Friday, January 11, 2013

Song of the day

"Are 'Friends' Electric?", by Tubeway Army.

So. Around years 9 and 10, that would be 1978 and 1979, I went off the rails. 

This statement must be put in context: an only child living on a farm four miles from the nearest town, in a small rural community, has limited opportunity for going seriously astray. But he can nevertheless find opportunities, if he works at it, for letting his parents down.

How did I do it? Largely by misbehaving at school, which was easy enough, and in retrospect relatively harmless: mostly I came across to my teachers as an annoying pain in the butt and general smart alec. This was in aid of "forging" my own "identity". (Which started and ended, if I'm being honest, with my buying from the Melbourne Show, and gamely wearing once or twice, a badge that read "I'm Antisocial", in "punk" lettering. (Why am I thinking, right now, of Rik Mayall's character in "The Young Ones"?))

I got one opportunity to take things a bit further. And, perhaps unwisely, or for the wrong reasons, I took it.

My best friend in primary school, and even as far back as kindergarten, had been Malcolm. My dad and his dad, and a few of their respective brothers, had made up the bulk of a cricket team, Fish Creek West, that played on a lopsided cow paddock a few miles out of town. So our families saw a bit of each other, even though my mum and dad's social life didn't really exist. By this time the cricket team had disbanded. Its members had either moved away or given up cricket for lawn bowls. Malcolm's dad died and they moved into town. Malcolm rebelled before I did. This included his disowning me as a friend, or at least telling me that I was uncool (true) and that my dad was an idiot (manifestly untrue, and by far the more upsetting of the two things -- but, given his own loss, it might have been understandable to me if I had been old and "mature" enough to make the connection).

Malcolm thus had two advantages over me: he lived in the town, and therefore had access to things that could be obtained in a town, viz., cigarettes and alcohol. He also had an older brother (adopted, as it turned out; not that that is relevant, but it does go some way to explaining how two people who resembled Laurel and Hardy could be brothers), who was able to facilitate access to same.

At the same time it had become clear to me that I had to win back Malcolm's friendship, and that I could only do this if I could prove to him that I could be a Bad Boy. It didn't seem like a good idea, but I didn't see that I had any choice, if I wanted to put an end to a long period of school-bus bullying and ostracism. 

The Blue Light Disco came to town. I had permission to go to this highlight of the Fish Creek social calendar. I was dropped off at Malcolm's house beforehand. Malcolm had come across cans of VB, which he had stashed behind the railway station. Alcohol had never before passed my lips. I had no idea what it was supposed to do to me. I drank two cans. Malcolm drank, I think, a few more. We went to the disco.

I was, even then, a music obsessive. I gravitated straight towards the DJ. I was flicking through his record crate when I found, to my amazement (I really did think I was in a world of my own, with my surface-mail NMEs and my night-time access to 2JJ), a copy of Tubeway Army's "Are 'Friends' Electric?", which was yet to make its first appearance on Countdown and was therefore still largely unknown in Australia. I asked him if he would play it. Some time later, after either the two cans had kicked in or, more likely, I had convinced myself that they had, that opening synth line came on, louder and in better sound quality than I had ever heard it before.

And then, dear reader, I went nuts. I was was an acne-spotted stick insect. I had long, lank, straight black hair and black horn-rimmed glasses. I wore a polyester Miller shirt of some combination of brown and orange. I wore desert boots. I "danced" around the room like a lunatic, crashing into people, spinning my arms about, and jumping hither and yon, for the entire length of the song. I danced myself under the table. Literally. I stayed there for some time, wondering what had just happened, and, more ominously, what was going to happen. The adult help, all of whom were known to me and, worse, to my parents, escorted me from the premises and arranged for them (my parents) to collect me.

I doubt that I was actually drunk (although for a time I endured the cruel and vicious nickname "Two Can Stan") but beer could still be smelled on my breath. (Or was it teen spirit?) I underwent a necessary interrogation when I got home. (The car ride itself was awfully silent, and silently awful.) Mum was in tears in bed for some time. Of course I denied, in the face of clear evidence to the contrary, that I had been drinking (I said it had been Malcolm, and that the smell must have got on me somehow). Mum made me promise that I would never do it again. (That was a promise that was easy to keep, if only because of lack of further opportunity. Eventually the hormones settled themselves down, I knuckled down at school in year 12, and I threw away the "I'm Antisocial" badge.)

I had made my mum cry. I had made my dad look at me in a way I had never seen before, and didn't much like. I had made an utter dick of myself in front of my peers. I had to live with all of these things at once. I think I discovered, and not for the last time, that going off the rails was not for me.

I still get goosebumps when I hear this song.