Today (3rd May) is one of those days. A marker in one’s life where I take time to pause and reflect on those people who have given me the foundations to build my life. As I write this, I do so with a gentle glow of pride that Janet (my sister) and I had two amazing parents who both passed away on this day 12 month apart. Today marks the first anniversary of a year without them physically in our lives. The tears have subsided, the photographs make me smile, the space they left remains, but their presence is strangely stronger. I see them in the day to day behaviours of individual family members (yes sister you have mums fire burning inside). I hear them in the causal talk of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I often see them in my mind’s eye when I ask myself, “what would they think?” or reflect on a memory.
As my parents entered the last phase of their lives and with their blessing, I took an assortment of photographs. I also had the fortune to talk about my parents on national radio via Lauren Laverne’s BBC 6Music’s regular slot Memory Tapes, which judging from the feedback I received reflected the thoughts of many people who heard it. My mum passed away shortly after I took this photograph, which captures their last kiss.
Today, I write these words and share this image after careful consideration and talking to my sister partly to help break-down any fear we may have in discussing death, to offer support to those who may be facing similar circumstances and reassure you that there is light after the darkness. But more importantly to celebrate the beautiful cycle of life. If you are fortunate to have parents like me and my sister, they teach you how to live, love and ultimately how to die with dignity. When all is said and done can a child ask for anything more from their parents? Love all the people all the time.
Saturday 14th December 2013 and the London air is heavy with winter darkness. I’m cold and making a side step shuffle movement to keep warm. The type of side step shuffle normally associated with granddads dancing at wedding parties. I am the lone 52 years old man standing in a long queue that twirls itself around the Camden backstreets streets past a chaotic petrol station where queue members frequently abandon these static ranks to purchase an assortment of chocolate, crisps and dubiously coloured hi velocity caffein drinks.
Tourists armed with bags make their way back to Chalk Farm tube station after perusing Camden market. They take a second glance at the old man standing head and shoulders above his fellow queue participants. The street sweepers battle against the odds as a fine drizzle of rain starts to descend. I find myself surrounded by 1000s of teenage girls, high on their Molotov cocktail of crisps, sugar, caffeine and frenzied excitement.
I recall an interview with Keith Richards where he is asked about his early touring days with the Rolling Stones during the 1960s. Looking into the camera with reflective fear Richards recalled running the gauntlet of young girls after each gig from the backstage to the waiting car. Here I am in the whirlwind Keith, but all I can hear is rather sensible discussions about fashion, music and world events causing concern. Each short advanced movement by the queue is greeted with a collective high pitched shout that bears the capabilities to shatter wine glass in a 3 mile radius.
I am with my 15 year old daughter and her friend and we are about to enter the London Roundhouse to witness an evening with The Black Veil Brides plus support bands. I have been dreading tonight. The age ninja creeps through the undergrowth of life. You know its there because you hear it tussle in the undergrowth occasionally, but you are easily distracted until ‘wham!’ its to late. Running is futile. The age ninja brings many gifts, pot belly, aching joints, declining hairline, corduroy trousers and the graviton pull of the mighty cynicism and no where is this cynicism more revealing than in the world of popular music.
We the 50+ generation smirk with contempt because we are the generation with the musical kaleidoscope, The Beatles, Hendrix, Joplin, The Doors, Smokey Robinson, Sly and the Family Stone, Bob Marley. The glam of David Bowie and T.REX. Musical juggernauts Led Zeppelin, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Pink Floyd. The refreshing blast of punk and the 1000s of 3 chord wonders that followed.
Our principal band or artist became our fashion adviser by proxy. Marc Bolan and David Bowie lookalikes popped up in abundance with their ambiguous sexuality flaunting the nerves of parents and neighbourhoods. These brave lookalikes would often be seen galloping down streets being heckled and chased by older boys with shouts of “get the poof!” A personal musical journey is like a rights of passage. The proprietors of record shops were the the gate keepers of heaven or hell. A well meaning retailer had the power to provide a gentle nudge towards Dylan. A less informed retailer could slam into the teenage oblivion of Alvin Stardust or mock rock n roll Showaddywaddy train pipe trousers.
My cynical eyes cast over todays popular music landscape and I witness corporate safe niceness penetrating its way through TV screens via the X Factor serving up its cover versions of soppy sugar induced love ballads. I see teenagers walking like zombies with little understanding of individuality who have become mere consumers to be told what to buy and when.
The cold air of London shakes me out of this cynicism and brings me back. I have purposely refrained myself from voicing negative observations in the build up to tonight. This is my daughters musical journey. I am simply carrying out my duty to ensure protection during her first big indoor rock concert.
The drive to London was the first eye opener. My daughter had made a compilation CD, which is to be played on route and prepare the ears for the onslaught. My fears must have been tattooed on my face when news of this CD reached me. I was offered immediate counselling by my wife.
The first internalised sigh of cynicism was swiftly slapped away when the opening vocal lines and chords of Led Zeppelins Black Dog blasts through the car speakers. The CD featured a blend of old and new. My Chemical Romance followed by Zeppelin, followed by Bring Me the Horizon followed by The Ramones, etc. The surprising factor was watching two teenagers in the rear of singing along to each song.
As we make our way towards the venue we increasingly encounter a beautiful rainbow of young people individually dressed in self made outfits, dyed hair, Dr Martin Boots and an attitude that would make the average X Factor fan run to the nearest TK Maxx store for retail safety.
In the venue, sensibly I make the rational decision to stay at the rear and away from the growing mayhem. My daughter and her friend nervously ask permission to go join the crowd, I nervously agree and with a blink of an eye they are gone. My baby whom I have safely tended too over for 15 years is now submerged in army of metal chaos that bounces and sways to every pounding bass, crunching guitar cord and gravel lyrical projectile thrown at them by tattooed muscled musicians.
Occasionally I catch a glimpse of the two teenagers. Their faces totally enthralled with the proceedings as they bond with the crowd and with growing confidence they push back to protect their space at the front of the stage, which had been hard won.
Two support bands and the pyrotechnic induced Black Veil Brides later I witnesses two sweat drenched, exhausted and beaming faced young ladies stumble back to our prearranged meeting place. Unable to speak due to their shouting back of lyrics, no spoken words are required. I left the Roundhouse that night knowing the musical rights of passage had been navigated. Its not cynicism that creeps up on you as you get older. Its laziness. Laziness that is coupled with being prepared to sit back and absorbing what ever is easily obtained through mainstream media. A sense of adventure and discovery can often be lost.
As a teenager myself the tussle and lengths I endured to buy an allusive vinyl album is simply matched by the complex over supply of downloadable options. Fantastic music and bands exist today, as they did when I was younger. To find them still remains a journey, requiring dedication and determination.
On the 2 and 1/2 hour drive back from London two young ladies have finally drifted into exhausted sleep. I switch the car radio on, tune in and listen to classic FM. Did you know Beethoven was a punk?