This was originally a piece of home work for Rommi Smith’s Poetry School ‘Poetry & Music’ class. I don’t remember exactly what the task was, but to write a piece about our reaction to a piece of music. I self-consciously tried to write in the style of Jack Kerouac, but instead of hearing jazz in San Francisco circa 1950, I was hearing it in Leeds in the mid 1960s. And it was Dave Brubeck, rather than Charlie Parker I was listening to, so quite a difference. I put it on this blog more or less at random because I wanted to see if I could use a blog, and what it might do. It’s really a piece to read out loud, which I never have in public, but I imagine singing the lines from pop songs, andthe tune of ‘Take Five’.
In the early 1960s I would go from the chalkdust and sadism of grammar school afternoons, to inch in smoky buses up the clogged artery of York Road and spend Thursday evenings with my Gran. In the little Victorian terrace I slept in a damp double bed in the room she couldn’t climb to any more, under heavy frame paintings of green melancholy ladies languishing in flowery gardens. There were big hardwood drawers as high as my chest; cardboard boxes with dusty goggle eyed gas masks; a green and pink flowery ceramic bowl with matching ewer. I was thirteen years old and about to be swept into the psychedelic liberated nightmare vision that was the 1960s. I lived on a council estate in a little pre-fabricated box that had a weird ankle high blower heating system, and I’d lately taken to reading Dylan Thomas and palely loitering beneath the vast tower blocks.
And Thursdays I came to Coupland Road to make beans and chips for me and my Gran which we ate saturated with malt vinegar and salt, and then I made her sit there and listen for the half hour that would provide next day’s classroom talking points.
Top of the Pops!
Music had exploded into my inner ear, first in sentimental Pat Boone ballads and hopeless visions of mysterious U.S situations that fired my teenage interest, and seemed as distant from West Yorkshire as the Crab Nebula. ‘That muddy river took my baby’s life’, and ‘she took her daddy’s car and she cruised to the Hamburger stand now’. That electric urban music, incomprehensible yet, but carried by a legion of long haired hipsters, fantastical, melodious, outraging our parents (impossible to think that I and my spotty pals would grow into such). My gran’s back room come kitchen had a wooden valve radio on its high shelf, magnificent but useless for anything other than weeeeeeeeeeeeird high pitched science fiction noises.
In my gran’s world everything stopped in 1919 when Charles Preston Simpson succumbed to flu in Folkestone and the wounds of the Great War. There was a black leaded oven with the fire banked up and hol-ey grey old lady’s underwear drying on a string; a startled, stuffed fox going mouldy in a glass case, its paw on the crumpled body of a bloody nosed rabbit; a marble clock with pillars like a town hall. Later there would be The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Ilya Kuriakin, but right now it was Pan’s People and a feast in four four time:
Yummee, yummee, yummee I got love in my……..open up your eyes, here I stand with my everlasting…….yellow river, yellow river………she loves you yeah, yeah, yeah
Everything in four beats to the bar, one two three four, that’s what music is, that’s what counting’s for. The future is in fours.
But wait, what’s this? we’ve gone into black and white and this straight old man in tuxedo and white shirt, old enough to be your dad, hair slicked back, is smiling at a grand piano, when everybody knows that – hey it’s the 1960s and only guitars are cool these days. But he starts anyway to play this weirdly lolloping tune, cool, relaxed, and you can’t put your finger on it and only later do I understand that this cat is playing in fives! It’s 1-2-3-4 – Five! 1-2-3-4 – Five!
This is not – Kansas,
any more – Toto,
this is not – pop music,
it’s something – else though!
And this crazy little tune, like nothing else,
I’ve ever heard, before or since,
Got a whimsical kind of lilt, flimsy, but still,
makes you feel sad, such a strange pulse.
Flags waving in the wind, drifting along and then,
dropping in and out of time,
Takes you up, brings you down,
shows you new sides of town,
you can’t help but cross that line.
Paul Desmond, little dapper balding man with unassuming gait steps up to blow his alto solo, meandering high low, like I can take it or leave it you know, no skin off my nose, boo bopaddy boo bo, dabadee do doh.
And the world shifts sideways for a timeless three minutes taken out of context, no words necessary:
Badoo badoo badoo diddle da de do doooo. Bopaddy be bo….
before I’m dropped back into the hype, like a finger clicked back to the reality of blue rainy days in Seacroft, and I look down at my congealing plate of beans and chips, then up at the startled fox and my grandma’s rheumy eyes and I think.
What the hell was that?
Terry Simpson October 2011