Losing My Cool

I struggled to stop smoking for a long time, falling in and out of the habit for years before finally quitting. Obviously I was addicted, but almost as strong as that — and my worry about dying a premature death from cancer — was the feeling that without cigarettes I’d just be some safe and boring middle-aged bloke. I know it sounds stupid, but smoking meant being a nonconformist rebel and sticking two fingers up at society with it’s smug health and fitness obsession (you can’t even smoke at a concert anymore, how rock and roll is that?) Most of all, a cigarette went with being young, drinking too much, clubbing till late, living on the edge, being cool. It was hard to let go of that, without it I might as well start wearing comfy shoes and listening to Coldplay.

We like to say that one of the best things about getting old is not actually caring about being cool anymore which is true to a certain extent, but no one wants to be un-cool, do they? The worst thing is that feeling you aren’t where it’s at anymore, the culture has moved on and replaced you with annoying young people — and young people are always annoying when you’re not one. Just to rub salt in the wound, a lot of these kids are into the same bands you were at their age so it’s like the little buggers are parasites living off your past coolness.

A while ago I was on the bus and there was some kid wearing a Clash t-shirt with their first album cover on it. I became very aware that, while he was in his cool Punk Rock shirt, I was sitting there with my reading glasses and hair greying at the temples, so to this kid I’m just some old fart with a boring life. He probably didn’t even notice me but inside I wanted to shout at him “I SAW THE CLASH BEFORE YOU WERE FUCKING BORN! I TOOK DRUGS! I USED TO BE COOL!”

Maybe I should have just lit up a fag on the bus, that would’ve shown him what a rebel I was.

As I was writing this post I realized I might as well have just posted this record and left it at that.

Download: Losing My Edge – LCD Soundsystem (mp3)

Kids Today

When you get older it’s common to start thinking that modern pop music is rubbish and the younger generation are more stupid, superficial, and self-absorbed than you were at their age.

I try to avoid doing that because I know every generation thinks the ones after it likes crap music and are a sign that the world is going to hell.

But has the thought ever crossed your mind that for once, maybe, it could be true?

Download: Blank Generation – Richard Hell & The Voidoids

The Golden Age

Too distracted by other things to finish a proper post at the moment so I thought I’d go back to one of the original wells of inspiration for this blog: the book “Lost Worlds”, a compendium of vanished things written by Michael Bywater. Here he is on why nostalgia for our childhoods is such a powerful thing:

“Generations beyond number — certainly they were active when the Old Testament was being composed — have lamented that time when men were men and women didn’t mind; when the air was cleaner, people stood taller, children obeyed their elders, food tasted better, wine left one mellow rather than crapulous, flowers were brighter, rain softer, animals more obliging, harvests richer and a hazy mellifluous peace engulfed the living world…
Yet its location in time remains uncertain. Just as the garden always looked better last week, just as the orgy was always the day before yesterday or down the road, so the Golden Age occupies a strange, shifting region of time; the opposite of the phenomenon observed by authors, lawyers and software engineers, the Constant Time to Completion effect. The Golden Age is always, and has always been, a little before we were born; perhaps when out parents were young. After all, it’s they who spent our childhoods telling us how much better things were when they were children.
But here’s the secret. The Golden Age is always, really, us. It’s the memory of our own childhood. Not that is was necessarily wonderful; just that it was simultaneously us, and yet entirely foreign. Nobody can recapture how they thought as a child; how the world felt; how alert the senses were; how the world seemed to offer endless opportunity, unalloyed promise under the sun. The seventeenth-century mystic Thomas Traherne saw our lives beginning, as infants, in a condition of amazement, like angels; and so the Golden Age is the angelic infancy of the world. No wonder we yearn for it.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Literally. He’s a much better writer than me.

Those Spandau Ballet boys did some cracking 12″ single mixes during their own Golden Age.

Download: Glow (12″ version) – Spandau Ballet (mp3)

Resistance is Futile

A while ago I wrote that sitting on the bus surrounded by people with smartphones made me feel like I was living in the future. But after a while I’d also started to feel more like the last survivor at the end of a zombie movie; the one person still uninfected by a virus that had swept through humanity causing its victims to constantly stare at their phone and be unable to function when they weren’t connected to the collective.

Then the wife got me an iPhone for Christmas.

Not a big deal I know, millions of people have iPhones, but I’d been proudly and defiantly sticking with my old gas-powered cell in a fit of old-school, anti-modern world rebellion. But the phone was dying and, like an unreliable old friend who never returns your calls because he doesn’t hear them in the first place, it had to go.

Now my new phone sits there beside me with it’s perfect round corners and smooth surfaces, its siren voice urging me to swipe it’s screen, gently tap it’s buttons with my fingertips, and lose myself in the soothing, all-enveloping digital world. It even got me to join that Twitter thing — follow me here!. Soon I shall be a multi-platform brand.

Download: The Lonely Crowd – The Special AKA (mp3)

We’ll Always Have Paris

A while ago I started writing a post about the “retirement” of David Bowie who, since his heart attack in 2004, seemed to have given up the rocking and rolling and was content to live the quiet domestic life in New York – painting, reading, and picking his kid up from school. I thought of him as the stranded alien Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell To Earth who has wearily “had enough” at the end and lives in anonymous seclusion.

Like 99% of the posts I start writing it never got finished, but the point I was going to make was that I was happy for Bowie that he’d retired, and personally didn’t care much if he never made another record because, you know, we’ll always have Paris. He made enough great records and left me with enough good memories that his reputation was golden for the rest of his life, no matter how many average late-career records he made that I didn’t want to buy.

But I suppose he must have had a creative itch he needed to scratch because he’s gone and made another one after a 10-year silence which raises the hype and expectation way higher than it was for Reality or Heathen and all those other albums of his I was never arsed enough about to actually buy (along with everybody else). He’s risking a lot with The Next Day because people are paying attention this time and he could have very publicly fallen flat on his geriatric rocker face with it, but — phew! — it’s actually a very good album. Not Hunky Dory or Low good of course, but almost Lodger or Scary Monsters good. Pulling off this surprise this might be Bowie’s most audacious move in a career that’s been full of them.

Now if only Paul McCartney would bugger off for 10 years.

Download: Valentine’s Day – David Bowie (mp3)

The Big One

It’s my birthday today. I can’t quite bring myself to say out loud how old I am but here’s a clue:

Apparently my wife has some secret things planned to celebrate the big occasion, I hope it includes time for me to go off on my own with a bottle of Scotch and weep in a dark room somewhere.

Download: Old – Dexy’s Midnight Runners (mp3)

Things Fall Apart

I joined a gym last year, that might not seem like hold-the-front-page news to you but it was a big deal for me. I’ve never considered myself a “gym” person — more the “record shop” and “pub” type — and always thought working out was a faintly ridiculous modern habit for the narcissistic, self-absorbed, and neurotic. I didn’t even like running for a bus, it just wasn’t me. To my mind grown ups should be sitting around having erudite conversations over a glass of scotch, not getting sweaty in a room full of strangers.

But the horror of a 50th birthday coming rapidly down the road (just a few weeks away now) and having to keep up with two turbo-charged young kids made even me think that my body needed a tune-up — and probably jumper cables. It can be hard to accept (after the anger and denial) that you aren’t the youth you once were — I liked that guy! — and that your body isn’t the indestructible vessel it once was. Also, I’d found it easy to ignore the fact that I was getting on a bit because I’m still thin and have all my hair in (mostly) its original colour, but that didn’t mean things weren’t falling apart under the hood.

Boozing and late nights are the two most obvious casualties of aging, becoming nostalgic exhibits in The Museum of Youth that you can only look at wistfully from the other side of the glass. I still like a tipple or three but the days when I could sink a skinful and still function the next day are long gone. Staying up late is a thing of the past too, by 11pm I’m wiped out and nodding off on the couch, the only time I see 2am now is if one of the kids wakes up — my dirty little secret is that I’d rather have a quiet night in anyway. On top of all that my knees hurt and my already-poor eyesight is deteriorating so much that I now need reading glasses. When I catch a glimpse of myself with those things perched on the end of my nose it’s like looking at a picture of my dad — not the young, groovy version of my dad either, the old guy.

Visits to the doctor have become more significant too. Thankfully my ticker is in good shape and my blood pressure is low, but my yearly check-ups (another new thing) now end with him sticking his finger up my bum and poking my prostate — a sign that I’m the age now where certain things need to be kept an eye on. The worst thing is the paranoia that sets in about your health, when every cough, every ache and pain, can become a worrying sign of potentially serious trouble — especially for someone like me who smoked ciggies for nearly 30 years. A few months ago I had some symptoms I was almost convinced were cancer (handy hint: never, ever, look up your symptoms on the internet) but when I got to the doctor it just turned out that my ears needed syringing. He had a good laugh about that, I felt like giving him a tearful hug of gratitude.

So I’m pounding the treadmill and pumping the weights about three times a week now, fighting against the dying of the light and trying to make up for past sins — though I would rather have my past sins than not. To my surprise I actually quite enjoy it (oh no, I’ve become one of those people) and, though I’ll probably always look less like Charles Atlas and more like the guy who got sand kicked in his face, it is nice to have a little more muscle on my reedy arms and be able to lift the kids up in the air without my back protesting. Maybe years from now I’ll be one of those spry, tracksuited pensioners running marathons and bungee jumping. Hopefully not, that really isn’t me.

Download: Musclebound (12″ Mix) – Spandau Ballet (mp3)

Ashes To Ashes

Much as I love records I’m not sure I’d want to be memorialized in this way when I die: Having my ashes pressed into a vinyl record. Seems a bit creepy to me (at least it isn’t a picture disk), and I’d probably end up covered in scratches and filed in the wrong place.

Though I guess you could convert it to an mp3 so your loved ones can carry you around on their iPods.

Download: When I’m Dead And Gone – McGuinness Flint (mp3)

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com





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