Don’t Know When You’re Born

Warning: The following blog will contain trips down Memory Lane

Kids today don’t know how lucky they are.

No. Wait. Come back. This is no rant on how things were tougher when I was a lad or how receiving six beatings a day and being sent up the chimneys made me a better human being. What I want to talk about is something a little more subtle. Something that the internet has all but destroyed-the joy of discovery.
Y’see, along with a self-destructive atmosphere of entitlement, the internet has every item you need just a mouse-click away. Music, film? Just go online and choose your down-loader of choice (and if it’s not legally available, just bit-torrent). Sex? The porn industry practically invented the internet for mass consumption of its product just as it did the video industry in the 1980’s. Want to put on your tinfoil hat and rant and rave from your armchair about how the world would be sooooo much better if the Lizard/Illuminati/Zionist conspiracy were exposed? Create an anonymous avatar for yourself and subscribe to the comments section of Fox News. Too much partying hard and have to turn in that essay the next morning? Wikipedia it (though this does entail having a little more nous in making it look like it’s not a cut-and-paste – which could have been better spent on writing the damn thing yourself).

Nearly all the world, its past and future, is on the net and we’ve lost the thrill of real discovery.

When I was younger, media items were harder to get hold of. I remember having to wait nearly 4 weeks for an order of The Who’s Quadrophenia on vinyl. No multi-stores in my home town then kids, vinyls are large things and take up a lot of store space so not every title can be stocked. So it was order or go into the big city to have the thrill of going to a large independent store, which was somewhat offset of having to mingle with hippies and punks who had little idea of personal hygiene. But when it finally did arrive and I put it on the turntable along with all its attending pops and crackles? The music felt all the better for the wait. Or being brought to a halt by a full window promotion of Joy Division’s Closer album and thinking “What the HELL is that? That looks GREAT!!”.

When was the last time you felt like that upon seeing a window promotion?

The main thrust of my argument though has a little to do with both film and music.

My aunt used to work as an usherette at one of the local cinemas in hometown. No multiplex this. A cinema with one huge screen, with curtains that drew back. An upper balcony. I believe that it even had a working cinema organ at one stage. Usherettes selling Wall’s ice-cream (no albatrosses). Butterkist popcorn. The best part for a young lad like me who was interested in film was waiting for her to finish her evening shift and getting to see the last few minutes of the film then playing. Even better if the film was an ‘X’ or ‘AA’. I didn’t know what the hell was happening at the end of The Exorcist or The Godfather, but they looked fantastic. So the thrill of discovery led to me reading what little was available then, which usually meant the in-cinema mag with lurid and colourful pictures (more of later) or the back of the soundtrack vinyls. Two things then happened. The Hamlyn Pictorial books started to appear and although useless today as a guide Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies was my Bible. Also (and this is the best bit), British Television in the ’70’s had late-night movies (yes kiddies, British TV actually shut-down at 12 or 1’o’clock. Except for General Elections, and now the populace would prefer it if the television would shut down all night when it comes that time).

Ask anyone of my age in the film industry and they will most likely say that their interest in film started here. Double or triple bills of Classic Hammer Horror. First appearance of the Universal Classic Monsters. Seasons of Truffaut, Bergman, Ford, Kurosawa. Silent movies. Eagerly awaiting the next week editions of the Radio and TV Times and flicking through them to see which films, only seen in books before, were to shown (Christmas was an especially bumper time, working out a time-table to be able to commandeer the family VHS recorder and get them onto tape). Staying up late till after 12, illuminated only by the flickering light to watch the first showing of Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ (thanks Mum and Dad). That youthful joy of discovery. The rush of finally getting to see something only described in a paragraph. Gone. I can download, order or stream anytime I please and I know that something, no matter how intangible, is lost.

So, where does the music come into this?

Remember the in-house mags I mentioned? Well, being the ’70’s pictorial-wise they had something of anything goes mentality, which meant nudity. Not full-frontal (the local “art-house” cinema was best for seeing that with its lobby photos), but certainly breasts and in the ’70’s, if you wanted to be mainstream cinema, have nudity and still have your films reviewed in magazines, that meant one person – British L’Enfant terrible, Ken Russell.
Russell today is woefully neglected by the film industry. No awards, no retrospectives, no special edition boxsets of his major works. When you see directors like Mike (misery guts) Leigh and Ken (have cause-will travel) Loach get all the plaudits from the critics, their wilful ignorance of people like Russell and Boorman becomes highly suspect. But I digress.

Russell, for those who know, directed many wonderful and patently loony works and quite a few of them are movie biogs of the great classical composers. His BBC documentaries and the films about Tchaikovsky, Listz and Elgar for the South Bank Show. Besides The Who’s Tommy and The Boyfriend his other music film was the one that introduced me to another composer-Mahler.

Now, picture me in the late ’70’s. I’m a teenager and my hormones are racing. I know that Russell is a great director, but I’ve not seen any of his films, just images.

But thanks to those in-house magazines I know that Russell also counted for something else – tits and fanny. Women In Love has already been shown on terrestrial television. Great, fantastic. One of D.H.Lawrence’s best works, plus Glenda Jackson nude. Couldn’t ask for better (yes children, this is how we use to get our kicks pre-internet porn). Next though, a showing of Mahler.

I like Classic music. Heard a lot of the usual suspects – Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, Tchaikovsky. But no Mahler. No matter. Russell meant only one thing (remember?).

Film starts, good beginning. Georgina Hale, naked, breaking out of a cocoon to symbolise her emerging independence from Mahler’s shadow. But there was something else. The music. First movement, Third Symphony. It resonated, it was different. The film moved on until……The film has Mahler’s train arrive at a stop. Mahler (played to great effect by Robert Powell) looks out upon the station platform. Russell here has playful homage to Visconti’s “Death in Venice” which also used Mahler’s music.

And here it was. My discovery. My feeling of being swept away by a piece of music so sublime that the word did not begin to describe it. For as Mahler watched the characters of Aschenbach and Tadzio on the platform the Fourth Movement of his Fifth Symphony (Adagietto) is heard. Today, this is one of classical music’s most recognized pieces, but not then. Not to me. The film carried on, but I sat there not seeing it. The Fourth had truly taken me to another place and more importantly – it was mine. My discovery. Something rarely felt today in the “can get it now” world of the internet. Sure, you can hear and see rare stuff on the ‘net, but as someone said to me:- “You go to look for something on the net. Not to find it”.

And that’s why kids today don’t know how unlucky they are.

Ninja Beaver Head
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