Ad Lib : Repeat to Fade
Ad Lib. Repeat. Fade. Mine is a three-act life marked off in distinct stages. Life changing events happened to me at 25 and 50 which helped shape the precise narrative of this book. The constant throughout that life is music. I was born in 1954, which means I am the same age as rock and roll, the same age as the pop culture I grew up with, and which grew up with me.
Ad Lib – As a kid you assimilate music piecemeal. Everything is governed by random impulses, chance encounters. There is no grand plan. When you’re young you make it up as you go along but that’s ok because pop is making it up as it goes along too. Everything you do is synchronised to and in sync with the contours of the culture. I heard my music on Children’s Favourites on the Light Programme, on offshore pirate radio, on Radio One in those years when the BBC had a monopoly and pop to a kid with little pocket money was strictly rationed. With so few outlets you learn to project. Imagine becomes paramount. You dream your pop dreams.
Repeat – As a kid I dreamed of being in a band. Then I got to be in a band. There were far less soundchecks in my dreams. By the time you reach the second half of your twenties you have been round the block a time or too. The past is being sold back to you as heritage, as golden oldies, as CD reissues, as myth. What began as impulse and ad lib has been invaded by conditioned response and cliché. The private joys and sorrows of fandom are confronted by received wisdom and the institutional construction of nostalgia. The mythical sixties, rather than the sixties you lived through, has been invented. The audio theme park of oldies radio regurgitates the Top 30 as selective tradition. DJs plays the pop charts of your youth, sometimes in sequences that are life-affirming, at other times in a way that is repellent to everything you cherish. You rarely recognise the pop past that they talk about as the one you lived through. Every time another famous person dies, Jimi Hendrix, Marc Bolan, John Lennon, John Peel, there is further disconnect between the music you shared an intimate relationship with and the person they are discussing on your TV.
Fade – Staring down both barrels at your own mortality gives you fresh perspective. Once you’ve been diagnosed with and recovered from a life-threatening illness the music somehow sounds different. The words have different resonance now even though the same notes are playing. You realise there was a reason why you fell in love with the things you fell in love with and why the best of it stayed with you.
By this reckoning I should live till I'm 75. After that everything will be encores, curtain calls and codas.
I grew up in a council house in a small town in rural Bedfordshire. I was a bright working class kid who became a Grammar School reject. Music saved my life on more than one occasion. I've been a singer in a band, a radio broadcaster, an academic, a music journalist and a respected music biographer with a track record with major publishers. But I'm doing this one myself because it has a different story to tell. One that doesn’t follow the usual well-trod path of most music-based memoir. It’s not about my proximity to the famous. I haven’t hung out with the A list. I talk about the Fab Four but I don’t once discuss their music. I’d rather tell you about the Beatles Tea tray we had when I was a kid. What more can I tell you? Does any of this make sense? Look, it’s Cider With Rosie on acid, ok? Trust me. I’m your reliable narrator.