Immediately before the Tolkien
era there was a brief period - a few months, maybe half a year -
when I began to be pulled-into the mainstream world of youth groupings
and cults; and I was in danger of becoming normal.
(Normal, that is, for a thirteen year old boy at that time and place.)
are a few residual signs of this. A single photograph of me standing in
a family group with 'long' hair - that is to say, halfway down my ears,
and beginning to curl-up like a watch spring. Curling-up, that is,
despite my best efforts; which included washing my hair just before
bed-time, plastering it down flat, then sleeping the night in a woollen
This photo also depicts me wearing a
lavender coloured T-shirt and 'Loon' pants - which were denim jeans
tight to the knee, then with a V-knee seam and the bottoms flaring out
to 24 inches so they would completely cover and conceal the shoes -
which were baseball boots.
All this indicates I was
trying to be a Hairy - which was the slang term for the contemporary
incarnation of 'Hippies' and devotees of 'Heavy' or Progressive Rock;
and what confirms the interpretation is my head-hanging-forward,
round-shouldered stance - as immortalised by Shaggy in the Scooby-Doo
The Progressive Rock craze
incorporated groups such as Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd and
(from the USA) Mountain - we listened to these (borrowed from a friend's
older brother) on a little portable record player supervised by an
older kid who wore black velvet 'Flares' (a less extreme version of
Loons) as part of his school uniform - but who had spent so much time
slapping his thighs in response to 'the beat' that he had oval
bare-patches on the front of the trousers. We therefore nicknamed him
Frix, which was short-for Friction Pants.
attended a few school discos in the evenings (which I never did in later
years); where I stood around trying to appear sophisticated by holding
my chin in my cupped hand - even though I was standing-up. This was
something I had seen being done by Steve Peregrine Took - who played
bongos next to Marc Bolan in the Tyrannosaurus Rex combo. I believed it
made me look thoughtful, enigmatic and sophisticated; so that girls
would be compelled to come up and ask me what was on my mind.
only part of the discos I actually enjoyed was dancing to the Hawkwind
single of Silver Machine with the strobe lights on - which caused a
dissociative trance state.
This led to what later
stood as an anomalous album by Hawkwind nestled in my accumulation of
Long Playing records. I tried hard to like it, especially having spent
so much pocket money on it; but something about the music, the graphics
and the text actually sickened me, and after a while I just hid it away
and pretended it didn't exist.
Most of the music I
listed to was recorded 'live', on a tiny portable cassette tape player,
from friends albums - but after a few months hard usage, these cassettes
would get slower and slower, then jam solid and become useless.
also tuned into late night radio, lying in bed with my little
transistor and single earplug, when the likes of John Peel and Bob
Harris would play the latest exotica from the edge of Rock - which was
in these early 1970s at the most pretentious level it ever attained - as
epitomised by the double or triple LP 'concept album', and the
inclusion of ten minute improvised solos on bass guitar, or drums.
Rock on a tranny via a tinny earplug does sound like a contradiction in
terms - the apparatus was only a small step-up from a crystal set - but
this was irrelevant, because the whole thing was almost entirely a
symbolic gesture of belonging to 'youth'.
by good sense or good fortune, I was rescued from this path by Tolkien;
who triggered changes that made me step outside of the world of
mainstream youth culture and into something altogether larger, more
suited to my nature, and more nourishing.