I can understand falling in loveto pop music, but not with it

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Having trouble taking myself off to see High Fidelity despite my admiration for the film's director, Stephen Frears. Pop's part of the problem. Hornby the other. Haven't read him, life being too short, but he made a bad mistake with me once. He told me he admired the intelligence of a sentence I'd written - maybe it was a paragraph, I don't know - and he thanked me for it. "Thank you," he said. I don't intend to go into the rights and wrongs of the matter. You either see why that's doltish or you don't. If you're a writer you'll smell the offence and wonder why I didn't hit him. Simple answer to that - too fragile-looking. Him, I mean.

Having trouble taking myself off to see High Fidelity despite my admiration for the film's director, Stephen Frears. Pop's part of the problem. Hornby the other. Haven't read him, life being too short, but he made a bad mistake with me once. He told me he admired the intelligence of a sentence I'd written - maybe it was a paragraph, I don't know - and he thanked me for it. "Thank you," he said. I don't intend to go into the rights and wrongs of the matter. You either see why that's doltish or you don't. If you're a writer you'll smell the offence and wonder why I didn't hit him. Simple answer to that - too fragile-looking. Him, I mean.

But pop's the sticking-point. I never did buy pop records, though Mario Lanza was sort of pop for some people in my time and I bought him. Buying Lanza, though, was essentially a lonely activity, which was why I liked it. I never could stand the clannishness that went with pop proper, all of you trundling off to Rare Records to pick up the same stuff, and believing you were penetrating the cultural underworld because you collected albums which weren't in the Top 20. Vaguely existential, this was meant to be. Alienation with a soft landing - you and 15 million others. An obedient, rump-sniffing, pack activity from start to finish. And as nostalgia - the past remembered through maudlin riffs and drum solos - it's all too cute to bear.

But then cute's the thing, according to Tony Parsons, if you want the girls to love you. That's "love" as in "read". Would it be naïve to ask why you want the girls to read you?

Ah yes, the money.

Not that I'm in any position to take a tone. Girl-wise, I've profited cynically out of pop in my time. My younger brother was in a band. The Whirlwinds. And before you get sniffy about The Whirlwinds, you who know nothing of the Manchester scene in the Sixties and Seventies, be informed that The Whirlwinds went on, with the odd change of personnel, to become 10CC. "I'm not in love", and all that, which I also profited from, between marriages, on the smooch-floor of a language school in North Oxford. What I most remember about smooching to "I'm not in love" was that you were by the time the song was over. Forget Spanish Fly and oysters - nothing did the business like a velvet jacket, a white handkerchief which turned a phosphorescent blue under the strobing, and "I'm not in love". Ask me to name somebody I wouldn't have fallen in love with while smooching to "I'm not in love"... All right, Hornby. But trust me when I tell you I'd be hard pressed to come up with another.

Allowing that all acts of creativity have a long germination, I can just about claim that this wickedly sleek musical seduction was cooked up in our house, because that was where The Whirlwinds practised. Not that I hung around to watch them. I was at Cambridge at the time, growing a beard, turning morose, and letting my taste mature from Mario Lanza to Fulke Greville ("Oh wearisome Condition of Humanity"), but I got to hear The Whirlwinds in my vacations. "Thank you," I told them. But what I was thanking them for was not so much their music as their screaming fans, the most avid of whom I mineswept from our garden path, where they'd gather in the hope of seeing any member of the band, but especially my brother, in the act of coming or going.

Shaming? Yes. A man of 20 should not be battening on his baby brother's leftovers. But what else are you supposed to do when you come home from loveless Cambridge and find totty tearing its clothes off in Prestwich, right outside your bedroom window. It couldn't have been easy for my father either, having to beep them away so he could park the van each night.

Nothing lasting or even passingly satisfactory came from it. Girls who scream for pop stars, even embryo pop stars, don't make suitable company for a Leavisite. In the end The Whirlwinds asked me, in the nicest possible way, to find my own company; there was only a limited number of fans to go round in Manchester in those days, what with Herman's Hermits and the like, and The Whirlwinds were getting fed up of losing theirs to late Henry James.

I say nothing came of it, but the infectious triviality of pop did subsequently claim me for a period. I have written elsewhere of how I gave up on the chance of managing the Beatles in 1960 because they struck me as futureless no-hopers (and the jury is still out on that one), but this is the first time I have admitted to a temporary change of heart, in the course of which I wrote blethering essays asserting that Lennon and McCartney were the greatest poets of the middle century. I wasn't the only one. Across the way in Oxford, the critic Christopher Ricks was famously calling Bob Dylan the new Keats.

We all lost our heads there for a while. You can think of that as harmless if you care to. You may even decide to concoct romantic comedy out of it. Feel-good factor fodder. How cute we were, how cute.

But we are here as on a darkling plain, mate. Is feeling good about our fatuities really the best we can do? Whatever happened to putting our eyes out?

Comments