Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A song from the old days

Joyce Carol Oates has written that good nonfiction "is not place- or time-bound; it survives the occasion of its original composition." A dilemma for every music writer is this: how might a piece survive beyond its time-and-date stamp? Nick Kent's memoir Apathy for the Devil is a tad adjective- and simile-friendly, and reads on more than one occasion as if the thesaurus were open, but its sprint through mid-1970s music and journalistic excess is a blast to read. You want Iggy, the Stones, Bowie, Rod Stewart, sunny LA, grimy London, Led Zeppelin, the Sex Pistols, a little Dylan, highs, crashes, fuck-ups, and piles and piles and piles of cocaine? You got it.

I especially love the book's opening, where Kent takes on the limits of memory and the power of recalled songs to transcend time and bring it all back home:
When you get right down to it, the human memory is a deceitful organ to have to rely on. Past reality gets confused with wishful fantasy as the years march on and you can never really guarantee that you’re replaying the unvarnished truth back to yourself. I’ve tried to protect my memories, to keep them pristine and authentic, but it’s been easier said than done.

Music remains the only key that can unlock the past for me in a way that I can inherently trust. A song from the old days strikes up and instantly a film is projected in my head, albeit an unedited one without a linear plot line; just random scenes thrown together to appease my reflective mood of the moment. For example, someone just has to play an early Joni Mitchell track or one of David Crosby’s dreamy ocean songs and their chords of enquiry instantly transport me back to the Brighton of 1969 with its Technicolor skies, pebble=strewn beach and jaunty air of sweetly decaying Regency splendour. I am dimple-faced and lanky and wandering lonely as a clod through its backstreets and arcades looking longingly at the other people in my path: the boys enshrouded in ill-fitting greatcoats and sagebrush beards and the bra-less girls in long skirts sporting curtains of unstyled hair to frame their fresh inquisitive faces. i

It was at these girls in particular that my longing looks were aimed. Direct contact was simply not an option at this juncture of my life. Staring forlornly at their passing forms was the only alternative. This is what happens when you don’t have a sister and have been sidetracked into single-sex schooling systems since the age of eleven: women start to exert a strange and terrible fascination, one born of sexual and romantic frustrations as well as complete ignorance of their emotional agendas and basic thought processes.

1 comment:

john said...

sounds interesting. thanks for posting.