After The Flood

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When I was a child it was the 1970s, and we listened to Radio Two. Specifically, we listened to Terry Wogan’s Breakfast Show, to get us up in the mornings for work and for school. Apart from the epic Radio 4 serialisations of The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy and Lord of the Rings on long rainy weekends, I don’t actually remember listening to the radio at any other time until, unbidden and certainly unapproved of, I discovered the poptastic tones of Radio One in my early teens.

 Wogan will always be remembered for his catchphrases, his banter and his gentle, mildly smutty, Anglo-Irish surrealism rather than for the music he played. And I’m sure he played a blandly diverse selection from across the middle of the road throughout the decade. But if my personal recollections are to be trusted, then Terry seemed to have been wallowing, for all of those years, in an almost endless tide of melancholy, adult-oriented soft rock and post-hippy musical detritus.

 ‘Horse with No Name,’ by America. ‘Woodstock,’ by Matthews Southern Comfort. ‘The Cat’s in the Cradle’ by Harry Chapin. They kept on coming; songs suffused with such an unbearable autumnal melancholy that it’s a wonder we ever mustered the strength and optimism to get out of bed at all.

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Maybe it’s just my selective memory; maybe my temperament is such that it’s always the sad songs that stay with me. But certainly these brushed denim ballads, uncool as they always were, struck a chord in some deep part of my pre-teen psyche. Despite the fact that I was living in smalltown Yorkshire, part of me identified unconsciously with an airbrushed and cocaine-damaged California, sliding quite passively, from the sound of things, into the depths of the Pacific bay.

 ‘Heart of Gold’ by Neil Young. ‘After the Goldrush’ by Prelude. ‘Me and You and a Dog named Boo’ by Lobo. Where other people remember childhood as being all long hot summer days that never ended, I remember grey rainy mornings soundtracked by minor-key acoustic guitars, plaintive mournful harmonies and lyrics about riding across the desert and trying to get back to the garden. Watergate, Vietnam, Altamont and Charles Manson meant nothing to me, but I was nevertheless immersed in the cultural fallout from these events, wearing mirror shades in the glare of the setting sun as the Aquarian dream turned sour, and the beautiful people all wondered where their future went.

 ‘Hotel California’ by The Eagles. ‘On the Road Again’ by Canned Heat. Almost anything by Crosby, Stills and Nash or Jackson Browne. In these songs, people always seemed to be travelling long distances across empty, dusty landscapes, driven by disappointment and doubt, and with little hope of redemption at their journey’s end. These were not songs of, by, or for youth; they were full of the dissillusionment that comes with age and experience, songs of mourning for an idealistic golden age that was now irrevocably lost, elegaic hymns to some misplaced innocence.

 They say it never rains in Southern California, but it pours, man, it pours. Truly, I felt, I was living after the flood. 

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2 Responses to “After The Flood”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Liked the piece about Radio 2. I have similar memories of it myself – along those lines, I’ve sent an MP3 to your e-mail address.

    Tell me, do you remember that song at all? It wasn’t a hit, but when I picked it up on a compilation a couple of years ago it induced a massive sense of deja vu in me – I could swear I heard it played incessantly on the radio when I was a nipper. I played it to my mate Alex (who was born a year before me) and he said exactly the same thing.

    If you’re interested, I reviewed the 2-disc set containing her two albums here:

    http://www.headheritage.co.uk/unsung/review/1577

    Talk soon.

    Andrew

  2. hellisforhipsters Says:

    Hi Andrew,

    The MP3- Judee Sill’s ‘Jesus was a Crossmaker,’ on the offchance that anyone else is reading this and wondering what we’re on about- certainly sounded familiar, and sonically was of a piece with the kind of music I was remembering in ‘After the Flood,’ so it’s highly likely I had heard it back then. That’s an excellent review you wrote, too. I’m not too familiar with Judee Sill’s work; as you say, she tends to be criminally overlooked in such supposedly authoritative tomes as Barney Hoskyns’ ‘Waiting for the Sun: the story of the LA music scene,’ which I’m holding here now and she isn’t even in the index! I shall make a note to investigate further.

    Take care,

    Ben

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