One of the strange things about pop music is the way it attaches itself, limpet like, to specific memories; the way notes, lyrical phrases, or chord structures can trigger off all kinds of long dormant reminiscences. I suppose if, like me, you thrive on the romantic pull of music coupled with hazy rose tinted views of your own past, then the combination is often lethal. There are many songs, as you would imagine, that I cling to like a lifebuoy of nostalgia, and tonight we're going to look at one particular song, by The Pastels, and how I can simply NEVER listen to it without it causing flashbacks to the incident in the smoking compartment of the Glasgow to Aberdeen train, some 20 odd years ago.
So strap yourself in, it's going to be a bumpy ride.....
I was probably somewhere between 20 and 22 at the time, and it was during a period when I used to get every second Tuesday off work. I used these days to go up to Glasgow on the train, mostly to buy records, or sometimes books, comics, or shirts that screamed "Look at me! I'm pretentious!!".
So, on this particular Tuesday afternoon, I had gotten everything I was after pretty quickly so I was able to head back for the train that went to Aberdeen, which meant there was only one stop before Stirling and it only took about 35 minutes.
Back then I, rather embarrassingly, used to smoke and was going through a Gitanes phase, purely for no other reason than to be poncey! So, I got a seat in the smoking carriage (quite easily as this train was unusually quiet) and began sifting through the myriad purchases I had made. I sparked up a cigarette, put my coffee in it's Styrofoam cup on the table, and clicked on my Walkman.
And it was then that she walked into the carriage....
She was petite, quite mousy, and was wearing one of those Tweed jacket and skirt combos that women going to church, or bygone age schoolteachers used to wear. She looked mature, probably late 20s, or maybe even a coffin-dodging 30....but there was something about her!
The boy who followed her in I, at first, assumed was her son. He wasn't mousy....he was about 6' 2", looked like he was around 17-18 years old and had the whole James Dean thing going on; greased blonde quiff, black leather jacket, white tee-shirt, black 501s. And when they started kissing, it was obvious they weren't mother and son. The kisses were long, passionate and hungry, and I felt a little embarrassed by this graphic public show of affection. Except of course that it wasn't too public as there weren't all that many people in the carriage, and I appeared to be the only one who was facing them. I used the headrest of the seat in front of me to obscure any view that they might have of me, and found I couldn't stop looking at them, my eyes drawn to their obvious differences, and to the fire that was raging between them.
Side One of my cassette finished and the machine went into Autoreverse to begin playing Side Two. It was during the silence of the changeover that I heard the guard blow his whistle to alert all passengers that the train would be leaving any second now....
As the first song on Side Two began, the boy stood up.
The scuzzy, scratchy guitar intro of The Pastels' rather inappropriately titled 'Sit On It Mother' kicked in, lacerating itself like a knife wound across the inside of my head. As they kissed one final time, the Velvets style drumming pounded like a second heartbeat, and he walked out of the carriage. "I knew some girls from round my way// Burn me up with their evil stares". He stood outside the carriage and placed his hand against the window...."They're jokers but I'm not laughing// Only mention it in the passing"....she did the same, placing her hand against his, parted only by the glass...."I don't want in but open your gate// And let me get to the bottom of it"....rogue drum beats explode through the cavernous production....As the train slowly pulled away they held this pose, looking unflinchingly at each other, until it became impossible and he turned away with a wave...."Laura Lovett went in orbit// Just to get her an astronaut"....the woman turned back facing into the cabin, her hands by her sides; I studied the icy, quizzical yet contented look on her face...."She keeps her hand in her pocket// Saving up for a big blue rocket"....as I began to puzzle out the relationship whose brief extract I had just paid witness to (were they teacher and student, was the affair illicit and behind some husband's back, why was some young buck so clearly obsessed with such an older woman?), she suddenly looked straight at me...."She's always one planet ahead// Looks real cute in her pink spacesuit"....I felt like I had been shot! It was like an electric shock had ripped through my chest...."Hope she gets that astronaut!"....she looked, at that moment like the most beautiful woman in the world. She turned her gaze away from mine and looked forward into the carriage. I sucked in some Gitanes smoke to try and calm the pounding in my chest....."I know a girl from NYC// Walked on out on her baby"....I couldn't take my eyes off her, it was like she had become the sexiest, most desirable woman on the planet and I had fallen under her spell. I swigged some caffeine but all it did was pump my adrenal glands...."Hitched a ride with her lover// A shit-kickin' Momma, female trucker"....my mind was racing, wondering if she had this affect on all young men. The unnaturalness of the situation fuelled the suffocating feeling I was experiencing in my chest. It made me wonder if the boy she'd left back at Queen St station was just one of many conquests she enjoyed, or if she really was as demure and sweet natured as she appeared...."They're close like a pair of pros// And I don't need any more of those"....as the tape spooled on I was becoming self conscious that I was staring at her, even though I was partially hidden behind the headrest. As I tried looking out the window I was already fantasising about her suddenly coming over and sitting beside me, talking to me, luring me into her web of desire....a mad harmonica was filling my head with starry, blued-eyed wonder, "Trudi Bell from Rocky Springs// Has a certain way with things"....but, of course, she didn't. OF COURSE, SHE DIDN'T!!...."She's freewheeling, open dealing// S-s-say it once, and once with feeling"....when the train arrived at its first stop, Falkirk, she looked me straight in the eyes again, but probably only to see if I was one of those getting off at this stop...."Sit on it Mother, I ain't no witch// Working me up to a fever pitch"....as the train crawled, as it always did between Falkirk and Stirling, I looked at her again, knowing I was coming to the end of the road...."Now, some girls are quite obscure//And some boys don't get the truth"....as we arrived in Stirling I was surprised to see that she got up from her seat too. I waited until she'd left the carriage before making my own way out...."They see each smile as an emblem// A promise of sex on a sunny day"....as I stepped from the carriage I saw her small figure stroll confidently among the throng of people milling about on the platform. And then she was gone, vanished into the crowd, and I never saw her again...."I'm trying to make a connection// But don't look up when the sun comes down..."
The bus journey back home was spectacularly uneventful as you would imagine. And as I retreated to the solitude of my room with the intention of playing my newly acquired records, there was something niggling at the back of mind; a deep rooted desire to hear just one song in all of my collection. As I slipped the 7" single onto the Dansette, my head and heart were already clattering ahead of me....a scuzzy, scratchy guitar, Velvet's style drumming, "I knew some girls from round my way"....I could taste the Gitanes, I could feel the caffeine pounding through my bloodstream, and I could see into they eyes of a woman who had me completely under her spell, if even for less than half an hour, and I imagined her life with this inexplicably lucky teenage boy who I was now green-eyed to the point of madness with.
And then the record stopped....
And I laughed out loud at my own foolishness.
And that's what certain songs or records can mean to me; emotional and physical snapshots of a time, place, and state of mind where the music becomes an ever self-replicating canvass of memory. And some twenty odd years later that same song can still elicit carbon copies of all those long-savoured reminiscences.
But it's still only a song, right?
Hope she gets that astronaut!