Crashing guitars on a summer night. You can’t beat it. The boy’s bashing his guitar for all he’s worth. He’s really battering it. I’m taking a break from socialising, leaning at the bar with an ice cold beer in my hands, enjoying the show. We’re in the heady confines of the local Constitutional Club, watching Josh’s friend’s band, The Shots do their thing. Josh is at the front, cheering them on.
I’ve been looking forward to this, over the last few days. It’s the first bit of actual excitement I’ve had since I’ve been back. The nights of wandering round town, wondering if I’d bump into someone I used to know, have gone on too long. It’s good that I’ve met someone with whom I feel I can have a genuine connection.
I sip my beer and wait for the boy behind the bar to put another one next to me. Then I pay him and take it towards the front.
“There you go,” I say, handing one of the beers to Josh.
“Cheers mate,” he shouts in my ear. “What do you think?”
“They’re good. Excellent.”
He laughs and carries on watching. They are good, in a punky, thrashy sense. The guitarist loves the three chords, strummed quickly, hard, discordant. You can’t hear the singer much. He’s drowned out by the rest.
I swig my beer as I watch. It’s warm in here tonight and it’s going down well. Especially with some people. He’s finished his beer already. Josh turns and looks at me.
He goes to the bar as the band finishes one song and starts another.
“This is a Motown cover,” he yells.
They start the song and it sounds nothing like a Motown cover. I stand, trying to work out which one it is.
A few seconds later, another beer is pushed into my hand. I finish the first one quickly and start on the second. It’s going to my head, I have to say that. Buzzing around and adding a different quality to what’s happening. It reminds me of my early nights at university. Alcohol giving a glow which enhances the moment. Because that’s what it’s all about, not escape like some say, but making the moment you’re in feel that little bit special. Giving it an edge. Getting the blood to rush through your veins. Push you off.
I put the beer against my forehead. Cool me down. Let the amber gold make me less hot. It doesn’t work. I swig the rest. Gulp it down. The guitars are like chainsaws. The vocals are being screamed. The rest of the clientele wanting something softer.
A short while later, it’s my round again. I’m leaning against the bar. Josh is near the front, surrounded by his entourage, a group of girls he clearly knows from whichever college he went to. He’s lapping it up, you can tell. He’ll introduce me to them later, I’m sure of that.
It was a good night. We stayed at the gig for a while. The other bands were rubbish, just boring middle-of-the-road stuff, not our thing. So we adjourned before the end, went to a house party Josh’s friends knew about. The girls he’d been talking to suggested it and we tagged along with them. He introduced us, as I knew he would. We ended up on this settee, drinking the host’s wine, which the girls fetched from the kitchen. I ended up crashing out and waking up just before it got light, next to Marcus the drummer and a girl whose head was resting on my shoulder. I managed to get off the settee without waking anyone, bid my farewell and walked out into the early morning. It was just what I needed.
Now I’m on the sun lounger. The day’s a hot one. I’ve got my ghetto blaster next to me again and I’m playing some Stax soul that I recorded one lazy afternoon after exams when I was at university. The horns are blasting and the strong, heartfelt vocals are coming out of the speakers. Again, I’ve got it too loud for the neighbourhood. I lean over and turn it down a notch as there are people in the garden next door. It’s a shame. I was getting into it playing loud.
So what does the rest of the day hold? I don’t think I’m going to be doing a lot this afternoon. The sun’s too hot and I’m too lazy and hungover to do anything strenuous. I was thinking about going into town and looking through the records but there’s plenty of time for that in the week. And I’ve done it enough anyway over the last few weeks. And I want to save myself for tonight.
It’s thirsty work this lying in the sun, doing nothing. I get up and go into the kitchen and get a glass and put it in the freezer. I go back outside and, after a few minutes, go back inside and take it out. It’s nicely frosted now. I put some ice in, then some orange, and fill it up with water. I take it outside and have a good drink. Perfection. Ice cold orange on a hot summer's day. The ice and frosted glass will combine to keep it cold for a while. Just what we need.
So what’s happening tonight? Josh was talking about everyone meeting in The Queens. I may be hungover but would I turn down such a suggestion? Of course not.
They make us free. Libraries, that is. That’s what they say and it’s something I agree with. All that knowledge, all that stuff for us to find and uncover. They’re cool places.
I used to go to the library at university out of necessity, I suppose. I needed to read the books, get the ideas inside my head so I could complete the essays I’d been given. But, back here, it hits me. A library is a way into a land of discovery, without doing anything to get there, paying any money, influencing anyone. If there’s a public library in town, everyone has access to it.
Take me, for example. Here I am, wandering into the same library I used to go to when I was at school. I never used to think much of it then. But now, I’m checking out the novels and the books about history and, yes, philosophy of course. Today I’ve picked up Frannie and Zooey by J D Salinger, which I’ve been meaning to read for a while, along with some of George Orwell’s essays, checked them out, and put them in my blue canvas bag that I picked up from some surplus store or something when I was a student and that I used to carry round with me everywhere I went.
It isn’t only books though, it is? They’ve got a load of albums here, including well-stocked jazz. I’m getting into it a lot, as I’ve talked about before, and this is the best opportunity I’ve had to add to my knowledge. So I go over and pick up a few, from Art Blakey and Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon. They will do nicely for my musical education. I take them to the counter and hand over my library card and they put the records in the sleeves and I’m out and on the street and on my way home.
Libraries. They make us free.
That was a sobering experience. I’ve come to the Lite Bite at the top of the high street for a welcome coffee. I’ve been and signed on. I don’t recommend it.
It’s in this horrible old building where they make you queue up with lots of downtrodden old doleites, fear, and desperation on their lived in faces. Then you go and sign your name at a desk to show you’re available for work. The whole thing brings you down. Not what a boy about town like yours truly needs at all.
So, right now, I’m trying to put it out of my mind. I’ve popped into W H Smith on the way up here and purchased a glossy magazine, with bright, colourful pictures of all the movers and shakers adorning its pages, along with more besides, actors and other fabulous dreamers strutting their stuff and doing their thing and living their glamorous lives.
I’m looking at a particular advert. The boys are wearing very stylish tops, some stripy, some dark blue, with white tipping, some red, some purple, all the colours of the soulboy rainbow, in fact. The strides are of a similar quality and hue, slim-fitting hipsters, blue and white and dark brown. All exude a panache like you’re on the riviera or somewhere equally as class.
I sip my coffee. I look outside. There’s a contrast here that’s too striking not to comment on. It’s the smalltown vibe, in the middle of a recession where everyone’s still minding their p’s and q’s with the memories of the last one still stuck in their minds and the master and servant deference still at the forefront of the way they see the world. In short, they’re bustling about, with a wearied, world-worn expression in their faces, just like the people at the benefits office, as if someone’s going to come along at the behest of the Lord of the Manor, about to put them in chains and drag them off to sea, never seeing their loved ones ever again. Someone needs to tell them. They stopped the press gangs long ago.
I look again at my magazine, at the optimistic faces that come out of it. They’re representative of a new world, one that I’m proud to inhabit, that looks to the future, not the past, that believes life is for living not slaving and that in doing so you wear the best clobber and listen to the best music you can. In short, you live it as you want to dream it. As brilliantly as you can.
Is Zooey Glass the coolest cat in literature? He’s got to be up there. He’s bright, suave, talented, and stylish. What is there not to love?
I’ve been reading about him this afternoon, lounging on my bed, letting the air waft through. I might go into town later, I might not. I’ll see how I feel. Right now, I’m taking in the attitudes of Mr Glass, his flippant comments, and his overall worldview. I’m impressed.
But I’ve got other things to do. I put the book down, reach over, pick up my guitar again, and have a strum. I just want to write that perfect three-minute pop song. The guitar’s out of tune so I tune it up using the method I learned from the Bert Weedon Play In A Daybook many summers ago. I play a C chord, an open one, again one of the first I learnt. Then I play a D and an A. I add in an Em. I play them, one after another, try to get a riff together. Think up some words. Does it work? I don’t know. I give up in the end.
My efforts this afternoon might have found a home. I suppose I should have realised. Josh is a star on the make, just like yours truly. We’re sitting in The Queens when we get onto the subject.
“So what have you been up to today?” he says, before having a good drink of his beer.
“This and that,” I say.
“Just hanging out. Playing my guitar a bit.”
“Do you play guitar?” He’s forgotten our conversation sitting here a few days ago.
“That sounds interesting. We should have a jam.”
It’s just the sort of thing I was hoping for. It’s been a while since Jimmy and I played our gigs at uni.
“Sounds good. What do you play?”
“Oh, you know. The lot. Guitar, bass. Do a bit of vocals whenever I get the chance. Write the odd song here and there.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Let’s go for it.”
We spend the rest of the night hanging around in here, discussing our musical plans. Josh says he’s got a couple of songs he’s been saving. Maybe I’ll go round next week. But, for now, there’s stuff to do. One of the girls Josh knows has heard about a party upstairs in this pub. We have to go.
Then, once again, it’s a comedown. My folks have been asking me how the job searching’s going. I make something up, all about looking through the adverts and applying for things and nothing happening as a result. It’s all rubbish, of course. That may have been how it was for the week or so after I finished at university, but there’s only so long you can spend like that. I got bored of it quickly. I always get bored of things quickly and job applications, with their cv’s and need to “present your strengths” are ripe for such tedium. I know I’m going to have to do it one day, especially if I want to get away, but that time isn’t now. I’ve met Josh and his friends. They’re opening up a new world for me. That’s all I need. For the time being.
But I digress. Where’s the comedown I was talking about? Let’s just say I’m trying to appease the folks or, at least, head off any comments at the pass. I came into town and, after my usual visits to the record shop and the Lite Bite, I decided to go to the jobcentre and see what they’ve got on offer. I didn’t need to waste my time like that. I should have known before I came. If I was a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker I’d probably have a chance of finding something. But a man of letters has no chance in the current job market. I might as well give up as look for anything I’m qualified to do here. What did Plato know about anything practical?
Not that there wasn’t any interest in yours truly. A woman from the staff came up to me and asked if there was anything they could help with, if I was looking for anything in particular. I managed to get away without committing myself to anything. Though they did take my name and number, just in case “anything comes up.” It won’t, I know that. I’ll have to try harder next time and not wander in here.
There’s more post. And two of them are for me. There’s another postcard from Max. He’s in Barcelona now, the lucky boy. He says he’s having a good time, drinking in the bars near Las Ramblas, and going to places like the Dali Museum. Good for some. I wish I could live like that.
The other is a fairly long and detailed letter from Jimmy. He’s also lucky, in a different way. He happens to live in a city where there’s a top music scene, where there are bands on all the time in underground bars. I went with him, one weekend, to his hometown and was dutifully impressed, I have to say. He’s telling me about some of the bands who are on, who he’s seen, that he says are going to have singles coming out in the next six months. He tells me to keep my eyes open for them and to listen to Peel every night because they’re going to be played.
I’ve always listened to Peel. Ever since I was about fourteen. I seem to have got out of the habit of late. I need to get back into it again.
So, this afternoon, I’ve taken Josh up on his offer and gone round to his house for a jam. I knew I would. He was on again about it in The Queens and I said I’d go today. I put my guitar in the old case it came in and headed off into town. It was its usual hum as I walked through, down the high street, and across the park. Josh lives on this new estate where the houses are big and the roads are wide and the cars are flash. I quite enjoy the stroll down here, especially when the sun’s shining like today.
I find Josh’s house quite easily. It sits back from the road and there’s a drive I walk up. I knock on the door and he’s there quickly, opening the door and smiling.
“Come in,” he says. “Make yourself at home.”
Which I proceed to do. He takes me up to his bedroom, where he’s got two practice amps. His guitar’s sitting on the bed. It looks good, all sleek and white and ready to be blasted out into the hot day that it is. He plugs it in and gives it a strum. It’s loud. Perfect for annoying the neighbours. Which is what he proceeds to do.
He turns and grins. He gives it a blast and starts playing a riff. For saying he said he could play tambourine at the start, he’s good. I join in and turn it up. We’re out of tune and we need to sort it out. But we don’t. We just carry on playing. It gets louder and wilder and more out of tune. Then we hear someone knocking at the door and we both start laughing and stop playing. Then we fall about and can’t stop killing ourselves.
It’s just like Jimmy and me practising at uni. The girl in the room above me used to complain about it. It brings it back to me. I’m heading back there in the next couple of days. Graduation looms. It’s party time. I’m looking forward to it.