Sixty-seven came as a shock. I used to be able to ignore my age, act like I was forty or possibly only thirty-seven, but since my heart attack I have to take medication morning and night - a twice daily reminder of the tenuous nature of my continuing existence. I wonder if I’m being had - am I a Big Pharma puppet? Three or four years ago, back when I was young, I didn’t even know what Big Pharma was. I’d quite possibly not even heard of it. I’m still not sure I know what it is, but it makes me think I sound as though I know what I’m talking about and that’s what us old folks do: we throw in the occasional word like Google or Interweb in the hope that we’ll delude ourselves into sounding like we haven’t completely lost touch.
And we’re hip to some pretty far out sounds too, like Radiohead and Dark Side Of The Moon. And sometimes we get a lucky break, a chance to impress a young hipster with our knowledge of The Yes Album or some other such nonsense.
I should be clear at this point - I was never much into Radiohead - some bands wear their cleverness like a badge of honour and I don’t like that. I prefer something more rabid, more visceral. I prefer the Troggs to Talking Heads. And I don’t go for too many words - I’m more Donald Judd than I am Willem de Kooning. I’ll take a five minute opus and turn it into a one minute and twenty seven second perfect pop experience, but I’ll make one chord last for seven minutes.
And while I’m on the subject: the Pink Floyd left me behind with the album with the cow on the front cover - Atom Heart Mother - though I do like Fat Old Sun. The first thing the Floyd did that really disappointed me was The Nile Song. I’d loved them for sounding completely unlike anyone else, but suddenly they sounded utterly normal. This was around the time a friend of mine reported seeing them in the bar at the Brighton Dome where they were hanging out before a show drinking beer and talking about football. At the impressionable age of sixteen I found this deeply disconcerting - I wanted them to be above such things.
I feel I’m finally allowed to say these things, not that I didn’t say them before - I was a willful and contrary young man. I’ve skipped over adult maturity and gone straight from adolescence to elderhood and now I can say what the fuck I like. As I said before, the onset of old or older age has come as a shock, but I’m determined to make the most of it. I’ve been studying the bastards and I think I’ve got it down:
They say OOH when they get out of a chair and AAH when they sit back down again. They indicate the seat as they exit a vehicle, casually remarking: don’t worry about that, it’ll soon dry off. And on entering a vehicle they place a newspaper on the seat with the observation: I see you’ve had Mr Braithwaite in the car again.
They call it gallows humour but I’m not going to call it that, possibly for the same reason that I sometimes feel like kicking someone in the nuts for saying the word Tetris when I’m loading my car after a gig. It’s a cliche, a laziness - it’s not some mind boggling feat of utter genius to fit everything into the trunk or boot of a car when you’ve just done it for twenty-seven consecutive nights, anymore than I’m about to march up the steps to the gallows. I’m actually staring down a long shady road and at a distant destination. So that should be final destination humour and common sense. Though we could also lose the word humour here because the fun drops out of any situation once that word gets used.
I don’t know where I’m going with this but I think I’m done with the business of getting old - I’ve done it to death, so perhaps it’s time to move on.
I’m left thinking about The Long & Winding Road by the Beatles - one of those records that puts me in mind of wet Monday mornings. Before anyone accuses me of dissing the Beatles I should say it's mostly the fault of the schmaltzy Spectorian production. There’s nothing like an early morning orchestra to induce queasiness. The Long & Winding Road came out in 1970 and Tony Blackburn played it to death on his early morning show on Wonderful Radio One. I was sixteen at the time and the only reasons I could think of for going to school on those mornings was that there’d be girls there. And it might be better than spending a day at home in Peacehaven.
Because I’m all for rethinking my position these days I decided to watch Let It Be again. The accepted shorthand is that it’s a depressing end to a glittering career, a gloomy and largely unnecessary document of a bitter break up. I watched it while Amy was away. It was almost a guilty pleasure. Amy’s daughter, Hazel, who was staying with us at the time opted for staying in her room and watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show. So for an evening the house was full of grim and tacit disapproval tempered with gudging tolerence and a spirit of live and let live.
I really, really enjoyed Let It Be. I recognised the tedium of long recording sessions, the boredom, the waiting while someone thrashes out some musical technicality, the anxieties over direction and content, the edginess that creeps in before someone suggests taking a break and getting something to eat. And I saw four young men who knew each other well enough to not always treat each other gently. And the rooftop gig, a sonic harbinger of or precursor to shabby chic, was glorious and made me feel quite emotional.
I’m going to do some shows. I’ve been practising and preparing and I’m quite alarmed at how much I appear to have forgotten in the last year and a half. Not because of creeping dementia or something sinister of that nature - the truth is the only information I’ve ever been able to retain in my head is useless stuff about obscure bands and pop records of the sixties and seventies. I could tell you all about Yesterday Has Gone by Cupid’s Inspiration on the NEMS label with featured vocalist Terry Rice-Milton, or that the b side of Baby Come Back by the Equals is Hold Me Closer and how there was a newspaper article about them back in the day where they said that Baby Come Back was done in one take and they didn’t even know the tape was rolling….I can’t remember what newspaper that was in but you get the idea. It could be my specialist subject if ever I was stupid enough to go on Mastermind. But for anything more up to date and topical like what did I do last week? or what the fuck did I just walk into this room for? my mind is a blank. I could read the same book or watch the same film over and over and it would still only invoke a frisson of some book or film that I can’t quite bring to mind.
So where was I? You thought I’d lost the thread didn’t you? But I haven’t, I’ve just forgotten how the songs go. I’m spending hours trying to work out lost chords and second guessing myself, and being alternately amazed by my utter brilliance and dumbfounded and downcast by my complete lack of any obvious talent or ability.
It’s a rollercoaster, it really is. I’ve taken to writing the songs down in a large notebook with the chords pencilled in on top. Just in case, because I can’t keep going through this every time there’s a pandemic. Or a hiatus. I could type and tap them out on the computer but that wouldn’t help me to learn them the way that drawing each word with an implement does.
The first lesson on my first day at an Art College was called Making Marks. That’s all there was to it, making marks - we’ve been doing that since the first human creature scratched a line on the wall of a cave. You can make a mark with a rock or a pencil, a stick or an aerosol can - you can maybe even make your mark with a computer, but I don’t think it’ll be memorable in the way it is when you scribble and scrawl and etch it out with an implement.
Computerising the lyrics to my songs would be a step along the way to printing them all out and putting them all in a ring file binder and placing them on a music stand…I can’t allow that to happen. Don’t get me started on the music stand brigade.