Dear Friend …

When asked the “Beatles” question, the cool kids always answer Lennon because he was the anti-establishment one, the protestor, the rebel … oh and of course he was the genius. And his legendary status was further underlined, as so often happens, with his untimely demise in New York in 1980.

In 1980, Lennon was elevated even further, from the ranks of rebellious young man, to martyr, becoming even more of an icon, a James Dean, a JFK – where were you when Lennon got shot?

Meanwhile Paul, George and Ringo – John’s support band, faded even further into the background.

As a kid growing up I loved The Beatles, initially it was the records my parents played, but as I reached adolescence I started to make my own choices, and it was Paul’s songs I (unwittingly) gravitated towards. This was long before John’s death.

Yesterday, Hey Jude, Let It Be -> McCartney
Strawberry Fields, Lucy in the Sky, Revolution -> Lennon

Six great songs, six true, timeless classics – three make you want to cry, three make you want to rebel. As a kid I really was a lover, not a fighter.

When I was a teenager Macca went on to form Wings, whilst John did his Yoko sit-ins writing solo stuff. Macca wrote pop songs and toured big stadiums, John stayed in bed and smoked dope. Paul was in love, John was angry.

The ‘Lennonites’ despised Wings more than they despised McCartney, for everything it stood for. And don’t get them started on Linda. Admittedly Macca did himself no favours post Wings with his poppy collaborations and frog chorusses, but I do think much of the Wings material was just as brilliant as much of The Beatles stuff. Much of the Wings material probably was Beatles stuff, but repackaged under the less cool brand of McCartney, yet it barely saw the light of day and certainly seems to have been left behind, consigned to the annals of history.

One track that stopped me in my tracks when I first heard it, was ‘Dear Friend’, the closing track on the album ‘Wildlife’ which was recorded in 1971. I didn’t get to hear it until around 1978 when my brother brought the record home, but ‘Dear Friend’ had me on first hearing. I was only 13 yrs old and yet I was mesmerised by the simplistic beauty of this haunting song. I rarely listened to lyrics then, but ‘Dear Friend’ sounded really, really sad, beautifully sad.

“Dear friend, throw the wine,
I’m in love with a friend of mine.”

I was 13, I thought I knew what love was, but of course I didn’t. I did however know what unrequited love felt like, and this song was painting a picture for me, packaging it up and presenting back to me exactly what unrequited love felt like in musical form. It was perfect, and it made me want to cry in that nice way only beautiful songs can.

Years on, I now know this song was about Lennon, about Paul and John’s fractious relationship. It was Paul’s attempt at reconciliation and it remains as beautiful and poignant today as it did back then, over 35 years ago. Emotional lightweight? I think not.

I never was one of the cool kids, I shied away from rebellion, and I never ‘got’ John. Hey Jude is (in my opinion) one of the greatest songs ever written but Dear Friend isn’t far behind.

Music (was my first love …)

“Music was my first love,
and it will be my last,
music of the future,
and music of the past.
To live without my music,
would be impossible to do,
in this world of trouble,
my music pulls me through”

Those are the opening lines to John Miles epic song, simply titled “Music” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_d4QY7UusFw.  I was about 12 when I fell in love with that song.  I had it on a cassette tape which I played on a portable cassette recorder which looked a bit like the one on the right.  I taped it off the radio, probably Radio 1, yes that’s right kids, we used to listen to Radio 1 too, when it was full of perverts as it turns out.  Anyway, that cassette thing was a right ballache to handle.  Finding the start of a song if it was in the middle of the tape was an art in itself, you then had to rewind if you wanted to hear it again, but rewind I did, over and over and over and over.

This was one of my earliest memories of my obsessive personality. I remember I had the cassette recorder on the floor by the settee.  I watched, mesmerised as the left tape reel got fatter and the right tape reel got thinner as the song progressed.  After a while I could rewind first attempt to within 2 seconds of the start of that song.  I was that good at tape rewinding that if it had been an Olympic event I would have been in the 1978 Montreal Olympics representing the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire in the Junior, nay, maybe even Adult, Tape Rewinding competition, gold medal nailed on.  Sadly it wasn’t a recognised event and still isn’t to this day and another of my talents lays undiscovered, tumbleweed blowing over it’s rocky, unkempt grave in the land of make believe and what might have been.

Anyway, I digress.  This blog isn’t about my tape rewinding abilities, it’s about music.  That song by John Miles was one of my first obsessions, and there were many more to follow, and indeed some before.  But, and this is the important point, there are two kinds of music.

Aged just 9  – Sugar Baby Love by The Rubettes hit the charts.  I wanted to be in The Rubettes.  I didn’t care much for the Bay City Rollers, you could shove them up your arse as far as I was concerned, and in fact many people did, allegedly, but for me it was The Rubettes and I wanted to be the lead singer, Alan Williams – check out this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3X7PvU6qYEA, he’s the guy in front, and the photo on the left is me (Flamboro Caravan Park circa 1973/74), I was already cultivating the hair, not a bad likeness, you would have to agree.

Wanting to be in The Rubettes was me wanting an image.  Yes I liked their music but I liked the look, I was a genuine fan of the band.  When I hear Sugar Baby Love now, I don’t just hear a 3 minute bubble gum pop song, I’m back in my bedroom in Roehampton Rise.  I vividly remember dancing to that song.  I remember where I was standing, I remember where my bed was at the time, bed was on the right, I was facing the door which was slightly ajar, window was to my left, wardrobe behind me.  I don’t recall the song, I recall the experience.

But there’s a world of difference in Sugar Baby Love by The Rubettes and Music by John Miles.  I would argue we all have a Rubettes in us.  Everyone of you will remember a similar feeling whether it be The Osmonds, Bay City Rollers, Bowie or Justin Bieber, we all have our childhood infatuations.  It’s the whole package we fall for – the sound, the look, the image, the impression, peer pressure, music in this context is almost incidental.  I love Sugar Baby Love because it brings back great memories, not because it’s a great song.  It is a 3 minute pop song.

Music, by John Miles on the other hand, was musically special to me.  When John sings the first line of that rousing chorus “music was my first love” the hair on the back of my neck stands on end, and when the strings kick in, I want to cry, it’s so beautiful.  I never knew what John Miles looked like, I never saw him on Top of the Pops, I never saw him on TV, nor ever read about him in magazines, talked about him to friends even.  This wasn’t an image thing like The Rubettes were, this was really serious.  I found the song one night listening to Radio Luxemburg.  The Rubettes was all about image, this was about something else.  Listening to a good song hurts in the same way as love hurts.

Fast forward 20 years and the Cranberries released Linger.  1993, I was driving a silver coloured Vauxhall Astra on the V3 in Milton Keynes, heading south, it was a sunny day, it had just been raining and the roads were still shiny, Linger came on the radio.  I had to pull over and stop the car.  I was on my way to work but I took a detour into town and bought the CD single.  That night I stayed up the whole night and must have played Linger over a 100 times.  It hurt I loved it so much.  Everytime I played it I wanted to cry.  I felt like I had lead in my stomach.  I felt sad but I couldn’t stop playing it.  It was so beautiful, but it hurt, like unrequited love.

A couple of years later, Tracy Thorn from Everything But The Girl, collaborated with Massive Attack on Protection.  Unfckingbelievable.  http://youtu.be/Epgo8ixX6Wo.  Nearly 8 minutes long (original version) and still woefully short.  I can get lost in that song in the same way I imagine a Buddhist gets lost in meditation.  It takes me places I couldn’t ever go otherwise.  “I stand in front of you, take the force of the blow, Protection”.  I think I know what Tracy was trying to say, but I also have a hundred other ideas what it could mean, to me.  I like to listen to this song alone because I like to dance to it.  I don’t dance well.  It’s ugly, but it feels just right.  I do a kind of wobble from foot to foot and occasionally flail my arms. I become part of the music, part of the experience.  Six minutes into that song, the lyrics stop and we just hear this rhythmic, transcendental, melodic passage that repeats to fade – guitar, bass, piano.  And everytime the bass pulses, I pulse too.

Lloyd Cole wrote ‘A Long Way Down’ in 1990.  It’s still one of my favourite songs of all time and I often play it to unsuspecting friends, often late into the night after a lot of drink has been consumed. I pick my victims carefully, I assess if they are ready yet for The Lloyd Experience and like Savile in a dressing room I go for it.  Incidentally, if my wife is still awake this is the point she leaves, sharpish.   I play the song with remote control in hand and pause at key points.  “Listen to those lyrics!” I scream.  “Walking with the devil’s fine, just don’t call, looking for sympathy” see what Lloyd did there?  Rolling Stones Sympathy for the Devil, geddit????”  “It’s about drugs don’t you see?”   And on and on I go.    Ironically, the line “And when it’s 4am and baby you can’t sleep, ‘cos your bloods still pumping at cocaine speed” is lost on me, substitute the word ‘cocaine’ for ‘booze’ and I’m rumbled.  Quite often my friends just look at me pityingly and tell me it’s OK, everything is fine but they’re tired and really need to go to bed.

What I have learned is that these songs – Music, Protection, Long Way Down – they aren’t meant to be shared.  Music isn’t like that.  Whatever it is in Protection that makes me want to dance, whatever it is in Linger that makes me want to cry, whatever it is in Long Way Down that makes me want to write a novel, I don’t think I will ever be able to extract that ‘thing’, bottle it, point at it and label it.  Nor will I ever be able to share it.

We are all unique and music fits us uniquely in the same way that books do.  Catcher In The Rye rocked my world when I was 23.  Perfume by Patrick Susskind was the most original book I had ever read.  World According to Garp made me cry.  Stan Barstow’s trilogy made me want to return home to Yorkshire.  And for years I became frustrated if people didn’t also ‘get’ my books.

I now know it doesn’t work this way, and we should all be thankful for that, as the world would be a much duller place if we could all take a prescribed pill and be happy.  Life, and it’s rich tapestry of experiences and emotions, present themselves when they’re ready.  You almost always have to work at them, we certainly can’t ever force them.  And that’s why I must stop trying to persuade people to listen to my music and read my books.  It’s arrogant, self centred and pointless and can only ever end in tears, usually mine.

We have to find these things out for ourselves.

But before I go, just have a listen to this little beauty.  Just listen to them lyrics.  Call me, we must go for a drink sometime. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6VEZtlCJsA