Here’s an example of the stuff I write when I really should be working on my novel. This is part one of a series examining the gradual end of a golden generation of post-war pop music. Which, I’m sorry to say, is tied in with your own gradual ending.
It was late summer, 1995. I got up early – a rare event in my student days – and took the bus into town.
The Virgin Megastore on Union Street was where you went for tickets to the big gigs in Glasgow at that time. It’s a pub now, I think, or a pound store, or a noodle bar.
I must sound like someone’s da, here.
And so I should. I am someone’s da.
The previous year, I was part of that motley stream of thousands bubbling beneath Alexander “Greek” Thompson’s sooty edifice, pretending not to be excited about tickets going on sale for Nirvana. Kurt Cobain put paid to his dream gig in the SECC’s breezy black-curtained expanses just a matter of weeks later. I know some people who actually kept their tickets rather than getting a refund. Memento mori.
Me? I got a refund the day after he died. I was perversely annoyed. The cheek of it, killing himself before I got to see him!
What stuck in my mind was the crowd snaking all the way up the street. There had been a danger the show would be sold out before you got to the head of the queue. A frisson of anxiety over this possibility had undulated down the line.
This fear had been in my mind when I heard AC/DC were touring again. I resolved to get there early. “Early” meaning 9am. I was not going to miss them for any reason. They were my favourite band by a million miles.
I first got into AC/DC in my early teens, when an older brother blew my mind by playing “Thunderstruck” on my tape player. I still loved them well enough aged 18, although I was now branching out into other types of music, away from the safety of my classic rock cave.
In all that time – between the ages of 13 and 18 – there had been no new music from AC/DC barring the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie tie-in single, “Big Gun” (“Big Gun kick the hell outta you!”). There was a live album, and a video of their performance at Donington in 1991, which I had been very excited about (my big present on my 16th birthday, in fact). But this had all come before I started going to gigs. When were they going to come back? Would they come back?
The band had been dormant for half a decade, which is a big chunk of your lifetime when you’re a teenager.
The machinery clanked into life at the end of that long, hot summer. They’d just released Ballbreaker, it had been well-received, and sold fairly well. They’d even put Angus Young on the front cover of NME: a classic black and white image from the late-70s, mid-mosh, hair flying, his skinny little body dolloped with sweat. It felt like your “gang” was back together, or more properly, that your big brother had your back.
So I honestly expected to see a stream of people lined up outside the Virgin Megastore, just as there had been for Nirvana.
In fact, no-one was there at all, beyond the usual 9am street traffic.
I felt a creeping dread. This was before the internet, remember, so you had to rely on billboards, flyers, newspaper ads and Teletext’s music pages for your information about touring bands. Had I got it wrong?
I hadn’t. Up the stairs I went when the Megastore opened at 9am. The girl at the ticket desk said yes, the AC/DC tickets were on sale today. Would I like one? Yes, I would.
It was not so much a golden ticket, as blue and white cardboard embossed with an image of the SECC on the front. It was pre-packaged with the effect of being bleached in sunlight like an old holiday photo – a cherished memory, fading gracefully, leaving only a very pale blue. It cost me £18.50. I’ve still got it, in a box file somewhere.
My ticket number was something like 00002, ridiculously low. That meant someone, somewhere, was more enthusiastic than me.
It was a strange moment. I was elated to be in the standing section for AC/DC, where I’d always dreamed of being. But at the same time I understood that, in 1995, AC/DC were not the hottest ticket in town. Times had changed. The people who stood in the queue for Nirvana were not necessarily the same people who’d like AC/DC. Whisper it – AC/DC might have been the choice of their dads.
The Nirvana queue young team might have been the same people who had gone to Loch Lomond for the legendary Oasis show in the summer of 1996, along with, it seemed, most of the country’s youth.
I was chided by some acquaintances for not having gone to that event, and not having shown the slightest interest in it, before or after. “Where were you while we were getting high?” one chump asked me, with a straight face.
I had no use for Oasis. Loch Lomond now seems like a good event to have gone to, but I wasn’t really into the band, so it would have been a bit of a fraud. I’d have been jumping on a bandwagon, trying to squeeze myself into the current trend, and that was something my younger self simply didn’t do. I kinda liked some of their stuff, but I couldn’t ever love them.
I don’t mind them now. I’ve definitely mellowed. It’s only music.
I didn’t take to fresh faces and new guys very well, at that point. This wasn’t down to snobbery – I simply liked what I liked, and I felt queasy about Next Big Things. Of course, at one point, AC/DC and Aerosmith, my two favourites, were the Next Big Things, but this all came before my time. It was history, but history added up to legitimacy, in my teenage brain. I was gradually getting better when it came to other types of music and trying new things, but wasn’t quite open-minded yet.
I had eyed Nirvana warily; I’d liked “Smells Like Teen Spirit” the first time I heard it, its beautiful punky hooks overcoming any cynicism. But then I had also liked “Everything About You” by Ugly Kid Joe in much the same way at roughly the same time.
The tinge of hype tended to put me off as a boy. It wasn’t that I thought I was cool or anything, I just didn’t want to fall in line. Ridiculous stance. And I did fall in line, of course, but only when it came to well-established acts. Multi-millionaires. Like AC/DC.
I’ve come to realise that part of this was to do with the idea of legend and legacy, a myth of heroes which Jung or Joseph Campbell or even George Lucas might have understood. The idols glowering at me from my bedroom walls, guitars akimbo, were those of my elder brothers, already pre-established – and for many in my generation, already old hat. The guys who’d broken through in the sixties and seventies, the wrinkly rockers, the stuff of big brother albums, vinyl that you weren’t allowed to touch, much less listen to. The cutting edge, they weren’t. Bear in mind that a lot of these guys were still in their forties in 1995. I’m 40 this year.
I only saw Oasis the once, too. Late summer of 2000, the Gig on the Green. It felt appropriate to have seen them. For better or worse, they signified my generation as it arrived, blinking, slightly dazed, into full adulthood.
Liam seemed in a bad mood. Before too long, Noel was, too. They ended their show with a montage of John Lennon quotes on the big screen. The words coalesced to form an image of his trademark spectacles. I half expected to see them shattered by a gunshot for the finale. I remembered thinking: “This is crass. When are you going to let this Beatles thing go, and do your own thing?”
Oasis limped on for another eight years – roughly the same amount of time it took the Beatles to journey from Please Please Me to Let It Be – then broke up. It was probably the right thing to do.
But they’ll be back. Put your money on it. Give it another couple of years, maybe, but they’ll return.
They always come back. Until the day they can’t.
On that morning back in 1995, I had my dream ticket, folded up in my wallet for safe-keeping. The date scheduled was June 1st, 1996. I also had a spare morning. The sun was shining. I was 18 years old, full to bursting with energy, my life gravid with possibilities.
So I pottered around in record shops, had a roll and sausage somewhere, and went back home.
I write lots of reviews and essays. Some of the early ones are collected in Paper Cuts.