Friday, 19 September 2008

Tessa's Room

Back in ’88 when I was 16, my friend Tessa’s bedroom was a salon for as yet unformed personalities hunting in packs for an identity. The room was a well of conversation, a magpie’s nest of photos, drawings, curiosities, quotes, and lyrics; the bits and pieces that make up impressionable young souls.

Cassettes and Vinyl
We sat around, listened to cassettes and vinyl like Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground; read books like JD Salinger, Graham Greene, and countless others, whose lyrics and quotes we’d earnestly write out on the walls in thick black koki pen. We were wide-eyed, and smugly sure we were the first people in the world to discover these songs and books, and they were always - urgently - about us. We searched in them for clues about the maelstrom of fears and passions we were going through. Given how impressionable we were, this was not always a good thing. We got lost in them, as we blindly tried to outrun the turmoil of teen hormones.

Teen Angst
“I wear black on the outside, ‘cos black is how I feel on the outside”
- The Smiths

We were older than now. The world weighed heavy on our callow, narrow shoulders, a precocious weltschmerz we wore with deadly seriousness. I felt not so much blank slate, as bunch of raw nerves. The gamut of emotions and thoughts felt so much and so deep. Feelings red-lined the emotional Richter scale at the slightest bump.

Girls
The glimpse of a bra strap under a white school shirt would send me into anaphylactic shock, and I’d take the electric chair over the terror of calling a girl for a date. I’d never been kissed, never unhooked a bra, but I had bands like the Smiths and Morrissey to tell me that was okay, and people like Lloyd Cole who said I’d regret it anyway.

School
“They tell you to do your thing but they don't mean it. They don't want you to do your thing, not unless it happens to be their thing, too. It's a laugh, a fake. Don't disturb the universe.”
- The Chocolate War

High School was a stillborn rebellion, a daily rote of tedium. The cost of being an individual seemed astronomical. Books like The Chocolate War, Catcher in the Rye, and Adrian Mole just cemented my outsiderness.

The Summer of ’89
“We’ve spent so time shaping and detailing this time together, and next year we all leave and it breaks.We pick up what pieces we can, and start all over again, in new places, with new people.”
- Tessa

The summer ended on a high note. The girl who at 6 years old I’d had a helpless crush on and followed daily as she cycled home from school, came back after years away, even more winsome. We fell, plunged, in love for a brief, giddy summer. I got kissed, and finally saw someone naked (though my whoop of joy at the crucial moment queered the mood for a second or two).

Where Are We Now
It’s a long time since I thought 30 was old. Music still takes me back there in a heartbeat. The heartstrings sounds of Pink Floyd, vivid as tears on your cheeks. The hollow, wounded percussion of Depeche Mode. Even the flash in the pan, short shelf-life sounds of Prefab Sprout, or ‘Til Tuesday take me back. In retrospect it may seem a lot of melodrama, but it was so so real at the time. Some of the ideas seem dated and cringeworthy as lame ‘80s fashions, but most of them have the ring of truth.

The people from those days are far flung wide today. We drift in and out of touch. We’re older, better, and happy most of the time.

I treasure those times in Tessa’s room, the friends around me and the things we revealed to each other. I’m the sum of all I’ve read, heard, and seen, and most importantly, the people I’ve met.

“I've nothing much to offer
There's nothing much to take
I'm an absolute beginner
With eyes completely open
But nervous all the same”

- Absolute Beginners, David Bowie (1988)

13 comments:

Dave said...

Ahh, now that's what I call good writing, volume 1. Unleash your talent, Mr. Jones.

fush and chips said...

Thanks Dave. That encouragement is great to hear, and helps immensely.

Tessa said...

God, you have captured those feelings perfectly! Have made me feel restless. Always feel sad that the people who bought Doreen Road painted that room out immediately (he was a doctor - what did he see?) And to think it started with Bonny painting over a water stain for me..."

Jeannie said...

Oh oh oh, you're bringing it all back, all the hormone drenched years! Four years of intense unrequited love: three hour phone calls, sitting up all night after parties listening to records while everyone else slept, reading aloud to each other... and yet "we're just friends"... There are songs that bring back his very smell to me in an instant.

Everything was somehow brighter, more vivid, wasn't it? Your heart could break in an instant so completely you heard the crack. And in moments of euphoria you could touch the sky... Thanks for a great post - a chance to revisit it all.

fush and chips said...

Jeannie,
You're right, things were brighter and more vivid. Fruit tasted sweeter, heartbreak was a thunder crack, and joy breathless delirium.

'We're just friends".. I nursed a crush on my friend, Lesley, for 3 years. It nearly drove me spare.

Jeannie said...

Everyone should have one great, unrequited love, I always say - it's good for the soul. I guess. I loved Colin from the time he nearly ran over me on his boogie board during Xmas holidays 1986, and when I heard, ten years later, that he was getting married to a girl he met at varsity, my heart ached. Whenever I hear Bryan Ferry singing Oh Yeah, I'm back in the back seat of his Honda Ballade, circa 1988, with the rain falling outside, driving to a party somewhere in Joburg, watching the back of his neck and yearning... Luckily my husband knows about this and doesn't try and talk through the song when it comes on the car CD player!

Fluffy Pink Thing said...

Great post, F&C. You brought back lots of memories... Some good and some bad, but all worth remembering ;)

Reya Mellicker said...

As always, what a great post. Hey ... for a long time I thought 50 was old. Think about it!

As for the books and music - believe me, they were written for you, and for me and for the Smiths and anyone who shared that frame of mind.

fush and chips said...

Thanks Reya. You;re right, the music was OURS.

Janelle said...

ah lekker man!!!! LOVE this one! x janelle

sandy said...

Heh, lovely. Except Prefab Sprout. I do remember lots of JJ Cale scrawlings (from Dorry) - 'Things like love don't tie me down, I just spread my love around' - and plenty of Rodriguez. Tess, be consoled in the knowledge that it would surely have taken a lot of paint to cover.

fush and chips said...

Yes! I remember that Dorry JJ Cale quote well.

I always thought Prefab Sprout's 'Cars and Girls' was genius. So there.

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