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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m doing a freelance job at the moment, not a huge one but it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick and good to keep the creative juices fresh. I knew this already but doing it has only confirmed to me how much I don’t like working from home. I wouldn’t call myself a people person but it’s nice having some direct contact with other human beings during the day, even if it’s only to bitch with them about what an arsehole the boss is.
I still go through the same morning routine as always — shower, shave, breakfast, get dressed, take the kids to school — but now instead of heading on to the office I turn around and come back home. My empty, empty home.
According to this article the ice cream van is disappearing from the streets of England, a victim of “health campaigners and local authorities, which have stopped them operating near school gates, or set up ice-cream exclusion zones in shopping streets.” Not living in Blighty anymore I don’t know how true this is but I hate to think so, it’s depressing enough seeing part of your childhood become a relic but even more so when it’s deemed unsuitable or even dangerous by the No Fun Police. Ice-cream exclusion zones? You’d think Mister Whippy was a child molester or something.
I’d never heard this story before though:
In one of those stories told largely for their allegorical content, whipped ice-cream was supposedly invented by Margaret Thatcher when she was a young industrial chemist working for Lyons. She discovered a method of injecting more air into the ice-cream, making it easily freezable as well as using less ingredients. What a wonderful metaphor for the “free” market, getting us to pay for air! But actually Mrs Thatcher was only a junior member of a team that did the initial research on “fat extension”; I’m not sure we can pin Mr Whippy on her.
Great though this would have been if it was true, I’m not sure if I could have dealt with being thankful to Maggie Thatcher for anything.
Some mornings when I’m on the bus on my way to work I feel like I’m living in the future. I look around me and see people holding digital devices usually not much bigger than a fag packet on which they’re listening to music, reading, playing games, watching videos, browsing the internet, sending emails, probably even blogging and — ugh — Tweeting. They have a dazzling multimedia experience in the palm of their hands while I’m just reading a boring old book and feeling increasingly like an old fogey with my “dead tree product”.
I know men are supposed to wet their pants over the thought of a new gadget but the grumpy contrarian in me is always suspicious of a sheep-like rush toward some shiny new thing (who are these people who camp outside a shop all night just to buy a bloody iPad?) and the current ubiquity of whatever Steve Jobs pulls out of the sleeve of his black roll neck jumper just makes me even less inclined to want one. I work in publishing which, like the music business, is currently being turned upside down by digital technology, working at a traditional print magazine these days is a little like being a Luddite when the mechanical loom was invented as we join the mad frenzy to embrace all these new gadgets. Though I’m rightly skeptical of the idea that a person can be reduced to a “type” or a category, especially by some smart-arse marketing executive, reading some of the character sketches at The Middle Class Handbook I came across a person they call a “Bitter” which captures a lot of my feelings about the “digital revolution”:
They are named after Twitter – a site they particularly hate. Bitters basically feel drowned by the technology everywhere, and yet are niggled by the idea that they ought to be trying to keep up. They were always crap with technology, they loathe any type of user manual, and feel a peculiar mix of resentment, jealousy and hatred when they see people such as the work experience kid clutching their copy of Wired and doing something futuristic on their iPhone.
Secretly, even though half of them do media jobs where it is quite essential the Bitters wish it would just all go away.
I’ve been using a computer to do my job for the past 20 years, know my way around the internets and can design web sites (like this one) so it’s not as if I’m some grandpa who doesn’t know how to program his video recorder (though I am one of those sad bastards who only uses his cell phone to make phone calls) but while I am niggled by the idea that I ought to be keeping up more — at least for the sake of my career — my real problem is that I’m bored by it all and find it impossible to work up any enthusiasm for the iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Droid, or whatever the “must have” gizmo du jour is. I’ve used an iPad to “read” a magazine and the experience left me completely cold, tapping your fingers on a piece of glass is no substitute for the feel of a piece of paper no matter how many interactive bells and whistles they load it up with. As the legendary art director George Lois recently said in his usual pithy way: “there is a visceral feeling of having that thing in your hands and turning the pages. It’s so different on the screen. It’s the difference between looking at a woman and having sex with her.”
It’s not as if I’m going to quit my job and go work on a farm in Vermont but, yes, I do wish it would all go away. Which is probably what all those typesetters who were put out of work by desktop publishing in the 80s felt, they must have hated young fuckers with Apple Macs like me too.
It was 7:15 in the evening on Friday the 3rd of December, 1982. I know because I still have the ticket.
I was at one the The Jam’s farewell shows at Wembley Arena and even though I was only 20 myself at the time I felt like one of the oldest people there as the hall seemed to be full of 14-year-old boys wearing cheap Parkas that looked like their Mum had bought them in Millets. It was like being in the audience for Crackerjack or an England Schoolboys football game, and for the first time in my life the words “bloody kids” came into my head and I had that awful feeling of smug superiority that I had been a Jam fan from way, way, way back, long before they were stadium-playing superstars – four years at least! Where were all these spotty little bandwagon-jumpers then, huh? Mucking about with their Tonka Toys probably. I had to fight the urge to grab one of them by the Parka and say “Of course, they were so much better at The Rainbow in ’78. I was there, you know” as if I was some grizzled old hippie droning on about Woodstock.
Several massive hit singles and a Mod revival had happened since that last gig and my mate and I both came to the the rather snotty conclusion that we understood why Weller was breaking up the group if this was their audience now — and selling out Wembley five nights in a row wasn’t very “punk” was it? — which is exactly the sort of condescending attitude you’d expect from a 20-year-old who thinks he knows it all (don’t they all?) But looking back now I feel bad for those kids, they were at the age when they were starting to get into music seriously and I can imagine how important The Jam were to them because I remember that feeling well myself. Paul Weller was your hero and you would hang on his every word for tips on what to wear, what to read, what old records to buy, even how to vote. And then — maybe in the same week you bought a George Orwell novel because Paul mentioned him in an NME interview — the bastard went and broke the band up. Who did that leave you with? Secret Affair??? That’s like losing a pound and finding a penny — well, 50p maybe.
I don’t remember much about the actual gig itself apart from Weller smashing up his guitar Pete Townsend-style after he tripped over his guitar lead and Bruce hanging around on the stage waving to the crowd at the end long after Paul had buggered off. But I do have a bootleg of the concert from the night before at Wembley which is about as close as I’ll ever get to recreating that magical night when I became an old git.