The Pictures on My Wall (Part Three)

So why is that even though I only owned two Kate Bush singles (the first two) and none of her albums did I have this great big poster of her on my bedroom wall?

Silly question really.

I assume this must have gone up around 1979-80. My walls at the time were also decorated with pictures of Pauline Murray, Siouxsie Sioux, and Debbie Harry but those were mostly torn out of magazines and the NME. I would love to have had a big poster of Ms. Murray in particular on the wall but they didn’t make those. Somehow I don’t think she would have posed in a leotard though.

Download: Brazil – Kate Bush (mp3)

(This is from the soundtrack of Terry Gilliam’s film. One of my all-time favourite songs given a lovely treatment by our Kate)


The Pictures On My Wall (Part 2)

It’s not easy being a teenage boy, especially when the hormones kick in and you start to realize that girls aren’t, in fact, icky, but lovely creatures you want to get to know better. It’s even worse when, like me, you’re the only male living with two women which makes you more than usually coy and embarrassed about your natural masculine instincts. My mother could be a real piss-taker if she found out I fancied someone on the telly and I would only steal furtive glances at Page Three or Titbits for fear of being caught ogling some boobs or bottoms. So graduating from Bruce Lee to putting a woman on my bedroom wall was a big step, but I made it when I stuck up this poster of Marilyn Monroe over the foot of my bed.

But it wasn’t because I really fancied Marilyn — though I wouldn’t kick her out of bed if she farted — in the 1970s there was a lot of nostalgia for old Hollywood glamour (there was nostalgia for a lot of things in the 70s, a sign of how bad things were in the present) so it was almost compulsory to have a picture of her or Humphrey Bogart or James Dean on your wall — usually bought from Athena — though the fact that you can see right up her skirt must have influenced me as well. Dusky brunettes like Raquel Welch were more my cup of tea but I think the nostalgic element of Marilyn made her a “safer” choice, despite her obvious va-va-voom qualities in that picture being a vintage icon made her seem less raunchy and a little more innocent than Raquel Welch who was still a potent sex symbol in the 70s and posed for Playboy back then. Putting Marilyn on the wall was like sticking up the Mona Lisa, she was a classic, that Playboy I had to keep in my cupboard under a pile of comics.

Download: Dumb Blonde – Dolly Parton (mp3)
Download: I’m Ready To Groove – Raquel Welch (mp3)

Another sex symbol of the 1970s who didn’t end up on my bedroom wall either was Farrah Fawcett-Majors (her name at the time which I still call her) whose now-iconic poster apparently sold 12 million copies which means I was about the only bloke in the world who didn’t have her on his wall. That’s because I just wasn’t into that all-American, cheerleader type, all big blonde hair and big dazzling teeth. I also never put up that poster of a tennis player scratching her bum. Why on earth was that so popular back then?

The Pictures On My Wall (Part 1)

I shared a bedroom with my sister until I was 11 years old when we moved to a bigger council flat, and if you’ve ever been in that situation you’ll know what a liberating treat it is to finally get your own room. My new bedroom wasn’t much, it was very small (what used to be called the “box room”) and had this really ugly, orange-flowered wallpaper, but it was all mine, my own space to do what I wanted — Lee’s Room as the little sign said on the door.

One way I marked it out as my territory (and covered up that hideous wallpaper) was by putting pictures on the walls, usually with Blu-Tack which, their claims to the contrary, always left a dirty mark on the wall. Over the years I stuck up lots of small pictures of pop groups and singers torn out of the pages of Disco 45, Record Mirror, Smash Hits and the NME which formed a rapidly changing gallery of my musical tastes, but there were plenty of big posters too which charted other changes.

The first big poster I remember sticking up was one of Bruce Lee like the photo above which I put in pride of place over the top of my bed. A psychologist might say that I was making a symbolic, subconscious declaration that this was a boys room but it was really because like everyone else in 1973 I was totally caught up in the Kung Fu craze that swept the planet when Bruce Lee died and Enter The Dragon was released. The funny thing is I hadn’t seen Enter The Dragon or any other Bruce Lee films because they were all X-certificate, so I had to get my martial arts fix from other sources like the Kung Fu TV series or the Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu comic book. The only time I remember seeing Bruce Lee in action himself was when World of Sport showed a clip of him fighting Chuck Norris in Way of The Dragon. It wasn’t much but we talked about it — and acted it out – in the playground at school for weeks afterward.

Not being able to see any actual Bruce Lee movies didn’t stop me wanting to be him. I used to wish I had Spiderman’s powers so I could beat the crap out of the bullies at school and Lee was like a real-life superhero to me, so I would also fantasize about being a lethal martial arts fighting machine and taking care of whatever pig-headed twat was giving me bother at school that week with a few swift Kung Fu kicks to the head while shouting “Hayyyaa!” in proper Bruce style. Sadly I was destined to remain a bit of a weed, when I started learning Judo at school a few years later I broke my arm and never got past white belt.

I did finally get to see Enter The Dragon and most of Lee’s other films in my late teens at a dingy little cinema in Chinatown (appropriately enough.) Sadly I thought they were bloody awful, they have some kitsch appeal but they really aren’t very good films at all. I’m sure my 11-year-old self would have loved them though.

Bet you thought I was going to post “Kung Fu Fighting” didn’t you?

Download: Kung Fu – Curtis Mayfield (mp3)

More posters in Part 2 when I grow up a bit and put some women on the walls.

I Love Your Live Action

I saw Bat For Lashes live last Thursday and she/they were almost supernaturally good, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a concert more. Natasha Khan is even more beautiful in real life, has an incredible voice, writes amazing songs and oozes charm and charisma, but I think the thing I liked the most about her (well, the second most) was how much she seemed to be enjoying herself. For someone who often makes such dark and mournful records she rarely stopped smiling and danced around like a happy schoolgirl in her bedroom half the time. It adds a whole extra layer of enjoyment to a concert if the person on stage is having as much fun as you are.

One phenomenon I’ve noticed at concerts lately is how many people are taking pictures. Every time Natasha came over to our side of the stage almost everyone around me held up a cellphone or digital camera and started snapping away. It’s a bit annoying to be trying to concentrate on a show when there are all these little illuminated screens glowing all around you. I preferred it when people held up cigarette lighters or just their fists. There were a lot of people videoing the show too, which is even more irritating but at least it meant I could go to YouTube the next day and relive the actual concert I’d just seen. Like this clip of my favourite moment, a thunderous version of “What’s A Girl To Do?” filmed by what looks like the girl who was standing right in front of me.

Getting Shirty

The 1980s were sometimes known as “The Designer Decade” when the “D” word was often used as a rather snide label for anything that was trendy, superficial, made-over, expensive, exclusive (I was a designer in the late 1980s and got bloody annoyed that my job title was used as an insult.) People drank designer beer and designer water, men sported designer stubble on their faces and we even had designer banks and designer socialism. So it’s no wonder the decade also brought us designer political protest.

One of the iconic fashion items of the era was the baggy white t-shirt with a big slogan on it, though popularized and ripped-off by Wham! and Frankie Goes To Hollywood the original slogan shirts were created with a serious political purpose by British fashion designer Katherine Hamnett in 1983 and had messages like WORLDWIDE NUCLEAR BAN NOW, STOP KILLING WHALES, and EDUCATION NOT MISSILES. A portion of the profits from them went to charity and their simple bold type was designed to be easily copied by others so that the messages on them would become more widespread. While all the FRANKIE SAY RELAX t-shirts may have diluted her original intent somewhat it’s easy to snigger at the idealistic notion of a mere t-shirt having any political effect whatsoever, and that fact that some were made out of expensive silk makes them look like just another silly example of Radical Chic. I went on quite a few demos back then and don’t remember too many people wearing them, the fashion there being mostly Oxfam and Dr. Marten.

Naive fashionista she might have been but I’ll give Hamnett this, she did have the balls to wear this t-shirt when she met Maggie Thatcher at a Downing Street reception in 1984.

(Pershing is the American nuclear missile system that was being deployed in Germany at the time)

I started writing about all this because I actually had a hand in producing Hamnett’s original t-shirts. Between leaving school and going to art college I worked for a couple of years at a silkscreen printers in Fulham who mostly did the sort of rock and pop t-shirts you saw on sale down the King’s Road and in Kensington Market. Then one day in walks this woman Katherine Hamnett with some typeset artwork of slogans in heavy black letters she wanted us to print on some baggy t-shirts she had designed herself, some were cotton and some silk (which were a real bugger to print and dry). I can’t remember how many different slogans there were but she came back several times with new ones. My job was on the pre-press side, photographing the artwork onto film (the original type for those shirts was tiny, only about 2″ high) and making the screens for printing, so I helped produce the very t-shirt she is wearing above. It’s not much I know but it’s the closest I ever got to Maggie Thatcher, pity Hamnett didn’t have a design that said FUCK OFF AND DIE, YOU BITCH.

Download: Two Tribes (Annihilation Mix) – Frankie Goes To Hollywood (mp3)