Monday, 11 February 2008

I Was A Teenage Drag Bunny

This piece was written for the fabulous Frances May Morgan, editor of the fabulous Plan B Magazine, for which I have occasionally been known to write. It's the only British music rag worth reading so go look it up.

I was a weird kid, bookish and ornery, scared shitless of the body-popping gym girls with their push-up bras and the nodding stoner boys with their bongs and cocks and sex jokes. I wasn’t like the other kids; they let me know it every single day, and their world (their music, their drugs, their bike-shed fumblings all fucked up on fruit booze) was thus inaccessible, and as such, undesirable. Anyway, I was proud and brittle and I didn’t want any of their dirty business. It wasn’t that I objected to getting one’s rocks off and one’s buzz on, per se: take, for example, the tea dances of the prohibition era, when everyone was smoking reefer – which was yet to be made illegal – and drinking coffee, which had just hit the scene as the new drug of choice. Dark and decadent, coffee was the new hardcore – and a caffeine high, as some of you will know, is just right with a blast of THC to blunt the edges. It’s a good level, great for dancing, conversation, even sex; I fancy you can even hear the drugs in the music, squeaky and tweaky with sharp corners and a soft middle. But dropping E’s and doddering spoddy and graceless in heels at the zoo-smelling club until the inevitable meltdown, a wet-walled dry-hump and a puddle of spaz? It just wasn’t my idea of fun. There were more wholesome alternatives: passing out akimboed on snakebite beneath the see-saw, for example, while some acned 6th former drunkenly and peremptorily went about disposing of one’s virginity. But all filled me with fear and loathing. The horror, the horror of it!

It was the awful lack of ceremony that I hated: I was longing and dreaming and pining along with the very best of ‘em but I had my own ways of doing it. I’d lie back on my bed and listen to my Walkman, as we all did, only I didn’t listen to Take That, Nirvana or The Chilis. I was riding high on electric currents of old rock n’roll, prohibition-era tea-jazz, and the dulcet tones of Buddy Holly, who was hot, with that little tremor in his voice like he was about to cum. They sang, of course, about love and marriage, but that’s not what they really meant: nobody fucked before marriage in those days, or at least, not officially. No, instead they danced: gaberdine hard-ons pressed up against the scratchy taffeta, with layers and layers of net and nylon and social expectations – a fortress of elastification, a cat’s cradle, as kinky, to my mind, as Japanese rope bondage -- to keep those hard-ons far from the rustling unshaven damp between plump and juicy thighs. And that, I reckoned, was how sex should be: pure animal anticipation dressed up in the cheap suit of propriety, and straining at the seams like a well-filled fly or a girdle under duress. As Buddy Holly slavered and simpered through a succession of blue-balled ballads and phoney proposals toward the illicit zipped-up fuck under the endless boardwalk, I lay alone on my bunk bed and felt like I’d been born in the wrong time.

And then I met Graeme.

Graeme was like me: a social misfit who wore the wrong clothes and listened to the wrong music. We both dug on the old stuff, the scratchier the better; delighted in vinyl hiss and the creaky syncopations of long-dead brass bands, dreamed of waltzing the Blue Danube while surreptitiously removing one another’s formal attire. I was Bunny, a dashing playboy rake with rabbit ears and a swirling moustache, and he was Felicity, swooning society belle who allowed herself – on occasion – to be utterly ravished by her gentleman beau. I don’t know how I ended up playing the man and he the woman. It was organic, orgasmic, pre-drag and proto-queer. Who gives a flying teenage fuck; it worked for us. As gauche teens in civvies we were quite unable to get it on; we didn’t know where to start, and the whole thing was just embarrassing and weird, not to mention thoroughly colonialised by the scary popular kids with whom we felt we had nothing in common. But as the music swept us up into the boudoir-ballroom in our minds, we became Bunny and Felicity, madly in love and wildly excited, groping at one another’s syncopated hearts through layers of dressing-up box and gender confusion and identity crisis and teenage angst: hooks, eyes, mother-of-pearl buttons; suspenders and dickie-bows and fake moustaches, with the visceral, coital squishing of the trumpet and the tuba in the background all the time and the soft moaning of the French Horn, whose very name, even now, sends shivers down my spine. Gasping of violins! The low murmur of the double bass! And the walking rhythm of the old ivories, like the titillation of fingers on skin. We ate sherbet and drank sweet coffee until we were all static analog and itchy groin, tripping out to the ancient radio standards that played and played and played while we lay on my bunk breathing hard and pretending to be other people. There’s no drug like sex and no drug like music, after all, and kids will have their way in the end.

Time passed and we found ourselves growing up, uncomfortably and inevitably. We moved slowly from the thirties into the forties and then the fifties and we started doing it like ordinary teenagers, disinterested and confused and horny and heartbroken. By the time we put Bunny and Felicity to rest, we were both listening to a lot of sixties pop with some bop on the side. I learned to drink my coffee black and even started boozing a bit, just to show my new friends and the boys at work that I was willing; Graeme locked himself away in his room all summer with a stack of his father’s old seventies prog records. We sent each other angry mix-tapes and envelopes full of sherbet and bile. It was over.

It has been said that the conceptual teenager was invented in the early fifties. The post-war baby boom had produced a new affluent generation, with money to spend on records and time to spend on style, heartbreak, and the maintenance of a new youth culture. Like Graeme and I, those kids were middle-class, white, bored and desperately hungry for something that feels like living. And then there was that hot jazz, so-named for what it’ll do to ya, for when it all started to get a bit hackneyed and obvious. The word jazz is derived, they say, from jism, and when you hear that old-time stuff, with the tongue of the saxophone moving in and out and the big bass throbbing and the vocal blue and sweet, you’d believe it. Like rock n’roll, like love, like everything, jazz has been colonialized by white capital, reined into the safe toothless margins of drive-time radio and elevator music for department stores and airports and all the places people go to spend money, stand still, and calcify. But the rebel heart keeps on pumping to the squeaky beat, the hustle and the rustle of hi-hats, and I’m back there again, curled and crinolined, not sure whether I’m leading this waltz or following, neither boy nor girl nor rabbit nor wholly of this time and place, just a fast-breathing thing with a heartbeat and a sugar rush and a funny feeling down there which is all I ever knew of love. It’s hard to imagine, now, but once upon a time this was wild, sexy, dangerous shit, born of poverty and heartache and racial mingling and the Great Depression and the svengali cynicism of the original pop moguls who plucked that music from the streets from whence it came and thrust it into record sleeves.

Buddy Holly, nota bene, who was only 22 when he died, was a notorious freak and occasional bisexual, or at least according to Little Richard. To Buddy, Bunny and Felicity: RIP, and may there be some dirty dancing in that portion of heaven reserved for teenage kicks, dead youth movements and sexual deviants. And may I be delivered unto that place every time I bust out the old vinyl and lie back on my bunk, dancing cheek-to-cheek-to-arse-to-elbow with my teenage self and all the playboys and girls I could have danced with, or become. Amen; ah, man; a-wop-bop-a-loo-bop, a-wop-bam-boom!