Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Demographic Shift - 24

Things have come full circle. I saw Lloyd Cole last week, which, without a doubt, is the last gig that I will ever see as a member of the 18- to 34-year-old demographic. Tellingly, Lloyd had a break halfway through his set so people could call their baby sitters.

Times are certainly changing (I thought I almost heard Bob for a minute, there's always been an echo of him in Lloyd). Somehow, it wasn't all that rock and roll, but everyone laughed. It was like being in a club and a not-as-big a club as it should be.

I've been wanting to write about Lloyd Cole for a long time or, to be precise, for a really long time. Not only is Lloyd just about the last gig I will see before I exit the 18- to 34-year-old demographic, he (along with the Commotions) was the first grown-up gig that I saw as a teenager in 1985.

In 1985, we sat on the floor of the Hammersmith Palais (sadly now known as the Po Na Na and the home of School Disco). I remember it like was... well, like it was 18 years ago, so basically not very well at all, but I had a great Oxfam overcoat that had fantastic two-tone lining.

Actually, I think I was probably dressed from head to toe in charity clothing. Second-hand suits seemed to be terribly in vogue (we must have been strange kids), which resulted in around two years later my friends and I turning up at a summer party and someone shouting loudly as we approached (trying desperately, one imagines, to do our own early take on 'Reservoir Dogs') "who invited the c***s in the suits" -- which was, of course, perfectly charming.

I digress. The Hammersmith Palais was in its grimy downhill period. It was the tour to promote Lloyd Cole and the Commotions' second album 'Easy Pieces', home to such much loved tunes as 'Lost Weekend'.

Somehow, at this point it makes sense (to me at least) to say that I don't own any Smiths records -- OK apart from one but that, like an early Cure album, was all down to an ex-girlfriend. So really, I don't have bad taste in music, just in women, which is an entirely different matter and brings us back to Lloyd who, from the outset, wrote bittersweet songs that were more often than not about girls and relationships gone wrong.

Smiths fans were, of course (as we all know), an entirely different species. More of a cult really. They didn't have girlfriends. Instead, they had Morrissey and their bedrooms. Their angst took an alternate form and, it seems, one that was entirely singular in its nature. Lloyd was quite different.

Lyrically, it was literary, name-dropping and pretentious, perfect for your angst-ridden well-read teenager, "She's got cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin/And she's sexually enlightened by Cosmopolitan" from 'Perfect Skin' being a prime example. I love that song.

The literariness of the songs was one of the most appealing aspects, whether it was just playful name-dropping in 'Are You Ready to be Heartbroken' ("If you really want to get straight/Read Norman Mailer/Or get a new tailor"), and 'Four Flights Up' ("You can drive them back to town in a beat-up Grace Kelly car/Looking like a friend of Truman Capote, looking exactly like you are") or more oblique in songs like 'Rattle Snakes', where he sings about the damaged heroine from American writer Joan Didion's novel 'Play it as it Lays'.

This was all perfect for certain kinds of undergraduates who had a bad modern American fiction habit. Having gone through those teenage 'Grapes of Wrath' and 'Catcher in the Rye' periods, you needed something else, easily fulfilled by 'The Naked and the Dead', 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' and 'A Book of Common Prayer'.

But being honest, it is more his songs about love affairs and those that have gone bad, which is something everyone (and I mean me) thinks they can relate to.

From the early tracks of 'Are You Ready to be Heartbroken', 'Forest Fire', 'Why I Love Country Music' ("Jane is fine always fine/We're unhappy most of the time") and 'Perfect Blue' ("I may be blue but don't you let me make you blue too") to later tracks including 'Love Ruins Everything', and 'Weeping Wine' or one of my favourites:

Undressed

The coolest thing I ever saw

You were sitting there smoking my cigarettes

You were naked on the bare stone floor

You looked at me to say don't guess

I was only watching, is it bad that I should love you best

undressed

It makes you want to take up smoking again. That could, of course, just be me wanting to talk about cigarettes, six months into the giving-up process.

I digress, my point (and I have one) is that being a Lloyd Cole fan has meant that if your internal jukebox was looking for a song to accompany a key moment then over the course of more than a decade Lloyd has had a song or two to fit the mood.

The other thing, which brings us back to the start and what this The Demographic Shift is about, is that Lloyd is all about growing up and what you do about that.

Whether it's in 'Grace' ("Jesse honey is it hard to take/Does it feel so bad to be 28") or moving closer to the bone in '29' ("Life begins at 30, so I have been told/I can easily believe it, the way I'm getting on").

Sadly, Lloyd hasn't written about not being 34 any more, but I'm pretty sure at the time he was concerned about it. His fans certainly are, which brings us back to my most recent encounter with Lloyd.

In 1985, it was the Palais and I remember sitting in a patch of wet beer on the soggy floor. In 2003, in was the front row of the circle at the Bloomsbury Theatre on a night termed 'An Evening with Lloyd Cole'.

The Commotions are long gone and, in fact, there was no band at all, it was just Lloyd with his acoustic guitar sitting on a chair on the small stage.

The audience... well, the audience is older and some of it was bald and some of it was alarming paunchy (present company totally excepted), and it was laughing about babysitter jokes rather than cigarettes and alcohol.

That said, going to a Lloyd gig is not quite as bad (in audience terms) as going to a Teenage Fanclub gig (who are great) where the above is true, but even more so, accentuated by the fact that the Fannies (as they are delightfully known) attract an exclusively male audience, albeit with sporadic girlfriends and wives in tow.

No, Lloyd's gigs are slightly different in that respect in that he retains a small female following. This time around there seemed to be a gaggle of them sitting in the front rows. It could just be his songs, or it could be as one reviewer seemed to lament "Lloyd is blessed with matinee idol good looks", which, as Susan says, makes him "easy on the eye, not to mention the ear".

I couldn't agree more, here comes my train.

Friday, June 11, 2004

The Demographic Shift - 23

One of the problems of the demographic shift, as I've already written, is dating. Weird things start to happen and sometimes they end up in the Evening Standard - in part two of 'Dating Frenzy'.

A few days after Adam, against all my advice, said he was going to ask Susan out on a date, Susan called me first thing in the morning (OK, Sunday at midday) and before I had even managed to say a word Susan was doing what she always does on the phone -- already talking.

With Susan the act of simply answering is enough of a signal for her to get on with what she needs to do, which is to start speaking. Despite the morning having completely passed me by, I was still groggy, causing me to speak in that only half-amusing blurry wake-up language ("wha? uh? ha?"), which I over-emphasised for Susan's benefit. She was not impressed.

"Gord, stop fooling around. I'm calling you with extremely disturbing and yet equally abysmal news."

Extremely disturbing and yet equally abysmal? It had to be about Adam. If only I could tell him quite how Susan described his efforts.

"Disturbing and and yet equally abysmal news?"

"Yes and it's all your fault."

My fault? I heard myself saying ("how can it possibly be my fault?") Yes, Susan told me, my fault.

"You're not still in bed are you?"

"Mmmhmm."

"But it's late."

"Well, Adam kept me up, so for me it's actually early."

"Well, you obviously did not keep him up as late as I kept him up."

Susan has done it again. She has lost me with one of her very confusing sentences.

"You've lost me. That was a really confusing sentence."

"How bad is your hangover?"

"So so. Background noise hum bad, certainly in no way pulsating, but that said I already see it getting worse any minute now. Anyway, what about Adam and your confusing sentence?"

"Well, a funny thing happened this morning. Adam called me."

Remaining quite casual, and giving nothing away, I said: "Oh really what did he say?"

Susan paused before she answered this and I just knew that she was sitting there with at least one arm crossed, tapping her foot.

"Gord, you know very well what he said. He asked me out. Not just out out, but out on a date. That's like out out out."

"Wow, there's a lot of outing there. You're not trying to tell me something are you?"

"Funny."

"Well, I try."

"And you are trying."

There's a little pause and I think that Susan is just going to tell me, but she doesn't she wants me to ask her. So I do.

"SO..."

"So what?" Susan said, still, I was sure, with her arms crossed and her foot tapping.

"Suze, what did you say?"

"What do you think I said? I said no."

"Wow, poor Adam, that's harsh."

"Yeah, big wow. I haven't said no to anyone for ages."

"So why is it my fault?"

"You know very well why this is your fault. Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to turn someone down? Someone you know who is a friend of a friend? It isn't at all pleasant or fun, as you know full well that unpleasant and uptight social gatherings are sure to follow. You should have talked him out of it. I know he would have told you before he did it and you should have told him that there was no way I would go out with him."

"How was I supposed to know you would turn him down?"

"How long have we known each other?"

I told her that the two of us have known each other a long time.

"That's right and have I ever said to you 'I really like your friend Adam' in a squeaky girly voice?"

"Now that you mention it... not in a squeaky girly voice."

"Well there you go."

"Sorry, you lost me again."

"Sometimes I really worry about you. In particular, I worry that you don't know anything about women. If women like one of their friend's friends they tell their friend. It's that simple. We don't hang around. That is why you should have tried to talk Adam out of it, but you didn't, did you?"

I knew that right then it would have been really convenient to come out and say that I did, in fact, tell Adam that he should under no circumstances ask Susan out, but because Adam is a friend I'm not allowed to do this so instead I bite the bullet.

"Sorry. Next time, right? Let's say I owe you."

"Well you may not think so, after what I tell you."

"You're getting confusing again."

"Well I've done something a little rash."

"How rash are we talking?"

"Oh pretty damn rash."

"Well you know my friend who works at the Evening Standard?"

"Not really."

"Well you know they do that date thing? Well, she was saying they are desperately short of men who are willing to suffer having their picture printed and well, you know, go on a date."

"You're joking?"

"Fraid not. I volunteered you for social embarrassment, I'm afraid. I thought you deserved it. You have to write a few hundred words and send your picture in."

"Absolutely no way. Remember that time you volunteered me to appear in that feature about the last guy women date before they get married?"

"You were perfect for that -- you are that guy, you have dated about five people who immediately got married after going out with you. It's like some virus."

"But I said no. No to the picture taking and no to the volunteering. I'm not a volunteer. I'm just not volunteer material. Especially not for the social embarrassment variety."

"I'll owe you."

"How much?"

"Big time and besides you'll be able to write about it. It's perfect material. All you have to do is pick a girl and go to dinner. Almost like a regular date."

"Almost."

"Yeah, well almost."

I won't bore you with the 350 words I wrote for the Evening Standard selling myself, except that it seemed amusing at the time -- but if you want to read it, you can here.

Social embarrassment aside, I should not have agreed on so many levels. For starters, I hate my photograph and hate having my photograph taken. The rest I'm OK with, but when the whole Standard date thing involves having your photo blown up to mini-poster size alongside your name and the fact that you're a 'Cancer (like on society, I think)' and then having your photo taken in a restaurant (in front of other diners) probably gives you an idea why it's not a good idea.

But hey? How bad could it be? Choose a picture and go on a date -- oh and then write about how it went. OK, so this is what I wrote, and this is how it went.

"I chose Lorraine in a small exercise in 'Matrix'-style counter choice. You know you should choose the blue pill, but instead you take the red one. Claire was easily the most attractive of the three, but instead of making the obvious choice I went for Lorraine, who looked interesting.

"I thought after having recently dated a straight lesbian, my dating experience couldn't possible get much worse. I can now amend that it can't get much worse than the plus-sized girl who works in the online pornography industry, prefers to be called Veronica and wants to get her entire back covered in one large tattoo.

"The thing was she looked nothing like her photograph, which was a sort of gothic urban trendy girl in black. When she turned up at the restaurant she was wearing a sort of fluffy pink top, pinstripe trousers and heels. It was like an experiment in compare and contrast. Bizarre.

"We had absolutely nothing in common and we both realised this within around four seconds on meeting at the bar. I was at least prepared to eat, but as soon as Lorraine/Veronica sat down, she said she'd been eating all day and wasn't hungry, which was totally cool. I thought we could do the Harry (met Sally) thing and order a couple of empty plates and leave.

"Sadly, the photographer took a small forever setting up and then shot gigabytes worth of digital film. If it hadn't been for the pictures I think we'd have been gone in 60 seconds.

"We ordered starters (but didn't eat them) and had a couple of drinks while the photographer snapped for elusive smiles ('laugh guys, it will look like you're smiling'). Smiling has never been so hard. I hate the camera (and I don't think it's all that keen on me either, to be fair). While he snapped, we were talking, but it was just really hard, conversation just petered out. We had less than zero in common and after the photographer had gone, we left. The best bit about the date was that my crazy (hands off off the wheel) mini-cab driver got me home in time to watch '24'. Jack is so bad."

OMG is what Susan says when she reads it.

"I can't believe how mean you were."

"I was being honest."

"Well, you know there is such a thing as honesty and 'honesty'."

"Oh what, I should have been 'honest', but not honest?"

"That's what I'm saying. I'd be expecting hate mail if I were you. And I wouldn't necessarily be expecting to date anyone else in the near future, maybe not even in this lifetime."

"Gee thanks."

"You only have yourself to blame you know."

"But it was YOUR idea."

"Gord, that's a lame excuse."

Susan can be so harsh sometimes.

Besides, it isn't really all my fault. Joan Didion is to blame. It's quotes like this one here that I might have been more than a little influenced by.

And really if I'm blaming Joan Didion, I guess I should be blaming Lloyd Cole as well, because if it wasn't for Lloyd and 'Rattle Snakes', I probably wouldn't have read her.

I'll get to that next time in the first and last gig I ever went to in this demographic.