Saturday, April 25, 2009

Forty Five Is The New Thirty Three

Yer actual Keith Telly Topping has been thinking a lot about his dad, recently, dear blog reader. Curious, that. The main reason, I think, was a sudden realisation a few weeks ago that Iam now, almost exactly (to the day) the same age that my father was when I was born - forty five. Because of this fact, I've always tended to view people in their fifties as, essentially, well ... my dad, if you see what I mean. Example: When I started working for Radio Newcastle on the The Book Club a few years ago, during discussions on the format of the slot and what books we would be covering, I was told that in a recent survey carried out by the station it had been revealed that the average age of listeners was around fifty to fifty two. Of course, we have many younger listeners just as we have plenty of older ones too but that was the average at that particular time. Now, to me, mention the age of 'fifty' or thereabouts and, as I say, I get an image on my dad in my head. Because, that's the decade that he was living in when I was growing up. Someone born in 1918. Someone whose idea of pop culture was Bing Crosby. Someone who thought that Frank Sinatra, much less Elvis Presley or The Rolling Stones or The Who was 'New-fangled rubbish. It's all just one conglomeration of sound, these days.' (A particular favourite saying of his, that.)
       The issue that brought this curious intellectual oddity in my head to the forefront was on about the third Book Club show that I presented where I wanted to feature, as one of the show's recommended books of the month, a biography of Joe Strummer (I think it was Chris Salewicz's Redemption Song). I was all ready to argue my corner for including it in terms of 'well, he might not be exactly the demographic of our listeners but I think he was a jolly important cultural figure and I believe this book is worth talking about.' But, in the event including the item didn't even bat an eyelid with anyone and that really surprised me. I can remember saying to Jamie Wilkinson, who was producing Julia's show at the time, that I'd been amazed by this as I had expected to have to fight to get it included. He was surprised that I was surprised! 'Somebody who's fifty now [this was 2006, I think] was born around 1955' he said. 'They grew up during the sixties, became teenagers around 1970 and in the summer of punk they were twenty two. Chances are they've bled two copies of London Calling white!' Of course, when he put it like that a lot of pennies dropped into a lot of slots. It's ironic that this very week, when The Specials began their much-anticipated comeback tour at Newcastle Academy (and I, tragically, couldn't get a ticket) about half of my colleagues at the station went to the gig. Doug Morris's splendid review of the event can be read here. As Doug told me the other day, local radio has come a very long way over the last couple of decades to the point where, these days we genuinely don't have to point out to our listeners how important a cultural and political figure somebody like Jerry Dammers was. Because, by and large, our audience are the same age as us and, actually, know.

So, anyway, there you have it. We've all got old together, it would seem. I can remember going to see Paul Weller (another hero of my youth) play a gig on my thirty fifth birthday - in 1998 - and I can remember reflecting (and being rather depressed) to a friend that, ironically, I'd also seen him play (with The Jam) on my seventeenth birthday in 1980. I thought, back then, that hitting twenty five would be The End Of The World. My mate said something very interesting. 'They always reckon that the years between twenty five and fifty five go just like "that"' he said, clicking his fingers together. 'Just the other day I was thinking about the day I bought Give 'Em Enough Rope in Virgin and rushing home to listen to it. I can still remember how the shop smelled, what colour the carrier bag was, what bus I got and how much the fare was. That was twenty years ago but it seems like yesterday.' And, now it's thirty years ago and we're all looking down the barrel of fifty and, my God, he was so right. Where the hell has the last twenty or twenty five years gone in my life? In my mind, I'm still nineteen. Still that same pill'd-up Mod doing a fifteen-record stint on the dance-floor at one of those Greenford all-nighters I was talking about a few posts back. Not some sad, crocked old has-been with a bad-back (the sciatica, sad to report, has been giving me gyp something fierce this last week). Somebody who gets all misty-eyed and nostaligc for a time back in t'day when we had t'proper tunes (like 'Borstal Breakout', 'Complete Control', 'Down In The Tube Station At Midnight' and 'Harmony In My Head') instead of this tuneless rubbish the kids of today have! My God, I have - at forty five - turned into my father. When did THAT happen?!

But, before I leave you, and you get time to reflect upon the quite tragic decline of Keith Telly Topping's street cred, allow me to wallow in one final bit of naked nostalgia for another week. News that Mick Vickers' wonderful soundtrack to the greatest film ever made, Dracula AD 1972, is being released on CD at last - albeit in a limited edition. As Johnny Alucard noted at the time, 'Dig the music, kids!'

If you've never seen AD 1972, then there is - quite simply - a coffin-shaped hole in your life that needs filling right now. The success of AIP's Count Yorga, Vampire, a 1970 movie which set vampirism against a modern Los Angeles backdrop, persuaded Hammer to attempt to update the Dracula franchise. Don Houghton, fresh from writing a couple of great stories for Doctor Who, had penned a script called When the Earth Cracked Open which impressed the company greatly. His subsequent Dracula/Chelsea script, however, as The Hammer Story notes, was 'irretrievably undermined by a perspective on youth culture a decade behind the times.' The young tearaways featured in the movie, for instance, argue about getting tickets for 'a jazz spectacular.' What is it with teenagers in early-70s British horror movies and jazz festivals? At a time when most of Britain's youth was listening to glam, mellow singer-songwriters or prog rock, the kids here (and in Tower of Evil, for that matter) just dig that crazy jazz, baby. Dracula AD 1972 is, to be blunt, one of the most hilariously dated movies of any era – by having a specific date as part of the film's title, it is forever trapped within a particular time capsule. Yet, perhaps because of this, 1972 has aged so utterly terribly that it has now transcended its humble origins to become little short of a comedy masterpiece. Exploitation cinema is always at its finest when polemic and dogma meet head-on and, instead of producing the expected gestalt of social-comment, ends up with a mélange of clashing and fractious statements. Dracula AD 1972's like that. It so desperately wants to be taken as a serious, po-faced, observation on important youth culture issues. Instead, by the sheer banality of its construction, the film comes over as, essentially, Carry On Biting, full of unexpected laughs at, literally, every turn. However, that said, a word of genuine praise: Dick Bush's cinematography, particularly during the title sequence with zoom-lens shots of the concrete jungle that London had become, is just gorgeous. Listen, the DVD is currently on sale at HMV for three quid. Get it and watch this one on a Saturday night with a few friends, a bottle of cheap plonk and a Chinese takeaway and, simply, thank whatever God you chose to believe in that you weren't born in the 1870s and, thus, never got the chance to experience incompetent genius like this.
    If my life was a party, I'd really rather like it to be the one in Dracula AD 1972 – with top beat combo Stoneground rockin' the shack with 'Alligator Man' in my front room and Caroline Munro dancing on my kitchen table. A man can dream, can't he?

Might as well have a quick 'PS' as well. Check out the following video piece at the Digital Spy website. It's a lovely little five minute interview with a very fit and tanned looking Stephen Fry. Amongst other things Stephen confirms that they're about to start filming the next series of Qi (and that it will be sixteen episodes), reveals he's started writing the sequel to Moab Is My Washpot (at long last) and gives his thoughts of Hughie's Big Thing (and how it's never lupus!) and talking about his recent guest slot on Bones and his forthcoming Last Chance To See.

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