THERE are some records that I’ve been mooning over for years and years with the intensity of some hopelessly lovelorn teenager who’s just had their heart broken into little pieces for the very first time.
Records that soundtracked beautiful times and wonderful places, important, vital, essential records that I’ve loved and lost but never found again, that tug insistently at the edges of my memory, just beyond my reach, forever naggingly untouchable, unattainable, unforgettable.
And there are some records that I didn’t know even know I’d lost, that I didn’t even know I had in the first place, to be perfectly honest with you.
The uncharitable might suggest this is indicative of a man who has too many records, or that all those years of burning the candle at both ends – and in the middle, all at the same time – are finally catching up with me. Or that I’m finally succumbing to early onset Alzheimer’s.
To which I would respond: Who are you? And where are my records?
I’M PRETTY sure that Death Valley 69 was the first Sonic Youth record I ever bought, prompted by hearing it on John Peel’s radio show or reading about it in fanzines and the NME – the principal arbiters of my tastes in those days.
It was a lovely little package. Its front cover features a vintage Savage Pencil grotesque on a bright pink background, while the reverse has a photo of the band in the back of a candy-pink pick-up truck, in an airport, at night. I thought it was an impossibly glamorous scene.
In fact Thurston Moore’s look – a hooded top with khaki jacket over it, couture fans – exerted a strong influence on my own fashion choices for a good five years afterwards.
PICTURE the scene: You’re lost in that magic moment where everything suddenly seems to synchronise, music and movement come together in perfect harmony and you are the best dancer ever, moving to the very best music in the world.
Aglow, translucent, stoned immaculate, you’re about as off your head as you’re ever going to get. It’s all downhill from here. But that’s okay.
Everything is coming in one big rush but you can handle it. You can handle anything. It doesn’t get any better than this.
The next big dramatic breakdown arrives before you know it. And with it the awful, shocking truth that you’re in a big room full of people with whom you have little in common except that you sometimes do the same drugs – and those drugs are rapidly wearing off now we’ve simultaneously arrived at the collective realisation that we are not dancing to the greatest music ever made.
No, we’re actually dancing to a song which is based around a sample from the Magic Roundabout theme tune. We all come back down to Earth with a bump.
And I’m not being funny, but you’re wearing dungarees.
EVERYONE in the world seemed to be at it. Going out, getting on it, getting out of it, getting wasted, leathered, trollied, mullahed, munted, fucked. Staying up all night at raves, clubs, blues, parties, dancing our hearts out, like nobody was watching. Like our lives depended on it.
A generation of wasted youth? Well, I suppose it depends on your definition of ‘wasted’.
I’d somehow fallen in with the denizens of a crazed student household in Hyde Park, possibly through an acquaintance named Moz who’d attached himself to them as a way into the burgeoning student drug marketplace. That’s about as much as I can recall, officer.
I WAS on an exchange visit to my Spanish penpal in Getafe, just south of Madrid. It wasn’t my first trip alone or abroad but it was an odd kind of holiday, not speaking the language. While Jose’s English was a million times better than my Spanish it was still pretty rudimentary and I couldn’t help feeling a little isolated and homesick at times.
Jose was a very sweet and considerate guy – much more than I was when he made the return trip to the UK, let’s put it that way – and probably noticing I was looking a bit miserable, he took me to see a subtitled version of The Life of Brian at a cinema in the centre of the town.
Unfortunately, everyone else in the cinema was reacting to the subtitles rather than what the characters were actually saying with the result that most of the dialogue was drowned out by what I remember as gales of slightly nervous laughter – the Church was an integral part of Franco’s dictatorship afterall, and he was not long dead. Not long enough, obviously. Either way, Spain was (and remains) a very religious country.
At the time, I think the place was just getting more liberal in general. Jose also took us – him, his girlfriend, and one of her mates from school with another exchange student from the UK – to a community hall in the middle of a big estate to see some Spanish art-house movie. It got progressively more erotically-charged before an excrutiating, crazily explicit scene that forced Jose, after much nudging from his mortified girlfriend, to lead us out of the hall to hoots of derision from those seated behind us.
Travel may broaden the mind and all that but the mind broadening can sometimes be a fraught process. The main evening meal, as is usual in and around Madrid, was usually about 11pm and not having eaten since the afternoon, in a rare display of good manners, I ate everything that Jose’s mum put in front of me, from black pudding to squid soup – including little tentacles with tiny suckers on them and what I think might have been an eyeball. An EYEBALL! The horror.
NEITHER fish nor fowl, single nor album, the Fall’s dinky 10-inch Slates is a little record that makes a big impression.
“I was looking through the import bins in Wax Trax in Chicago, and I found Slates,” said Brix Smith in an interview with Guitarist magazine. “I took it home and became obsessed. It was the most brilliant thing I ever heard. It was outrageous. Two weeks later they were playing Chicago at Cabaret Metro, so Lisa and I went along.
“Stephen Hanley was totally, totally hypnotic. I was scared of Mark E Smith. They played a lot from Slates. After the gig, Lisa took off with some boyfriend, leaving me at the bar on my own. Before I knew what was happening I was talking to Mark E Smith ..”
And we all know what happened after that.
Slates made a big impression on me too, although unlike Brix I didn’t end up marrying Mark E Smith. I have a vague recollection of buying it from some record fair some time later. But I’m not entirely sure that people like me and Brix were the target audience for Slates in any case.
“That’s what I was trying to do with Slates in England, you know, get across to people who have no music,” MES told an interviewer in New Zealand. “People who either haven’t been told about the music trappings and the rubbish that surrounds it or people who do know it and don’t like it.
“That’s why it was a 10-inch, neither single nor album. It’s very conceptual, do you understand? It’s like an attempt to get over to these thousands of working class or middle class people, whatever, in England who don’t listen to records anymore, who don’t buy records .. I’d be one of them if I wasn’t in a group, I know that.
YOU may not be entirely surprised to learn that I used to take up a fair few of the invitations for boozy dos and promotional piss-ups that came my way – all of which, incidentally, seem to have dried up now I no longer have any power or influence, those ungrateful bastards.
Since my girlfriend was living in that London at the time, more often than not I would be accompanied by whatever female acquaintance I could tempt with the promise of free drinks and famous people.
Obviously, I have no shame. And life’s too short to go out drinking with blokes all the time, right?
So I’d invited out the attractive and intriguing woman who designed the magazine. She’d just joined the company so I thought I’d give her a taste of the Manchester highlife. But we went to the Ritz instead.