Friday, November 28, 2003

The Demographic Shift - 9

The world of compilation albums is a complicated one. Ever since I mentioned this topic as a sure sign that you were on the way out of the 18-34 demographic, it has sparked a storm of controversy existential in its nature.

I say existential as, well, it has led to a lot of discussions over the exact nature of compilation albums and as to whether there are any special exemption clauses allowing certain albums not to be classed as compilation albums, but just as plain old albums instead? This is going to be a little confusing.

I want to try and settle this debate for once and for all, otherwise like 'That's What I Call Music 52 or Best Dance Album 27', we'll be at this for a good while to come.

OK, the bad news first. The bad news is that as far as I am aware there are just no get-out clauses here when it comes to compilation albums. Don't despair, however, as there is some good news to follow. In fact, there are two bits of good news.

The first is that, well, some compilation albums are better than other. The second piece of good news is that, just as there are some compilation albums that are better than others, there are also some reasons for buying compilation albums that are superior to others, which in turn indicates that your musical taste is not in fact declining. This, I think you will agree, is the most comforting news at all.

Like so many album conversations of the past, this all comes back to Nirvana -– more specifically the new Nirvana album and the marketing blitz that surrounded its launch. While not quite on the scale of 'Die Another Day', it was pretty ferocious. Xfm, for instance, celebrated the launch of the album with Nirvana week, in a deal which I am sure was linked to unit sales. Though to be fair, this was not a bad thing as what it boiled down to was the fact that they played lots of Nirvana, but you get my point.

I have to say I had sadly been looking forward to this album and got terribly excited when they played the new single on Xfm. So excited, in fact, that I had been walking about and telling people the new Nirvana album was out any day now.

I did this all the way until a friend even more anal than myself on these matters of album etiquette demanded that I immediately cease and desist in my behaviour towards this forthcoming disc.

"You can't go around calling it the 'new' Nirvana album."

"Why not?"

"Because it isn't new."

"But it has a new track on it?"

"One new track doesn't make an album. Face it, Nirvana's 'Nirvana' is a compilation album."

"But it can't be, because I don't buy compilation albums."

"Do you own 'Nirvana Unplugged' or Nirvana's 'From The Muddy Banks of the Wishkah?'"

"Of course 'Unplugged' is one of my favourite albums -- the NME said it is an album that causes 'its makers to sound legendary'."

"They are both compilation albums."

This conversation then spun out of control (after I was identified as the owner of many compilation albums from the likes of New Order and Joy Division to Paul Weller and Bob Dylan). The sad truth is that the new Nirvana album is not a new album. After some reflection, I can only agree (although the 'new song' 'You know you're right' is vintage).

The good news is this then: Nirvana, while the producer of three compilation albums to date (with many more to come), simply produce a better class of compilation album. As for some reasons for buying compilation albums being superior to others, there is the obsessive fan defence, which is that you are not a compilation album buyer as such but a compulsive purchaser of anything your favourite bands have produced -- a category that I safely fall into. On second thoughts, I'm not exactly sure that this is a such a good thing although it seems too late to do anything about this condition.

Of course, you're right. This all conclusively proves nothing, but somehow I feel better having gotten this off my chest and shared, but I can't finish the compilation album debate without a word or two of warning. While writing this, I Googled a bit. All I did was type the words "compilation album" in and the results were indeed scary.

One of the top results is for a site dedicated to Procol Harum, this included a page listing 46 (yes, count them) Procol Harum compilation albums. Like I said, scary. My advice, whatever your particular age, is just don't go there.

Anyway I digress, back to other things. Susan called me -- she wanted to know how it was going with the new girlfriend. I had to be honest, for some reason it is really difficult to lie to Susan, and tell her not so well.

"Not so good, we're going to be friends."

"I told you it wouldn't end well."

"You told me what exactly?"

"That you're too old to start dating people who are the exact same age as you. You have to date down, not too far, but two or three years at least."

"You never said that."

"I meant to. Anyway, what kind of friends are you going to be?"

"Best friends. You know the kind that never see each other until Hell freezes over and the sun has gone supernova."

"That's sad, what happened?"

"Well, it was all going well until she came over and I cooked her dinner."

"I'm impressed that sounds terribly grown-up."

"I know, but she sort of freaked out. She couldn't get over the fact that we have a four-foot Yoda in the sitting room in 'Attack of the Clones' ready-to-fight stance. I told her it was my flatmate's, which technically it is as he did, in fact, bring it home -– the advantages of working in retail."

"I can't believe you tried to pass it off. What did she say exactly?"

"She said she found it extremely depressing to be 34 and dating someone who had a life-sized Yoda in their flat."

"That is depressing."

"But it's life size and he has a light sabre."

"I know, but you're... too old for Yoda."
This is a harsh blow, but I think Susan might indeed be right. That said, Yoda is staying.

Friday, November 21, 2003

The Demographic Shift - 8

Here's a fact. I'm collecting them. Although not struck by a desire to yomp across the deserts of Iraq or the Welsh mountains, this is an activity not open to those over the age of 35. I learnt this in France, where it is wet.

I'm getting ahead of myself. I wanted to start by saying that it's funny the things that a public school education can give you. For Paul, we had expected the usual (wealth, happiness and a great many complexes), but a desire to desert your friends and your own bachelor weekend for a solo trip to France wasn't one of them.

I apologise about the use of the term bachelor weekend, but as a Canadian said to me recently "do you feel like a stag?". Well, since you put it that way, not really.

At the bottom of all this (France/bachelors) is the fact that what public school really got Paul was five years in the Parachute Regiment, which brings us across the channel to Normandy and Paul's trip to it, which is where we finished last week.

Paul has a hero, a sort of rare thing these days, and an unimpeachable one at that. His grandfather was one of the first people killed during the June 6 1944 D-day landings. He was in the British Airborne and went in by glider and landed near the Caen Canal. He was killed within minutes of landing as they stormed across the bridge they had been sent to capture. He was only 26 and he's still there.

We all knew about this, of course. It was something that Paul had spoken about, we just didn't know it had bred in him a desire to follow in his footsteps and jump out of perfectly good aircraft. He had kind of kept this desire quiet until he made his revelation. If only he had done what everyone else had done and joined a band, the fringe benefits would have been so much better than a ferry ride to France which is clearly not a fringe benefit of any kind.

I could kind of see why he had gone again. Some places call you back, but mostly they are not in France. It was the timing that was literally insane, but what can you say? People do funny things, go to strange places before they get married. It's all more coming-of-age stuff.

So at Alison's insistence, which I did vigorously fight ("I really don't want to go." "Go." "OK."), I saw the rest of the bachelor weekend crew off on the plane to Amsterdam as I headed for France. It took me an unhappy day to catch up with him taking the train and then ferry from Portsmouth.

Alison was worried that he would do more stupid things if not intercepted. The whole Paul doing stupid things, combined for his enduring desire to have a really big car, has also left Alison with a fear that one day she will come home from work and find herself uttering a generally inexplicable line, which in her case is "Oh my god you traded the Mini Cooper in for a Jeep Grand Cherokee".

It was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me also. I had been packed off one summer as a 10-year-old for a "special holiday" by my mother to France with grandfather Alan –- or the mad Scottish one as my sister and I referred to him. This was not a good thing. Not for a 10-year-old or any other kind of year-old.

Granddad Alan was the maddest of any relative you could ever have. His veins totally pulsated with whisky and he was the kind of person who roared just sitting there, even without talking. He was a big Glaswegian guy even in his shrunken older state. There were two things about him. One that he talked of nothing but the war and secondly he took far too much pleasure in the fact that there was an old Scottish tune called the 'Gay Gordon' ("shall we no have the 'Gay Gordon' on again?") -- oh the bagpipe music that got played in our house at Christmas.

A trip to France was anything to be desired. Even more so when all he wanted to do in France was visit cemeteries and places where he had been as a young man in the Black Watch from D-day onwards. All we did was visit endless military cemeteries and battle sites along with the personal biographies of all the people he knew buried in France. As a 10-year-old this is kind of hard to appreciate.

What it did mean was that when I went back to school after the summer holidays I was able to answer the question: "What did you do in the summer holidays Gordon?" with: "My granddad took me to cemeteries, Miss", which of course now would result in a call to social services, but that was the 70s.

I called Paul from the boat and he met me outside the port. Despite having gone there in my role as best man, I was, you might have guessed, seething with anger. So I shouted and stamped my foot. I told him he was completely barking not to mention the fact that the wet French coast and Amsterdam just didn't compare. When I asked him what we were doing here he said a lot of things, but mostly he said: "I just worked out that I'm getting old and he's not. I felt like coming back."

We drove around in the pouring rain. God, France is wet in autumn. It's certainly no time to invade. We went to the bridge where his grandfather was killed, which is called Pegasus after the winged horse of Greek legend to reflect the fact that they swept down from out of the sky. Then we headed out a little towards Rainville and one of many big British war grave sites. It all looked familiar.

Paul laid some flowers. It's weird, so unlike an English cemetery. The white, rectangular gravestones are arranged in neat little rows. They are all exactly the same size and they seem to go back for a long way, but then it needs to with 2,563 identical stones. It's very weird, peaceful, laid out next to an old French church.

This all comes back to demographics one way or another. As the funny thing was, and well it isn't funny at all, was that we were relatively ancient in comparison with everyone who lay there. At 33 and 34, we were in the oldest 1% or 2%. Paul, though not I, also found it dispiriting that we are all too old to join up (30 is like the age limit, phew) should we be taken by some bizarre turn in the middle of the night and trade in North London for some barracks in the middle of nowhere (bagsy anywhere but Deep Cut). The point was we were totally ancient among these youths.

We saw some people the same age as us, but mostly it was rows of 21- and 22-year-olds with sprinklings of 17- and 18-year-olds. We joked, inappropriately or not I'm not quite sure as everything in places like that feels inappropriate, that it would have been hell to be stuck in an Army unit with all those 20-nothings, so raucous. The noise (enemy gun fire aside), could you imagine it?

We sat there for quite a long time. Paul had, after all, come a long way. It started to get dark after a while and then at the going down of the sun we went home. We found a bar and got kind of drunk.

Next week: back to the ever-controversial subject of compliation albums. This one just won't lie down.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

The Demographic Shift - 7

I plan to give a few things up. I've come to a conclusion there are certain things that you should no longer do after a certain age and they all involve organised religion, in one way or another.

They are things that I have already done and so I am in no way jumping in blind here. Firstly, is the role of best man. I've already done this twice and with my friend Paul's impending nuptials that will make three times. I feel like the 'Marathon Man', but just with more teeth. I have pre-speech flashbacks, nerves raging and the general shakes. It's not pretty.

To be fair, it is something that I have generally enjoyed, in a stressful kind of way ("whatever you do not give Gordon another drink.. wine, whisky and champagne is not a good combination") but it seems unfair to make one person deal with so many members of other people's families. I have come to the firm conclusion that, nice as they all are, other people's families are for other people. Please cherish them with my blessing. So what I'm basically saying is, don't ask me. I know I have a track record, but I just can't do it any more. I don't care who you are, I am not doing it. Never again.

The second thing, which also involves God (coincidental? I don't think so) is godfathering. Not the Italian kind, you understand, but the, well, turn-up-in-church-and-renounce-the devil kind ("What is this? You never said I would have to personally renounce the devil... just on behalf of the child"). To be fair, I have only chalked up one of these so far, but a recent email from a friend who has just had a baby boy did contain the threat that they had been thinking of me as a godfather. Just one question? Why? I am clearly unsuitable material for any kind of spiritual/religious guidance. Surely you can all see that. IS the scary photo not enough?

I think I have a good get-out of this second godfather opportunity. My friend's wife thinks I'm a total idiot. I can't believe she would possibly sanction the idea that I will be in any official capacity involved in her child's welfare. It is the only thing we agree on. I know she thinks I am an idiot because she told me loudly, in front of many guests the night before her wedding, when she shrieked: "Gordon, you're stupid and irresponsible." My only crime was to encourage a clubbing trip (admittedly with the groom). In retrospect? Still a most excellent idea.

The other thing about godparenting is that I am totally disillusioned with the role. Having taken part in the one ceremony for baby Joe, I got a call a year later (they do that, your friends who live in the country):

"Gordon, you know that thing you did last year for Joe?"

"Renouncing the devil and letting Christ into my life? Oh I remember."

"That's the one. Well, we need you to do it again."

It sounded suspicious, you know, as if the first time it didn't quite turn out right although the vicar seemed to know all of the words. But you want to know what it was? My friends converted to Catholicism and needed to do the whole thing again with a Catholic spin, just so they can get on the list for the local church school. There were more candles second time round, not to mention fire and brimstone. Some people.

I should add I have another fear and that is all my friends (with children) will be killed in terrible accidents and through, some act of freakery, I will be charged with bringing up said godchildren.

I digress, sort of. What I wanted to really talk about was Paul. He's about to do it and not a nerve in sight. Well, there wasn't until it came time to turn up at the airport for his bachelor/stag weekend. There I am glowing in the spirit of such brilliant organisation skills, having got eight people together in one place, on time, except no groom. It's a small point. Nine out of 10 isn't bad. We wait, we drink coffee, and still no groom and no answer on his mobile phone.

I call Alison, she's best after all, but more importantly she is marrying the missing Paul.

"Paul isn't here. He hasn't turned up."

"I know."

Phew, what a relief, "Is he ill?"

"Almost certainly. He's in Normandy."

Normandy? I started racking my brains and thinking of some place called Normandy that was on the way from London to Luton airport. Maybe his car had broken down. He did say he would make his own way there (oh so telling, I am such an idiot). Then it hit me.

"Didn't Normandy become French in 1450? And didn't they leave it across the channel?"

"Very good. Now be very good and go and get him before he does anything really stupid."

Paul you complete... oh I can't print what I shouted. I raved, I was apparently quite funny, so funny that airport security asked me to be quiet otherwise they would arrest me. On a more mild mannered note, it's a shame. I was really looking forward to Amsterdam.

That said, although an unexpected move on Paul's part, it was not wholly surprising. He's kind of done this sort of thing before. Like the time he rang up after we had left university and told us he had joined The Paratroopers.

That wasn't a surprise either as Paul, a pretty excellent guitarist, had been in lots of bands with really bad names.

I was thinking that if Paul were still joining bands today, he would be strongly attracted to joining that new band much loved by Xfm called British Sea Power. When I heard him say paratroopers, my first thought was that it was perhaps the worst name for an indie rock band I had ever heard and with a name like that the Irish tour, for one, would never happen.

Previously, he had been in bands such as 17th Birthday Party and Home. The latter was the most confusing as it was around the same time everybody was sitting down and coming home with James. Could you imagine sitting down on the floor in the middle of a club? Oh, the power of Breaker.

It's funny the things you remember. When Paul called us that time, Leon and I were watching 'Coronation Street'. I hate this programme, but as students we watched it all the time. It's so sad and inexplicable that I can not rationally explain this -- it is something about being in the North of England.

I called over to Leon and told him that Paul had joined some band called The Paratroopers. He'd never heard of them either.

"We never heard of them," I told Paul. "Have they played any gigs?"

"No you fool, I've joined the Parachute Regiment."

It's all ongoing, but this is a two parter. Next week, part two: France and what it was like being 10.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

The Demographic Shift - 6

There was a show on recently about '99 Things to do Before You're 30'. This is, of course, a complete waste of time for me in oh so many ways. So I have been thinking up alternative things to do before I really do get too old.

Somehow, things to do before you're 35 doesn't have the same ring. It's not going to make the TV schedules. But I'd argue that it is actually far more important than things to do before you're 30. Well, I would, wouldn't I?

Admittedly, there is not much time to go and, by all rights, this is a project that I should have started some time ago. I'll add it to my list of things I should/should not have done at some point in the near/distant past (this list already includes symbolically burning my O-level history notebook by the river only to have my sensible friend Andrew tell me, with his arms crossed: "You're going to need that". He wasn't wrong. I got a straight F, but who was to know that the Onedin Line and the Siegfried Line aren't related).

The difference between my list and Channel 4's is that mine doesn't include anything particularly foul, brainless or downright obtuse. To name a few: skinning a reindeer, frying skunk and handing out fivers. Just one question, why?

As time is short I'm going to limit myself to one thing. Well, one decent thing. There are a number of small things such as paint flat or trade bike in for a car. I'm torn, so the flat will likely never get painted, as that involves DIY, and the car involves parking permits, not to mention having somewhere to drive it. But still I like thinking about these things.

The thing I'm going to do is the Ho Chi Minh trail. No, I have no idea why, but I figure if you have to choose something it might as well be something you can get to by jet plane. If not the Ho Chi Minh then maybe I'd like to go riding in Wyoming…or Montana possibly Colorado.

The idea of the Ho Chi Minh trail is partly connected to one of my idle fears about my impending demographic shift, which is that all of my future direct mail will comprise holiday brochures for the 0ver 40s. I'm sure that this is a completely groundless fear, and telling in the extreme that I should have any fears that relate in particular to direct marketing, but it's just one that I can't seem to shake.

The thing is: the girl I bought my flat from never had any of her post forwarded and she gets all kinds of these thick Saga brochures, suggesting holidaying opportunities in places such as Weston Super Mare and Belgium. I might be making the part about Weston Super Mare up. I always thought it was a kind of fictional place, you know like Brigadoon, where you went to live if you happened to be dating your first cousin.

This girl I bought the flat from wasn't any older than me, but these brochures just keep coming. I have even called Saga to tell them that Sabrina no longer lives here, that she left the country, but no luck. Maybe she was a member of the Saga Young Travellers Group (age: 35-55), which you join before ascending to the Saga for real group of the 55 pluses.

So in my fight back against my Saga fear I'm heading for South East Asia. I've avoided this before and spent far too much time in the States, where among other things I failed to visit the Grand Canyon -- on purpose -- and am now threatened by the prospect that in a future Alzheimer's moment, I will sign myself up for the Saga Grand Canyon tour. I just know there has to be one.

Anyway, I've been surveying my friends as well to find out what grand plans they have for the next year. Some were just so whacked it's not true, but you have to respect those who continue to dream the impossible dream (but Mark, West Ham are never going to win anything).

But seriously, it seems that the overriding theme is a desire to leave the country. If I add these to the people I know who have already left the country, then the numbers are worrying. The census was not lying. The reasons for doing so have changed as well. No one wants to leave to live in a hut in India any more (hey Rachel, hope it worked out for you) -- it's now all work related. It's all new job, new country and new life. Whether it's New York, New Zealand or Canada, it's all the same.

When I asked Susan, she gave me two answers. Her first was to find a new boyfriend (sweet) and the second was to join those leaving the country (bad). I had one of those moments when you know you really shouldn't ask people questions, as you kind of know what they are going to tell you? And the thing is, once they've told you there isn't really any compunction not to tell everyone else. So I feel kind of bad.

Some of the other answers were very simple and, well, plain nice. Dan's was to marry (he is in February), but my favourite is Alison's. I asked Alison, who is best after all, and all she said was that she just wanted to make it to her wedding on time and for it to be rather sunny. Rather sunny is cool. Paul sure is a lucky guy. This indirectly leads me to his bachelor weekend, that really wasn't, and things that you really should start saying no to. More of that later.