A novel idea
Here's the plan: There's this bloke, early thirties. It suddenly dawns on him –
not without significant external pressure – that he's supposed to be growing up:
Own job, own girlfriend, family (well, goldfish) – you know, responsible.
Well you can imagine, can't you? All that kinda scared him. Terrified him – if truth
be told. “30” - one of those pivotal ages, along with 21 and 40. Not many weeks
go by without some copy hungry magazine editor publishing another article chronicling
the “Thirty crazy things you ought to have done before 30.” or the “Twenty Nine
things you really must get round to doing when you're still 29.” Or, in desperation,
“Half a dozen things you could think about if you've got any energy left at 40”.
Well frankly, he was never gonna have much to his name by thirty, so he took the
precaution of adopting a new approach: Loving his music as he did, he hit upon the
idea of celebrating his birthdays in accordance with the speeds of his record player.
You know: 33 (and a third if we're being strictly accurate about these things) and
45. That it seemed was a pretty nifty way of buying himself some extra time.
Mind you, these days we're all living longer, looking younger, staying healthier
- at least that's what the media tells us, when it's not telling us that we're all
dying younger, looking older and losing our health – prompting catchy assertions
like “40 is the new 30”. Christ, if it wasn't bad enough having failed to get any
of that stuff done by thirty, the last thing we need is the added shame of having
failed to do it all by forty.
Still, provided no one decides that 45 is the new 33⅓our hero will be OK. 78 he
has every expectation of being truly spectacular. So alright, he's missed 16 but
with a little bit of creative dredging through history it could probably be made
to look none too bad.
Then there's the whole revolutions per minute pun. Obviously we know it's the speed
his records spin at but there's a bit more to it than that. He's angry. Inspired
by Stiff Little Fingers 78rpm– just so – he wants revolution. Fighting back against
the system. Obviously he can't quite manage the youthful vitriol of those long lost
teenage years. In fact he was probably always a bit too lazy for that but he can
still find no end of little niggles that wind him up throughout the day and he can
manage a pretty good moan about them. So: 33 rpm it is.
On the subject of music, which we weren't really but close enough. The big scary
thing to hit rock music in the sixties and seventies was of course the CONCEPT ALBUM.
You know, a whole body of work with a common theme or thread linking it all together.
Almost, if you will, a story. Rush got very carried away once upon a time, spreading
(one of) their concepts across two albums and two years:
Cygnus X-1 Book l from A Farewell to Kings in 1977
Cygnus X-1 Book ll from Hemispheres in 1978
With this in mind, I thought it might be rather nice to write a concept novel. Actually,
I thought it might be rather nice to write a novel. Then it occurred to me that this
might be rather hard work what with character development, plot construction and
so on. My novel became a novelette. My novelette became a short story. My short story
became a short pamphlet. Until finally I decided I was going to have to invent a
whole new genre: the concept novel. If a concept album is one where all the usual
disparate, unrelated material gets linked together; then a concept novel must be
one where all the usually interwoven material gets broken down into a fragmented
mess characterised by a lack of plot to make even Sartre blush. This is a task I
think I can approach with some conviction...
Given the many music references in this “creation” others have lightly described
it as Hornby-esque. This, I have to say caused no little consternation. But since
it seems a comparison I won't entirely be able to shake off, I'd better have my Fever
Pitch moment. (It's just way too obvious to have a High Fidelity moment – though
that's not to say I won't have one later. Besides, it's not mix tapes these days:
it's making playlists and iPod swapping.)
Right, let's get it out the way: Of course there was a football match going on –
there's always a football match going on. I haven't the stomach to take you through
an entire torturous season but just to help you get your bearings; here is “football
match as backdrop.”
Don't Fear (the Sweeper)
Pissing down with rain on a Tuesday night,
I stood and watched my team play like a bag o' shite.
The goalie is a twit and the striker is a twat,
The referee's a git and he's blinder than a bat.
The Macc Lads 1990
They'd lost. They – Liverpool had just capitulated in the most woeful fashion to
Burnley in the Third Round of the FA Cup. Rafa's decision, in his first season as
manager, to play a reserve team had backfired horribly. Or so it seemed at the time.
Some months later the loss of this game could have been argued to be a tactical master
stroke as a Liverpool team without the fixture congestion of the later rounds of
the Cup fluked their way – all the way – to the title of Champions of Europe for
the fifth time. But that was still some way in the future. All that mattered at the
time was Liverpool slumping to an embarrassing one-nil defeat courtesy Djimi Traore's
second half own goal. It had been a hopeless damp squib of a game. Already postponed
once as a result of the dreadful weather sweeping the country; Turf Moor was in desperate
need of more turf as the two teams took to the water-logged pitch – Burnley like
ducks to err... well, water and Liverpool like the Titanic.
There was a time, in the early Nineties, when football was talked of as the new
rock and roll – the girls, the glamour. Personally I'd rather stick with the real
thing. Football was OK when it was football: a team winning the League having used
fourteen players all season. The glory years of the Seventies and Eighties when the
tightness of the shorts was rivalled only by the tightness of the bubble perm. Now
it's a business, a huge, sprawling business where clubs with squads of forty or so
fight it out to see who can invest the most cash in their bid to buy the title. The
last time I REALLY cared about football, it upset me: Michael Thomas and THAT last
minute goal. Still, that gets more than enough coverage in another book.
Like Roy Keane said – it's gone all prawn sandwiches now. No more working class
heroes and youthful rebellion – gotta stick with rock and roll for that. (Besides,
I've always been more of a smoked salmon man myself.) Which brings me, not all that
neatly to something of a confession. I was practising being a rebel the other day.
You know, every now and then I like to make sure I can still be that little bit dangerous.
I mean admittedly, we're not talking WMD-dangerous, or “Smoking Kills” dangerous;
more your: “Wash Dark Colours Separately” kinda dangerous but let's not get distracted
by the detail. So anyway, just to make sure my rebellious circuits were all still
functioning correctly I sat down and watched Quadrophenia... No problem: Empathise
with Jimmy, sympathise with Jimmy. The hurt at the rejection by Steph. The thrill
of the fight – tearing up the cafe. The disillusion on discovering the Ace Face is
nothing more than a bellboy and the ultimate desolation when you realise: you're
the only one left. I was right there with him. I knew it all, I felt it all. Angry;
frustrated; embittered; lonely; and well fed and slightly tipsy as rebelliously I
tucked into the cheese board and a bottle of Taylor's 1988 Single Estate Vintage
port. It seems inescapably that my youthful rebellion has gone much the same way
as my youthful exuberance: swamped under the weight of middle-aged laziness, middle-class
complacency, and most alarmingly of all, middle-aged spread. Those “Dark Colours”
have faded somewhat.