Whether you’re in America or the UK right now the chances are it’s more than a bit brass monkeys and there’s snow everywhere, so this might warm your cockles. There’s also the astonishing sideburns of Ray Dorset to enjoy.
Much as I like to big up my mother’s love of Frank Sinatra as an example of her good taste in music she did have a few skeletons in her closet — or rather in the sideboard where she kept her records. For a few years she really had a thing for Rod Stewart, and unfortunately I don’t mean the classic, Faces-era Rod either, she loved – I think even preferred — late 1970s, Britt Ekland-shagging, spandex-tights-wearing, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Rod. In a nutshell: the crap Rod. But you know what mums are like, they just don’t care about things like authenticity and street cred.
The first album of his she bought was “A Night On The Town” in 1976, my opinion of which has always been marred by how much of an utter prat I think he looks on the cover. That photo of Rod in a blazer and boater enjoying a nice glass of champers after a hard days punting (or something) is like Exhibit A for Why Punk Happened. Here is Rod firmly established as wealthy rock royalty and looking so smug about it that you want to punch him in the face. The outfit he’s wearing is based on the pastiche of Renoir’s painting Le moulin de la Galette that’s on the other side of the cover and while I’m sure Rod was thinking to himself “it’s a bit classy, innit?” it looks like a rather naff vision of “the high life” to me, more Babycham than Dom Perignon. Only Bryan Ferry had the panache to do that sort of thing properly.
When he made this album he was on his way to booking a stool at the bar next to George Best in the “Where Did It All Go Wrong?” Club but it does still have flickers of his old brilliance on it. His version of “First Cut Is The Deepest” is my favourite, “The Balltrap” is great, raunchy Faces-style rawk and roll (though that was on the “fast side” of the album which my mother never played so I never heard it at the time), but the real surprise is the beautiful “The Killing of Georgie”, a song Stewart wrote about a gay friend who was murdered. Given Rod’s image as a football-loving, skirt-chasing, Jack the Lad it’s an unusual subject for him to tackle and a fairly bold one too considering that at the time the popular image of homosexuals was either as camp Larry Graysons and John Inmans or shady perverts, so writing a delicate and touching song about the murder of a gay man — years before Tom Robinson, Bronski Beat, and Pet Shop Boys — and having a big hit with it was quite something. He even manages to show some understanding toward Georgie’s murderer too and it’s hard to believe such a sensitive song could come from the pen of the man who also wrote “Tonight’s The Night” on the same album, a lecherous song about deflowering a virgin that’s about as delicate as a Penthouse letter. Maybe he wasn’t such a prat after all.
Though if Rod was hoping to promote more tolerance toward gay people it fell on deaf ears at my school where this boy who was suspected of being a “poof” (for no reason that I can remember) got nicknamed “Georgie” and lots of kids (not me!) would shout “oooh, Georgie!” in limp-wristed voices at him. Poor bastard was probably scarred for life.
Download: The Killing of Georgie (Pt. 1 and 2) – Rod Stewart (mp3)
I proposed to my wife at midnight on New Year’s Eve, 1999 in New York City which I think was a suitably memorable and positive way the mark the start of a new decade* and millennium. We were having a party at the apartment of a friend of mine but couldn’t see the Times Square fireworks from the roof of his building as we’d planned because it had been closed by the police, as had every other rooftop in the city, because of worries about a terrorist attack. There was also anxiety that something catastrophic was going to happen when the calendar rolled over to 2000 because of the Y2K computer bug, the power was going to go off, planes fall out of the sky, and we’d all have to start using rocks for money or something, and people were stockpiling food and guns in preparation for the worst. Thankfully the evening ended without incident (unless you count me getting engaged), nothing blew up and the machines kept working, and we all stood there amazed that here we were, living in the year 2000. The 21st century! The future! And we’re not dead!
Unfortunately “we’re not dead” was about as positive as it got for the next 10 years.
The historian Arnold Toynbee famously referred to history as “just one damn thing after another” and the decade which just ended (The Noughts? The Aughts? The Zeroes? The Thank-Christ-That’s-Overs?) saw such a never-ending parade of “damn things” that I sincerely hope history takes a holiday for the next few years so we can all catch our breath. I must have been feeling fairly chirpy and optimistic at the start of it because I was stupid enough to think that the “election” of George W. Bush later in 2000 wasn’t a cause for too much long-term concern because the country seemed to be ticking over smoothly (and had a budget surplus) so he couldn’t possibly fuck things up that much, could he? Silly me, but how was I to know the stakes would soon get so much higher? Then, that sunny morning in September 2001, those planes flew into the World Trade Center and The Pentagon – images which still give me the willies — and suddenly it seemed like someone floored the accelerator and sent history careening like a drunk down some really terrible roads: more horrific terrorism in London, Madrid, Bali, Beslan and Mumbai, anthrax in the mail, two wars which are still dragging on, the “War on Terror”, torture, rendition, reality television, an entire city drowned by a hurricane, a tsunami of Biblically-deadly proportions, glaciers melting, bees dying, bird flu, swine flu, and, the icing on the cake at the end, a global financial meltdown that looked like it might suck entire economies down the plug hole with it and cause another Great Depression.
So much of what happened was like something out of a big-budget Hollywood disaster movie — Skyscrapers collapsing! Drowned cities! Killer waves! Super germs! — that films which predicted a grim dystopian future like Children of Men and The Road (and even WALL-E and Idiocracy) no longer seemed like science-fiction fantasies but were scarily believable. I know I go on a lot about how awful the 1970s were but the gloomy malaise of those years seems like a nice daytrip to the seaside compared with the paranoia and anxiety of the past 10 years which left us feeling as if we were wobbling on the edge of a cliff in a high wind and our politicians and institutions didn’t have the will or wisdom (a nice way of saying they’re too corrupt) to keep us from falling. Here in America the country just seems sort of broken and dysfunctional after a decade of neglect, mismanagement and political cynicism.
It was an eventful decade for me personally too, after getting engaged in its very first minute I got married in 2000 (also in New York, you can see the World Trade Center in our wedding video) and in the following 10 years I moved to a new city, bought my first house, my dad died, I had a kid (and – newsflash – have another one on the way) and then my mother died too. It was like the Stars on 45 version of a life with nothing but the memorable bits spliced together in quick succession over a disco beat. Obviously, with the sad exception of my parents, those were all good things and my life is better in lots of important ways than it was 10 years ago, but I would just like to look at my daughter (and my son when he arrives in May) and not worry that she’s going to grow up in a remake of Mad Max with very real special effects. That’s not too much to ask is it?
And on that cheery note, here’s a wonderful track from one of my favourite albums of the decade (produced by Mr. Richard Hawley no less), the next 10 years will be considerably brighter if she ever gets around to following it up.
Download: People Used To Dream About The Future – A Girl Called Eddy (mp3)
*I know some calendar pedant is going to point out that technically the decade started in 2001 and will end in 2010. Yes, you’re right, now bugger off.