‘It’s a generation thing,’ sighed my daughter (17). The trouble with daughters aged 17 is, I think, that they are increasingly right. I had no argument whatever to suggest to her.
We were talking about music festivals, to which she goes and plans to go, and of course, I slipped, almost as one might into a favourite and dilapidated sweater, into reminiscences of Festivals Past. I might as well have been talking about the eighteenth century. ‘You will never guess,’ I said, ‘who I saw at the Isle of Wight in 1970, and all for three quid.’ The sum of money impressed her, because it costs her about two hundred quid to get the same experience (albeit with better sanitary arrangements). So I started on everything I could remember seeing for my 720 pennies (younger readers, call the pre-decimal helpline). Havens. (No.) Cohen (No.) Jethro Tull (No.) Free (No.) Miles Davis (No.) Joni Mitchell (No.) Procol Harum, Sly And The Family Stone, Tiny Tim, Family, Chicago, The Doors, Joan Baez, Taste, John Sebastian (No.) There were only three Yeses. She’d heard of The Who, she’d heard of Black Sabbath (then unknown, and I’m not sure I watched them) – and she’d heard of Jimi Hendrix. What was he when he died? 27? It was interesting to see his name pop out of the hat.
She then subjected me to a long list of people I had never heard of (not completely, I know about The Killers and Razorlight). So the idea of rock music (is that still even remotely a relevant term?) uniting the generations is a complete fiction. (I did force her, when 14, to watch the venerable – I might mean, very old – Zombies at a local motel, and she has never yet forgiven me.)
I wondered if my father and I had ever had any conversations like this. He had given all his 78s away at some stage, and had been a big band fan. But we never much talked about it. Not at 17. I did force my mother to listen all the way through to ‘Animalisms’, an LP of which I am still very fond, and she said something like ‘I can see there’s something there’, which I thought a huge success on my part, but now realise was her way of saying ‘This stuff gives me a headache. I have other stuff to do.’ However, I did start to forage in the kind of stuff my father liked, lashing out after doing some overtime at a paper mill on Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall concert. It was the only time he entered my room when I was in it (he took his friends in while I was out, but that was to see the pictures of a naked Caroline Coon and a naked Jane Birkin I had pinned to my wall). ‘Come on, then,’ he said.
‘Come on, what?’
‘This record. Let’s hear it.’ So for one night only, we sat and marvelled at the solos on ‘Sing Sing Sing’ – and if you’ve never heard Jess Stacy’s piano solo, impromptu as it was, then rush out and buy it. He was pleased as Punch (why is Punch pleased, by the way?) that I had even an inkling of big band jazz. I tried him the next day, by way of sharing, with the Mothers of Invention, but he didn’t get it. (Nor did I, at the time: that took another two decades, if I’m honest.)
So my daughter, feeling generationish, tried me on comedians. Had I heard of Michael McIntyre? Aha. I have seen the man twice. ‘You’ve seen him?’ I nodded. At last. Common ground. There are a thousand guitarists out there who will be consigned to the dustbin of memory, but comedians – they seem to have a better chance of survival. My mother and I had Al Read in common.
Comedians. It’s not a generation thing. So here he is: