Thursday, 24 December 2009

You make me feel alive (alive, alive)

Sometimes when celebrities are interviewed in publications like Smash Hits and The Guardian, they are asked to describe their favourite ever Christmas present. There is no deliberation for me. It was my first ever Walkman (or the Philips FM Sky Way in sleek navy blue, if you insist on specifics). It was a chunky box of delights with a long shoulder strap, like the kind of medium-sized handbag that was probably in vogue at the time, and it had three fat, clunking buttons - until they were gradually shed in the autumn of its life.

I wish I still had it to mount in a modish, framed glass box and put on my wall, as they would probably recommend in Wallpaper* magazine (their asterisk, no smart-arse footnote implied). I don't know what happened to the Sky Way, but perhaps when my mum moved house a few years ago, it was disinterred from a cupboard boneyard of twisted leads and chargers and fossilised electrical equipment, the relics of any family home, and perhaps she decided to let it slip quietly away. This is unlikely though because, to her credit, Mrs Jones has always been incredibly charitable towards our childhood treasures, providing any and all of them with a home for as long as we felt they needed it, without a murmur of complaint. Now I am more aware than ever of how emotionally valuable this kind of ephemera is, I am increasingly appreciative. No, I can only assume that it was I who pushed my faithful friend away in favour of a newer model that actually had some working buttons. I have no defence. I was young and my head was easily turned. I know better now.

I don't remember the precise moment I peeled back the wrapping paper, but I remember putting the first tape in and pressing play and being full of shock and wonder as I was told that no one else in the room could hear what was powering into my ears loud and clear. There was much taking off and putting back on of headphones to verify that this was genuinely the case. This truly was a Christmas miracle to me, and a new and thrilling private world had opened its portal. These can be hard to come by when you're 9.

Around this time - it may even have been the same Christmas - I also got the Rio album by Duran Duran. It was one of the first proper albums I owned (I am not counting Disney, The Muppets or Danny Kaye sings Hans Christian Andersen, although those are seminal records that were played incessantly in the Jones house. In any case, I think they were technically my brother's). The two of them - Rio and the Philips FM Sky Way - are still joined in blissful union in my heart, their enduring commitment to each other forged on interminable car journeys to grandparents' houses or far-flung domestic holiday destinations. I remember the constant, plaintive call to my dad echoing around the service station forecourt as he went to pay for a tank of petrol: 'Daaaaad, can you get me some new batteries pleeeeeeeeeeeeease?'

Despite having negotiated the ages of 15, 18, 21, university, moving to London, Madchester, Britpop, the rise of dance music (and the rites of passage that came along with them) I don't think any album in its entirely means as much to me. For better or worse, it is my Sgt Pepper, my Never Mind The Bollocks, my Meat Is Murder.

Even now, I listen to it and, with the zeal of youth still courageously flickering, I think, 'Come on, seriously, this is BRILLIANT. How could anyone NOT think this is TOTALLY COOL?' I remain utterly immune to the derision that was aimed at Duran Duran then and, to a lesser extent, now. I hear the opening surge of the title track and I am eight years old again, discovering pop music for the first time, assiduously typing out all the lyrics on my mum's typewriter, not understanding a word of them, carefully administering Tipp-ex with my tongue out for concentration, filing them away with obsessive compulsion in a ring binder with the PG Tips chimps on the front (at a young age, we also owned and loved our vinyl copy of Bernard Cribbins being Mr Shifter), rendering a version of the album cover on graph paper with felt tips. I was a child who loved graph paper.

I was talking about my devotion to Rio with my friend Mr Taylor last week (not John, Roger or Andy, although when I was 9 I probably would have counted them among my closest friends). Mr Taylor made the point (and apologies if I am misquoting him) that despite being a ludicrous pirate-shirted pop band, doubtless pastiching more edgy artists of the time, their artistic pretensions were sincere and even ambitious, which could probably not be said of their critical counterparts today. I am less concerned about that, though. The fact is, I still put that album on and find it madly exhilarating. All the albums that should define my youth and stir my heart - Stone Roses, Definitely Maybe, Different Class, Blue Lines - can only muster powerful but nonetheless isolated pangs. It all started with Rio.

You can't choose who you fall in love with.

Happy Christmas.


PumpkinSpider said...

A wonderful post and so true, so true...

Rio was the first album I saved up and paid for with my own pocket money. I was on a school day trip on the day that it was released; my Mum went to John Menzies in the town centre to get it for me and so there it was, ready and waiting when I came home, the cassette in its shiny plastic wrapping and price gun price tag.

I rushed upstairs, ripped it open, and pored over the album artwork and liner notes while it played non-stop for the next few hours... until the tape machine irretrievably chewed up my precious purchase into a mangled mess of black streamers.

My Mum replaced it on vinyl for me the next day, out of sympathy.

But even without the ironic and moronic backstory, I still love this album to this day.

It is of its time and yet timeless, their best work - less 'ooh aren't we pretty and look what we can do with these synths' than the first album, and less 'we are so huge we can get away with anything' than their later work (although to be fair, 'Astronaut' and 'Red Carpet Massacre' are really pretty damn good for a bunch of old guys who looked pretty in frilly shirts and eyeliner!)

I go back to this album time and time again, and my wee sister, who hated it at the time yet knew all the words because we shared a room and I was the older sister so I chose the music because age = right, even she has come to love it with hindsight.

You can't choose who you fall in love with, but sometimes you choose right anyway.

Miss Jones said...

Pumpkin Spider - best comment ever. Also, I had completely forgotten about the COLOSSAL TRAUMA of a chewed up tape. My copy of Wham! Fantastic suffered this fate, and even though it was rescued with the careful winding of a biro in one of the holes, I could never quite relax when it was playing, feeling compelled to peer anxiously through the cloudy plastic to make sure it was spooling as it should.

PumpkinSpider said...

It's no wonder those of us who grew up with chewed up tapes and warped vinyl get so curmudgeony about DRM - we KNOW the pain of losing a copy of something that you've already paid for...!

Simon said...

My first cassette was Kimono My House by Sparks fom 1974. Until last year it was played regularly in my car. My car is now 15 years old and after 35 years of non-stop playing of the Sparks cassette, 15 of them in the car, the car decided that this town wasn't big enough for the both of them and it chewed up and spat out my cassette.

I now have it on CD, but it's not the same. There's no side one and side two, and there's bonus tracks!

I have Wham Fantastic on cassette somewhere. I treated myself to it just after graduating when I came down to London for an audition to be an actor. The audtion went well (I thought) & so I bought it aminly for it's title. I listened to it non-stop on the National Express coach back to Manchester. I thought I was a Young Gun. I never got the job though. If I can track it down you can have it.

Oh, and Happy New Year. x

Simon said...

Oh, and sorry for all those spelling mistakes.

Anonymous said...

Duran Duran... I still remember the thrill of having Reflex dedicated to me on my 11th birthday at the local youth disco. (That it was probably my mum who snuck in and tipped off the DJ has never diminished the thrill.)

More recently I happened to be celebrating my engagement in the Grand Cafe in Oslo (Mohammed ElBaradei was also there to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.) My now husband still considers it bad form that given the occasion I spent most of the meal trying not to stare at Mr Le Bon and Mr Taylor on a neighbouring table and the rest of it furiously texting friends about it from the loos.