Despite the blond Agnetha supposedly having the sexiest bum in pop music and being the choice of most blokes as the top Abba totty, I was one of those weird boys who preferred her singing partner, the brunette Frida. It might have been the minority opinion but I just like to think that my taste was a bit more refined than the average chap. Agnetha had the sort of Nordic, dairy-fresh look that made me think she she should be milking a cow or have her smiling face on a pot of yogurt (with clogs and pigtails of course.) Frida, on the other hand, with her dark hair and cheekbones seemed more urban and sophisticated like she enjoyed cigarettes and Jazz. Or not, I’m just making this rubbish up.
When I first went to art college I knew nothing about Modern Art (or any sort of art really), like a lot of kids I went because I was “good at drawing” but I was more interested in Marvel Comics than Jackson Pollock and my secondary school art teachers had done nothing to broaden my horizons, so I was woefully unprepared for the concepts and attitudes I’d have to deal with during my first year Foundation Course. There’s an old joke among art students that everyone thinks we spend all day drawing pretty pictures but they had us doing sculpture, Land Art, abstract drawing exercises, video, Performance Art, and all sorts of bizarre conceptual games of perception (like making us dress all in one colour for a day and eating nothing but food that colour too). My tutor was a burly, hard-headed Conceptual artist who was constantly criticizing my work (ie: calling it “shit” half the time) and pushing me to forget all the comic book nonsense and see and think in new ways. It was a tough, challenging environment and there were times in the first term that I felt like quitting because I just didn’t “get” whatever it was I supposed to be getting.
There wasn’t a single life-changing moment when the penny suddenly dropped but the college library had a thick book of work by this bloke called Rauschenberg that was a real eye-opener for me. Modern Art can be an impenetrable mystery to the novice, worrying all the time what it’s “about” can be a real barrier between your brain and your eyes but here was someone who didn’t seem interested in making some grand artistic statement but instead was just enjoying the process of creating, trying new ideas and techniques using whatever materials he had lying around or found in the street — he made it look like something I could actually do myself. Plus I thought his work looked terrific, especially his silkscreen collages/paintings like Retroactive (below, which I have a poster of hanging on the wall of my office).
I won’t bore you with the details of Rauschenberg’s importance or his place in art history (lots of work here, here, and here) but to use a musical analogy he was the Punk to the Classic Rock of serious, high-minded Abstract Expressionism and it was his restlessly inventive, try-anything, fuck-art-let’s-dance attitude that made him the perfect role model for an art student who didn’t have a clue what he was doing. I did several pieces of work heavily based on things he had done (a polite way of saying I ripped him off) and in the process something clicked and I started looking at art through new eyes, seeing things I hadn’t seen before and unlocking my own creative potential. At the end of that first year my tutor told me he thought I’d gotten more out of the course than anyone else because I’d left a different person with a different perspective (no pun intended) and in many ways the whole experience had as important an effect on my life as hearing “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight” for the first time.
Luckily for this blog Rauschenberg also designed a limited edition cover for Talking Heads’ “Speaking In Tongues” album, which makes picking a tune fairly easy.
It’s some consolation that I think we were the better team (and I’m not looking at the game through Blue-coloured glasses) but to come so close and then have the trophy slip away – literally! — was more heartbreaking than if we’d been crap.
This wasn’t the post I wanted to write today, but here’s the record I was going to put with it anyway.
I loved this single, The Distractions were one of the many Post-Punk/New Wave bands that came and went in the blink of an eye and ended up half-forgotten and gathering dust in the old singles box despite making some cracking records. They put out a few 45s on Factory before signing to Island who I seem to remember were touting them as the “next big thing” for a while. “Boys Cry” came out in 1980 and flopped as did their only album, the terrific “Nobody’s Perfect” which has never been reissued.
About 18 seconds into this “Carry On” clip a bloke lets out the most almighty, lusty Phwooooaaaarrrrr!!!! I have ever heard, he surely deserved an Oscar for bringing such gusto to the line. And at the end as soon as you see the guy eating a pear you know exactly what joke is coming, but it doesn’t stop you laughing like a drain anyway.
He was a good-looking bastard that David Essex, with his sparkly eyes and dimply grin, and in the mid-70s there probably wasn’t a girl in England who didn’t want him to be her boyfriend. He flirted shamelessly with that desire on his lovey-dovey ballad “If I Could” which painted a picture of romantic bliss in such humdrum, ordinary-bloke terms — going to the pictures, having tea, picnics in the park, riding the bus — that every “Jackie”-reading teenybopper who heard it was able to imagine what it would be like if David really was her boyfriend in real life. He’d meet her outside the school gates wearing a blazer like the one he had on in “That’ll Be The Day” and make all her mates really jealous, they’d hold hands walking down the street, sit in the back row of the pictures, and maybe go to the Wimpy Bar for a Knickerbocker Glory afterwards. It’s like a “My Guy” photo romance set to music, and for a picture of schoolgirl heaven you couldn’t beat this verse:
Could you picture us On a Number 9 bus To Canning Town We two
I always really liked that bit, back then pop lyrics were all about Jean Genies, Telegram Sams and Crazy Horses and I’d never heard a big pop star singing about something as ordinary as taking a bus — if Ray Davies had been a handsome teen idol he might have written something like it. So while the song is soppy as hell I did find David’s Cockney barrow boy charm very appealing (even if he does lay it on thicker than marmalade sometimes) and could understand how all the girls could go so weak at the knees and moist in the knickers over it — and they really did, I saw him sing it live on the telly back then and when he got to the line “If I were a plumber would you love me?” you could hear the voices of a thousand swooning young ladies scream back “YES DAVID!!!!”
Hell, I think I wanted him to be my boyfriend too.