Friday, 4 December 2009
The disadvantage of being behovely
I suspect I might have been born aged forty-two, which is, as the whole world knows, the answer to life, the universe and everything. Having arrived in England at the age of eight I quickly regressed to about age seven but eventually found my way back to forty-two. At sixty-one I am forty-two even now as I write this with my forty-two year old fingers.
Perhaps we all home in on an age, show signs of it before we get there, and thenceforth remain there until something breaks. I'd like to say I was for ever twenty-nine or even thirty-six but the truth, I feel, is closer to forty-two. Still, that's nineteen years younger than sixty-one so I don't complain.
I imagine forty-two because my parents told me I had the manners of a wise old man as an infant, weighing things up and pronouncing perceptively on matters such as Hungarian foreign policy, the rate of wheat production and on broad philosophical questions, such as 'Which way is up?' A wise old man as an infant can't be older than forty-two. Any older would be plain ridiculous.
I don't think I had any great desire to be a child. I don't remember any such desire. For that reason I came to pop music rather late by modern standards, surfing in on the '60s and firmly established on the beach by the time it got to the '70s. So, by the time Bowie came around, for instance, I already felt out of the pop ambience. Pop was something that happened in late childhood, aka adolescence. It was for kids. I was not a kid. Kiddishness I have slowly recovered in my retrospective forty-two year old fashion. Much like dancing, in fact.
But then I also hated being of the crowd. The latest books, the latest music. I resisted it for being the latest. If it was good it was going to be good after it was no longer the latest. I wanted detachment. Stevie Smith once said she never read anything less than two-hundred years old. She exaggerated but the idea was quite appealing in its mad way. I wanted to discover things entirely for myself then make some kind of choice about it without the tide of opinion washing in one ear and out the other.
This reflection was triggered by listening - actually listening - to Morrissey on Desert Island Discs this morning. I hadn't paid him great attention in the '80s. He was clearly interesting but somehow it wasn't quite behovely to pretend to be of that pack. This despite the fact that Morrissey himself is only eleven years younger than me.
He sounded interesting on the programme, very self-conscious, very droll, confident, a touch confrontational, intelligent, an original. He clearly valued words-as-lyrics, at one point likening Lou Reed to W.H. Auden. Well, maybe.
I'll listen now.