • All Shook Up
  • That's Alright Mama
  • Stand There - a song written by Nigel which eventually became 'You Need Grass', a tawdry bid to have a signature tune, containing such verses as 'You cram your head with books/ You're not aware of your good looks/ You're beautiful but you're stationary/ You just can't get off the hook'. We had another two songs containing the word 'Grass' - "Let The Grass Grow" and "GrassFunk". We had been called The Urge previously but then discovered there was another The Urge out there, and they had appeared on TV, so we changed it. Shame really -  I thought the Urge was a good name. Years later there was another The Urge who did 'Jump Right In' - remember that one? Look it up on YouTube.
  • Great Balls Of Fire
  • Sarah - one of Alastair's ballads. One that I had somehow blanked out of my memory.
  • All Shook Up (again - as I say, this was a rehearsal)
  • That's Alright Mama again
  • Stand There again
  • Great Balls Of Fire again (God, how I hated playing that song)
  • Wild Thing
  • The Blues Bug - a song of Alastair's which, if he'd had a more bluesy voice instead of the smooth balladeer voice he tried to adopt, would have made a fairly decent blues jam.
  • Get Off Of My Cloud - this was just a very loose jamming version which stopped and started and contained a very vocal argument about how the song should be played - Nigel wanted to remain true to the original, while Alastair wanted to try different tempos. On the tape, Alastair says, "We don't wanna BE like the Stones, just want to nick a Stones song, that's all." Nigel's reply? "Yeah, but you need to play it how it's meant to be played though, I mean that's a good song." So how did it end up being arranged on our first demo a year later? As a reggae-tinged pop song. 
Side 2 - This was a rehearsal for a thing called 'Stalag 82' which was a reunion of sorts organised by Alastair's parents and held in a marquee on the back lawn over a weekend in September of that year.

  • Great Balls Of Fire again
  • Stand There again
  • Death Valley - a song of Alastair's about a ghostly battlefield - "I could hear the distant screams all around me..." ooohh...spooky. Also contains the line "I turned my head and saw a fallen soldier/ I turned again and saw it was a log." Lyrical genius.
  • Get Back
  • Get Off Of My Cloud
  • Rolling Down The Highroad - my favourite of all Alastair's songs, this had a lovely loping groove and a great simple riff.
  • A Hard Day's Night
  • Rolling Down The Highroad again
  • Life's OK If You Drink - best thing about this was the title. "Paralytic beyond belief / You're the cause of so much of my grief."
  • Yo Yo Woman - one of Alastair's, about a woman who "sees all the young guys hanging around, ties 'em in a loop and slips 'em on her finger, then she winds ya up, and starts to spin ya...Up and down, around and around, up and down... she's the kinda woman that treats ya like a yo-yo." Yeah, we've all been there.
  • That's Alright Mama again
  • Wild Thing again
Our first actual gig was in Nigels' Grandma's back garden one summer day. Most of his family were there so we had an audience of about ten or so. I had not been able to afford a full drum kit at that point, so I had two snare drums side by side, one with the snares off, and the other had a small cymbal on the side. One of the nice things about this setup (which was to be made cool in 1985 by the Jesus and Mary Chain) was that it afforded me the opportunity to move around and dance, much to the delight of Nigel's Gran, who shouted out between songs "Can we have more dancing from the drummer, please!". I was happy to oblige. Apparently there exists a video which contains footage converted from a home movie camera of this gig. I have yet to see it though, but as soon as I can, I will attempt to post some to this blog for your amusement.

::UPDATE:: Here it is!!

It was not until late 1982 that I finally had enough money to buy a cheap second-hand Premier Olympic kit with a cracked crash cymbal that sounded like a tin tray, and a hi-tom that had a drumhead so beat up it looked like it was about to bust through any moment. It eventually did during an after-school rehearsal. That was fine though - I had been given some spare drum parts by my dad and so I had a nice blue Evans head waiting in the wings. I got a nicer kick pedal too.

We gigged in various pubs throughout the area in 1983, and eventually broke up in early 1984. But the buzz I got from being in the band, which we formed in 1978 at school during a German lesson, I will never forget. Just the feeling of being in front of people and performing is amazing, especially when you get a positive reaction. But even just jamming in someone's front room is something I think everyone should experience. Creating your own music is fun, and when other people like it too, that makes it all worthwhile.

There have been moments over the past few years when Alastair, Nigel and I have talked and jokingly mentioned doing a reunion gig one day. But if the truth were known, I would love to do it. Maybe one day, who knows...?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Punch To The Back Of The Head

The town I live in is very picturesque and touristy, and the majority of the buildings in the photogenic High Street are listed buildings, even the phone booths. A listed building in the United Kingdom is a building which has been placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. It is a widely used status, applied to around half a million buildings. This status ensures that buildings thus listed are therefore protected from demolition due to historical or architectural significance.

The fact that the town is full of very pretty and architecturally significant buildings makes it popular with tourists, and it is this, coupled with the large proportion of retirees, pensioners and generally old folks, that can make the simple act of going into a shop rather tiresome. As I was out and about today I had occasion to go to Tesco, a local large supermarket. This I had no problem doing. It was only afterwards as I attempted to walk down the street to make the return journey home that I encountered difficulties. It seemed that we had been invaded by slow people.

I am a naturally curious person and it was as I passed Webb's, a shop which sells homewares, that I felt the urge to go in and have a general poke around. Now picture if you will the scene... Webb's is on my right as I saunter down the street, as is an old lady who seemed hell-bent on matching my moves step for step. I was slowing down as if to enter the shop, yet I could not pass this old woman for love nor money. She was replicating my moves nanosecond by nanosecond and finally toddled into the shop. Did I go in? nay, nay and thrice nay, for I had already said to myself, "Ah, the HELL with it!" and continued down the street, thinking there would be other, less busy days in which to shop there. As if that were not enough, my strides were slowed once again by two slow-moving old crones walking side-by-side as they passed the Cancer Research charity shop. I neatly side-stepped them, skipping into the gutter daintily as I did so, but my efforts at rapid perambulation were thwarted once again as I reached the pelican crossing outside M&Co., due to a group of ageing foreigners moving in slo-mo towards the button. Not only that, but they then ambled across the road before the green man told them to, which to me is a big no-no. Is it just me, or does it drive you crazy when shambling old duffers slow you down? I know I am no spring chicken, but it seems like when it happens once, it'll happen again almost immediately, as if it is somehow orchestrated. It is the pedestrian equivalent of being cut off in traffic. Ever hear of pavement rage?

I secretly want to hurt these people. Is that so wrong?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chapter Two

OK folks, here's the next instalment.

2: Atomic

Donald Roger Paley had never been what you might call a ladies' man. He'd always wanted to be, mind, but his success with the opposite gender always seemed doomed to failure, largely due to his nervousness and outright shyness around girls. He just never knew how one was supposed to strike up a conversation with a woman, and on top of that he never had quite figured out what one was meant to say to keep the conversation going past the first sentence. If he hadn't got the job at Baritone's when he was 20 years old he would have never met Mo, the checkout girl at the supermarket next door, and if it hadn't been for Mo, who chatted to him every time he went in the place about the weather and music and books and films and TV and cars, then he probably would still feel uncomfortable around girls and might never have gotten laid. This is the sort of thing Don thought about regularly. As it was, he still was fairly shy, but at least he wasn't afraid of women any more. Or at least he wasn't afraid of talking to a woman. There were still other aspects that were frightening. Like commitment, marriage, living together... and children.

It's not that Don didn't like the idea of having a long-term relationship and all that it entailed. It is that he was terrified. Terrified of committing to one person for ever and ever, in perpetuity, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Terrified of knowing that someone was relying on him. Terrified of even going up to a girl and saying anything to her. True, he had had girlfriends. Well, they might not like to think of themselves that way, but essentially that is what they were. Women who had had a brief relationship with him, be it for one month, one week, or even just a day and a night. But there really was only one woman who had captivated him, and since that time no-one else really measured up. This one girl that he had dated for perhaps two months (and we use the term dated in its broadest possible sense), back when he was sixteen, pimply, short and a nervous wreck around girls. Looking back on it, he could not even remember what the hell it was she had seen in him. But whatever it was, she had had this profound effect on him, and it tainted his view of other girls.

Her name was Stephanie. Well, no, it was actually Helen, but her whole family referred to her as Stephanie, and she preferred it that way, so who was he to rock the boat? Stephanie it was. He remembered how unlike other girls she was, right from the time he had first met her at school. She was pretty, he could see that, although most schoolmates thought she was not exactly phwoaarrr material, due to her glasses, her braces, and her enormous brain, filled as it was with an inordinate amount of knowledge for one of his peers. Yes, she was a swot. A bookworm. Forever at the top of every class she was in. Don, therefore, didn't really think much about her to begin with. He had other things to fill up his mind with, such as Not The Nine O'Clock News and Top Of The Pops.

It was one day in mid-October of 1980 whilst sitting in Mr. Taylor's maths class, bored as usual, when Stephanie strutted up to Don's desk and handed him a neatly folded piece of paper. He was all excited about this at first until he noticed her handing folded notes to several other members of the class. When he unfolded the paper, written in very neat girlish handwriting, was this:

You are invited to attend Stephanie's birthday bash on October 30th 1980 at 7pm.
Remember, we rely on you for music. Please bring some records and we'll have some fun!
Wow! A party! A proper party, with records and stuff! The next few days leading up to it had seemed a blur. He remembered at the last moment that it was a birthday party, so he quickly nipped to the local neighbourhood grocery to see about buying something feminine and affordable that would work as a present. He flew into a panic as soon as he got to the shop as the selection was desperately thin, but he was on his way to the party itself and there was no time to try any alternatives. They were all in the other direction. He plumped for a large unusually-shaped bottle of some pink bubble bath and a card with something funny on it. He always went for the funny ones.

At five to seven he arrived at the house and was ushered in, bag of singles in one hand and card and bubble bath in the other. The interior had been readied – chairs pushed back against the wall, dining chairs included, table groaning with all kinds of finger sandwiches, sausage rolls and the like, kitchen counter heaving with cans and bottles of pop, and under the window that faced outwards onto the patio sat the stereo on a table, speakers sitting on the windowsill facing outwards. Outside in the back garden was a roaring bonfire and he could see some firework containers over by the shed. The patio had been cleared and was obviously a makeshift dancefloor. Stephanie's dad was grilling sausages on the BBQ grill and he could see some potatoes wrapped in foil which were going to go into the dying fire embers later on to bake. This was a great party setup.

There was a small table outside where people had already started piling Stephanie's presents. He added his and the card to the heap, strategically placing it next to a shiny large present that looked expensive. Her Dad came over and proffered him a beer. Whoa. Don had only ever had half a Heineken before, so this was new territory. He accepted and drank it slowly, but he didn't really care for the taste. However, he did care about the way it made him feel after a while, kinda loose and relaxed.

Several friends started turning up and they began to drink, eat, talk and dance the evening away, and it wasn't until about 9 pm when he was out on the patio that he noticed Stephanie staring in his direction. He started to panic when she began walking his way, and she brazenly came right up to him and asked him to dance. He did not know where to put himself. This had certainly never happened before, although he had secretly wished that it would. Well, what could he do? The lady wanted to dance. So he took her hand and they began awkwardly prancing on the dancefloor. They danced for what seemed an eternity, until they were close together, his hand around her waist, her hand clasping his, getting ever closer, until he was cheek-to-cheek with this rose-cheeked angel and smelling her long, silky, mouse-blonde hair. “Oh, oh, your hair is beautiful...” he crooned lamely with the song. “Ah, tonight.... atomic.” That about sums it up, he thought. Atomic.

After that, as well as seeing her every day at school, he visited her house quite often, and even took her to the school disco one Friday night where he won a prize for Best Male Dancer. His prize, a couple of singles and posters, were clutched tightly in his hand as he walked her home that evening, when she said, “Well.... aren't you going to give me a goodnight kiss?” and he experienced his first real deep soul kiss, a true Frenchie, which in spite of her braces, was just about the biggest thrill of his life. After bidding her good night he ran home with the energy of Sebastian Coe.

She dropped him like a hot brick after the Christmas hols, which is not surprising, really. Boyfriends are supposed to go round to their girlfriends' houses more than once during the winter vacation. The poor thing was probably terrified that he'd lost interest, which wasn't the case at all. Families have a way of monopolising your time during Christmas and New Year's, what with all the grandparents, aunts & uncles, cousins and the other extended hangers-on wanting to see your cherubic face. So it was not Don's fault. Well, that was his story and he was sticking to it.

A few years after they had left school he had bumped into her only once more, working behind the counter in a clothing shop. She was on summer break from her university studies and was home for a few weeks. How like her to get a job, he thought. God, she looked amazing. The braces were gone, and the hair had become more golden, and was now cut into a gorgeous Theda Bara bob, which looked incredible paired with her small red-framed rectangular glasses. They exchanged a few words, just small talk, but he was entranced by her again, and was walking on air just for having seen her for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

100 Records That Shook The World, # 63

Highway 61 Revisited (LP)
Bob Dylan

Dylan's sixth studio album was a real belter. This is the one where he 'went electric'. Having used a rock band on some tracks for his previous LP, Bringing It All Back Home, Bob went all the way with this one and made a modern classic.

At the time Dylan was writing, Highway 61, sometimes called the "Blues Highway," went from New Orleans through Memphis and from Iowa through Duluth (Dylan's birthplace) to the Canadian border; the section of Highway 61 from Wyoming, Minnesota to Duluth was de-designated in 1991. It was regularly featured in blues songs, notably Mississippi Fred McDowell's "61 Highway" and James "Son" Thomas's "Highway 61." Bessie Smith met her death in an automobile accident on that roadway; Robert Johnson was said to have sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads of Highway 61 and Highway 49 (itself the subject of a Howlin' Wolf song); Elvis Presley grew up in the housing projects built along it; and Martin Luther King, Jr. would later be murdered at a motel just off Highway 61.
"A lot of great basic American culture came right up that highway and up that river", Robert Shelton told a BBC interviewer. "And as a teenager Dylan had travelled that way on radio. ... Highway 61 became, I think, to him a symbol of freedom, a symbol of movement, a symbol of independence and a chance to get away from a life he didn't want in Hibbing."
While "Like a Rolling Stone" was completed in mid-June 1965, the rest of the album was recorded with a different producer, Bob Johnston, in four days of sessions shortly after Dylan's legendary appearance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival; the sessions also produced Dylan's next single, "Positively 4th Street", not included on the LP.

Years after its release, Dave Marsh wrote that Highway 61 Revisited was one of Dylan's "best albums, and [one] of the greatest in the history of rock & roll." Subsequent polls in recent years prove that it remains a fixture in the rock pantheon. In 1995 Highway 61 Revisited was named the fifth greatest album of all time in a poll conducted by Mojo Magazine. In 1998 Q magazine readers voted it the 57th greatest album of all time; in 2001 the TV network VH1 placed it at number 22. Then in 2003, Rolling Stone magazine placed Highway 61 Revisited fourth on its list of the greatest albums of all time. Its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time placed "Highway 61 Revisited", "Desolation Row" and "Like a Rolling Stone" at #364, #185 and #1, respectively.
Clinton Heylin wrote it was "an album that consolidated everything 'Like A Rolling Stone' (and Bringing It All Back Home) proffered ... an amalgamation of every strand in American popular music from 'Gypsy Davey' to the Philly Sound." Tim Riley said it was "the first Dylan record to posit protest as a way of life, a state of mind, something as psychologically bound as it is socially incumbent."
A profound influence on Dylan's contemporaries, it also coincided with greater commercial success as singles like "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Positively 4th Street" brought him to a wider audience. The controversy that ignited with Newport would continue to follow Dylan throughout 1965, but he had no intention of turning back.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing

The mind is a strange thing, isn't it? Mine is, especially.

I have one of those brains that seems to retain information easily. Trouble is, none of it is the useful kind. My Grandfather was the same way. He often referred to his own mind and mine as being 'a mine of useless information'. I can remember license plates of old cars, old expired bank account numbers, phone numbers, addresses, all of them useless. I have a remarkable ability to retain facts about movies, actors, directors, who was the key grip and the best boy, musicians, defunct record labels, old TV shows that only I and two other people watched... the list goes on. And just five short minutes ago I did it again, surprising even myself this time.

I don't know if you are familiar with this thing they call Facebook. It is this 'website' made for 'social networking'. Do you know it?

Well, on the Book of Face there appear in the sidebar little suggestions of people that you might want to have as your 'friend'. 99% of the time these are useless. Occasionally they work. On my friend list, there are a few notables such as Nick Heyward, Tony Hadley, Richard Hell, and Chris Frantz. A lot of the time these friend suggestions are based on who your friends have as friends. Today a suggestion came up that I might want to be friends with Patrick Juvet. Suddenly a spark ignited in my brain, and I said, out loud, to no one in particular (the house was empty),"Patrick Juvet? Didn't he sing 'I Love America' or some shit?"

He's big in France, apparently.
In order to verify this I went to the fount of all human wisdom, Wikipedia. Sure enough, in the late '70's, Patrick Juvet, this poncey disco-era French tunesmith, had a hit in the UK with "I Love America". I was gobsmacked. How had I retained that info? I had forgotten completely about Juvet's very existence until the moment Facebook decided to suggest him as a friend. The mind is a marvellous thing, but really, Patrick sodding Juvet? I need to get a life.

How is it I can remember that? Why does my brain even assign that to memory? It's not like it's even worth remembering... trust me, if you'd heard "I Love America" you'd agree.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What Was I Thinking?

I shocked myself today, by looking in my wallet. No, it wasn't anything to do with the amount of money in it (that's a separate issue). It was to do with two pictures on cards in there. Yes, even though I have now been back in the UK for 6 months, I have yet to jettison all my old plastic. The two cards in question were (a) my old Georgia license, which is from February of 2005:
Fatty fat fat.
Yeah. Exactly. What the??

but worse was to come in the shape of my Sam's club card, which is from early 2009:
Bloody hell.
A bit blurry, but you can see what I mean. Yikes.

Let me put this in perspective for you. Here's a pic from a couple of weeks ago:

And another:
A marked improvement.

I have now lost 67 pounds in a year. The pants I wore today are a full 10 inches less in the waist than the ones I was wearing in the Sam's Club photo.

Weeee! (Pats self on back).

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