It’s become a cliché to say your 1970/80s childhood has been stolen, your innocence lost.
My earliest pop memory is Gary Glitter, in a wing-shouldered Bacofoil outfit, in a black and white broadcast (or on a black and white television), on Top of the Pops.
But who, back then, among the famous and beloved was not – it “now turns out” – living in some David Peaceland of murder, police/press/politician corruption and institutional noncery?
This is all supposed to have come to light recently, these revelations of iniquity and perversity. Before then, no-one knew. Innocence was possible. But, what I’d like to suggest here, is that – via children’s popular culture of the 1970/80s – by what we bought and bought into – by how we spent our pocket money – we were trying to signal to one another – we were sending messages to one another, scrambled messages, across the land.
“Hey, it’s really dark and scary and fucked up over here. What’s it like over there?”
“Over here? Yeah, it’s really dark and scary and fucked up.”
“What are you up to?”
“Me? I’m listening to the free flexidisc with the first issue of Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World magazine. What about you?”
“I’m watching Children of the Stones. Hey, here’s a good joke: What goes plink-plink-fizz? Two babies in an acid bath.”
(What goes…? jokes went around and around the playground.)
Generationally, I’m suggesting, the weirdness/darkness was message received and understood, wilco. We couldn’t do much about it, but we already knew. Innocence was never there to be lost. Nothing has been stolen. My 1970/80s emerged as the novel deadkidsongs.
Here are a few of the things I did do, to express the weirdness, to mess things up, with music. Perhaps you did them, too?
- Tune in my radio to white noise.
- Find numbers stations and record them on C120 cassettes.
- Slice the cassette tapes and reverse them, using the kit bought from Tandy.
- Amplify various sounds – scrapings, buzzings – through wires stuck into the back of a spacious old stereo.
- Record snatches of the same song over and over, to make stuttering remixes (‘Feel the pain of the push-push-p-p-push and shove’ from The Human League’s ‘Love Action’.)
- Make a light show for a kitchen concert by a band by putting red and white bike lights on the turntable of a portable record-player.
- Use the beeping sounds, morse-like, that could be made with a home electronics kit to mimic a synthesiser.
(If you didn’t do this, what did you do?)
All this has resulted in the aesthetic of ‘hauntology’ – harking back, in safety, to terrors that now remind us of being safe (because we survived).
But more interesting are the messages sent by young consumers who weren’t able to create, only watch, listen and spend their pocket money.