This was a memoir that I started writing about my life in Rock Music. It was a precursor to ‘In Search of Captain Beefheart’.
After a while I decided that it was becoming a bit tedious and I wasn’t really capturing the excitement of the times so I abandoned it and did the Beefheart one which I liked a lot better.
Here is an extract. You might enjoy it:
Rockin’ my life away
Chapter 1 – Short Pants and circumstance
I live in the time of Mutually Assured Destruction. Yes it’s MAD but we learned to live with it. The shadows of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not merely silhouettes of victims seared on walls; they were also seared into our minds. We grew up with the knowledge that America and Russia were like two old western gunfighters with their colt 45s pointing at each other. If either one blinked or sneezed that was the end of the world. That’s what we lived with. Russia had enough missiles to melt Britain into sheet glass. We had our three hydrogen bombs and a peashooter and despite the crumbling of our empire still wanted a seat at the high table where the big boys made the decisions and carved up the world.
The good old USA had decided to use Europe as its aircraft carrier. If it came to mutual destruction they were eager to ensure that it was Russia and Europe that would end up vitrified. Unfortunately the Russians wouldn’t play fair and seemed intent on including places such as Siberia and even Cuba in their calculations which had the unhappy consequence of bringing mainland USA into the equation – couple that with a couple of hundred nuclear subs and a limited bit of MADness probably became too difficult for the USA to organise. That probably saved our bacon. Those Yanks are very pragmatic. They weigh everything up with ruthless self-interest.
Whatever the politics we grew up in the aftermath of war and destruction; it being all around us in the rubble of the bomb-sites we played in and the shattered economy. Our schools were full of nerve wrenched ex-soldiers posing as teachers. Our diets were rationed and our horizons limited.
The fifties was a grey world. It was also a watershed.
It was no wonder that we turned to loud Rock music and hedonistic lifestyles, rejected the old ways that had brought us to the brink of holocaust and wanted to create a new world of colour, happiness and sanity.
Our forebears had proved themselves unworthy.
Not only that but they had committed the cardinal sin: they were boring, insincere, plastic and predictable.
Whatever was out there had to be more real and exciting than the drabness and selfish terror they had mapped out for us? For fuck’s sake we might not have long. We had to pack it in; the meaning, adventure, discovery, love, pleasure and fun.
We had to break out of the straitjacket of society and create our own world.
I wanted a life that rocked.
A life is measured in seconds. That’s all we have – seconds. They are strung together like a huge necklace of pearls. Each second is a pearl. We live within pearls. Our lives like those pearls have a milky quality in which nothing is clear. We have to make our own sense of it. Mostly we drift through adding one pearl to the next as we go through without thought. Our pattern is dictated by circumstance. Our family, our culture, our religion, our school, our friends, our age, our genetics – are all more important than our ego. What we see as self is nothing more than a product of our environment.
Yet I grew up in the 60s.
I am a free man.
I refuse to be pigeon-holed, slotted, or programmed. I am not a number. I believe I can break free of all those strictures that indoctrinate your mind and tie you in to that mind set.
I am a free man.
I can rationalise. I can weigh up the probabilities. I can shape my own thoughts and steer my own way through life. I am an individual. No institution can contain my individuality. I am free.
No government, religion, society, family, school or workplace can restrain my thoughts or lock me into the prison of their limitations. My life is mine to do with as I will.
I am repulsed by the mind control, indoctrinating programmes called religion, socialisation or expectation. I cannot be subjected to your laws or expectations.
I am primitive and tribal. I am susceptible to superstition. I am a social being. My evolution is nowhere near complete. I have to constantly fight against this. The fingers of religion, society and culture seek to clutch at you and drag you back down into the morass of their cloying mindlessness.
My greatest gift is my consciousness. It is remarkable. It is as wondrous as the universe.
So one has a choice; one can blindly follow the patterns laid down for one and mindlessly live one’s life as a cog within the machine, or one can cast aside all the prejudices, presuppositions and routine and strike out to seek your own heroic path.
I chose to reject my culture and become a seeker of truth.
For the thing that I recognised early on in my life was that truth was not to be found in the superstitions and values of your culture. Those have been constructed to contain and manipulate you. The powerful control us through the institutions they have carefully imposed upon us, institutions they use but are not subject to. The Kings, Popes, Presidents and Ayatollahs have lived their lives outside of the strictures they impose on us. I piss on them.
As a young man I looked at organised religion and saw that it was empty. I looked at society and saw that it was hideously unfair. I looked at the rules and saw that they were nonsensical.
I set out to find truth stringing those pearls together to see where they might lead. Yet it is difficult to clarify those misty pearls into clarity.
One has a life. It is measured in seconds. It starts and it ends. In between we can string the intervals together to achieve whatever we wish.
I sought purpose and I sought clarity. I sought a roadmap that might lead me through it, open my eyes to reality, and remove the scales of doctrinaire refuse. I sought to live a life with meaning. I sought to make a difference.
I burnt with passion and fury. I burnt against injustice. I was incandescent with rage against the machine of the authorities. I had a vision of a society that was open, tolerant, welcoming and happy. What I saw was exploitation, abuse and a world controlled by, and for, a small elite group; an elite group that chose to use war and economic castration to control its people without regard to poverty, environmental catastrophe or misery. They were vicious.
They are still in control.
They are still waging war. They are still controlling the economics of the world to create poverty and misery. They are still promoting Jihad and Crusade or stultifying rituals. They still impose morality and ritual on the masses. They still live in a luxury we can only guess at in a world where morality does not exist.
I am still a free man.
My life now has more seconds behind it than in front. Sometimes I feel the mistiness has cleared, at others they become cloudy again.
My roadmap through these troubled times has been music.
Music has filled me with joy, made me replete with love, moved me to righteous anger and focussed my passions. Music has made me think.
Music has made me what I am.
I know my targets well.
I have my vision intact.
I am a free man.
I blame it all on Adam Faith, though I reckon it was Buddy Holly really. The first singles I bought were from Clive Hansell. He discarded his stuff to me when he got bored with them. We’re talking 1959 here. I was ten. He was about fifteen. He used to play me all his stuff, he didn’t have a lot, and tell me about his girlfriends. Seemingly he’d been to Butlins and had sex three times with this girl. I was hooked. I wanted to hear all about it. Sex with a real girl. That was pretty amazing. I didn’t even really know what sex was. I’d go round his house and we’d head off to his room and he’d play this bunch of singles and tell me what it was like.
Clive liked Buddy Holly and Adam Faith. He really liked Adam Faiths voice. He thought it had that Buddy Holly wobble. He never tired of Buddy Holly but he did tire of Adam Faith so he’s sell those old singles to me for two shillings (10p) each. That’s how I got started collecting records.
All we had to play them on were old Dansettes. They were record players with an arm. You could load them up with ten singles and they’d play them one after the other. You could get away with doing that with albums to. It automatically put the needle down in the right place. But albums were a bit more hit and miss on my machine they jarred it when they fell so that it sometimes dislodged a second. But I’m already ahead of myself. I didn’t possess any LPs back then.
I think I associated this exciting world of Rock music with this other more grown up world that Tony lived in. I couldn’t wait to grow up and get off to Butlins.
I loved Adam Faith and played all those early singles to death but I absolutely adored Buddy Holly. My favourite single was Peggy Sue. I used to go round to Tony’s and get him to put it on replay. You just lifted the arm. It would end, the arm would lift and then it would replay.
There was so little music around back then. My Dad claimed to like opera. He’d been stationed in Sicily and Naples during the war and had been exposed. But I never heard him actually play any and they never went out to a concert ever. My Mother didn’t seem to listen to anything though she enthused about jiving and jitterbugging in the war to the big bands with the American GIs. Seemingly when you got married you put aside childish things.
These were the post-war austerity years. There was no money. Sweets had only just stopped being rationed. The NHS was new. Children got free nutrients to keep them fit, to drive away rickets and scurvy, and raise the health of the nation. You’d have a spoon of concentrated orange juice, a spoon of malt and a spoon of cod liver oil. The orange was brilliant, almost as good as the gripe water and EDS gravy crystals, both of which I used to pilfer from the larder. The cod liver oil was vile.
I was the scruffy little urchin. They never worked on me. I never got rickets but I never grew bigger than five foot six. All my boys are around six foot.
The radio and TV were crap. They didn’t play that primitive type of music. The whole American Rock, R&B and Doo-Wop explosion passed us by. It was picked up by the Teddy Boys. They bought the Rock ‘n’ Roll records and worshipped Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and Elvis. These were people that had yet entered into my sphere. They were waiting out there waiting to be discovered.
I was brought up in Deep South Delta county – Thames Delta that is, Surrey, Walton on Thames. Not exactly a hot bed of searing Rock culture or burgeoning Youth Culture, but just down the road from Richmond which would later prove quite instrumental in spawning Stones and Yardbirds. As a ten year old I saw the Teds hanging round the town centre like underworld Spivs. They had long greased back hair, ducks tails, sideburns, brothel creepers and drape jackets with velvet collars. They were always chewing and always had a cig dangling from their lip. Their girls wore make-up and flouncy skirts with ankle socks. They were rumoured to carry bike chains and cut-throat razors. They were obviously up to no good. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if they didn’t drink beer and kiss those girls. They looked exciting.
By the time I was fifteen they’d developed into Rockers, or Greasers as they came to be known. The Teddy Boy suits had given way to Jeans, turned up at the bottom, boots, flannel shirts and leather jackets. They rode big 650 cc Motorbikes like BSA roadrockets, Nortons and Triump Spitfires and even 1000 Vincents. They roared around with their girls clinging to them like limpets. Another group had emerged who called themselves Mods. They wore snazzy mohair, Italian cut suits, Parkas with fur trim, chisel toe shoes and rode around on LD scooters with a ton of mirrors, lamps and fur and their girls dangled off the back like accessories. LDs piddled along like mobile farting sewing machines. I lusted after the big bikes.
The only sort of stuff that did filter through to me, prior to me buying my first Adam Faith singles, was Skiffle and Emile Ford. The Skiffle I heard was mainly Lonnie Donnegan doing his crap stuff like ‘My old man’s a dustman’ and ‘Does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bedpost over night’ but there were a few other more interesting things like ‘Don’t you rock me Daddy-o’, ‘The Battle of New Orleans’ and Rock Island Line’. Then there were the Vipers and Nancy Whiskey. I remember going down to the waterside pub in Walton to support Hat who had taken into his head to form a duo. As far as I was aware it was there one and only gig. I remember them doing a version of Nancy’s ‘Freight Train’.
Emile Ford was doing this stuff like ‘Slow boat to China’ and ‘What’d ya wanna make those eyes at me for?’ which were not quite there but they were about the best Britain had at the time (apart from Skiffle). We were pretty slow to catch on and were a backwater as far as Rock music was concerned. America is where it had already happened. We just didn’t know it. Anyway, I used to whistle ‘Slow Boat to China’ outside my first serious girlfriend’ house. Glenys, a dark haired, dark eyed beauty of also ten years of age, would open her window and we’d talk. She even forcibly stripped her sisters pyjamas off her to show me her fanny; exciting stuff, even if her sister was only eight. She’d meet me in the garage for real lover’s kisses that lasted half an hour or more. We managed twenty seven (I was counting) before her parents moved and we were devastatingly torn apart. I still can’t hear Emile Ford without thinking of Glenys.
Right from the beginning Rock Music was associating itself with something more thrilling than anything my parents’ generation had to offer. Even before I knew what sex was I could feel it throbbing in that music. It spoke of a different type of life full of dark delights and swampy danger. There was an ocean of it out there and already I wanted to jump right in. There were a few years to go until I started to find my feet in either that respect or with girls.
All I knew was that I did not want to live in that grey world of routine that my parents lived in. Neither did I have any aspirations to try to make a fortune and try to gatecrash the billionaires’ private club. I wanted that underworld of seething excitement to be found in dark dingy clubs.
This was not conscious rebellion. There was not even a rejection on a conscious level. There was merely the subconscious recognition.