I’ve started reading Mark Ellen’s memoir, Rock Stars Stole My Life, and I’m enjoying it, as I knew I would, based on hearing him interviewed on a couple of radio programmes. By the time he turned up on Danny Baker yesterday morning, I already had it downloaded on my iPad.
(Ellen was always the less grumpy and shouty of the Ellen/Hepworth pairing, the Macca to Hepworth’s Lennon, and he comes across as personable enough to almost forgive his privileged upbringing and Oxford education. How I once dreamed of just walking into a job at the NME. Obviously, I didn’t work hard enough, and wasn’t willing to slum it quite enough. Slumming it is what rich kids do, knowing they can slink back to their comfortable life if they fail.)
Ellen is half a generation older than me, old enough to have been a teenager at the end of the 60s. IMDB gives his d.o.b. as 1963, but I suspect 1953 is more like it. His cultural references are all those late 60s and early 70s Head and Freak bands, people like Wishbone Ash, Chicken Shack, Soft Machine, Brinsley Schwarz, Christine Perfect before she was McVie.
Haven’t finished yet, obviously (he’s just got to the bit where he discusses the ridiculous infighting at the NME), but I was reminded of starting school. I became a teenager at the dawn of the punk era, and in my year group, that was, briefly, what pop music was. I had a sister three years older, and all her friends were still at the tail end of what Mark Ellen had been into, all those hairy bands.
Just like the NME, my sister’s Hairy lot had arbitrary categories, music that was “heavy” vs. music that was “thin”. I could never quite work out the distinction. They championed preposterous stuff like Focus and Rush, but dismissed the likes of Pink Floyd (probably because of Dark Side of the Moon) as too popular to be properly heavy. My sister didn’t really have taste of her own, so she was no help in negotiating this particular minefield.
My even older older sister was into the likes of Lou Reed and Ian Hunter, and I went with that, as well as with The Beatles, Dylan, Springsteen etc. I ignored punk, and I really didn’t like the “heavy” stuff. (This was “heavy” in some indeterminate way, nothing to do with the concurrent New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which was most definitely not “heavy”.)
Anyway, one of the Hairies got wind that I was into The Velvet Underground, and issued the ruling that I must therefore be a Thin Kid. I thought about it a bit, and decided that I quite liked being one of the Thin Kids. I’m still Thin… on the inside.
To have to negotiate all of these rules and regulations in order to be into music was characteristic of the time. I still have the same difficulty. Someone recommends something to me, and I want to scurry to the late-70s NME to see if it’s okay. Would this be the kind of stuff championed by the distinctly uncool Melody Maker? Or the low-grade Sounds? Or the dreadful and out of touch Record Mirror?
I just don’t know.