Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Upstairs at the Party by Linda Grant: Part 2

published 2014








Howie was probably what we were all waiting for, he was a visionary. He told me to cut my hair so I cut my hair. He told me to wear drainpipe jeans and a leather jackets so I wore drainpipe jeans and a leather jacket. He said ‘You should be a singer in a band.’ I said, ‘I can’t sing.’ He said, ‘You don’t have to sing, just shriek.’ I said ‘I can do that.’ For a few months I wa lead singer in an all-girl punk band playing upstairs in pubs during the heyday of the Slits and Cunning Stunts and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Howie was correct, you did not need to sing, just bawl, and I could bawl. Me at my zenith.

I was in a very androgynous phase in my life, when I wore my hair short, in a quiff like a fifties American car mechanic, and my jeans were rolled.






observations: In the first entry from this book, Linda Grant’s Adele described her schoolgirl years, before going off as a student in the early 1970s. Now she is post-university, and the incredibly strange and liberating world of punk has arrived, and she describes very accurately how everything changed.

[See also the recent entries on  Viv Albertine's book, Clothes Music Boys.]

Again, my personal experience tells me how very accurate her descriptions are, though fortunately for everyone I never sang with a punk band.

Linda Grant would, I think, see the point of Clothes in Books, because the clothes descriptions in her own work are always making a point, showing something important about a character – the student, first day at uni, wearing ‘a yellow midi-skirt, emerald-green tights and black patent shoes. I look like a daffodil in a plastic pot.’ Adele sells YSL’s Rive Gauche (in its ‘blue-and-silver canister’) as a teenager, and later adopts it as her signature scent.

The student party, the key event, the turning point in the book, is all too recognizable – the ‘kitchen full of Blue Nun and Hirondelle and a couple of party kegs of beer…French bread and blocks of orange cheddar.’

Her gay friend Bobby doesn’t put down roots: ‘The city lit up with the available spaces in which he could operate. He never had what I thought of as a home, he was a house sitter and dog walker and cat stroker/feeder for people with nice houses and flats.’ A somewhat dyslexic character struggles with words that ‘slip from his fingers like a bar of wet soap.’ There is a comparison with characters from Wind in the Willows – ‘George I reckoned was another Toad, one of life’s demanders and wreckers, people whose mess you must clean up.’ (Nice change from such people being compared with Tom and Daisy in The Great Gatsby.)

The picture is from a 1970s fashion magazine – the model is, as you can see in the lower version,  actually photographed up against an American car.

12 comments:

  1. Moira - I also remember the changes in the world that were reflected in the coming of punk. And it sounds as though Grant really has an eye for the way those changes were also reflected in clothes and other aspects of culture. Still not sure I'm going to read this, but I do like the wit I'm seeing here. Love that comment: You don't have to sing. Just shriek.

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    1. I think she's a very clever writer, and an excellent chronicler of the times she describes. And of course I love her because she always tells you what people were wearing....

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  2. Part of my youth re-visited with a couple of the bands mentioned in the extract, but I'll leave it at that I think.

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    1. She's very good at capturing the era, but maybe the extract is enough for you....

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  3. The 70's were not the favorite decade in my life. I met Glen in the late 70's and things got better from then on. So I don't think I want to recapture those years. But I can see she is an entertaining writer. Some of those quotes are great.

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    1. Well I hope that means you have had plenty of good years Tracy! I like reading about eras I lived through, and that covers quite a long time by now.

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    2. Yes, many good years since then. We are watching One, Two, Three with Cagney (the play was mentioned in an earlier post) tonight. Really looking forward to it.

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    3. Look forward to hearing how it stands up ...

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    4. It was very enjoyable, but it is the third time I have seen it, because of my love of James Cagney. It is a farce, not especially my kind of thing, but James Cagney (in his early 60's) kept the pace going. It is dated, but I never understand why that is a bad thing; that is why I watch a movie of that age (or read a book of that age).

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    5. Yes, good point. I will look out for the film.

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  4. FROM BILL SELNES: (Blogger ate this one, so CiB is posting it): Moira: The Blue Nun is familiar. No kegs in our university parties. Lots of bottles of beer. We would each lug a case of 12 to parties. No cheese or French bread. We might have some chips. More likely a post-midnight pizza or two or three. The post brought back lots of memories.

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    1. Bill, how nice to think of all the students in different places having their own parties - with some big differences and some similarities. It wouldn't have been pizza in the UK in those days - pizza cafes were starting to come in, but it was still a slightly exotic treat, and I don't remember deliveries, or it being seen as a basic, till much much later.

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