IT’S FUNNY WHAT YOU MISS – How Nostalgia Can Help You Keep Your Head When Your Head’s Not In A Good Place
It’s Boxing Day, 1978. Obviously it isn’t, but just pretend for a moment. A small boy is sitting in front of an old valve driven Rediffusion telly. He’s only ten, but rapidly learning about that desperate ennui which settles on a house every 26th of December.He’s happy with all the skateboarding equipment he got for Christmas, but of course it’s not really skateboarding weather at the moment. Tic tacking and hanging ten will have to wait for another day. So his backside is plonked firmly in front of the goggle box.
Normally, this little chap will watch anything, but the Boxing Day schedule is coming close to defeating even his youthful ardour. A quick scan of the Radio times and the TV Times shows a long road of no entertainment stretching ahead. You had to buy two magazines back then, one for the Beeb and one for ITV. Perhaps he’s overdosed on turkey, maybe he’s suffering the ill effects of too many satsumas, but he does something he’s never done before. He switches off the television.
But these are strange times, and the old Rediffusion model is a strange beast. He can still hear the programmes. This is because the thing was designed so you could listen to the radio on it without burning up too much electricity. And presumably to encourage you to unplug it before you went to bed, as it was quite the fire hazard if left unattended. Leave it on for more than a few hours and you could feel the glue holding it together starting to soften and melt.
Our hero is gripped by boredom, but all is not lost. There’s always the radio. Or failing that, playing his dad’s old Frank Sinatra 78’s at 33 and a third rpm. Or the Frank Sinatra vinyl LP’s at 78 rpm. Both options hilarious in a different way. But that annoys Dad, so first, the radio.
The glossy, gaudy TV Times is tossed aside. No radio in that. He focuses on its more sober, fish n chip wrapper big brother. Two full pages of listings there, almost a full page devoted to Radio 4. But our boy’s a reader, so that’s not really a problem. Except for the fact that he’s read everything in the house to death, hence the current reliance on electronic entertainment. Reader or not, he doesn’t have to scan the pages for long before something leaps out from them. An interesting title. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And it’s about to start.
The little chap is quite a fan of science. Tomorrow’s World is a particular favourite of his. On the assumption that this is some kind of audio equivalent to do with astronomy, he clunks the big Bakelite dial on the windowsill to Radio 4 and sits back down. Within minutes of the theme music striking up, he’s pulled into a world of two headed Galactic Presidents, Frogstar Fighters and the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal. He’s an instant and lifelong fan.
The geeky little boy was me of course. Bitter and twisted as life may have rendered me, there is still a little bit of my soul which is transported back to a glorious oasis in a desert of Boxing Day boredom every time I hear the theme music to The Guide. It’s stopped me from going nuts on several occasions. And gently held my hand on occasions when I was nuts. I use the frequency of my listening to old episodes as a kind of mental barometer. An episode a day over more than a few days, and I’m in big trouble.
You may be wondering what all this has to do with the title of this piece: “It’s Funny What You Miss.” It’s not that I miss Rediffusion tellies. And I certainly don’t miss being a ten year old boy. No man does, though he sometimes might imagine so out of pig headed nostalgia. I don’t mean “miss” as in pine for, I mean miss as in “fail to notice.”
There’s a whole generation of people out there who cut their comedy teeth on the works of Douglas Adams. And many of them wrote to him – via The BBC – asking if and how they might be able to purchase that now iconic signature tune. They were often surprised to find that they already had it in part of their record collections, and not the cool part either.
The tune is in question is called “Journey of the Sorcerer” and it is track number four on the otherwise appallingly schmaltzy Eagles album “One of These Nights”. The question is not really how people failed to notice this. It’s not an album you delve into too deeply should you have the misfortune to possess a copy. The question is how it got on the album in the first place, alongside “Take It to the Limit” and “Lyin’ Eyes”.
Journey of the Sorcerer is an atmospheric masterpiece. Though it does descend into some bizarre pseudo-Celtic noodling at the end which simultaneously evokes stadium rock, barn dances and leprechauns. Quite a musical feat in itself. But another question has arisen in my head. Do I think that track four on the album is so much better than the rest of the album because it is actually better, or just because of the warm and fuzzy associations I have with it?
If you have a copy of One of These Nights, and don’t care that much for the Hitchhiker‘s Guide, please give it a spin and let me know. Even though I can’t conceive of any possible reason to own said disc other than being a tonto Douglas Adams fan, I promise not to let that colour my opinion of the soundness of your judgement.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2013