Sunday, 19 February 2012

Song's For Life

For someone with no musical talent, music has played a large role in my life, particularly a host of bands that emerged from Punk and New Wave to play a part in the 1980’s Goth scene.  Suffice to say, certain singers and songs have become inextricably woven into my personal mythology.  For the record, I believe all writers are possessed of a personal mythology, composed from the myriad influences of their formative years, which forms part of their writer’s toolkit.  Now, as much as I’d like to pretend that I spent my youth consuming the works of Dickens, Hardy, Chaucer and Dostoevsky, I would be lying.  I came to read the majority of the above in my thirties, along with Orwell and Grassic Gibbons, and while they have undoubtedly left their mark, they are nowhere as deeply embedded in my psyche as Tolkien, Moorcock and, dare I mention it in yet another blog or interview, Brit Sci-Fi comic 2000 AD.
Adolescence, more than any other period, is a time when information is absorbed and assimilated, a time when patterns are set with a rigidity that will prove difficult to reshape.  Into this heady mix of hobbits, albinos, ABC war robots and Genetic Infantrymen, I found myself adding the aforementioned music, largely due to having been given free reign of my older brother’s extensive record collection.
Those of you who grew up between the 1960’s and 1980’s will probably remember the delights of listening to records on an automatic portable mono record player.  The one I fondly remember had a dark blue base and light grey cover, with a carry handle on the side and a choice of three turntable speeds - 78, 45 and 331/3 rpm.  The other really cool feature being that the spindle had a notch near the top on which you could stack half a dozen or so 45’s, which would proceed to drop and play one after the other.  Between this, and a mono cassette player, which was later pressed into alternate service loading games on to my Spectrum, I worked my way through the early work of Adam & The Ants, Toyah, The Cure, Bauhaus, and Siouxsie & The Banshees.
Music was, and remains a serious business for me.  This was no background noise, but something to be carefully absorbed, more often than not, in the confines of a darkened room.  Not surprisingly, for me it was more often than not about the words rather than the music.  And never was this more apparent than with the records produced my The Sisters Of Mercy.  At the impressionable age of 15 I was completely blown away by the video for This Corrosion and by subsequently reading an interview in the NME with Andrew Eldritch, who just struck me as this incredibly cool and intelligent rock star, much as I imagine David Bowie and Iggy Pop must have impressed teenagers in the 60’s and 70’s.  Suffice to say, along with my previously musical influences, it wasn’t long before I had a wardrobe full of black clothes and started dying my hair black!
I look back at the late 80’s with more than a little nostalgia - bands such as The Sisters Of Mercy, Fields Of The Nephilim, The Cure and Siouxsie & The Banshees were striding across the charts and appearing on television, but by the end of 1991 it had all rather come apart.  The Cult had completed their journey to Heavy Metal, FOTN had split and Eldritch was determined that the Sisters should be thought of as first and foremost a rock band, as well as going on strike in regard to record releases (a decision Eldritch stands by to this day, having continued to operate as a live band only for the last two decades).  Only The Cure seemed willing to soldier on and they were starting to sound rather twee.  Bands such as Rosetta Stone struck me as nothing more than a pale imitation of the early Sisters’ sound, and so I drifted away, content to get my lyrical fix from female singer/song writers such as Tori Amos, PJ Harvey and Heather Nova.  That said, they say if you wait long enough everything comes back into fashion sooner or later - both Toyah and Adam Ant are enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment, while bands such as Pixies and The Stooges ply the lucrative reformation market, together with a recent trend for playing classic albums live in their entirety.
I still love music, discovering new bands and going out to see them live accounts for the greater part of my socialising, and probably always will.  But it’s the music of my youth that remains the most deeply embedded and to which I still return - referencing song titles, quoting lyrics in dialogue, even snippets of old interviews.  It’s all there for those in the know to discover, while being unobtrusively passed over by those for which it has no meaning.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m not being overly self-indulgent with these references, but as I said before, it’s all part of the mythology.  And no one needs myths more than a fiction writer.


  1. Ah, yes. I remember the record players fondly. But music to me meant something to dance to, not philosophize over, so I never took it as seriously as you did. But I agree heartily with what you say at the end of your post, "’s all part of the mythology. And no one needs myths more than a fiction writer.

  2. Absolutely spot on. Still got my vinyl and a turntable, even if I don't play it as much as I should. I remember how important it was to be seen carrying the right album around (more than one under your arm meant coolest to the outside) and I was never far from a radio cassette with a tape poised ready to record anything good that came on the radio. When I was a kid, a church group I was part of for a short time prayed for me when they discovered I loved Black Sabbath, for they truly believed rock music was the work of the devil. (I came to the conclusion that having a tiny steel trap for a mind was far more likely to be the work of the devil, and have rocked on happily from that day to this.)

    Great post!

  3. Cheers Jools. :-)
    I don't think anyone has ever prayed for my salvation... LOL

  4. Bloody big job to take on, though - people are far too lazy these days. ;p