teaching unplugged – in brief

Archive for May, 2010

How soon was then?

There’s something stirring at onefortywords, and it’s not just the effect of spring, prince of seasons, on the heart. I’m used to that and I think I can cope.

It’s something more unexpected: a faint sense of nostalgia for the 1980s. I know, I know. I’m not really one for nostalgia. I get it when Steely Dan sing ‘I’m never going back to my old school’. The handful of trips I’ve taken back to my university town have left me feeling even more disassociated than when I was there. And you’d have to bribe me with something pretty special to get me to an 80s night. It was bad enough listening to Duran Duran first time round.

I turned 15 in 1980 with my head in 1965. I thought that if I listened hard enough to Mr Tambourine Man, Rubber Soul and Aftermath, it might actually turn into 1965 and a summer of love would be just round the corner. And yep, I ordered little rectangular rose-tinted specs from the back of the NME to match.

But, like my half-baked mop-top, the conditions weren’t right. Punk had been vital but divisive, leaving you constantly questioning your loyalty to this or that band, and the same was true of hip hop later in the decade – an edgy vibe, not the kind of shared experience I imagined the 60s to have been. The Pogues offered a kind of ersatz shared experience, if your perfect gig was in fact a football match, and The Smiths saved our lives for a season – but I never went to see them. The idea of waving gladioli at Morrissey seemed to negate all the gorgeous isolation he swayed for.

‘What do I get?’ asked the Buzzcocks, as the battery in the fuzz box that powered punk began to run down: ‘Howard Jones,’ replied the 80’s, ‘and in case that isn’t bad enough, T’Pau.’ By the time the second summer of love actually did come around, I’d given up.

And yet. Sharing music online with travellers of a similar vintage, it’s clear the early 80’s was a shared experience of sorts, even if the fragmentation of pop culture left all of us feeling like the odd one out at the time. I’m wondering if the need to navigate a world of rotten rock and occasional ornery genius didn’t toughen our souls a little. I’m still amazed that Ghost Town got to number one when it did, even if the furious hope it crystallised faded with the end of the miners’ strike. Come on Eileen felt like a victory at the time. And I can’t imagine a better accompaniment than Perfect Circle to those shaky days when love could go through a whole life cycle in a night.

Our horizons did expand. They had to – world music in the 70s meant Una Paloma Blanca. The rarity of must-have releases left us to free to explore the back pages of rock, soul and gospel. And we haven’t been burdened by the thought that things will never be as good again!

Is my nostalgia the invention of a May morning, a condition brought on by Sunday’s grey rain falling steady in the new green of spring? Well, it looks like at least some minds are thinking along the same lines. As I write this, Mark Andrews has read my thoughts by tweeting Laura Ponting: ‘If it’s not love then it’s the blog, the blog, the blog that will bring us together…’  So I’m asking, is 2.0 the shared experience we were hoping for all those years ago? Is this our Woodstock?