Love Songs #14 / The Birth Of The True

“I feel the magic that our time has traced, make a point of it in every place.”

We are wearing Varsity Letterman jackets. An “H” over our hearts. Big H and Little h. Stoned. Conquered. Giving each other blowbacks outside a petrol station. I don`t think Dave had ever smoked before. You and Dave have your hair like James Dean. Dave looks like James Dean. It was a reunion in University holidays. It seemed strange to see you in London. Your accent as off as mine in Leeds. We were heading to a New Year`s Eve party. 

“Sometimes I get down,

But it’s not you that gets me down,

It’s just that sense of the impossible,

Gratuitously handed down.

But oh no, not you, don’t wipe your eyes over lies,

Just let them shine their blue,

On every whisper that welcomes the inconceivable

And the birth of the true.”

We sang this the whole way there. It became a Folk round and then a sea shanty. Jackets when the weather really called for a coat. A quarter bottle of Night Train in the pocket. Sure was a mean wine.

We`d dance around my room in the house we shared, badminton and broken tennis rackets for guitars. Hairbrush for a microphone. Postcards, Matisse, Degas, ballerinas and blue, black and white movie stills, Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, Beatrice Dalle tacked to the wall. Taste borrowed from girlfriends. Page-boy brunettes and pouts. Lines from songs taped from John Peel joined poems culled from Waterstone`s carrier bags, scratched into the desk. Ships at a distance have every man`s wish on board. The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. Except they rarely do. It takes effort and intelligence to change. Rupert Everett, Colin Firth. Lashes so long they belong on a girl. Treacherous Liverpool Jamie, Wirral-born fake scouser, would come in and take the piss. Try to catch us out. Knowing that we`d never get further than the dust jacket on book that didn`t revolve around drink, drugs, and sex. Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis, Jim Carroll. The Rules Of Attraction. In love with the idea of On The Road. Bukowski and Hunter Thompson for heroes.

You`d try on my second-hand hats while I`d attempt to fix, with a large gold can of Elnet, my “Leo Sayer” into something more fashionable. Next door, Al would be working on his `Nam collage. A disturbing vision of deep cover, jungle fires, amputees and soldiers soiling themselves. He`d stay up late cutting pictures from magazines and glueing them to his wall. Black, brown, green, pink and red. Photographs of infantry men`s camouflaged faces. Severed limbs, fields of napalm, bleeding babies and burning priests. I thought it was strange, but no one asked him why. He`d sometimes rant about what it must have been like. Training to go for weeks without moving. Being stuck in a fox hole. Pissing and shitting yourself. No one ever mentioned how fucking horrible it was. I didn`t like to get stoned in there. I`d end up staring at it. I don`t know what all the blondes must have thought. But it didn`t stop them coming back.  

You`d ask me questions like, “When you`re talking to a girl, what`s the first thing you check out?” and I`d say “Her shoes”.

Obsessive compulsive disorder was just a joke then, in the days before Amsterdam. The nights before New York. Before the realisation that, once you were past reception, The Priory is a mental institution. Stark grey and functional furniture. Everything had to be an even number. Al cried when we left you there.

On the Tube you ask the other passengers if they mind if we smoke, and Keith gets out a bong.

Nothing was impossible, but we liked to make believe it was. Stack the odds against our favour.

 – – – – – – –

Aztec Camera were really just Roddy Frame. His band a changeable assembly of fellow acolytes of Postcard Records. Moonlighting from Orange Juice and Josef K. Frame`s fast frustration at Postcard`s neglect had him sign with Rough Trade. Geoff Travis` outfit hoping for a Pop hit in Oblivious. An unashamed shot at radio play, sales charts and fame. A record for singing along to. In front of a mirror. While you put on trial what to wear. Imagining yourself a hero / heroine.

The music press labelled Roddy an Arthur Lee / Love copyist.  While he claimed to have never heard of the `60s San Francisco nere-do-wells. But thanked the inkies for the tip anyway (Frame was however influenced by Alternative TV, and ATV`s Mark Perry was a big Arthur Lee fan). I`d never heard a Love record either, and Roddy`s lyrics, to me at least, remain pretty unique.

“I recall the biggest beach, throwing stones almost alone apart from something just outside of reach, but I swear I wouldn`t say it.”

A Pop star at sixteen, he strummed with youth`s urgency. His licks inspired by The Clash`s Joe, and Wes Montgomery. The Jazz he had in common with Everything But The Girl`s Ben and Tracey. Though he sang not of “love gone wrong”. Instead with an optimistic heart full of the stuff. We shared the idea, he and I, of the romantic soldier. The belief that favour was something which could only be won. While still at school he`d chase Kerouac`s holy lunacy. Guns and sights levelled on banishing the unrighteous from Heaven. Waxing beatific over pints in East Kilbride. In a pub called “The Diplomat”. The Dip. An establishment immortalised on Aztec Camera`s debut LP, Highlands, Hard Rain.

Roddy`s faded denim matched Jo`s worn-in near worn-out `50s vogue. Her idols pinned like badges to beaten-up blue. His We Could Send Letters described our relationship, as university terms finished, and we`d ship back to London, and Liverpool. To the respective partners we`d left at home. I was breaking up. Feeling cheap. With Prefab Sprout`s Horsin` Around taunting me. 

“Feeling cheap`s the only thing you keep.”

I`d receive fat envelopes of handwritten essays with Formby postmarks. And in response, I raided library shelves. Spent my midnights drinking, and stealing verse. Taking a crash course in it.

At eighteen Roddy moved to New Orleans, swapped his drug of choice from Keats to Bob Dylan`s Infidels. A guitar obsessive, he recruited Dire Straits` Mark Knopfler to oversee the sound on his second LP, Knife, and, without irony, covered Van Halen`s Jump. Knife replaced the Walt Whitman calls for a simpler, uncomplicated life, the home-made clothes, the church meeting sermons and confessionals of Highlands, Hard Rain, with a bright, brassy, A.O.R, Disco production. Where All I Need Is Everything is The Blue Nile playing a tropical Calypso. 

“I wish myself into your arms.”

Love, now that Summer holiday you could previously never afford.

Snapped up by Sire`s Seymour Stein, for the US, AC were marketed like a boy band, and Frame looks confused in the photo on Knife`s cover. Pretty, in heavy make-up, cloak, and costume jewellery. But his poetry still bore a Left-Wing politic. Anger, at any power that be. Support for the Miners and CND. An appeal for “new words” to old problems.

Love Songs 

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