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Friday, 20 February 2009

The Chuck Factor

As a student I worked in Mount Pleasant sorting office as a temporary Christmas postman. There I met John, who was called, Chuck because of how he delivered the mail. Chuck had a serious obsession with Buddy Holly to the extent that he invited those he wished to convert to his home, a small terraced house in Everton. He invited me.

He was a good bloke but I felt creeped out and resolved that I would never attempt to convert someone – (things were okay) – and that I would never become a fly in musical amber. Yes, I was living through a golden-age in music, but the thought of myself as a middle-aged man solemnly exhorting a smooth-faced youth to listen to Dylan, ‘Exile on Main Street’ or ‘Let It Bleed’ frightened me. I didn’t want to become Chuck.

Mind you conversion can work, but it involves copious wine Рred or white (not ros̩) Рjust lots of it. It also involves a very good sound system and an articulate zealot. Such a person was Gerald Smith, but we provided the wine.

It was in Swansea - where else – and we didn’t want Saturday night to end. This was the chance Gerald had been waiting for. No we didn’t want to listen to Classical music. It sucked. Yes we knew we were wrong but the ‘suck it and see’ philosophy had to stop somewhere. Beethoven seemed a good enough boundary stone.

As we staggered out of Gerald Smith’s flat, somewhere between Nine and Ten the following day – Mozart’s Requiem and Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra wrestling for space in our heads – we knew we had been changed. Damn it, we’d been ‘converted.’ To this day I know it has to be Also Sprach Zarathustra with Zubin Mehta conducting the Los Angeles orchestra, I just have no idea why.

When I first started teaching ‘our music’ prevailed until pomp and absurdity took it over the edge – where it hovered for a time – then plunged like a stone. Music became leaner, more sparse and eventually punk. I went with the changes, always keeping ‘Chuck’ in mind.

But punk bothered me. I enjoyed it live – drew the line at the Mohawk, gelling my hair into spikes and wearing black leather, suspecting, correctly I think, the aging toy-boy just wouldn’t suit. I couldn’t, however, bring myself to buy a record. The anger and vitality was great in a bar when you were on an alcohol high. But in your own space…? I became a ‘closet Chuck.’ The anger and brutal simplicity of punk spoke to youthful demons. I had other, more serious demons of my own.

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