A little imagination is all you need.
I love these fun photographs, taken from Carrie Fisher’s private collection. Yes, she let me have a sneak look.
From around the time of filming the first movie in the franchise, I guess it would have been around ’75/76. Next time I grab a coffee with Carrie I will ask her. She’s pretty clean this days. Doesn’t have sugar, and doesn’t take milk.
Yes: she has gone over to the Dark Side.
I have just finished reading East Bay Grease, by Eric Miles Williamson, a tough, gritty, coming of age story set in 1960’s and 70’s poor/working class Oakland, in America. The boy in the novel came from the same kind of neglected background as the children we looked after back in the days when my wife and I were foster carers. When reading it, I couldn’t help but compare it to my own beginnings, in my instance 1970’s Britain. I never considered it a poor neighbourhood where I lived for my early, formative years, but an older cousin once told me that when she was travelling to visit us with her mother, she asked which house was ours, to which my aunt replied “It’s the one with the lights on.” Her daughter thought that she was joking, until she did indeed see that most of the houses on that long street were in darkness.
This was the place I lived up until the age of around seven. My Dad had only recently come to terms with the fact that, due to ill health, he would be unable to work again, and so in a case of role reversal, more unusual in those times, my mother went out to work while he took care of us at home.
Being born right at the end of ’71, I was not quite five when the record heatwave of 1976 arrived, so my memories of that time are sketchy. I do remember though, having to wear a navy blue vest instead of a t-shirt as my shoulders were sporting large blisters from being badly sunburnt, and also prominent is the moment when these ‘bubbles’ popped. That was the year when we were actually appointed a Minister for Drought, the year when the countryside turned brown, and where I lived the tar on the road melted. Hosepipes were banned, and the government encouraged people to save water and ‘bath with a friend.’ I am sure some friendships were severely tested by that advice. That long hot, dry, summer also brought with it a ladybird invasion. I remember going on a trip to the zoo, and they were everywhere. Thick swarms, dropping on people from the trees and covering benches that people wanted to sit on. Kids, I included, were trying to eat ice cream or candy floss that were dotted with dozens of the crawling things.
I always seemed to be outdoors in those years. The days of being enslaved by Facebook and, dare I say it, WordPress, were a long, unimaginable way off. I would be out playing with now faceless mates who have, but for a couple of them, also become nameless, too. The specifics have been stolen from me, but not the general outline of what we did together.
Using broken glass as a magnifying glass, burning holes into pieces of wood. Running over prickle and brick strewn crofts in pursuit of passing, musical parades. Exploring and falling, making dens and tight knit gangs. The first, merchandise-driven movie arrived in the shape of Star Wars in ’77, and everyone went sci-fi crazy. A friend used to walk around stiff legged, claiming he was C3PO, and we all swapped our bubblegum card doubles whilst indulging in a little lightsaber fighting before tea. All of this was played out to a soundtrack of Abba, Brotherhood of Man, Slade, T Rex, and The Bay City Rollers. And then the following year Danny made a play for Sandy at Rydell High and the girls the country over got their own fixation.
Whether they did in my own neighbourhood I can only presume, because by that point I had moved home, leaving my pals and heatwave struggles behind. I remember much of those early years, and all of these memories are anchored in a place that seemingly was much brighter and larger than the decades which followed.
Those images are still fixed, still anchored, in that distant ideal, but now they are fading slightly in colour, and are beginning to curl a little at the edges.
You can live in denial all you want, avoiding mirrors and old classmates on the school run with their own kids in tow who are almost as tall as you are now. You can ignore the fact that you now get out of breath going up the stairs, that your face turns crimson whenever you bend to tie your shoelace. That when you pull back the blinds on a winter’s day and see the snow, your first thought is ‘that cold is going to get into my bones’.
You can convince yourself that you haven’t changed since your late teens, that you still feel exactly the same, and in actual fact those carefree times of childhood and school days were not that long ago.
But then this imaginary, self-constructed world gets shattered when something comes along and smashes a thigh length silver boot right through your constructed facade.
That something for me goes by the name of Agnetha Fältskog.
When I was young , way too young to understand what was cool, music in the seventies consisted of whatever existed in my Mum and Dad’s cassette and record collection.
Cassette and record. I may as well be talking about the gramophone now.
In those half-glimpsed scenes from back then I can recall listening to Brotherhood of Man, The Seekers, Bay City Rollers, Gilbert O’Sullivan, and Abba, as my brother and I played drums on an upturned bin or biscuit tin.
(Constant Friend tuts, carries on listening to Slade).
At that age, five or six, the corny lyrics written by the two men were just catchy and appealing, and it was the energy and the perfectly complimentary voices of the women that I liked. Then, as I got older, it was one of the women in particular that I liked, the quintessential Nordic blond, Agnetha.
I hate the word crush, it sounds all puppy dog and juvenile, but I was young, and definitely juvenile. And forming a crush is all part of growing up, although I think the kids these days are starting earlier. I have a daughter who at six years of age tells me constantly how fit Olly Murs is.
(Constant Friend shakes his head, Space Dust crackling on his tongue).
These moments are fixed and immortalised in my mind, my young mind, in my denial untouched by the passage of time. But then, suddenly, out of nowhere, it all comes crashing down. Agnetha steps back into the public eye, breaking her self-imposed exile from the limelight, to promote a new album. And, almost as an aside, it is mentioned that the blond, fresh-faced, forever fixed around 1978 beauty is now 63.
That stopped me dead in my excitable tracks.
The same age as my Mother-In-Law.
Reality washed over me cold. Walls came tumbling down.
Admittedly, she still looks good for her age. But there is no getting away from the fact that my original pin-up girl is now a pensioner. Well, she would have been my pin-up if my Dad would have trusted me with tacks.
I am sure that there is an element of air brushing going on here, but still, the rate that the two of us are aging I reckon I will soon be overtaking her and could pass as her Dad. Or at least her elder brother.
(Constant Friend agrees, continues to shuffle his Star Wars bubblegum card collection).
Now my bubble of immortality was well and truly punctured, I began to cast my mind back three decades or so. Who else did I used to like back then?
Erin. Erin Gray from the great Buck Rogers in the Twenty Fifth Century .Full of foreboding, I fearfully began to Google from the suddenly shaky ground of the twenty-first century.
That’s no good, get rid of the silly hat.
That’s the one. Now, what does Wikipedia say? On the plus side, she is still with us.
The same age as Agnetha.
The same age as my Mother-In-Law.
You hear that, Twiki? Colonel Wilma Deering is now a pensioner too.
And no, before you ask, Twiki never did it for me.
(Constant Friend stops eating his Kop Kops, raises a quizzical eyebrow).
Listening to Agnetha’s new album I was touched-this woman who had been written off as some kind of reclusive and eccentric Garbo, said to have turned her back on music, refusing to leave Sweden because of her paralysing fear of flying, was now in my country promoting her new material. She was singing about being back on our radios again. And she still has that beautiful voice, capable of evoking so well a feeling of fragility and vulnerability.
(“Wuss”, says Constant Friend, lay on his bed, hands splayed behind his head, gazing up at his Wonder Woman poster).
If I just close my eyes and listen, nothing has changed.She still has the moves. I have yet to shave.
In a bid to perpetuate the myth of youth, both for her and for myself, and forever anchor myself to a time long gone, I post this video now of how I remember her then. She, the Girl With The Golden Hair, and I, the Boy With The Full Head Of Hair.
The world was bright, and colourful, and young.
Trousers were wider.
(Constant Friend glances over at the video, nods his understanding).
I was just about to retire to bed tonight when I heard of the passing of Ray Manzarek, the great keyboardist with The Doors and the main perpetuator of the Morrison-as-shaman myth.
The group formed after a chance encounter between Ray and Jim on Venice beach. History hinges on such casual, random moments.
I sometimes forget that all those from that psychedelic, hippy generation are now pensioners. The ones that got this far anyway.
Turning now to the great music that you left us.
From an old Doors fan- give my regards to Mr Mojo Risin’.