Holden Caulfield, Indie Hero

A little tribute to J.D. Salinger. For more on the Catcher In The Rye-indie pop nexus read this.

“I’m always saying “Glad to’ve met you” to somebody I’m not at all glad I met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though.”

“You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose.”

“Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell.”

“He was one of those guys that think they’re being a pansy if they don’t break around forty of your fingers when they shake hands with you. God, I hate that stuff.”

“You ought to go to a boy’s school sometimes. Try it sometime,” I said. “It’s full of phonies, and all you do is study so that you can learn enough to be smart enough to be able to buy a goddam Cadillac some day, and you have to keep making believe you give a damn if the football team loses.”

“Girls. You never know what they’re going to think.”

Download: A Sad Lament – Orange Juice (mp3)
(I’m cheating a little, this is actually the version on the “Texas Fever” album)


The First Time I Felt Old

It was 7:15 in the evening on Friday the 3rd of December, 1982. I know because I still have the ticket.

I was at one the The Jam’s farewell shows at Wembley Arena and even though I was only 20 myself at the time I felt like one of the oldest people there as the hall seemed to be full of 14-year-old boys wearing cheap Parkas that looked like their Mum had bought them in Millets. It was like being in the audience for Crackerjack or an England Schoolboys football game, and for the first time in my life the words “bloody kids” came into my head and I had that awful feeling of smug superiority that I had been a Jam fan from way, way, way back, long before they were stadium-playing superstars – four years at least! Where were all these spotty little bandwagon-jumpers then, huh? Mucking about with their Tonka Toys probably. I had to fight the urge to grab one of them by the Parka and say “Of course, they were so much better at The Rainbow in ’78. I was there, you know” as if I was some grizzled old hippie droning on about Woodstock.

Several massive hit singles and a Mod revival had happened since that last gig and my mate and I both came to the the rather snotty conclusion that we understood why Weller was breaking up the group if this was their audience now — and selling out Wembley five nights in a row wasn’t very “punk” was it? — which is exactly the sort of condescending attitude you’d expect from a 20-year-old who thinks he knows it all (don’t they all?) But looking back now I feel bad for those kids, they were at the age when they were starting to get into music seriously and I can imagine how important The Jam were to them because I remember that feeling well myself. Paul Weller was your hero and you would hang on his every word for tips on what to wear, what to read, what old records to buy, even how to vote. And then — maybe in the same week you bought a George Orwell novel because Paul mentioned him in an NME interview — the bastard went and broke the band up. Who did that leave you with? Secret Affair??? That’s like losing a pound and finding a penny — well, 50p maybe.

I don’t remember much about the actual gig itself apart from Weller smashing up his guitar Pete Townsend-style after he tripped over his guitar lead and Bruce hanging around on the stage waving to the crowd at the end long after Paul had buggered off. But I do have a bootleg of the concert from the night before at Wembley which is about as close as I’ll ever get to recreating that magical night when I became an old git.

Download: Precious – The Jam (mp3)
Download: Move On Up – The Jam (mp3)
Download: Boy About Town – The Jam (mp3)
(Live at Wembley, December 2nd, 1982)

Another reason why I had no right to feel superior to those kids: When I was their age I was into ELO.

Junior Choice

15 years from now she is going to be so glad that I took this picture, her street cred with her friends will go up by about a gazillion points. That is, if “the kids” give a shit about The Clash by then or even know who they are, though I’m sure there will be yet another punk revival at some point in the future.

Download: Tommy Gun – The Clash (mp3)

The Dreams of Children

Childhood can be a bloody scary time of life and it doesn’t take much to frighten the shit out of a kid. I’m sure I’m not the only one who woke up in the middle of the night and for one terrifying moment thought that a coat hanging on their bedroom door was a man standing in the room, not to mention all the creaks and squeaks a house can make at night that made you lie awake in bed convinced that noise was some blood-thirsty killer on his way up the stairs to chop you in two with an axe, but in reality was just the cat. You weren’t free of the terrors during the day either, I think every neighbourhood had the “scary old person” who lived all alone in a dark, run-down house with filthy net curtains and if you kicked your football into their garden you’d be too scared to go and get it back as if they were an evil witch from a fairy tale who sticks small children in a big pot and cooks them for dinner.

I still vividly remember the films that scared the short trousers off me too. It sounds like one of those cliches about childhood that no one actually did but I remember literally hiding behind the couch in terror during the the skeleton fight scene in Jason and The Argonauts when I saw it ’round my Gran’s house one Christmas, and was so spooked by the original War of The Worlds that I was too scared to go into the kitchen on my own when my mum asked me to put the kettle on afterwards. Then there was the night my sister and I saw The Birds and were so terrified that we insisted on sleeping in my mother’s bed that night — though admitedly that is still a frightening film and what my mother was thinking letting us watch it at such a young age I don’t know, someone should have called Social Services.

The film that really freaked out my impressionable young mind and literally haunted my dreams was Invaders From Mars, a 1953 cult b-movie about a Martian spaceship that lands on Earth and buries itself under a hill from where it sucks people underground and turns them into evil agents of murder and destruction. It’s a very disturbing film for a kid to watch because the protagonist is a young boy whose father is the first to get captured and transformed, then his mother, some policemen, and a school friend all turn bad — everyone he loves and trusts to keep him safe basically which turns his cozy little world into a very dark and scary place. It’s a nightmare scenario for a child as you can imagine and I found this scene very upsetting at the time. I still do actually.

But it was the visuals that really sunk their teeth into my subconscious, it’s a striking-looking film with the eerie, vivid quality of a dream created by the use of stark, minimal sets (mostly because it had a budget smaller than the catering bill for Avatar) like this one of the hill that looks like something out of a dreamlike surrealist painting.

That image of the creepy, desolate hill absolutely petrified me and popped up again and again in nightmares I had when I was a kid, after a while I forgot all about the film itself (Invaders From Mars is a little obscure) and actually thought it was something my over-active imagination had conjured up all on it’s own. Then by chance I saw it again on television recently and when I saw that hill it was like some long-suppressed childhood trauma had suddenly been recalled from the dark corners of my memory and was right there on the television screen which was a rather discombobulating and unnerving experience. Luckily there was the soothing sight of the helpful and protective young lady doctor played by the gorgeous Helena Carter to make me feel all better. Unfortunately I never had any dreams about her.

These films can seem like such quaint, rickety old things compared to the jaw-dropping, eyeball-popping (not to mention headache-inducing) special effects and hyperactive editing of modern movies, but while they might be a bit creaky, with effects made of plasticine and string and monsters that are obviously just some bloke in a rubber costume I don’t think kids are so jaded that they wouldn’t still be diving behind couches in terror whether it’s in Hi-Def 3D or just balsa wood and glue. The other night my daughter got scared by Bedknobs and Broomsticks of all things and I can’t imagine there’s a kid alive who wouldn’t be petrified by Invaders From Mars no matter how many video games he’s played, so it will be a while before I let her see that — I don’t want her having nightmares about that bloody hill too.

Download: Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) – David Bowie (Live on WXRT) (mp3)
Buy: “Invaders From Mars” (DVD)

More Songs About Teachers and Explosives

This old playground rhyme popped into my head the other day for some reason

Hi Ho, Hi Ho
It’s off to school we go
With a bucket and spade
And a hand grenade
Hi Ho, Hi Ho

We used to sing that at my Primary School, along with this ditty

Build a bonfire, build a bonfire
Put the teachers up on the top
Put Greenie* in the middle
And burn the bloody lot

Nasty little buggers weren’t we? Every school had songs like that too, I don’t know if they still do but I imagine if kids sang them now the teachers would probably call the police or have them carted off for counseling.

There were quite a few, um, “alternative” versions of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” too, some of which might have been inspired by Wings’ hit with the old nursery rhyme in 1972. We all liked this a lot at the time and had no idea that it was supposed to be terrible and this Paul McCartney bloke had some reputation he was ruining with it. I still think it sounds quite nice actually.

Download: Mary Had A Little Lamb – Wings (mp3)

*Mr. Greene, our headmaster

My Mother’s Records

Much as I like to big up my mother’s love of Frank Sinatra as an example of her good taste in music she did have a few skeletons in her closet — or rather in the sideboard where she kept her records. For a few years she really had a thing for Rod Stewart, and unfortunately I don’t mean the classic, Faces-era Rod either, she loved – I think even preferred — late 1970s, Britt Ekland-shagging, spandex-tights-wearing, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Rod. In a nutshell: the crap Rod. But you know what mums are like, they just don’t care about things like authenticity and street cred.

The first album of his she bought was “A Night On The Town” in 1976, my opinion of which has always been marred by how much of an utter prat I think he looks on the cover. That photo of Rod in a blazer and boater enjoying a nice glass of champers after a hard days punting (or something) is like Exhibit A for Why Punk Happened. Here is Rod firmly established as wealthy rock royalty and looking so smug about it that you want to punch him in the face. The outfit he’s wearing is based on the pastiche of Renoir’s painting Le moulin de la Galette that’s on the other side of the cover and while I’m sure Rod was thinking to himself “it’s a bit classy, innit?” it looks like a rather naff vision of “the high life” to me, more Babycham than Dom Perignon. Only Bryan Ferry had the panache to do that sort of thing properly.

When he made this album he was on his way to booking a stool at the bar next to George Best in the “Where Did It All Go Wrong?” Club but it does still have flickers of his old brilliance on it. His version of “First Cut Is The Deepest” is my favourite, “The Balltrap” is great, raunchy Faces-style rawk and roll (though that was on the “fast side” of the album which my mother never played so I never heard it at the time), but the real surprise is the beautiful “The Killing of Georgie”, a song Stewart wrote about a gay friend who was murdered. Given Rod’s image as a football-loving, skirt-chasing, Jack the Lad it’s an unusual subject for him to tackle and a fairly bold one too considering that at the time the popular image of homosexuals was either as camp Larry Graysons and John Inmans or shady perverts, so writing a delicate and touching song about the murder of a gay man — years before Tom Robinson, Bronski Beat, and Pet Shop Boys — and having a big hit with it was quite something. He even manages to show some understanding toward Georgie’s murderer too and it’s hard to believe such a sensitive song could come from the pen of the man who also wrote “Tonight’s The Night” on the same album, a lecherous song about deflowering a virgin that’s about as delicate as a Penthouse letter. Maybe he wasn’t such a prat after all.

Though if Rod was hoping to promote more tolerance toward gay people it fell on deaf ears at my school where this boy who was suspected of being a “poof” (for no reason that I can remember) got nicknamed “Georgie” and lots of kids (not me!) would shout “oooh, Georgie!” in limp-wristed voices at him. Poor bastard was probably scarred for life.

Download: The Killing of Georgie (Pt. 1 and 2) – Rod Stewart (mp3)