Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Listening to Pop Music

When I was about eleven I had a little tinny transistor radio, made of cream plastic with a dodgy perforated black plastic cover (to let the music out) that had a carrying handle attached to it. There was one headphone on a fine plastic-coated wire that plugged into it. 

Our family lived in a Northumbrian village with just enough trains and buses to get you to school (or work in a shop in Newcastle on Saturdays), but not enough to be able to have fun. There was a Folk Club in the village and I do remember one event in the Village Institute where my friends' band played, and another time a disco that was attended by a large diaspora of skinheads.

Nobody had dreams, as far as I could see. If they did, they didn't share them with anyone. There was a very narrow life route available, and if you didn't take that narrow path, there be dragons. I was isolated.

In some ways we were lucky because the world came to us: McDad's job at the University meant a constant stream of doctors from around the world who chatted to us about their cultures and laughed at my Geography homework (ten years out of date). One doctor, Shima, was Nigerian and lived with us for a year. He played African music in his room, with big swanky speakers. But that was later, when teenage wanderings allowed village youths to attend Youth Club with its pile of scratched and out of date 7" singles and a Dansette to play them on, and to share listening to forbidden albums like Frank Zappa's in each others houses.

My little transistor radio was a pipeline to magic. From the strange enclosed and claustrophobic world of the village, I could plug my ears into the radio and listen to Detroit and LA, the shape and sound of faraway studios entering my imagination and signalling an outside world where girls and women sang in sparky voices about daring lives that seemed just as normal to them as my dreary existence was to eleven year old me.

For all it's evil and horrible machinery, the music industry has always been a conduit to dreams, and dreams are evidence of the imagination, and the imagination is the route to freedom. I have never lost that thought.

1 comment:

Wilky of St Albans said...

Ah, that explains the hint of Zappa that runs through your music :)