Origin Of The Species

I happened upon a radio show today that had Brian Eno on talking about his life - or as much as you can in half an hour. There's a point at which he's talking about the first Roxy Music album and how they had been playing and rehearsing those songs every day for two years before they even hit the studio. I like that story because it goes some way to illustrating exactly why that first Roxy Music album stands up today.

There's an earlier part too in which he talks about the first time he ever saw a painting by Mondrian and decided, immediately, that he too - and very adamantly - wanted to do that for the rest of his life. 

"That's a good subject for a ploughing up of the field at the back of the head" I thought - so I fired up the hot water machine, made some coffee, sat and ploughed. 

Was there somebody out there that made me want to be a writer? There is, but being young, I decided that wanting to be Alice Cooper or Paul Stanley was far more exciting and that took up a lot of time - it's a big chunk of my life to navigate around but I made it.

Books were my constant companion long before music came down the mountain and avalanched me but somewhere out there is the one person that planted this damn seed in my soul - because after all... even when I was in a band, I was writing.

There's plenty of books I could name from when I was in single figures that I still think are fantastic works of literature, but will probably never be named as such. Emil and the Detectives is one. Black Hearts In Battersea is another - both are pretty well known even now. Then there was a book called Terry on the Fence that only a select few seem to recall and that was a great introduction to how realism worked on my psyche. 

At first, I thought the answer to this question was Stephen King. He took me to some dark places that I felt very much at home in after all. Then I thought harder and wondered if it were Peter Benchley because aside from Jaws, he also wrote The Island and The Deep (both of which are probably better books than Jaws) and definitely fired up my longing to live by the sea. Higher than both of these people on the list is Ed McBain. His 87th Precinct police series is the best the world has ever seen but I don't think he was the seed planter either.

I must hand the award I just made up to Stanley Morgan who wrote a series of books about a regular guy called Russ Tobin who was content to wander the world and see what adventures might come his way. They were loaded with humour, high on the sexual content (or at least a 'rom-com' version of it) but mostly they were about friendship and saying 'yes' to every opportunity that might come your way to see what might happen because the worst that can happen is that you'll find yourself back in your rented room in Liverpool selling sewing machines.

Man, we got a kick out of those books from the age of about 13 until we were 20 something, hunted down the missing books from the series in mouldy used bookshops the length and breadth of the country, hid them from our parents, loaned them to other people to enjoy (but always asked for them back) and revelled in the excitement that we had found magic nobody else had yet discovered. They are also the only books I have ever read more than once. I learned a lot from Russ Tobin.

Reading back over that, I would be more than happy with that as a legacy. Those are good things for people to say about you decades after your work has gone out of print don't you think?

Do what makes you happy. That's the lesson I ploughed up today.