Don’t blame it on the sunshine, don’t blame it on the moonlight, don’t blame it on the good times, blame it on the boogie: specifically the boogie as interpreted by The Beatles. I realised, as I pondered why exactly I write, that had it not been for The Fab Four I could have had a respectable career – politics, arms dealing, running a drugs cartel, accountancy – instead of being a music lover and what William Burroughs might have called a master addict to words.
My earliest clear musical memory is of being in the kitchen at home, aged five, just starting school. Mum was getting me ready as Radio 1, which had just started to broadcast pop music good cheer to the Never Had It So Good Generation, was playing Yellow Submarine. From then on I became obsessed with the tune and, importantly for this budding scribbler, the lyrics. I was intrigued by all these Beatles people living in a yellow submarine, by that sea of green and the man who talked about his life. Soon other Beatles tunes infected me with earworm syndrome: the harmonies, the sonic colours, the eeriness, of Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane, A Day in the Life, the strange images and magical words that seemed to speak of other worlds and other lives. The haunting beauty of melody and the playfulness of wordplay and storytelling were of a piece. Words could indeed be musical, and music could enhance the drama of words.
Throughout my childhood I loved music and I loved reading. I could already read to a high standard when I began at primary school, and I grew up in a house full of books, magazines, newspapers, The Reader’s Digest (I especially loved the Increase Your Word Power feature) and, of course, comics – those classics The Beano, The Dandy, Topper, Whizzer & Chips, the occasional DC comic, Commando and the UK edition of Marvel. I gleaned knowledge from Tell Me Why, World of Wonder, Look and Learn, which augmented my schooling. I did a few gigs with the St. Mark’s School choir and tried to talk my parents into buying me a violin.
But the idea of writing only came to me when I started college. I wanted to be a rock guitarist by then, thanks to Alan Freeman and John Peel, and I started guitar lessons. Typically I spent more time and effort on this than on my studies, but I began writing lyrics for a band that never quite happened. My friend Stuart wrote poetry, and I soon decided that my lyrics would be better as poetry. So I became a teenage sub-Roger McGough/Adrian Mitchell/Wilfred Owen, and filled an exercise book of thankfully no longer extant doggerel. Then I dropped out and left writing behind, concentrating on being a teenage sub-Jimmy Page/Jimi Hendrix/BB King instead. But I wanted to learn about stuff, so I kept reading, mostly esoteric cult fare, and in my late twenties began accumulating my own library. Around this time I somehow got the idea that I had to become a writer. I don’t know exactly what caused this return of the literary repressed; possibly it was a reaction to the stultifying work I was doing on a building site. Anyway, whatever the stimulus, I knew that I needed to write; so I bought a heavy mechanical typewriter, learned how to work it like a pro and began my first novel. It was never finished and it was no good in any case, but I had taken the first step on that road to financial perdition and intellectual frustration. I’m still pushing that rock of literary labour, Sisyphus style, up that damned mountain, and it looks like I’ll keep at it for the rest of my life. At least I can hope, like my man Samuel Beckett, to try, fail, try again, fail better.
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