Oh Mercy (1989)
By mark p
With Jake now over in Europe travelling under the pretence of teaching English as a
foreign language, Gary was glad in many ways to see the back of him. So much for Jake’s anti-establishment stance he had claimed to have maintained! Gary wouldn’t have to make apologies for Jake’s lack of finesse or downright embarrassing behaviour any longer. Paul had drifted from the fold also, he had landed a job in an oil company and was totally in thrall to the so-called ‘Yuppie’ lifestyle, wearing trendy suits and gaudy Paisley pattern ties, following the cult of materialism and the climbing of the career ladder to the exclusion of everything else. Paul, the onetime class clown and more recently, the life and soul of the party, was now (in his eyes), a high achiever, attempting to compete with those with larger incomes and cars, the life and soul now having been sucked out of him by the propensity for consumerism and competition.
Gary now found time to be himself and live his own life quietly, he was still very much into music and books, had even written about twenty poems, bashed out on the Olivetti portable typewriter he got back in 1984 when his attempts to write were evolving into something more than an occasional hobby. The poems, if he were honest, owed a lot to the style of Bob Dylan’s lyrics and the Beat Generation poets at their most verbose, he wore his influences and his heart on his sleeve. He wanted to do something more with them, maybe publish a small pamphlet and distribute copies in a pub or record store, maybe even make a pound or two from it, something like that. He was no entrepreneur, nor had any desire to be, he just wanted his poetry to be recognised and appreciated by folk.
He was a bit of a solitary character, (a ‘solo act’ as his Mum said), still lived with his folks and listened to his music in his room, on his current playlist , were Bob Dylan’s ‘Oh Mercy’, Neil Young’s ‘Freedom’, Elvis Costello’s ‘Spike’’, Kate Bush’s ‘The Sensual World’ , Lou Reed’s ‘New York’’ and Tom Petty’s ‘Full Moon Fever’. In Gary’s ‘music critic’ mind, 1989 had been a really good year for music. The current music on the radio and in the charts was pretty awful, with dance music really pervading the airwaves and the so-called Madchester bands like the Stone Roses which Gary thought to be diluted rock music. This was not Gary’s scene at all, he liked music that actually made a statement, and he really thought that Messrs Dylan, Young and Reed had made a great job of their songs chronicling the present times, which really were a-changing’. Things were happening in the World that one would never have expected years ago, real historic changes , the Berlin Wall coming down, the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, and the massacre in China’s Tiananmen Square.
Gary had maintained his Faith, it was sometimes a struggle, especially at work, it wasn’t always easy to turn the other cheek, though things had lightened up a little in the last year as the staff had changed a bit, and there seemed to be less tension within the place. Calum Shand, his new line manager was a really good guy, really easy going, llid back to the point of being horizontal. He had been a hippy in the ‘60s and always kept on about how the ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967, was the pivotal point in his life, and how he discovered the music of the Incredible String Band shortly afterwards. He went on about his love for ‘The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’ as if she had been a real person rather than the title of an album.. Gary really liked his stories of the ‘Service’ in the 1970s, when things had clearly been a lot different, Calum told of days when folk of all grades went for two or three pints of beer at lunchtime and returned to staff the public counter , deal with filing in the basement storeroom, and undertake cashing up duties at the end of the working day. Apart from being a great raconteur he was also an amateur guitarist, who had performed in folk clubs in Edinburgh ‘back in the day’ as he often said. He claimed to have played on the same stage as Dick Gaughan and John Martyn, before each of them was famous. He was great at the acoustic ‘fingerstyle’ of playing, a bit like Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. His hair was prematurely grey, and had a goatee beard, which gave him the air of the folkie ex-hippy he was. Gary got the impression that Calum had been a rebel during his earlier life and had obviously decided to channel his energies into something more constructive, in his case playing the guitar, and of course being a family man. He also wrote songs which did have a whiff of the protest song about them, but he had never sought to record them, the folk club was enough for him, besides , he had a wife and kids to support , and that’s where the job came in , loathsome though it sometimes was. He certainly wasn’t that mythical beast the bowler hat wearing, briefcase carrying ‘typical civil servant’ which Gary dreaded turning into. Gary had gradually come to realise in eight years of service, that there really wasn’t such a thing, this was just something that he and Justine had joked about years ago, a stereotype that just didn’t exist in Scotland. The days of the going to Glasgow and drinking yourself stupid on training courses and bunking up in a cheap hotel were rapidly becoming historic, the ‘Service’ was changing and next year being 1990, it would be only ten years until the new millennium, when no doubt things would change even more. Plus, ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, as someone once said. Computerisation of the work processes were being mentioned at staff briefings, and Gary wondered how this would work in such a busy office, mind you , the higher uppers would have to deal with the implementation of this , and not the minions like him, so he would worry about it if and when it came about. Calum didn’t think it would happen, so maybe that was something to hold onto. Calum had made snide ripostes to the predictions that all offices would be paper free by 2000, and fax machines, photocopiers and telephones would be a thing of the past .
Calum always spoke sense, though the higher management didn’t always see it that way.
Gary would be 37 in 2000, that was an alarming thought. No longer young, not forever young as in the Dylan song. Thirty-seven, wasn’t that early middle age? Could you have a midlife crisis at 37? Fucking hell, he might be bald by then, some folk had told him he was going thin on top, but then again, there were worse things that could happen to a man. As a kid in the church choir, he had looked at the ‘Book of Common Prayer’ during the sermon though he didn’t quite understand its content fully, he did look at the ‘Table of Moveable Feasts’ which basically told which days Christmas, Easter etc. would fall. The last year on this was 2000. He often wondered what he would be doing at that time. Thirty-Seven, his magical age, when he would reach his prime, what would he be doing then, he wondered now, in 1989, at the age of 26?
He had the best part of eleven years to think about the what ifs and wherefores of getting older. Perhaps at Calum’s age, he would be like Calum, with the rebellion of his youth well behind him, thinking, in his case about drunken nights at the Revue with Jake and Paul, and of course Justine, listening to the Doors and his woeful attempts at being a rebel, to be honest , those days were receding into history. A line of song from an album he bought back in 1984 on a trip to Glasgow for a training course, Jim Carroll’s ‘Work Not Play’, made him laugh, ‘a decade past my decadence’, maybe that’s how he would feel at the year 2000! The thought of getting married and having kids was not one that Gary spent a lot of time entertaining, he had decided a long time ago that that was not for him. He maybe was a ‘solo act’ as Mum had said. His brother had married and always looked pretty miserable when he came to visit with his wife Wendy, Gary chose not to probe behind that.