Four Eyes

I have terrible eyesight. Without glasses or contacts the whole world is a blur to me, I couldn’t recognize my own kids from five feet away. I started wearing glasses when I was about seven years old, initially just for reading and seeing the blackboard at school, but by the time I was in my teens I needed them all the time.

Being a teenager is hard enough without that additional handicap, and in those days glasses weren’t the slightest bit cool or fashionable if you were young. Kids who wore them were called Four Eyes, Specky, Brains, Joe 90, and usually got beaten up and had their lunch money stolen. They marked you as a weedy, swotty bookworm invisible to the opposite sex. Glasses had the power to turn Superman into the boring sad sack Clark Kent, and if you wanted to make even  the volcanically-hot Valerie Leon look undesirable the first thing you did was stick a pair of specs on her.

I wore National Health glasses for a long time which didn’t help my image, their choices were pretty basic and limited. I spent most of my teens in their black frame ones and switched to the round wireframes in my early 20s which was an improvement because they had a John Lennon cachet about them. But I never stopped feeling like I was being punished for something that wasn’t my fault — bad eyesight.

Besides Lennon, other bespectacled pop stars like Buddy Holly, Elton John, and Elvis Costello were hardly aspirational figures when it came to style or attracting the ladies. The first one of my generation to make glasses cool was Morrissey who wore the same NHS frames I had in my teens but I never looked as good as him in them. He didn’t actually need them but, like his fake hearing aid, wore them as a visual statement that he stood with the loners and losers, the awkward and introverted. 

I got contact lenses after leaving college and I can still remember how strange it felt to see my face clearly in a mirror without it having glasses on it, I almost didn’t recognize myself. The world was suddenly sharper and clearer without a sheet of glass (or plastic) between me and it, the general effect was like switching to a HD television and not realizing until then how shit the picture you’d been watching before was.

Contacts were very expensive back then (you had to get them insured) but so worth it. Friends were amazed by how different I looked, an uncle said to me in surprise at a family party “You’re a good-looking boy, Lee!” as if I’d been this specky ogre before. I didn’t suddenly turn into Tom Jones and have girls throwing their knickers at me on the Tube, but I did feel more confident, more like the me I was supposed to be be without those bloody things on my face. I still wear contacts but now my eyes are so bad I need reading glasses on top of them too, basically I’m back to where I was when I was seven.

Now my daughter needs glasses for school and there isn’t anything like the same stigma attached to them — her frames are certainly more stylish than mine were at her age. These days glasses are so hip and looking bookish is so cool that they’re worn by even more people who don’t need them — people I would like to smack around the head. Don’t these posers know how much some of us have suffered because of our poor eyesight and would give anything NOT to have to wear them?

Here’s the Jackson Five pissing all over Jackson Brown’s original.

Download: Doctor My Eyes – The Jackson Five (mp3)

The Speed of Pop

The movie American Grafitti, an ode to teenage life in 1962, was released in 1973 only 11 years after the year it is so nostalgic about. But even though it was such a short space of time it looked like a different world and sounded like it too, the gulf between Chuck Berry and David Bowie was just enormous — and you could say roughly the same about a movie made in 1983 about music in 1972. Today the equivalent would be a movie set in 2004 that got all misty-eyed about listening to “Hey Ya!” and “Milkshake” on an iPod Mini. While I’m sure there are people with reasons to be nostalgic for that time and those records, the musical gulf between then and now doesn’t seem nearly so wide. They certainly don’t sound over a decade old, a time-span which used to be an eternity in pop music years.

So is pop music not changing as fast as it used to, or am I just a clueless and out-of-touch old fart?

The 1960s were obviously a time of rapid upheaval, but the following 20-plus years didn’t exactly stand still either, giving us (off the top of my head) Prog, Metal, Reggae, Glam, Disco, Punk, Post-Punk, Hip-Hop, Synthpop, Shoegaze, Techno, and House. Pop used to change clothes as often as Cher playing a show in Vegas but I just don’t hear that quick turnover of ideas and styles anymore.

If I’m not imagining things and there is a notable down-shifting now, it could be due to music-biz economics and the internet. Downloading and streaming has destroyed the old business model and bands make more money from concerts than records now, so they spend longer on tour and try to milk an album as much as possible before moving on to the next one.

It used to be standard for an act to put out an album every year – or even two a year in some cases — but now two years is the minimum a major artist takes between long-players, often longer. Coldplay have made six albums in 15 years, if The Beatles had put them out at that rate Rubber Soul would have been released in 1978. The lifecycle of pop has gone from being like a Mayfly — cramming a lot into a very short time — to more like an elephant. 

I loves me some Charli, Taylor, and even Miley, so I don’t have a huge beef with modern mainstream pop. But I do want pop music to be constantly zooming forward and discarding old ideas the way it used to. Maybe I should just be grateful that Coldplay have only made six albums.

Download: We Live So Fast (Extended Mix) – Heaven 17 (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

Every Day Is Record Store Day

Saturday was Record Store Day — Record Shop Day if you’re a Brit — and I had become very cynical about the whole event, thinking it had gone from being a well-meaning attempt to promote record buying in actual bricks-and-mortar shops, to a crazy gold rush for overpriced RSD “exclusives” by desperate anoraks with more money than sense and speculators who would put them on eBay for even more inflated prices (sometimes before the actual day).

Judging by some comments on Twitter that morning I wasn’t the only one who felt this way

I’ve only once been to a record shop on RSD and that wasn’t intentional. I popped into my local record emporium one Saturday without realizing what day it was and found the place mobbed. Getting more people into record shops is a noble pursuit but all I thought was “Where the hell are you people every other day of the year?”

So I was smugly disdaining the whole event and had no intention going anywhere near a record shop that day. But then someone tweeted this picture which took the snark right out of my sails

See how happy she looks? Remember that feeling? Seeing this young lady with her special One Direction RSD release reminded me of how chuffed I would be when I got a new Jam single in a picture sleeve, and made me realize that this is what the day should be about. Forget about old farts shelling out a week’s rent on ancient artifacts like Springsteen rarities, REM live sets, and Nirvana 45s; Record Store Day should get younger kids into shops by offering more releases by new pop acts — One Direction, Miley, Kanye West, Rhianna — in cool picture sleeves, coloured vinyl, and all those gimmicks that got us to spend our pocket money in our youth.

RSD turns record shops into museums with expensive gift shops and I’ve no interest in vinyl being a rare and pricey commodity for the 40+ set. But if RSD can get youngsters like that girl to discover the magic of buying a physical record in a shop (even better: on the day of release) in some cool format instead of a cold mp3 download on her phone, then maybe there will be a future for this record shop culture we love.

I still wouldn’t be caught dead in a record shop on that day though.

Download: EMI (Unlimited Edition) – Sex Pistols (mp3)

UPDATE: The 10 Most Expensive Record Store Day ’14 Flips On Ebay

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)

Back in The Day

I always get a little annoyed when I hear kids use the phrase “back in the day” when referring to the past. I’ve heard it used in so many contexts that apparently all of human history more than, say, 10 years ago — the 1980s, the 1960s, World War II, the 19th century, the Renaissance, and probably even the invention of fire — took place in some vague time called “the day” as if it’s all just one big mass of old stuff (and there’s so much of it!) More accurately, what it really means is “before I was born when movies were in black and white, had terrible special effects, and you couldn’t watch them on your phone”. I mean, OMG WTF? Right?

I know kids are supposed to be annoying, but would it kill them to at least make a stab at the decade, or even the century? Or am I just peeved that my own youth was apparently so long ago it doesn’t even merit the naming of a decade anymore, but just happened “back in the day”? Probably. Little bastards.

This record is from so far back in the day I wasn’t even born when it came out.

Download: Johnny Remember Me – John Leyton (mp3)

Not what it used to be

With all the hand-wringing about how the internet is destroying our attention spans, I also wonder… oh look, cats that look like Hitler!… sorry, where was I? Oh yes… I also wonder if it will screw with our our memories too.

When all human knowledge and culture of the past — from the epochal to the hopelessly trivial — is catalogued for instant call-up at the click of a mouse button it’s almost impossible to forget anything. In the probable future when our brains are literally hard-wired into the web you won’t even need a mouse or keyboard, your subconscious will do a Google search so quickly you’ll “know” something a nanosecond before you’re even aware that you’d forgotten about it. In this world we’re all trivia experts and pub arguments end in the time it takes for someone to whip out their iPhone.

The internet makes it a lot easier to literally own the past too. It used to take a JR Hartley-esque effort to find but now everything that previously only existed in your foggy memory is there for instant purchase in a vast nostalgia marketplace. I know I’m not the only one who’s used eBay to buy lost items from my youth — records, magazines, Whizzer and Chips annuals — but I find the pleasure of winning an auction doesn’t match up to the thrill of accidentally coming across something in a second-hand record or charity shop because that feels like discovering buried treasure, not something you just Googled. Sadly, the reality rarely matches up to the romanticized image you had in your head either — that old copy of Look-In loses its mystical power the minute you hold it in your hands (or see that old TV show on YouTube) because you have to face the cold, hard truth that it was actually a bit rubbish. Some things are probably best left un-bought and unseen.

So while the internet has enabled nostalgia by allowing us to wallow in every trivial thing we ever enjoyed as kids (and write blogs about it), it’s also killed it a bit by taking away its mystique and that lovely, hazy quality things have when they’re only vaguely half-remembered. But I’m sure that if you’d described the internet to me thirty years ago I’d have said it sounds like the most wonderful thing ever invented.

Download: Memorabilia – Soft Cell (mp3)

Hooked On Classics

I saw this young kid wearing a Dark Side of The Moon t-shirt the other day, he was probably only about 15 or 16 years old which made me sort of sad for him. Not for his poor taste in music (well, some) but that he was proclaiming his love for an album that came out 20 years before he was even born. I wanted to grab him, give him a slap, and yell “It’s 2012! You’re a teenager! Wake up!”

I know it’s stupid to be bothered by what some spotty youth listens to but I see a lot of kids wearing t-shirts that celebrate dinosaur bands like Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin (and sometimes Joy Division and The Clash), and it upsets my silly romantic notion that being young should be all about living for the now and having a riot of your own. I feel like they’re breaking some long-standing pact between the generations: they’re supposed to think our music is rubbish and vice versa. What’s worse is I often read comments on vintage YouTube clips from youngsters lamenting the fact that they hadn’t grown up in the 60s and 70s “when music was good” which I find just incredibly depressing. What a dreadful waste of your youth to go through it wishing it had happened 40 years before.

Obviously this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, I had a mate at school who was madly into Jimi Hendrix and there were nostalgic cults like Teddy Boys and Mods, but these were just niche obsessions, the past seems to cast a bigger and more influential shadow now. When I was a teenager in the 70s (you know, when music was good!) rock and roll had only been around for 20 years, but now it’s nearly 60 and has it’s own museum and an established canon of classic works that are as imposing in reputation as War and Peace and Moby Dick. The very term “Classic Rock” implies that there was some point in the past when music reached a peak of perfection, a Platonic ideal of what great rock/pop music should be like and everything since pales into comparison.

So come on kids, don’t buy in to that propaganda from the oldsters, the Golden Age of music should always be when you are 16, not when your parents were 16.

Download: Nostalgia – Buzzcocks (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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