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The day I rebelled (and nobody noticed).

March 2, 2013

This week I am going to get things going with a little Rossini – a duet from the lovely opera Le Comte Ory.

I saw it first at English National Opera when I was 10 – the first opera I had seen, though Mum and Dad had been taking me to classical concerts for some years already.

The image being pushed here is of a small boy presented appropriately to the occasion –  tidy hair, clean shirt and polished shoes – sitting quietly and enjoying his musical education and perhaps the treat of a glass of lemonade at the interval.

On a bookshelf in my Mum and Dad’s house there are a number of family photographs. Mum says that when she’s talking to any of her children on the phone she likes to sit where she can see them, which is a rather touching thought. So although I don’t have a great fondness for the photo of me taken seven or eight years ago, I’m quite happy that they have it.

(As it happens, it is the same picture with which colleagues decided to adorn coffee-mugs a few years ago: stretching someone’s face round crockery does not improve the looks. Mum calls it my “smiley picture” – cue the Romanian singer Smiley’s Dream Girl: quite a nice song; Smiley is a sort of Enrique Iglesias for Eastern Europe. Don’t ask me how I know this one.)

A couple of weeks ago Mum found another smiley photo, this time of a chubby toddler sitting at the front of a group of three children. It’s an affectionate picture, typical of the ones that Mum and Dad have preserved and which surface from time to time. Indeed, to track my life by Mum and Dad’s photo albums, you’d think that butter had never, ever melted in my mouth.

There is, therefore, no picture of me at the age of 14 or 15, sitting in my cousin Ray’s bedroom, listening for the first time to Curfew – a harsh, loud and discordant track from The Stranglers’ album Black and White. That was the moment at which I discovered punk, and though I can’t be precise about the date I have the clearest memory of the occasion and the impact it had. If Mum and Dad had realised what was happening, and the “noises” they were to endure in the years that followed, I’m sure they’d have bundled me in the car and whisked me back to the safety of their record-player at the double.

I was a little young to be a proper punk, and always a year or two behind the curve (a situation which has not changed in the 35 years since). My first steps into this odd and outré world rather resembled that toddler’s early attempts at self-propulsion: cautious but excited, wondering at the new things ranged out in front of me, and constantly stumbling or going the wrong way.

I’ve mentioned before that there is music in the family DNA, and if such is the case then punk rock is that part of the sequence unique to me. This was the first time that I had, musically, gone my own way. rebel-without-a-causeI got a little over-enthusiastic, reasoning that because some punk rock was good – in that it could stand up as music as well as being a social statement – therefore all punk must be equally good. As a result, even though there is some genuine rubbish in my cabinet that I never listen to, it stays there because it is part of the ramshackle record of my “rebellion”. (One of my favourites is the frenetic Where’s Captain Kirk by the oddly-named Spizzenergi – a collective that reinvented themselves several times with different variants of the name.)

A short digression: while thinking about all this quite a number of songs came into my head. While all are appropriate, none of them would be my records of choice by the artists in question. So:

  • Instead of Theatre of Hate’s Rebel without a Brain I give you Do You Believe in the Westworld?
  • You can have David Bowie’s Wild is the Wind (still fairly apt), as opposed to Rebel Rebel, which is not Bowie’s finest moment. I don’t warm to repetition without variation – which is one of the reasons that I am not the biggest admirer of Springsteen. But having said that, I love The River – a double album which I owned at university, loved, lent to a friend and never saw again; I had bought it on the strength of hearing Point Blank in a cab. Now I can feel an online shopping trip coming on.
  • Rather than Rockabilly Rebel by Matchbox, I shall link to nothing by Matchbox.

The spirit of departure in which I explored punk neither kept me from continuing to find inspiration in the genres in which my education lay, nor stopped me discovering new music in those genres. Indeed, if anything, my taste is far more catholic and informed. Several decades later, I am still delighted to go to ENO, and my enjoyment if anything is greater: less worried (perforce) about the state of my hair, and with a little sense of residual rebelliousness turning up in jeans and trainers. But that neatly combed ten year old would never, 30 years on, have found Janacek’s extraordinary Glagolitic Mass if he had not first recognised the marvels of dissonance in punk.

All-told, it’s not much of a revolution to look at, but in my head those few minutes listening to Ray’s newly-bought LP were transformational. I wonder if he even remembers. 


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  1. Love this. 🙂

  2. Fiona permalink

    one of my faves so far this was brilliant

  3. Hee hee – that mug! I hear it’s going to form the basis of all the crockery in the new office! Mugs aside, great post – although I would like to have seen the photos talked about included!

    • Thank you, except for the mugs idea. I was round at the parents’ yesterday where yet another infant photo had made it the shelf. Someone is trying to tell me something, but I’m not sure what.
      I really recommend the Janaček. (And I did that č on the phone).

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