The book that changed my life

Teenage undiagnosed music lover Part 2. Yours truly discovers classic rock beyond the Beatles and his life will never be the same again.

“Come on it’s not all music” one relative half-teased me when I didn’t recognise the name of a famous sportsman on her Facebook status.

But for me at the age of thirteen, boy was it.

Nobody else was interested in how far a line of pylons stretched (no Google Earth then).

I didn’t dig sport and team sport lessons at school usually led to someone getting mad at me back in the changing rooms for scoring an own goal or somesuch. All the teacher could say was “I know he’s annoying sometimes but AREN’T WE ALL!!!” God rest his soul but they didn’t know how to handle that sort of thing back then.

The nearest cinema was half an hour’s bus ride away and anyway I needed plots explaining to me more then.

My favourite TV series had dwindled to a shadow of its former self and only had a few years left before the BBC pulled the plug. (It came back in 2005, that narrows it down a bit).

Music had it for me. The genesis of my love affair with the Beatles has been detailed in a previous entry. But a series on TV at the time called The Rock n Roll Years, which admittedly I was watching so I could get my visual fix of the Fab Four, opened my eyes to there being so much more. When the Rolling Stones appeared playing a song that had been on a single a mate of my dad’s had had, I remembered the song and how cool I had thought it was at the tender age of six.

“What’s this song called Dad?”

“Jumping Jack Flash”

I knew I’d have to start investigating the Stones at some point – when not chasing up George Harrison’s solo stuff through the local library system that is. One term into second year (Year 8 in today’s parlance) the time came.

It was nearly Christmas. I had been browsing music related titles in my local bookstore. One in particular had caught my eye. It is pictured below (image grabbed from eBay).


I opened it up. Facts and figures. Aspies love those. I already had them for the Beatles courtesy of a lyric book complete with discography. Now I could investigate further. When a book token came by post (you always opened what only looked like a card early) I knew what I was going to spend it on.

The Stones entry was the first I looked upon. Yes, Jumping Jack Flash had deservedly topped charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Ah but there was more. So much more. With no streaming services or YouTube back then, I was left with guesswork. Why I didn’t avail myself more of my local library is anyone’s guess. But anyhow I familiared myself up on the Beatles’ solo careers, got to know which Stone did what and found myself looking through to learn of artists they’d covered like Chuck Berry.

Then there were others I’d heard of in passing like Pink Floyd and Deep Purple (I’d  heard Smoke on the Water on the curate’s son’s guitar not long before). Now I could read up and learn more and see what was touted as worth listening to. Now I knew why one sixth former’s jacket had Black Sabbath emblazoned on the back. Now I knew why the names Abba, Roxy Music and Thin Lizzy had all disappeared from the charts not long after I’d started noticing their names in them – surprise surprise they’d all disbanded at about that time. Abba… so THAT’S who did that Money Money Money thing Mum used to sing while she was doing the housework (much as she loathed Abba). Bob Dylan – I had to look him up cos I’d learnt Blowing in the Wind at a summer camp the previous year and heard Peter, Paul and Mary’s rendition on The Rock n Roll Years soon after. It wasn’t in the hit singles list but I knew which album to find it on.

At my school it wasn’t cool to be a trainspotter and somehow my love of the few Sinclair Spectrum games I had didn’t inspire me to save up for or hunt out more. I knew it would be a long time before I got to explore Britain’s railways in any depth (I’d bought a national timetable and map with birthday money on turning thirteen).

But now whole new vistas were opened up. And the folks singing these songs knew how I felt and expressed it better than I could, and certainly better than any counsellor or form tutor had managed to relate to.

Unrequited love and being a target of bullying with varying degrees of provocation? George Harrison could deal with both in one stanza.

In the eyes of the lonely one
Everything is cold and hopeless that he looks upon
He needs a friend, a lover who can comfort him
His deeds offend, he knows that he has brought on him… Teardrops

Teardrops (Somewhere in England, 1981)

And when I made a start on other bands, the Rolling Stones knew about my innocence that had died.

It is the evening of the day
I sit and watch the children play
Smiling faces I can see
But not for me
I sit and watch as tears go by

As Tears Go By (single track, 1965)

It wasn’t long before I got into Fleetwood Mac too. Their entry in the book had fascinated me – even their name had a certain strange allure. Conveniently, they brought out their first single and album (Tango in the Night) in five years not long afterwards. A getting on point which led me to delve deeper. If I had had enough of being told “That’s the way you get bullied when you call people names” and thinking “Well heck I get bullied anyway” and hearing the “Just ignore him” advice yet again right in front of said tormentor, thus encouraging him all the more by making me the fall guy then I had no further to look than the Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie co-write World Turning.

Everybody’s trying to say I’m wrong…
Maybe I’m wrong but who’s to say what’s right
I need someone to help me through the night

World turning – I got to get my feet back on the ground
World turning – everybody’s got me down

World Turning (Fleetwood Mac, 1975)

“You’re obsessed with records aren’t you. And groups” the French teacher chided me one summer afternoon out on the lawn when none of us wanted to sing Alouette. “You have to remember to focus on real life as well you know.”

But heck this WAS real life. The Doctor and the Daleks weren’t real. Nor were Tom Tomato or Pete Pepper whose ‘adventures’ I had been magnetised back to a few summers before.

But these people were. Whether it was John Lennon pouring his emotional pain out in between political rants or Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks ranting at each other in song on songs like Go Your Own Way and The Chain, I had found real people to identify with. I read their stories in the Rock Handbook over and over again. It all reached deeper than any shrink could and moreover at my independent school where it was “hip to be square” (to quote Huey Lewis) and Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd could be heard drifting out of the dormitories, it helped me meet my non-autistic comrades halfway and made it easier for them to relate to me and vice versa.

“Reading your Bible again?” my grandmother would tease me when she would see the book spread open in front of me on the dining table.

Well maybe not the Bible – more on a level with Greek mythology albeit with real-life tails of derring-do, psychotic episodes and great music being created that made me thirst for more.

I shall probably recount how certain artists caught my attention and brought me to the point where I own all their commercially released studio work in future entries.

But though multiple copies of it fell apart over the years, I will never forget the book that changed my life.