This poem is about Sparks…not just the creative ignition that fires my writing but the enduring beat combo of the same name that also fire my writing.
They are, according to Toby Manning of The Word magazine…
“an antidote to all that is po-faced, self-important and depressingly ordinary in rock. They are also proof that humour and music can not only co-exist but bond, mate and give birth to something between cartoon super-hero and freak – monstrous yet muscular, gruesome yet gorgeous”
In 1979 Sparks performed Tryouts For The Human Race a song about the trials and tribulations of being human sperm on the BBC’s children’s’ programme Crackerjack. Sparks – getting away with it by wearing a cardigan.
(everything in quotation marks are the lyrics of Ron Mael)
SPARKS – FIRING MY IMAGINATION SINCE…
Thursday May 9th 1974 just after half past seven…
There are those ‘system restore’ points in life…like Kennedy’s shooting…
Man landing on the moon…hiding from your first Dalek…
And watching Hitler play keyboards on Top of the Pops.
Piano fade in then a boy with dark curls starts to sing
And there’s Adolf on keyboards or is it the singer’s disapproving dad?
“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us…” de-duh-deh-duh.
Gunshot. “…and it ain’t me who’s going to leave!”
The next three minutes were wondrous and would last for ever.
As I closed my mouth… my taste for the weird had begun.
But who were they – this Sparks? No internet back then.
No instant information. You remained agog before Google.
No way to know until Melody Maker or Sounds
Landed at the back of the door and told you so.
Next day’s ‘water cooler moment’ – before I knew of such things
Or that dehydration in the workplace was even a concern –
Took place in the mill’s smoke room – a windowed coffin –
Where even non-smokers (not that there were many)
Would take a break…just so that they could have one.
Did you see him…Hitler? Scary…in his teacher’s shirt and tie.
But this was a new Hitler; no kidding Mister.
On our side…not like in comics…or on TV;
No longer the enemy according to NME.
The singer was Russel Mael. Teenage posterboy
Almost androgynous in twin set and girl’s…voice.
The other – his brother’s grim-faced persona was Ron,
Reclaiming the toothbrush moustache for the arts
(long before Richard Herring even thought of it).
More Chaplinesque than Hitlerite, although much later
In a song discussing the merits of the moustache, would write
“When I trimmed it real small, my Jewish friends would never call.”
But I’m digressing…splitting hairs. I needed to have that single
This town ain’t got a record shop. No downloads then. No Amazon.
Hamstrung until work allows you a bus trip to Nelson to buy it
From Les at The Electron. Les…the guy all the boys wanted to be
Les was cool without trying. Cool …before I knew of such things.
Then the album. I couldn’t wait…but had to…you had to then.
Kimono My House…I’m already there in the bedroom
With two glam geisha girls one shocked one flirty. Roxy by proxy.
Slide the record out of the sleeve. Thick, heavy vinyl.
A desert Island disc overlapping the small mono player;
Not even a Dansette (which at least had nostalgia on its side)
To mark this momentous occasion. Put the needle on the record
Play! And what music…Russell’s falsetto surfs a tsunami of sound;
Nothing indiscreet…just big beats and a rush of exhilarating harmony.
Tight grandiose production…before I knew of such things.
No “gratuitous sax and senseless violins” here.
Sat on the bed, I bask in the entirety of the sound;
Pick up the inner sleeve and read. Lyrics by Ron Mael…
The one who’s not going to get the girls but will, at least,
Have less distractions and more time to write.
I attempt to sing-a-long to the breathtaking pace
Deciphering staccato signals like an overstretched Bletchley girl;
All the while noticing…noticing that the words are funny
…puns…double-entendres…before I knew of such things.
Wise words imbued with a sense of the absurd taken on board.
Songs that asked questions…but not the same old questions
Like – ‘Will you still love me tomorrow? ‘Or – ‘How can I be sure?’
But questions that an eighteen year old boy needed answering
Like on sex…how will I know if I’m doing it right, Ron?
“It’s a lot like playing the violin.
You cannot start out and be Yehudi Menuhin.”
Or holiday romances…are they a good idea?
“I tried to tell you in the night that with a girl like you I could do without guided tours
You tried to tell me in the day that your leading exports were textiles and iron ore.”
Or just say me and my girl are prevented from being together
Like Romeo and Juliet and the pair of us decide to end it all
By jumping off a cliff; only she has second thoughts
And watches me plummet to my death? How will I feel?
That kind of question, Ron.
“Up here in heaven without you. I’m here in heaven without you
It is hell knowing that your health will keep you out of here
For many, many years.”
And, from a young man who works in the Complaints department,
The question…What if she gets pregnant, Ron?
“Now she says she is expecting. That’s my fault for not protecting
Her from all the risks of passion. She’s complaining. She’s old fashioned.
Just give it back. No questions asked.”
A near-subliminal opinion on abortion in 1974;
Almost as well-hidden as the address of a back-street clinic.
Johnny Rotten would broach the subject three years later
In far more graphic detail and with a little less discretion.
It’s easier to get away with it dressed in a cardigan.
Over forty years on, Sparks are still performing;
Like musical Gallifreyans, regenerating at a rapid pace
Who “could start a song as tenor and then end as bass.”
Maybe that first sighting of Hitler tickling the ivories
Was the catalyst to a new way of thinking…a world of ‘what ifs’
And third eye imaginings told in another voice;
Where the words needed to be up there with the music.
Was it then that I became a poet…for the first time?
Not literally letters on the page but inside my head.
A way of thinking…a need to find the joy in everything
To seek a smile (result!) or look for laughter (bonus!)
Did Sparks make me creative…did they fire my passion?
Leave me strolling to the beat of a different drum machine?
On occasion the music has disappointed…but never the words.
Those lyrical waxings cut it for me. Vinyl chapbooks
That offered the alternative before it turned up anyway.
From a sad-faced clown…the only wry eye in the house.
A downbeat poet ‘Whose words do not cease to be
Poetry simply because music is tagged on’
(and here I namedrop a ‘lightened up’ Morrissey).
Ron Mael…musical genius no question;
His moustache now more Cab Calloway than Chaplin.
Back then…in 1974, the image drew me in
But the poet keeps me close and I ain’t gonna leave!
© gray lightfoot
Hear Gray reading the poem here…