The Day I Discovered The Rolling Stones
I must have been nine, maybe ten. I can’t remember what else was going on in my young life at the time. My memories of childhood are vague and disjointed at best, but through constantly returning to this day, recreating it each time, it’s become part of my personal mythology. It was a day that would form the course of the rest of my life.
We moved house a lot. My parents had developed a strategy to allow them to keep us, my wee brother and I, clothed and fed when my dad invariably lost every job as a merchant sea captain after just one trip with a new company due to his chronic alcoholism; we’d sell our house and buy a smaller, cheaper one. We originally owned the granite semi-detached bungalow adjoined to my mother’s parents, granny and grandad Wilson on a solidly middle class street called Great Southern Road.
Like almost every other important event in the first twenty years of my life it happened at number 19, my mum, dad, little brother and golden labrador ‘Sinbad’ lived at 17, next door.
Things hadn’t got really bad at that point but they were starting to drift slowly downward. My grandad had sold the last of his five or six bakers shops long ago but I think he still had his silvery blue Jaguar which never moved from the lock up garage…
Anyway, while dad was either at sea or drinking large glasses of scotch whiskey in the chaos at 17, 19 was a bastion of somnolent order, Steve would be asleep in his armchair in the back dining room where the horse racing flickered on the TV, a newspaper open on his lap and betting slips piled on the table where he kept his cigarettes, matches and ashtray. The back room was where the sedate life of the house happened, it looked out to the huge, well kept back garden with its pastel green summer house right at the end. Granny would be wearing her ubiquitous floral dress sucking a boiled sweet or smoking, sometimes both, I’m sure.
How easy it is to drift away on a jet stream of memory, get back to the story!
So, the front room, was ‘the good room’ it faced onto the street and was never used. It was kind of a show room. I was only allowed in there occasionally, and never with friends. It was kept immaculate, the creamy colored carpet was spotless. I suppose it was partly for entertaining, except my grandad, Steve, was pathologically unsociable and discouraged guests of any kind. My mum told me when he had his shops and still had his bookie friends, they’d play cards in the summer house at nights and she’d sometimes find pound notes under the green felt covered table and even a fiver once or twice…
There was no TV in this room but there was a ‘radiogram’ which, when and if I ever get round to it, is the focus of this story…
a combined radio and record player built into a cabinet with a speaker.
It looked just like this, in fact this might be the very model! I don’t know why I’d never looked through the collection of vinyl ‘albums’ before, perhaps I had, but on this momentous day I found an album that looked so different to what ever else was in the charts the year and month he bought the thing. Along with it he’d asked the local music shop ‘Bruce Millers’ to give him the top fifty albums. I don’t think he’d even opened the covers of more than one or two. He’d wanted a music player and needed records so had just bought the lot.
‘Through the Past Darkly’ was released on September 12th 1969, seven months and one day after I was born. It became a sort of memorial for the rockstar that did, and still does, fascinate me more than any other… Brian Jones. Perhaps it was because of the music that transported me back and forward through time that afternoon that I became fascinated with The Stones, ‘The Sixties’ and the fantastic, druggy, sexy world of my rapidly expanding imagination. It was the first music I’d ever heard that does what great art must do, it changed me, forever.
The music was devilishly triumphant, joyful, rebellious… everything my DNA was moving me towards. I’d already started to notice good looking girls. There was something in the Stones I recognized in the thrill of the Hammer Horror films I loved so much. I’d heard The Beatles but this was something far darker and dangerous… I could hear… drugs. I was quite old for my age, most of my friends were three or four years older and we’d sometimes set fire to cinnamon sticks and try to smoke them. I’d recently been fascinated by another beautifully doomed, recently deceased star, Sid Vicious. I may be getting things mixed up, what came first, the ‘SID IS DEAD’ headline in ‘News of the World’ or my afternoon with the weird faces pressed against the glass of the hexagonal album cover I scryed? By reading the sleeve notes and gateway cover I realized that the one called Brian was dead. The radiogram was blasting me into an ecstasy… death, drugs, hair, hammer horror with sixties dandies pretending to be vampires and satanists, it all made perfect sense… hippies, guitars, pounding drums, pot, LSD, naked women! “I see a red door I must have it painted black”. Everything became feverish and surreal, like a flash-forward to the Nineties. The music was so exotic and exciting I think I left my body and was propelled into a swirling galaxy of sitars and maracas, snakeskin boots and green velvet bellbottoms… By the time I’d heard Dandelion and Ruby Tuesday I was in a delirium of the teenager waiting to jump out of my pre-pubescent skin. The ghost of Summers Future sang “it’s so very lonely, you’re two thousand light years from home…”. What COULD a poor boy do?
In ‘Street Fighting Man’ over the top of the fuzzing bass and the tumbling piano chords came a blaring horn, a continuous rising note… I didn’t know it then… but it was the pipe of Pan himself!
‘When this you see, remember me, and bear me in your mind, let all the world say what they may say, speak of me as you find’ (Anon poem, dedicated to Brian on record sleeve)