Sunday, 15 June 2014

Lucky Philosopher - Youth cult interlude


Immediately before the Tolkien era there was a brief period - a few months, maybe half a year - when I began to be pulled-into the mainstream world of youth groupings and cults; and I was in danger of becoming normal.

(Normal, that is, for a thirteen year old boy at that time and place.)

There are a few residual signs of this. A single photograph of me standing in a family group with 'long' hair - that is to say, halfway down my ears, and beginning to curl-up like a watch spring. Curling-up, that is, despite my best efforts; which included washing my hair just before bed-time, plastering it down flat, then sleeping the night in a woollen balaclava helmet.

This photo also depicts me wearing a lavender coloured T-shirt and 'Loon' pants - which were denim jeans tight to the knee, then with a V-knee seam and the bottoms flaring out to 24 inches so they would completely cover and conceal the shoes - which were baseball boots.

All this indicates I was trying to be a Hairy - which was the slang term for the contemporary incarnation of 'Hippies' and devotees of 'Heavy' or Progressive Rock; and what confirms the interpretation is my head-hanging-forward, round-shouldered stance - as immortalised by Shaggy in the Scooby-Doo cartoons.


The Progressive Rock craze incorporated groups such as Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd  and (from the USA) Mountain - we listened to these (borrowed from a friend's older brother) on a little portable record player supervised by an older kid who wore black velvet 'Flares' (a less extreme version of Loons) as part of his school uniform - but who had spent so much time slapping his thighs in response to 'the beat' that he had oval bare-patches on the front of the trousers. We therefore nicknamed him Frix, which was short-for Friction Pants.

Also, I attended a few school discos in the evenings (which I never did in later years); where I stood around trying to appear sophisticated by holding my chin in my cupped hand - even though I was standing-up. This was something I had seen being done by Steve Peregrine Took - who played bongos next to Marc Bolan in the Tyrannosaurus Rex combo. I believed it made me look thoughtful, enigmatic and sophisticated; so that girls would be compelled to come up and ask me what was on my mind.


The only part of the discos I actually enjoyed was dancing to the Hawkwind single of Silver Machine with the strobe lights on - which caused a dissociative trance state.

This led to what later stood as an anomalous album by Hawkwind nestled in my accumulation of Long Playing records. I tried hard to like it, especially having spent so much pocket money on it; but something about the music, the graphics and the text actually sickened me, and after a while I just hid it away and pretended it didn't exist.


Most of the music I listed to was recorded 'live', on a tiny portable cassette tape player, from friends albums - but after a few months hard usage, these cassettes would get slower and slower, then jam solid and become useless.

I also tuned into late night radio, lying in bed with my little transistor and single earplug, when the likes of John Peel and Bob Harris would play the latest exotica from the edge of Rock - which was in these early 1970s at the most pretentious level it ever attained - as epitomised by the double or triple LP 'concept album', and the inclusion of ten minute improvised solos on bass guitar, or drums.

Heavy Rock on a tranny via a tinny earplug does sound like a contradiction in terms - the apparatus was only a small step-up from a crystal set - but this was irrelevant, because the whole thing was almost entirely a symbolic gesture of belonging to 'youth'.  


Anyway, by good sense or good fortune, I was rescued from this path by Tolkien; who triggered changes that made me step outside of the world of mainstream youth culture and into something altogether larger, more suited to my nature, and more nourishing.