Thursday 8 March 2018

Saint Etienne Therapy

Last night a woman who looked like a young Joan Jett threw me a Parma Violet and I caught it deftly in my hands, even with orange woolly gloves on.   “Not bad for an elderly woman!” she exclaimed as I did so.  I choked out a polite laugh, but inside I was recoiling in abject horror.  The word “elderly” was like a stab wound to my heart. 

Fortunately, it was just a very bizarre dream. The young Joan Jett lookalike was the girlfriend of a man who resembled a young Jon Bon Jovi and they’d come to my house to collect a massive box of records – about as tall as me - which I’d taken in for them.  I don’t know why she was throwing me a Parma Violet.  The writing on the record box said it contained Durutti Column albums and that it weighed 10 stone.   All so random and peculiar in the way that dreams frequently are (why Durutti Column?  Not as if I’d been playing any lately!)  But it was that ‘E’ word which stuck with me most when I awoke this morning.  Elderly.   It reminded me that one day, at least if I make it that far, I will fit that word.  I might be the elderly neighbour, the elderly customer.  The elderly patient.  Ugh.

I must admit, lately, I’d been thinking about how there comes a point in life, a while before the 'elderly' description, when we start to use the caveat “for your/my/one’s age”, e.g. “She’s not in bad shape for her age”, “Can I still get away with it at my age?”, “You’re still pretty healthy for your age”, etc.

Maybe that was what triggered the dream.

Anyway, where am I going with this?  Well yesterday, reading a post on Saint Etienne over at the ever excellent Charity Chic Music I remarked that Saint Etienne are the band who make me feel alright about getting old.  (Ah, that's probably what triggered the dream too).  

That really is exactly how I feel about them and I love them for it.  

Any time I get that unpleasant pang about the inevitability of ageing, I bring Sarah, Bob and Pete to mind.  We share some of that '70s past and attitude and the facial lines for which we traded our life experiences.  They've been around a long time and they're still innovative and cool, sorted and individual, real and unaffected and still doing what they do. Everything you could aspire to as far as I'm concerned. 

Lyrically, too, they know what to say to soothe my creeping unease at the ageing process, reminding me that it’s alright to be where we are now in the timeline of our existence because of all those great markers along the way which only those of us of a certain age can identify with.  I get that feeling: we’re all in it together.  You, me and Saint Etienne.

Take these two verses from Over The Border (Words And Music 2012)

In 1974, I bought my first single, from Woollies in Redhill
I started to memorise the charts, to memorise the leagues
Tuesday lunchtime at 12.45, Saturday afternoon at five o'clock
I didn't go to church, I didn't need to.
Green and yellow Harvests, pink Pyes, silver Bells
And the strange and important sound of the synthesiser

I was in love, and I knew he loved me because he made me a tape
I played it in my bedroom, I lived in my bedroom, all of us did
Reading Smash Hits and Record Mirror, Paul Morley and the NME
Dave McCulloch and Sounds, Modern Eon and Modern English
Mute, Why, Zoo, Factory
Cutting them up, sucking them in, managing the story on our own

And in the chorus, the straightforward acknowledgement of that creeping unease reminds me I'm not on my own either:

I'm growing older, heaven knows what's on its way

Then there's some simple philosophy which I think you can only really grasp fully when you get to a particular vintage, as in the words of Take It All In (Home Counties, 2017)

You've gotta stop and let yourself
Take it all in
Sometimes you gotta drop it all
And just take it all in
So smile and get it on
Just take it all in
Then you'll begin
To really see

No-one said it would be easy
No-one told you it would be fun
But you're gonna have to believe me
The party's just begun

Saint Etienne are not immune to a little wistful reminiscing either, for instance in 'When I Was Seventeen' (Words And Music, 2012)

When I was seventeen
My heart and head were full of brilliant dreams
Assembled in the light of a day
That seems so far away

And now
When I was seventeen
When I was seventeen
I thought we knew everything
We knew everything

No responsibility
Endless possibility
What on earth could possibly hurt me?

I know that getting properly elderly is going to be pretty awful but - there's no doubt - I always feel a little bit better about it when I think of getting there with them.
I call it Saint Etienne Therapy.

Saint Etienne: Twenty Five Years


  1. Certified and accredited SE Therapist - has a ring to it.

    1. It does - a career opportunity perhaps!

  2. Oddly, I've been seriously thinking about dragging my old Saint Etienne CDs out of the big box they are currently piled in due to utter lack of space. Now I know I must. Your words ring so true, C. Parma Violets?? Ha!

    1. Oh yes, time to dig them out RR. They always make me feel good, hope it's the same for everyone. Can you still get Parma Violets? I've no idea.

  3. SE Therapy - Sounds like it should be a thing. As for the elderly tag, as someone who used to work in the biz (albeit in a back office sense), it is a term that should no longer be used - Once we all reach 65, the official term is "older people". Not quite sure if it sounds any better though. Important to retain a youthful outlook and keep wearing quirky clothes/bright lipstick! (Unlike those people in the awful over-50s advert with the parsnips).

    Some great lyrics there - "I was in love, and I knew he loved me because he made me a tape, I played it in my bedroom, I lived in my bedroom, all of us did". The joy of the mix tape!

    1. Oh, I didn't know that about the word 'elderly' so thanks! I've been using it quite a lot lately in reference to my dad. Perhaps it's been frowned upon. Such a minefield with words and context... I'm probably not keeping up. But I agree, 'older' doesn't sound much better. 'Elder' (without the 'ly') sounds quite respectful. 'Old' doesn't. Either way I know I'm not ready for any of that yet and hope the youthful outlook and bright lipstick have some years to go yet!

      It's a fab lyric, isn't it? Sums things up beautifully.

  4. Sorry if I gave you nightmares!

    1. :-)
      No worries CC, at least I woke up from it!

  5. Sarah Cracknell’s voice makes me feel better no matter what and SE still do a good line in dance floor belters too! For what it’s worth I saw Lloyd Cole on Wednesday and his opening comment, as he peered into the gloom surrounding the audience, was ‘Well, none of you are getting any younger either...’ - you can always rely on him to cheer you up!

    1. Same for me re. Sarah's voice, especially in the speaking parts!
      Hope you enjoyed the LC gig - must say I rather like that opening line. There's me going on about how a band can make me feel better about getting older; I suppose he's just saying the same thing but the other way around!

  6. Re the age thing - see my post 14th Jan .....

    1. A great read and a perfect illustration of that whole thing, yes. Thanks. A friend of mine, same age and now a grandmother ('tho I find it hard to equate her with that, she's still the girl I went to school with) is waiting for the term GILF to come into popular usage too.

  7. Update: Re Palma Violets - yes, still available if you search hard enough. Nice little shop in Ebbw Vale sells them along with all the old favourites. It's a joy to browse and even better to consume. Also, just salvaged my Saint Etienne albums out of storage...wonderful. Call me a sissy but everytime I hear 'Hug My Soul' I want to dance and cry at the same time - two things I very rarely do. Therapy.

    1. Did I say Palma Violets? Was I thinking of something else?? I meant PaRma Violets, of course!

    2. Ah that's good to know about you digging out some Saint Etienne, therapy indeed. Your Ebbw Vale shop sounds like it would be too.
      Palma/Parma, we know what we mean anyway!

  8. Replies
    1. Sweet!

      And I noticed they do Drumsticks too, blimey I'd forgotten those - it's ages since I've had one. Id probably lose a tooth now if I did.

  9. Finally bought the new Saint Etienne album today, so your persistence has paid off. I really should have included Over The Border in my Top Ten NME Songs.

    As to the elderly stuff... well, I go on about growing old too much over at my place. Yes, let's cling onto our youth as long as we can...

    1. I don't have shares in the band, honestly... but really chuffed you've got the latest album.

      I know, we're all feeling the age thing. We gotta keep on keeping (and clinging) on....

  10. Many, many, moons ago I bought a copy of Too Young to Die, as a jumping off point, *loved* it, and then must have said to myself "I'll save these for my dotage." You know what's coming next, don't you?

    Right, where do I start? At the very beginning I suppose.

    Thanks C. Let's just hope I can remember all this. And make sure I don't slip over on the ice on the way to the bus stop and break something. That reminds me, it's time for my programme - I must go.

    1. The beginning is always a good place to start but I also say treat yourself to Words And Music and Home Counties because that's where we and Saint Etienne are at now - together - and that's what I find comforting!

      I'm just glad I can still remember their names...


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