Monday, 16 January 2012
Much Too Young
Frank, the guy who cuts my hair, was born and raised in little Italy, New York in the 1950s and '60s. When his Ma, bless her, moved back to the old country (Sicily) to spend her final days in the sunshine and mountain air, Frank kind of went with her, or rather he moved the England for 2/3 of the year and spends the rest of the time in Palermo. He's a cool guy with a penchant for the doo-wop and lounge singers of his youth, and after a lifetime spent cutting the heads of Hollywood and St Christopher's Place royalty he's getting to know about the past and present of a very different culture.
Frank and I often shoot the breeze as he teases what's left of my barnet into a semblance of a decent haircut, sometimes about different cuts ("that's a French crop, a Napoleon", he told me as he scraped hair toward by forehead. "Or a Sinatra", I countered. Pause. "Yeah", Frank agreed with a shrug.) We also share musical and old movie tales. On Saturday Frank told me he'd just seen "that movie Quadrophenia? You know, about those Mods; that what they're called?"
"Mods—ain't that right?"
"No, sorry, yes, but the movie's based on The Who's concept album".
"Oh yeah? They're the ones used to smash up their gear, right?"
"Yeah, it was an expensive gimmick".
"I bet. But that other guy, Sting, he's the main man who turns out to be a what, a bell-hop?"
"That's right, he's the 'ace face', the guy that Nik Cohn based the character of Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever on. Townsend was never an ace face. Cohn was an original Mod, and knew Townsend when the Who were still the High Numbers, back in the early 1960s. He didn't go into Odyssey nightclub the night he was supposed to, just went back to his apartment in Manhattan and wrote up an episode or three from his own Mod teens, changing the action from Soho London, to Bay Ridge".
"Loved those scooters with all the mirrors".
"A familiar sight of my childhood. I loved the balcony scene though".
Growing up in a British seaside town in the 1960s, one of my earliest memories is of watching Mods and Rockers fighting in a Woolworth's cafeteria. One of my abiding teen memories is standing in the gents toilets in a ring with ten or so other, similarly dressed youths, watching the local hardman ('Sailor' I think his name was), pick a fight with a guy just because he was several inches taller than anyone else at the club. The tall guy didn't want to fight, but Sailor hit, kicked and stomped him anyway. Out in the club the DJ played "Boogie Nights" and all I wanted to do was dance. I didn't get the need for the tall guy to be stomped and felt chickenshit for just watching and in doing so, condoning Sailor's dumb, macho act.
After that I chose my time to visit the gents carefully. Nightclubs and violence go together like soccer and expletives. No stranger to violence—I'd grown up with a Chelsea Shed End hooligan for a brother who was four years and several pounds heavier than me—I had enough of it at home to want to indulge when out and dressed up to dance and flirt.
Post-punk, the slight return of Mod culture to England was favoured by younger brothers of the Punks who didn't want to be just like their elder siblings. It was a shadow of the original movement, but it had its positives, the main one being anti-racism and the reintroduction of social realism into song lyrics. Unfortunately there would also be Absolute Beginners, but then again, we also saw the launch of Nick Logan's ace magazine, The Face. Its title was a reference to Mr Logan and his business associate Rod Sopp's formative years spent chasing down the clothes, records (and girls) that The Who, Small Faces and Equals etc so wanted to have, own, be. The mag featured hip young things in bright new clothes and conveyed the insouciance of effortless cool (even if it did major on the ridiculous Buffalo style for a while). The Face gave me one of my first writing commissions, for which I'll always be grateful—they didn't pay, but then having your name in the mag was considered (by them, mostly) as payment enough.
All of this flashed through my mind as Frank finished his work with a clip of my eyebrows, and Little Anthony & The Imperials cooed in the background. "Ya done," he said, whipping off the sheet from round my neck.
And sure enough, I was.