The Music-Memory Trigger

The Dystopians will try to vapourise and slag off everything good that came before them, but they’re going to have their hands full when it comes to those elements in life that transport we the Wrinklies back in time. This could be anything from the smell of fish and chip shops all the way through to the sight of open fires, and long walks where kicking up the leaves was at least half the fun.

Thus – taking those three examples – after soccer training in Manchester on Thursday nights, we always retired to the El Paso Supper Bar (known locally as the El Pisso) for battered cod with lashings of salt and vinegar; the flicker of flame (and the wood-burn smell next morning) transports me to our weekend cottage in North Oxfordshire during the late 1970s; and falling leaves will always remind me of escapes to Cwm Du in Wales during the early 1980s among genuinely liberal mates coming to terms with the ground-shaking horrors of Thatcherism.

In this post, I want to write about music, and its ability to dilate and overcome Time – transporting us back to the Old Normal. On CD, vinyl, iphone and in Clouds around the world, this is a reality that is – literally – on the record. It would take the Dystopians decades to vapourise it all, which is tough for them, because contained within the lyrics of ‘pop’ music is evidence of how much gentler – or harmless, creatively open-minded, well-arranged and cleverly written – it was.

In the late 1950s, the Everly Brothers told Suzie she had to wake up – having fallen asleep at the drive-in (“the movie wasn’t so hot”) and now it was after midnight: what would people think? Reputations shot, oh-lala. Around 1960, they penned a song So sad to see good love go bad which is an anthem for everyone who ever got dumped.

Also occupying the role of the eternal loser in love was the legendary ‘Big O’, Roy Orbison. His songs brilliantly captured the emotions of young romance. It’s Over (you thought it was forever), Running Scared (will the old flame win her back?), In Dreams (unable to accept that churning reality of betrayal), and the inimitable Cryin’ (meeting an old love after many years):

‘I thought that I was over you/ but it’s true oh so true/ I love you even more than I did before/But darlin’ what can I do/ It’s hard to understand/ that the touch of your hand/ can leave me cryin’/ You wished me well/but you couldn’t tell/ that I’ve been crying.’

Many today would dismiss those lyrics as clichéd; but they weren’t then…they were (and still are) the real, heartfelt and universal pain involved in the shattering of a dream. Are people still that sensitive? I’m not sure that many are: neoliberalism has made the young harder. It’s not an improvement. Even as late as the 1980s, Neil Young (now a wrinkly minus his common sense, sadly) wrote:

‘I can’t forget how/ love lasts a while/ but seems like forever in the first place/ But we’re already one/ now only time can come between us/ Our little son/ Won’t let us forget.’

The Eagles – a hugely talented and often underrated hit-machine in the 1970s – would be seen by the political Lesbian Sisters of No Mercy as ‘misogynist’ today. They weren’t and they aren’t: their output has stood the test of time by offering a sharply realistic understanding of how a few damaged women (‘a smile can open every door’) take the easy way through life and then regret it:

‘You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes/ and your smile’s a thin disguise/Thought by now you’d realise/Ain’t no way to hide your lyin’ eyes’.

Michelle Shocked (herself a lesbian but without the ID issues) touches on the same point in her beautiful song Memories of East Texas:

‘I mean to tell you my friend, there ain’t no easy roads’

Similarly, the Eagles track Take it Easy describes a freewheeling American Freak lifestyle tied closer to dirt roads than harsh urbanism:

Well, I’m a standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
Such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford
Slowin’ down to take a look at me

Take it easy
Take it easy
Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy
Lighten up while you still can
Don’t even try to understand
Just find a place to make your stand
And take it easy

The other band that (for me) owns its decade in terms of commentary on real life is The Kinks when it comes to the 1960s. While flower-power poseurs were busy singing about hearing their toenails grow, the main Kinks composer Ray Davies wrote Waterloo Sunset, Autumn Almanac, Well Respected Man, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, Lola, Dead End Street, Wonder Boy, Days, and Apeman:

‘I don’ feel safe in this world no more/ I don’ wanna die in a nuclear war/ I wanna sail away to a distant shore/ and make like an apeman’.

Waterloo Sunset in particular captured the atmosphere of Sixties London like no other song:

‘Millions of people/ swarming like flies round/ Waterloo Underground/ But Terry and Julie Cross over the River/To where they fell safe and sound/ And they don’t feel afraid/ as long as they gaze on Waterloo Sunset/ They are in Paradise’

Penultimately, if you ever want to get a taste of sex, drugs and heavy metal before it was called that, you have to invest in the final live album from The Who, Who’s Last. There you’ll learn about odd teenage urges in Pictures of Lily and Can’t Explain, gender confusion in I’m a Boy, true rebellion in My Generation, and the bizarre Mods and Rockers phenomenon in Pinball Wizard:

Ever since I was a young boy
I’ve played the silver ball
From Soho down to Brighton
I must have played ’em all
But I ain’t seen nothing like him
In any amusement hall
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball

He stands like a statue
Becomes part of the machine
Feeling all the bumpers
Always playing clean
He plays by intuition
The digit counters fall
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball

He’s a pinball wizard
There has got to be a twist
A pinball wizard’s
Got such a supple wrist

Last but not least, the Manchester band Simply Red showed in the late 1980s that life-saving romance was still alive and well in their sublime song A New Flame:

She’s made of real glass
She got real real emotion
But my heart laughs
I have that same sweet devotion
She’s turned me round
A new flame has come
And nothing she can do can do me wrong

I’m told it was a very personal song for the lead singer Mick Hucknell. It certainly is for me: late last year, it seemed to bond me to another human being in a special way. But once again, the internet’s two-dimensionality proved that it’s a medium tailor-made for deception. Which is a large part of what I’m on about here at this new Slogpage.

Now we all have our own favourites from one decade or another, and I have no doubt that many will question mine. But that isn’t the real point….although the hugely eclectic range of music from Swing in 1952 to around 1992 is tangentially relevant: it does after all compare very well indeed to the packaged fame mania typified by Britain’s Got Talent under the dangerous guidance of judges like Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan. Before neoliberalism demanded braindead bums on every seat, talent got discovered – and the talented did it the hard way. Ground-up genuine musical innovation quickly died in the face of Top-Down cynical camera fakery. It’s a continuing story of our sad epoch.

However, what we have looked at briefly in this post is irreversible recorded history. Those baby boomers born soon after the collapse of the last Nazi Empire know perfectly well that the Klaus Schwab Davos rejection of real history is a quite mind-boggling attempt to persuade kids born in the 21st century that post-reset life will be kinder, less stressful and “orltogezza butter” than life seventy years ago. This insane assertion is the great obscenity of our time. Onkel Klaus and his fellow exterminators are openly proud of “ze vay in vich ve haff penotrattet efry major Exucateev in ze Wurlt”.

They’ve had thirty years now in which to improve out lot, and the statistical reality is that we have money of far less value, no employment rights, far less stimulation in our media output, rapidly declining liberties, fixed elections, all-powerful surveillance States, politicised education, rising unemployment, Justin Trudeau, Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson, Tony Blair and George Soros.

All of these very strange men have chosen to align themselves with sexuality obsessions, Green nonsense, mandatory vaccination, and pc jargon. So if nothing else, the body of Pop music over the forty year period I presented proves one thing above all: when people called a spade a spade and rebelled against conformity, nobody died.

The only people about to die are the Baby Boomers. In another 15-20 years, we won’t be around to question the air-brushing of the New Stalinists. Ensuring the continued existence of an untouchable, better-known real record of history now is therefore absolutely vital.