Mum had taken me to the Co-op for the first time. It was a big occasion, someone called Santa arrived on what I remembered to be a big red sledge on wheels, along with a young woman festooned in red glittery clothes and white fur. It made complete sense to me, that she was called Mary Christmas and was so beautiful that Santa kept shouting out her name, ‘Mary Christmas, Mary Christmas, everybody!’
When I sat on his knee and told him what I’d like (not, as Mum had instilled in me, what I wanted) the kind voice from behind a slab of cotton wool said, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’ Adding that I must to be good and he’d know if wasn’t.
Mary handed over a wrapped present, when I got back to Mum and opened it I was thrilled. See what he could do? Santa and Mary Christmas had hit the jackpot for me, there it was: my very own spaceman!
Almost half a century later, following the anniversary year of the moon landings, I wonder how many ‘made in Japan’ spacemen the Co-op had purchased back then, in anticipation of our demands, or at least our joy in seeing a face behind a blue/gold fish bowl helmet when we pulled the wrapping off.
As we grew through the seventies the spaceman became old news in the grown-up world. All things have their rise, curve and descent, just like those Jupiter rockets sent to the moon. Times had changed, socio-economic blowback from Vietnam and the oil crisis led the USA to knock the space programme on the head, quietly, without telling us kids.
The stark gleaming purity of the spacesuit against blackness of space still represents aspiration beyond worldly concerns. The marketeers understood it: Want to sell to kids? Put a spaceman on it, or at least the helmet. This extended to dental health campaigns, records and toys.
One of the most popular toys of the era was the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle. Adorned in white suit, space helmet and Stars and Stripes, Knievel was a combination of Elvis and Gene Cernan (the last man on the moon), fixed to a gravity defying Harley Davison.
In the age of diversity the retro fantasy spaceman is safely anonymous; behind the gold visor, could be any gender, age or ethnicity. It remains the marketeers ‘go to’ image, like a dogwhistle of optimism, whether relating to social distancing and PPE in the Covid-19 crisis or troubled Presidencies low on hope and benevolence.
When the spaceman appears one giant leap becomes thousands of clicks, a quick glance lingers a few more seconds more, transforming our attention span into positive data and metrics.
So thanks to Mary Christmas I guess I’m hooked for life and now most weekends I look forward to the posting of: a crash course for the ravers it’s a #spacemansaturday
At the back of my book dadless you’ll find a soundtrack by chapter section. It’s where you’d normally see an index and just before the all important acknowledgements. I allowed myself the luxury because, quite simply I could, and most, if not all of us, have an internal soundtrack to our lives; a mix tape of the heart or playlist of the mind that marks the key experiences on the map of who we are, or at least who we think we are.
The selection normally consists of what we’re listening to by choice but in the case of the dadless soundtrack I’ve included stuff that was also burbling in the background on our kitchen radio, heard inside shops or carried on the breeze from the funfair in the summer months. That’s why some tracks may disturb some who are Too Cool for School e.g. ‘The Banana Splits and Duran Duran for f*ck’s sake’ I can hear it now but make no apology. It was all there, part of the surroundings like musical wallpaper, especially on Saturday’s, wether plotted up in front of the telly immersed in the Arabian Nights and the Monkees, or as a Saturday Barrow Boy on Butlin’s camp or while bailing out canoes, capsized by yeasty smelling lads from Sheffield on Skegness Boating Lake.
I chose three tracks per chapter and I’ll walk you through some of the less obvious choices that probably require some explanation, these include a a couple of topical exceptions, recent discoveries that I didn’t actually know of in the time zones where the chapters are set.
Whitey’s on the Moon by Gil Scott Heron
I certainly didn’t hear Terry Wogan
introducing this one on Mum’s kitchen wireless. It’s a stark piece of live beat
poetry in which Scott-Heron simply decries the deprivations of a ghettoised
existence in the face of technological majesty of Armstrong’s ‘giant leap for mankind.’ Scott Heron, then a
student aged n-n-n-nineteen based in Lincoln, New York explains how his and his
sister Nell’s stark reality is laced with pain, graphic disease and hardship, whilst
Apollo 11 touches down in July 1969, incidentally six months after my birth on
the other side of the world. It’s not a militant rant or whine of victimisation
just a passing observation. By 1971 the U.S. would be two years further into
Vietnam , NASA’s Apollo project and the civil rights struggle when Marvin Gaye
would return to the issue singing ‘Rockets, Moon Shots, Spend it on the have
nots’ in Inner City Blues from the all-time-great What’s Going On
Hey Jude by Wilson Pickett
The Beatles original was the first
choice, as my mother had recounted hearing it everywhere like sonic wallpaper when
she was pregnant with me in the Autumn of 1968, especially the extended na-na-naa-naaa
outro. When I see the footage of the audience’s stage invasion of the Beatles
‘live’ performance, which is a testament to the optimism of the era I like to imagine
how she was at this time. So why the other version? The overwhelming blues and soul
of Pickett’s performance makes the singers consolation in the face of
disappointment felt by Jude all the more visceral and apt for the Situation
Hush-a-Bye Mountain by Stacey Kent
For me the intimacy of Stacey
Kent’s modern version of aces the original, which I must have caught from Dick
van Dyke in the Chitty Chitty Bang
Bang film. It offers soothing reassurance of sweet dreams like the song
itself is tucking you in safe and sound.
Sweet Gingerbread Man by the Mike Curb Congregation
The sonic comfort food of the Mike Curb
Congregation’s Sweet Gingerbread Man was another from Mum’s
kitchen, there have been multiple others versions most of which sound phoned-in
in comparison to this. Maybe Mum and a tasty and tanned little boy and I sang
along together with those good vibes and optimism.
Rebel Rebel by David Bowie
In the mid ‘70s I must have in bed by the time a Ziggy-ised David Bowie blew Britain’s mind on Top of the Pops. I discovered a much changed version(s) of him five years later in the Ashes to Ashes video, and he features in most of the dadless soundtrack chapters, but the riff of this stomping glam-classic was familiar to all us kids. It featured in on a TV perfume advert where a hot tramp plants a lavish kiss on a shop window, much to the camp disgust of the window dresser on the other side of the glass. With our six-year-old schoolyard rhymes of ‘Georgie Best, Super Star, walks like a woman and he wears a bra’ we were highly amused.
Fire in My Heart by the Super Furry Animals
This beautiful vignette by the
Super Furry Animals is most probably most often seen as a love song, but for me
it typified the confusion in the face of acceptance and evasion being flipped following
the three phone conversations with my father, resulting in me flipping from
incandescent passive anger and
forgiveness which persists to this day, depending on which way the wind blows.
Stepping Razor by Peter Tosh
This was my second topical exception. It parachuted in as a recent discovery thanks to Mr Don Letts. Peter Tosh formerly of Bob Marley’s Wailers was also a keen karate practitioner and took no nonsense from anybody, including the Jamaican Police and the Rolling Stones. The lyrics warn the bullies of the world ‘don’t judge me on my size, I’m dangerous’ as a young man walks down the street, hence its inclusion for the chapters We Are The Ragged and Showdown.
The circle is complete as we end on the high of Curtis Mayfield’s rousing Move On Up which kicks us off at the start of the book and The Rotary Connection’s life affirming I am the Black Gold of the Sun.
I’d like to hear the soundtrack to
A link to the Spotify dadless
playlist is below (minus unavailable Rumble in the Jungle by the Fugees/Tribe
I heard of his passing on the radio before I left that home that morning 4 years ago today, I went upstairs and told my wife then sent a couple of texts. I had to go work outside of London via Paddington that day. I broke the Londoners TFL taboo and looked into the eyes of countless strangers I passed for recognition of the same pain and loss I felt but couldn’t yet articulate. I thought saw it in some and assumed they saw the same reflected in me. Others were blank and oblivious. They’ve missed out on so much, how grey must their world be, I thought. I got on with my work including a negotiation with person who seemed oblivious. It was hard not to feel resentment and disdain against them to this day. Above the discussions my mind screamed in silence: How could it not matter to you that Bowie died today? What kind of person are you? When I got back to Paddington it was there for 5 million Londoners to see. David Bowie RIP in warm white lights revolving around the BT tower. It was beautiful and fitting. I didn’t go down to the Brixton candle lit vigil where strangers linked arms and sang songs, maybe I should have done but I think that the impact on us where Bowies work in concerned is often very personal, we all have our own stories and so many of them over the decades. It was between you and him. There were many years spent passing a particular album in the rack of the record store, until one day you buy it on a whim and privately enter another world; as if by magic. A piece of vinyl or a CD that could and indeed did lead to adventures…A tribute concert isn’t necessary, there’s too much work, it’s too big and too small at the same time. He features in almost every chapter of the dadless soundtrack listed at the back of the book, that’s how much his work meant, it was all between the two of us.
Dig was the last track we recorded in the couple of days Island Blue granted back in 2001. One those tracks that comes on the hoof when there’s a little time left over. The lyrics took on the shape of consoling chat between two lovers. I call it an austerity love song now, as the lover goes over the ‘gifts’ he’s shoplifted in order to help. The snow flakes referred to the weather and nothing else, Santa’s grotto and John and Yoko pop up (Merry Christmas War is Over) taking us into festive territory. Dig was explained in my book dadless as a Xmas #1 on Planet Zarg, so if your not one of the few hundred people that bought the Ignition mini-album back in the day you can hear it now. It comes with instructions hug a loved one and/or hug your self and Dig in.