Hail, Hail, Rock’n’Roll
Most of us recall a song we felt so passionately about we would have stood on an assembly hall stage and read its lyrics aloud
At the end of every Christmas term, my secondary school would stage a variety performance in the same hall where we held morning assembly and band concerts and the occasional French exchange disco; a vast, half-lit room, its air full of echoes and dust and the leaden smell of chips from the canteen next door. The Christmas variety show was a much-anticipated event on the school calendar, a chance for the students to showcase their talents with comic turns, singing, banjo-playing and a great number of disco-dancing routines, disconcertingly gyratory displays performed in skin-tight ensembles to the hits of the day: London Boys, Black Box, Big Fun.
One year, my first at the school, one of the older boys stood up to take his turn on the bill. Wearing, I seem to recall, a pair of black school trousers and an anorak with a hood, he walked heavily up the steps to the stage, stood bang in the centre, near the front, then fished a piece of paper out of his pocket and proceeded to read the lyrics to the Pink Floyd song Bike.
He had quite a flat, inexpressive voice, an adolescent blend of Skelmersdale scouse and Lancastrian guttural, and he took his time as he made his way through the lines: “I’ve got a bike/ You can ride it if you like/ It’s got a basket/ A bell that rings/ And things to make it look good/ I’d give it to you if I could/ But I borrowed it.” I remember with a strange clarity the way he pronounced the word “basket” — hamming-up the “a” so it sounded comically posh, and the audience, cross-legged and confused on the floor below him, looked up and laughed.
It was quite the oddest performance I would ever witness in five years of school variety shows. And while there were grander and more legendary turns through the years, this is the one that has stayed with me: a 15-year-old boy in an anorak reading this half-poem of quite mystifying beauty, a few short lines that brought together a red-and-black cloak, a mouse called Gerald, a clan of gingerbread men and a strange romanticism. “You’re the kind of girl that fits in with my world/ I’ll give you anything/ Everything, if you want things.”
Quite why he did it, I’m not sure. “I think maybe he just really liked Pink Floyd,” my brother suggested this week. And Bike is certainly a captivating song; written by Syd Barrett for his girlfriend Jenny Spires, it appeared on their 1967 debut, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and is regarded as one of the earliest examples of psychedelia. It is very much the type of song that might appeal to an enquiring young mind, suggesting all of the excitement and the humour and the desire and the intimacy of the teenage world they are stepping into.
Most of us will recall a time in our lives when we, too, first heard a song whose lyrics and sentiment struck us so deeply that we felt convinced that everyone else absolutely needed to hear it; a song that we felt so passionately about that if we could, we, too, would have stood on the stage of our assembly hall and read its lyrics aloud. For me, it was the Pixies song Hey, which, when I look at its lyrics now, appears every bit as oblique and mystifying as Bike, yet at the time it seemed to chime with every cell of me; as much as I heard it with my ears, I seemed to hear it in my belly, on my tongue, down my spine.
I listened to Bike again this week – chugging and clattering and waltzing its way to its conclusion:
“I know a room of musical tunes
Some rhyme, some ching, most of them are clockwork
Let’s go into the other room and make them work.”
And then the pause, before the great whirling racket of gongs and oscillators and clocks and a violin and laughter. It is brilliant, of course, and compelling and intriguing. Though as I listened, I couldn’t help but feel that in truth I like it best without music, without fanfare or flounce, but rather read aloud slowly – dull, and flat, and mildly scouse.
(via hipgnomis at: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/VegetableFriends/)