Sunday, July 17, 2011

When I Was A Boy...

When I was a boy the idea that you could ever print your own t-shirt at home was unimaginable. You could get your own shirt printed by a screen printers but it was prohibitively expensive. The most affordable option was t-shirts with felt lettering.

When I was a boy, pre-email, we wrote letters by hand, with a pen and posted them to our grandmothers. In one of my letters I mentioned that I admired the fretwork of a Swedish guitarist named Yngwie J. Malmsteen. 

I liked Malmsteen's playing for one reason: he played really, really fast. As a fourteen year old boy, that is all I wanted to do. Play the guitar really, really fast.

My grandmother, as thoughtful then as she is now, had a t-shirt made for me. It was blue with white felt lettering and it said "YNGWIE J MALMSTEEN." 

The first band I was ever in band was called Black Perspective. This now strikes me as being an odd name for a group of middle class white boys attending a Grammar school. But when I was a boy that kind of thing never occurred to us. I am from a pre-Simpsons generation, very earnest by modern standards.

When I was a boy Simpsons were washing machines

The other members of Black Perspective used to get very annoyed with me because I didn't care about playing chords or even making music. All I wanted to do was jump around and play really, really fast. And very loud.

This was pre-Jack Black style semi-ironic rock'n'roll celebration. This was before " a rockstar" became a commonplace feature of every second advertising campaign.  Rock was a tangible, knee-weakeningly cool force of nature.

Dave, the other guitarist in the band was a more refined player. He was a multi-instrumentalist and had great stylish and musical technique. His older sister was a fucking pain in the arse. 

At some point Dave had started inviting her to our band rehearsals.  She didn't even go to school. She was an adult. 

She would sit there with her silly face and make all sorts of dumb comments like, "Keir, you should stop playing guitar solos over the whole song", and "Keir, why don't you turn your amp down? I can't hear the drums." Yeah. yeah, whatever, Yoko. Way to kill the magic.

We had recruited one of the boarding school housemasters to be our singer. Colin was an athletic, straight-laced guy of about twenty. He was in the Inter-School-Christian-Fellowship. He was taking classical voice lessons. He was taking them very seriously. Especially the bit where his teacher told him,  "open the back of your throat like you are yawning." 

Colin opened his throat so wide he always had a strange look on his face when he sang - like he'd accidently swallowed a whole pickled onion. His technique also made him sound almost exactly like Fozzy Bear. And he seemed to not like pronouncing the letter "t". His delivery of Queen's "I Want it All" for example: "I wonn-id all, I won-id all, I won-id all and I won-id now."

We were entered in Toowoomba's radio 4GR Battle of the Bands. Dave's sister was of the opinion we needed a band uniform, just like The Beatles. We should all wear blue jeans and have matching band shirts. She volunteered to organise it. All we had to do was give her a white collared shirt and $7. 

On our last rehearsal before the competition Dave's sister came with our shirts. They were all adorned with the same felt lettering as my Yngwie J  Malmsteen shirt.  Big block letters across the back saying "Black Perspective." Except on mine. It said "BLACK PERPECTIVE." It was too late to change the shirt, so I just wore it.

The 4GR Battle of the Bands seemed to be nearly all old guys with long hair drinking rum and playing hard rock.  
I wonder what they made of us. Four middle class schoolboys and a fully grown man singing Jimmy Barnes' "Working Class Man" in a Fozzy Bear voice. I ran around playing loud solos on top of everything, duckwalking and sliding across the stage. I got carpet burn. On the final chord of the song, Colin attempted a theatrical jump in the air and miscalculated his landing, rolling hard on his ankle and spraining it badly, crying out in pain.

Well, when I was a boy, that's what we called rock'n'roll.

"Woah, he's a working class man. Isn't he chaps?"