Friday, July 25, 2008

Another time, another place

It was my 47th birthday yesterday. Can I really be that old?

I spent the morning at the theatre with Stuart the guitar repairman who wrestled with/swore at a left-handed Brian May model guitar (which looks really weird!) while I changed 7 sets of guitar strings in 2 hours. I'm getting quite good at it you know! Shirley and myself went out for a late lunch when I got back (ahh...) and for a change I spent the evening in a pub with East, watching a bunch that the landlady described as 'regulars' ('what does that make me them?' said East with glowering indignation. She backpedalled furiously but to little or no avail) run up a tab that had reached £375 by 9 o'oclock. The strange, very drunk man that got so close to East that I thought he was going to sit on his lap was eventually upstaged by Fast Tony who arrived with the words 'I picked up Mick Jones the other day' (in case you were wondering, Tony's a cab driver; and for those of you who don't realise why he'd tell us such a thing, he's referring to the ex-Clash guitarist) and, judging by how my head feels today I drank more than enough to make the evening worthwhile.

In a possibly ill-judged attempt to wake up and/or clear my head this morning I walked into Uxbridge and spent my birthday-HMV-vouchers on the excellent new double CD re-issues of the first two U2 albums 'Boy' and 'October'. What I've heard of them so far confirms what we all knew all along- regardless of what your opinion is on they might or might not have become in the meantime, U2 were once very good indeed. There's a live version of 'Eleven O'Clock Tick Tock' recorded on their first American tour that is just astonishing, 4 young men playing as they would never play again, all breathless energy and crusading self-discovery with Edge's guitar tightrope-walking it's way across The Grand Canyon and Bono sounding as though he can't quite believe what he's discovered he's capable of. I saw them several times in the pre-stadium rock days and they were never less than brilliant (they're still pretty good now, but that's another story) with a show at The Hammersmith Palais on the War Tour with Big Country as support in particular being one of the best nights of live rock music that I will ever see.

Reading the credits to the albums I couldn't help noticing that the newest music on them was recorded in 1982, an astonishing 26 years ago. I was then only 21 years of age, around the same age as the various members of U2 (I still am!) It's the 'time of your life' in many people's opinion. Sadly I remember it very differently- I was working in a job that I hated whilst unsuccessfully trying to get somewhere playing the guitar, and my Mum was showing early symptoms of what we later found to be Motor Neurone Disease. With the benefit of the 20:20 vision that hindsight always gives you I was probably not the nicest person in the world to be around at that time- to quote The Tom Robinson Band of all people, 'sullen, unhealthy and mean'. (Perverse as it may sound, I think I'd probably decided that I was some sort of misunderstood artistic genius and therefore all the better for having what could politely be described as a 'difficult' personality; I now realise that it accounts for my almost total lack of friends at the time. There's rarely mystery in life is there?) I was also rather immature; I couldn't quite understand why my contemporaries were getting married and having children when I felt little more than a child myself. (Reading back through what I've just written it's interesting to see that I described myself as being 'only' 21, something of a clue as to how I remember feeling back then.) Incredibly those children are now older than I was then- I hope they're making a better job of things than I was at their age!- which of course also means they could be parents themselves, making my contemporaries (gulp!) grandparents...

All these years later it hardly seems to matter, as things have changed immeasurably for me as of course they do for most of us, so much so that I almost think of myself 'then' in the third person i.e. as a different person to the one that I am now. (And if that sounds like a sanity-questioning statement to you how do you think it makes me feel?!?) I don't very often look in the mirror and think 'great, my hair's falling out, I'm putting on weight that I'll probably never lose, my teeth still hurt after God knows how many painful and expensive visits to the dentist and I really must get around to visiting an opticians to get some even stronger glasses. Getting older is so much better than being young '- but the older I get, the older I want to get, and that's not just because I was so unhappy in my younger years. The 'time of your life' is NOW. It has to be if you think about it. Doesn't it? Well- doesn't it?!?

Birthdays are great for this kind of amateur philosophy aren't they? Then again Shirley's just told me that she thought I was 48 this year, not 47. And she's supposed to be on my side!

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