Archive for November, 2009

David Bowie and fatherhood…

As I drove back from a work trip to pick up the teenager from a college prep class, I found the beginning of David Bowie’s ‘Moonage Daydream’ flowing through my head. This flow was quickly transferred from there to the car stereo via my iphone, and soon I was lost in a collection of his greatest (as dictated by me) material.

I grew up with David Bowie. His poster stared out from under my Dad’s desk in the corner of our living room, with it’s Jetsons-cool white pedastal TV and funky yellow, brown and cream beanbags (no sofa, no chair, no convention). My Dad would get his special stylus out, take ‘Ziggy Stardust…’ from it’s plastic-protected sleeve and soon the flat would be filled with those songs. Or sometimes ‘Low.’ Or sometimes ‘Heroes.’ Yes, Bowie was a presence in my childhood, make no mistake.

I would get out the ‘Aladdin Sane’ album when I was 7 or 8 and stare at the image on the front. That face. That hair. That zig-zag. Those colors. And I would look around our living room, with it’s ‘future feel’ (well, it’s ‘not-3-piece-suite-and-big-boring-box-telly’ feel) and my Dad’s desk, his typewriter sitting still, waiting for him to come home, piles of pages massed beside it, and think how wonderful our life was. I would think of my Mum and her constant engagement, her smiles and the lilt of her voice, always with a pep of positivity, and I would think of going to the football with my Dad. I would look around and think of the family friends who dropped in, Pat Doust, a wild and warm and crazy and exciting and engaging dervish of a hippy woman, someone who lived outside the box, and Nuala and Gene from Ireland, open, friendly and unconventional. We had no normal living room furniture, no phone in the house and no big ugly boob tube. We went to the National Film Theatre and the South Bank. We made strong coffee in a little copper colored turkish coffee pot. And we listened to music by the likes of David Bowie, in all his beautiful androgyny, with all his fantastic musical layers, with all his futuristic clairvoyance.

The summer of ’77 saw a summer heat-wave in London, and I remember staring at the cover of ‘Low’ which had come out that January. An explosion of orange and a robotic profile shot of Bowie. It lured me over and over for the following 32 years. ‘A New Career In A New Town’ for some reason sticks out. And as for ‘Warszawa’, well, when I told Neville Wright in top top secret that my Dad had not done his Persian military service and that if they ever found out he told me they’d take him away (and when Neville Wright then said he’d tell everyone he could find -Neville’s father had left him at birth- in the hope that would happen) I sat and listened to it over and over, tears streaming down my face, convinced my Dad would be taken away.  Thinking about it, David Bowie’s Berlin-era music was the first time I ever really experienced the power of the minor key, and the emotions and tears that well crafted minor-key driven music can evoke.

I went to Berlin in 1989 about 6 months before the Wall came down, and the first thing I did was put a tape of  ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ on my walkman and stroll around Tiergarten and Bahnhoff Zoo, I successfully looked for the Neukolln neighborhood and Hansa Studios. I took a hundred black and white photos of anything and everything I saw. I wanted to feel how this music had happened, and in my mind I was doing precisely that.

Later that year I was presented with the chance to interview David Bowie. It was for his Tin Machine project, and I was told I could not ask about any of his solo career material or experiences. I listened to the Tin Machine album over and over again to find pathways which would bring me to legitimate questions about the Berlin-era. I saw parallels in the work. And as I sat in the absurdly long stretch limo, trundling to the interview, I felt I was representing my family, my childhood, my Mum but as much as anything, my Dad. I had not long turned 22 years old. I was proud. It felt like a proper barometer of success.

The interview went exceedingly well. Bowie warmed to my somewhat complicated questions, took them on and gave me what he knew I was after. We discussed Berlin in relation to the present. I felt like an invitee into some world which no other journalist would get access to. He waved the PR off twice telling her we needed more time. And as I packed my things to leave, he said, “You really did your homework, those were great questions.”

I froze for a moment, for the first time that day actually, and replied, “I grew up with your music, I grew up with you in our house, if I hadn’t done my homework it would’ve been wrong.” I forgot to say thank you. And he smiled back, reiterated that he’d enjoyed our conversation, and moved on to his next appointment. I, meanwhile, sat in the back of said-same absurdly long limo and started shaking ever so lightly. There was a phone back there, but my parents didn’t have a phone so I couldn’t call and talk to them about it.

Music defines families. What you heard growing up never leaves you, and if you shared that with your parents, then it resonates even more strongly. I spent a lot of time playing music for the teenager, and now he’ll play me music of his that I end up liking. And I spend a lot of time driving and listening to music with the pre-schooler. We run the table, from Rob Zombie to Underworld, from The Beatles to Madonna. And my favorite moment is always when she asks to hear something and I ask her, in return, to be patient and let me introduce her to something I know she’ll like. Like Leftfield perhaps. Or Massive Attack. Or David Bowie. And when she does like it, when she punches the air to ‘Suffragette City’ or when we bumps and grind in our seats to ‘Rebel Rebel’ a small but very very bright bright light inside me suddenly switches on. And when I catch her face, grinning, making the faces, shaking her head in time to the ‘hot tramp, I love you so’ line, the world is pretty fucking fine.

Sometimes we dance to ‘Blue Danube Waltz’ and sometimes we dance or draw to ‘Dragula’ or ‘Rebel Rebel’ (no stylus necessary, just plug and play today). And I think of the power in it all, the unity of these songs, and the fact that David Bowie has spanned generations of my family. And then I wonder if my Dad listens to him anymore. My Dad, in his apartment by himself, speaking with no-one and buried in stacks of philosophy books. My Dad and all the friends in his head that no-one else will ever meet. My Dad who isn’t remotely like the man who had the yellow, brown and creme beanbags or  white pedastal TV anymore…even the typewriter went years ago…but he does still have a special stylus for that stereo. And some vinyl in a corner somewhere.

Maybe I should call him and ask…

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“HEY DAD, IT’S JUST A LOAD OF HAIRY OL’ BOLLOCKS!” said the pre-schooler with a grin as wide as our front door when she jumped into the car with her teenage brother behind her. Even I were a clueless type, his poorly-stiffled giggling would’ve pointed me right at the true protagonist.

“Why oh why do you insist on doing it?” I asked in proper parental fashion even though I knew EXACTLY why he’d done so (because it sounds very funny coming from such a sweet-voiced girl as his sister – not that I could ever admit that. So pretend I didn’t. And also pretend I didn’t stifle a snigger of my own the second she jauntily barked it out).

“I didn’t!”

“I am not a total wanker, so please!”

“Well it’s just fun – ”

“OK, I get it, no need to spell it out,” I said stiffly, all the while wearing a grump the size of Texas. “Don’t do it again though please…”

The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, and anything I hear like this is doubtless a product of my own behaviour somewhere down the line, so it does well not to get angry first time around and instead just talk the situation to an appropriate place.

Somewhere in the last few weeks, the pre-schooler has turned 13 and the teenager remains mired between the total independence of an impending college existence and the wipe-my-butt reliance of a child. It’s doubtless confusing for them, but I can assure you it’s bloody confusing for me. The pre-schooler knows everything, can do everything and rolls three or four syllable words off the tongue like the proverbial water off a duck’s back. The teenager still needs taxi and chauffeur service, guidance on simple matters such as nutrition and waking up in the morning and continues to have huge brain-farts when it comes to the concept of time. It is a cruel age the last year of high school, as so many things need to click into place yet the human condition of that moment is all about the complete suspension of common sense and logic. It’s actually more about fighting bad skin and the relentless pursuit of the opposite sex via image and behavior…come to think of it, he doesn’t have bad skin and he hasn’t delved head-first into any fashion trend as a consequence of his female peerage, so perhaps he’s ahead of the curve.

Which sometimes is hard to see. If you haven’t stopped off at ‘This Isn’t What I Was Like At His Age’ street, then you’ll surely have reached the junction of Generation Avenue and Curmudgeon Way. Which in itself is confusing. I mean, I am only forty-fucking-two, certainly not old enough to enjoy being a grump as much as I sometimes do. Seriously! I sometimes find myself ENJOYING making comments like ‘they have no drive’ or ‘we only had three channels of telly’ or ‘that music is so stupid…’I can assure you the last one doesn’t get much thrift, especially when I shamelessly beat the steering wheel to Slayer, or try for the high notes in Bowie’s ‘Suffragette City’ (I make them). My wife now speaks with increasing frequency about my need for a cane, not in terms of mobility but in terms of sheer old man-ness. Even the pre-schooler gets fooled sometimes, as evidenced just now at lunch when I waved my index finger at her, she assumed I was imploring her to eat more but the truth is that I was firmly doing that gloriously juvenile ‘pull my finger’ gag.

But there is no doubt I am ‘evolving’…these days, when blasting the new Slayer album and finding myself pulling up to a stoplight infront of a bus-stop downtown, I turn the sound down. There was a time when I would’ve lurched for the volume knob and attempted to break the car stereo whilst opening all other available windows. How polite I am becoming. How thoughtful. My Slayer a bit loud? I thought so, sorry, I do apologize.

Yet there again, I found myself sitting with the teenager at Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween II’ remake, sneaking food in and making sure our peanut gallery comments were available to all who might’ve wanted to hear them (three other people about 12 rows behind us), before arguing over who the biggest wankers in the premiership are before getting stuck into a philosophical discussion as to why the theory of probability will always be felled by the unpredictability of human nature. Yes. Quite a span.

I am father.

Yes. And I am now also a bit more vain, a lot more healthy, a bit more judgemental yet a touch quieter, a tad grumpier but much much cheerier, a little older, a lot wiser, a little older but a lot younger than I have been for years. Juxtaposes. Connundrums…

The pre-schooler and I drew zombie princesses for the week leading up to Halloween whilst listening to Misfits, Rob Zombie and White Zombie. She then said she didn’t want me to be a zombie because she’d be scared (I muttered that I was often a zombie from the hours of 6.30 am to 9, but this was lost in a mumble and I didn’t want to repeat it)…speaking of which, what bright spark came up with the idea of shoving as much sugar as possible down the necks of small children whilst dressed as bloody monsters, ghouls and murderers before then telling them to go to sleep and not worry about nightmares? This genius (who doubtless ran a sweet factory) obviously did not have children. And who came up with the phrase ‘trick or treat?’ Because as I sat on my front step, Lucho Libre mask on, holding the candy bucket for kids to shovel their hands into, I asked most for a trick and they looked at me like I’d just had a tourette’s attack. What’s THAT all about? Kudos to the young man who said ‘no but I have a funny joke’ (which was actually not funny at all but was made funny by his own enthusiasm and effort to try and give something in exchange for some bloody candy!)…seriously, I remarked to a fellow parent as we strolled along slowly having taken the show on the road, that next year I might well hand out some mini-gherkins and pickled eggs instead of candy to anyone who doesn’t bloody well entertain me! Now wheres my cane!!!!!!!

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