There Is A Light

Just listened to Mike Garry talking about the Smiths on Radio 4 (check out his blog
Got me thinking about the first time I heard the Smiths. Just left this response on Mike’s page:

I don’t know what I’m more jealous of, the fact that you got on Radio 4 or that Moz wrote on your wall! Either way, I’m green.
I remember the first time I heard The Smiths. I’d moved in with my dad after my folks split up (in the mid 90s) and we moved across town. Not far, just on the other side of Middleton, but might as well have been a hundred miles away. I was at that stage of teenage where you think the world isn’t yours. The world won’t listen. And I remember being in this new terraced house, looking down at an alien street. It was just starting to rain and I remember looking at the wet tiles of the grey rooftops opposite. It was like a scene from Corrie circa 1960. Perfect.
Before that I’d been fed on a diet of electronica, my older brother’s vinyl, all 808 state and Future Sound of London – Manchester stuff but somehow I didn’t feel the connection at the time between the city and the sound, between the city and me.
I’d started finding guitar music. Radiohead, scraps of American stuff, the Pumpkins, Nirvana. I liked it. Or thought I did.
A mate had leant me A Hatful of Hollow, I was at the window when Back To The Old House came on. Christ, that guitar. And then the voice, that voice that stretches out. /Stretch out and wait/ And it was like he was in the room. I didn’t even know what Morrissey looked like but it was as if he was there. /In the corner of your room, can you hear me/ Actually there. That moment changed my life completely. At last there was someone that understood. Like I was meant to hear that song at that time. As if it had been waiting. And the grey sky became a caul, protecting. The rain christened the tiles. It suddenly felt that Manchester was mine. /it owed me a living/.
Before that point, Manchester for me was somewhere to run through. Somewhere to get records from and scurry back from. A piss stained Arndale and Cannon street bus station. But now it was that voice, that place carved out by that voice. That sounds bollocks but it’s true /at last I was born.
And that was it. I devoured Smithdom. I took down my Cobain poster and my Jim Morrison poster. Even Lennon took a back seat. I stopped watching Hollywood blockbusters and tracked down Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. I fell in love with Rita Tushingham. I put down Stephen King and started reading Wilde. The books I was reading at Uni suddenly made sense. Blake was Manchester. Dickens was Manchester.
I’m still in that place Moz carved out for me. That you’re carving and Cooper Clarke and all the other Manc artists.
I’m a teacher now. That weird English teacher who gets excited by caesuras and Wilfred Owen. All tweed and bad shoes but /there is a light/ still get that stab, that goosebump lift when that track starts, when the needle scratches into Back To the Old House and I’m back at that window, in that moment. Homework: Find The Smiths, kids (but don’t forget the songs that saved your life).


About Ian O'Brien

I am a teacher and scribbler, living in Manchester, UK.
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