Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The bag I'm in

“Is it retro?” asked Mr SDS when I told him, rather unfairly, that I'd just ordered a book but I wouldn't reveal what it was. The answer was “yes” and it's perhaps for that reason that I didn't want to discuss it before buying it; almost like I didn't want to be dissuaded or to hear myself justifying my rash purchase. We do sometimes have a difference of opinion when it comes to things 'retro'.

I'm interested in the past – but that certainly doesn't mean I don't like the present, there's no mutual exclusion.  However, Mr SDS would readily admit that he has a bit of a downer on the past because he's had a little too much exposure to people who are stuck in it - I mean, stuck immovably - and I completely agree with him that it doesn't seem a very healthy place to be. It particularly irritates him when folk fixate on it and go on about how much better everything was “back then”. Likewise, it doesn't strike me as being much fun to truly hanker for days gone by - the present suits me fine and I don't think too far ahead either - but that doesn't prevent my enjoyment of a little retro indulgence now and then. Well, you probably already know that from reading this blog.

For me it's just about relating; connecting past, present and future and tying it together.  Being a part of it all. Everything before us has shaped the now, everything is valid. In particular, old pictures of “the way we were” sum my feelings up beautifully and make me smile and that's why, when I saw this book advertised in the Guardian (currently discounted with free postage too!) I had to buy it. It's 'The Bag I'm In' by Sam Knee (Cicada) and the blurb which originally caught my eye goes:

Youth subculture in 20th Century Britain is a unique phenomenon. Throughout the decades, young people sought to define themselves sartorially, reflecting their identity in terms of regionalism, class and crucially, musical taste, through their clothes... The look of each movement is captured in meticulously researched, previously unseen archive photography.... a key resource for fashion enthusiasts, musos and cultural historians, as well as a powerful, graphic document of Britain's fashion evolution through the ages.

It arrived this morning while Mr SDS was out and I'd been dying all day to take a break from painting imaginary puppies to have a good look through. At last! It's a chunky hardback book with nearly 300 pages, and I could tell straight away that it's been put together by someone who gets it, someone who understands and who's been there or, when writing about things that were before his time, has checked all the facts. I do find it annoying, for instance, when you're watching a TV programme with a narrative specifically about 1977 punk but it's illustrated with film of kids who are very much from a later punk incarnation, all ten-inch long crazy-colour mohicans and The Exploited emblazoned on the backs of their studded bike jackets... no!  There are no such errors here.  Instead, we're reminded of the detail: of shop names like Melanddi and Flip, of bands as diverse The Milkshakes, Disorder, John's Children, of Gibson creepers, Swell Maps badges, Poison Girls patches... There are grainy photos of '60s beatniks and mods, some early shots of band members before they were well-known, e.g. Lee Brilleaux pictured with the Southside Jug Band in 1967, plus plenty of heartwarming images from the '70s and '80s of ordinary kids whom I know felt extraordinary at the time - I know because these could be images of you and me, our friends, our schoolmates, our brothers and sisters.



* 'Why and how music youth scenes reach such a level of diversity and focused intensity in Britain is a side effect of island culture and the distinctive class system in this country. By and large, British music scenes are working and middle class in origin. The upper classes don't have the regionality or subversive sartorial suss to create such subtle nuances. The seeds of the scenes originate in the generic state school system; secondary moderns, comprehensives and grammar schools – where kids exist on a street level around other kids and cultures in the great mishmash of society that makes up Britain.'

Anyway, Mr SDS came home this evening and I showed him my lovely new book. I really hoped he'd like it, and see what's appealing and touching about it, in spite of possible resistance to its obvious retro theme. I was just flicking through it when my fingertips paused unknowingly at the chapter on Anarcho Punk.... and there it was, a photo of his old band. Above it was another photo which included a poster for them for a gig he played, where I was too. Ohh! We remembered it well.  That's what I mean: it's about relating; connecting the past with the present and the future and tying it together.  Being a part of it all.

It's a great book!

*  from 'The Bag I'm In' by Sam Knee (Cicada)

15 comments:

  1. I spend what some consider to be far too much time thinking about the past. It's probably true that I don't have the balance right and perhaps reflects a certain amount of frustration with contemporary society (to say the least). Mr SDS is probably right to be wary of those who think things were always better back then because they probably weren't and even if they were it doesn't help us make a better now. Anyway, the book sounds a joy and one I'll keep an eye out for as a student of certain periods of British 'subculture'.

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    1. Yes, I think it is all about balance (like everything else...) It's easy to feel frustrated with contemporary society but there are so many positives too, everything's a mix of good and bad things and always has been, they're just *different* good and bad things, aren't they? So, let's celebrate the good things about the present, and celebrate the good things about the past - yeah baby!
      The book is well worth a look through or a library loan even if you don't buy it - and there are some pictures in there that remind me of a couple you've posted before :-)

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  2. I am firmly in the Mr SDS camp most of the time... I don't see anything wrong with wandering down memory lane, and I know various friends who have a great time there... it just isn't really for me. To be honest, that could also be because I've spent so much of my life escaping into imaginary worlds that the real "scene" around me has never made that much impact?

    I am glad you're pleased with your book though, I think we need to see that pic of Mr SDS's old band now, don't we? ;o)

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    1. Yes, whatever suits is very personal, I agree. A bit of both works for me (see my reply to SB above): feet firmly in the present, but sometimes I like to look back over my shoulder!

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  3. I really need to sit down with you over a glass or two and talk about this, rather than write a couple of pithy one liners. But, and I can tell from reading your blog for however long, you *get it* too. I could quite easily swathe myself in the past and be quite comfortable; but it's not healthy. And neither is it right. But, hey, it's fun to buy a return ticket to 1972 every now and again, isn't it?

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    1. Thanks John, I know what you mean. I think you're right about the return ticket - I wouldn't want to stay there, but I'd be happy to buy a travel card now and then! And this book is one.

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  4. I read about this book recently and fancied it. His book on 80s indie A Scene In Between is great too.

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    1. I'm sure you'd like this book SA. I must check out A Scene Between too, thanks - I like his style.

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  5. I love beautiful things and art that were created in past centuries, but I spend less and less time hankering for a past that I have experienced, maybe because I know that I have so little time in the future to to enjoy, so I need to appreciate the " right here, right now".

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    1. So true - we should all appreciate the here and now - that's also a reason not to spend it worrying too much about the future either, the present is all we ever have. Having said that, I still like these little delves into the past in pictures, it satisfies my interest in cultural history, and as an added bonus brings back the memories of experiences I'm glad I've had. I may treasure them, but I wouldn't want to go back and live it all again!

      I was also moved by the way you said "so little time"... and I do hope that you're ok... time is all relative, I know.

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  6. I have been away from SDS too long. What a great piece (and a book I need to read to accompany my stroll down 1980's UK memory lane!

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    1. Hello! Lovely to see you again! Hope all is well and yes, I think you'd love this book.

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  7. Do you refer to the Thee Milkshakes with Mr Billy Childish on lead vocals etc? Even if you don't I'm now back in sadly now demolished pubs listening to them and Cenet Rox - the post punk wave of Medway cleverness that sadly never saw the mainstream like them how we did

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    1. Hi Graham, yes the same ones (The and Thee!)... from your neck of the woods. I was aware of them at the time from working in a record shop back then and it's a name which conjures up that era for me - but how brilliant that you were there on the scene and listening to them in the pubs yourself!

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    2. Indeed - Billy and the boys including the Pop Rivets that predated the Milkshakes were mainstays of the alternative scene in those days. Cenet Rox have resurfaced in the last year or so as The Wax Collector - go check them out at https://soundcloud.com/waxcollector

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