It’s weird when your own brain takes you by surprise.
You might be moseying routinely along answering a letter, tidying the desk, removing a cat from a printer tray, when out of the blue something happens which, without so much of a by-your-leave, takes you to a different place. You become, for a few intense minutes, hi-jacked by nostalgia.
I’m not even into nostalgia. I might drivel on about my boys a bit, and the springer spaniels I’ve had, but those aren’t memories recalled in order to make me feel better, they rise, unbidden, to the surface like golden koi reminding you of their presence in the deep dark pond of your life experience.
Unlike my Motown-loving friends who have ignored all music later than 1971, I prefer not to look back and wallow in Simon and Garfunkel or Joni Mitchell, amazing though they were. I’m still discovering music that I have missed, music that’s even now being written; music that will mean something special in future.
So I’d just downloaded the new Paul Simon album ‘Songwriter’ which celebrates his 70th birthday – mostly because I’ve missed a lot of his recent stuff – and suddenly the bongo, the acoustic guitar and the long note that begins “Peace like a river” unleashed a whole raft of memories.
That soft easy voice, the simple beat, Simon’s intricate finger-picking and the lyrics “peace like a river ran through the city…”
In a heartbeat, I could hear the the roar of road noise, the rush of air through the half open windows blowing my hair about on a sunny spring day, in Captain Sensible’s bright orange mini GT zipping south down the M5; an old reel-to-reel tape recorder lying on the back seat, half in, half out of its worn brown leather case playing that track.
It was Paul Simon’s first solo album, the one with him hidden within the hood of a fur-trimmed parka. Capt Sensible had given me the LP as a present – and as a surprise for the trip, he’d recorded it on to tape. It was the first time I’d heard music on the move.
We hadn’t known each other long so even a trip to Whiteladies Road in Bristol to drop off some tapes at the BBC was going to be exciting, especially with my favourite music. I was very young and innocent and I’d decided to wear my new bright yellow bell-bottomed jeans that day with Dunlop Green Flash trainers and an Ellie-Mae kind of checked shirt. The hair was shoulder-length, natural and wavy and kept in order without undue interference. His hair was nearly as long as mine, and much blonder and he liked turtle-necked sweaters, which made him look very mature compared to the boys my own age.
There was an excitement about going anywhere with this new bloke. We listened to music but we talked a lot, avidly discovering what musicians and artists we both liked and finding out what kind of people we were. It felt like a time when the world was opening up – new freedoms and all the myriad indescribably tingly excitements of a promising relationship.
I was too young to be a flower-power child of the sixties but I’ve always thought peace and love are the way to go so the lyrics said it all…
“You can beat us with wires
You can beat us with chains
You can run out your rules
But you know you can’t outrun the history train
I’ve seen a glorious day….”
Yup, that was a glorious day and just listen to that neat clever rhythm in “but you know you can’t outrun the history train.”
Here’s a You Tube clip, which is nicely crackly, as all music of this time actually was. I still have my Classical Gas single which I played to death so sounds properly, authentically *loved!!* You can’t get excited over the appearance of an mp3 in your playlist like you could get excited holding a copy of a much-awaited vinyl single.
The Songwriter album made me realise that Paul Simon, more than any other singer-songwriter, has been there as the soundtrack to my entire adolescent and adult life.
I do apologise, but I just have to re-visit yet another nostalgic scene – going back to my best friend’s house – semi-detached, 60’s estate – straight from school, both still in our dark green uniforms. We flung our satchels down and she fetched what we’d been thinking about all day – a brand new single, still in its white Woolworths paper bag.
I sat in the chair nearest the gas fire with the false flickery flames and she got her square red record player, set it on the floor between us, carefully threaded the record on to the spindle and switched it on. She sat on the sofa opposite me. We listened intently. It finished. She put it on play one more time.
“What do you think?” she asked.
“It’s ok,” I said grudgingly. “It’s a bit dirge-y, though” I replied.
“I think it’s beautiful,” she said.
Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel went on to be number 1 in the hit parade.
She never let me forget that afternoon; milked it for all it was worth, as the single was number one for weeks and remained in the charts for eight months. I was the only S&G fan in the world not bowled over by Bridge Over Troubled Water, apparently.
I never really thought the title track was the best and I still don’t now. The Boxer, the Only Living Boy in New York and Song for the Asking, were my top three.
I told her I did like the album much better than the single but I was whistling in the wind. She never trusted my taste after that.