A bedroom, Melbourne. Late autumn, 1981
As a teenager, I was pre-occupied with sex. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in this.
Hang on… I was alone in this. Very much by myself. My fascination with sex failed to travel beyond the uncharted edges of my imagination, where dreaming, fantasising, questioning, worrying and agonising formed the entirety of my sexual landscape. It was strictly a head thing, in the old fashioned sense of the word.
What did love have to do with it? Was this lust, passion, connection or loneliness? Who or what was running the show here? What rules applied? Frustration plus agony plus desire plus ignorance, multiplied by a lousy body image and an unfair dose of acne, equalled a boy afraid and alone. Years later, when Morrissey sang…
There’s a club if you’d like to go / You could meet somebody who really loves you / So you go, and you stand on your own / And you leave on your own / And you go home, and you cry / And you want to die
…I felt every word in a flashback. Heaven knows, I was miserable then.
And clueless. All that I gleaned about sex I gathered from lads around my age with about as much knowledge as I had. Only they had more courage and daring. I watched and listened but failed to comprehend how one could actually kiss or touch a girl so that she might also feel good about it. The class was called Groping with Bravado 101, and I flunked out well before the end of the first lesson.
In the last year of my gauche and disappointing adolescence, I fell endlessly in love with a girl who had sultry brown eyes and a firecracker laugh. I was whirled around, giddy, and deliriously lost in the everything of all before me. I’d try to impress her with my nascent knowledge of feminist philosophy while trying not to stare at her breasts. Regardless, she seemed to like me.
After many weeks of my nervous hovering, she finally said to me. “Do I have to make the first move?” I wanted to answer, “Umm, yes,” but instead I just smiled and tried to look alluring. Or enigmatic. Or something. It didn’t work. She pulled a strange face, a cross between a grimace, a frown and a wry smile and wrinkled up her nose. I felt sure she wanted someone more confidently sophisticated than I was, but pulled herself closer to me anyway. And then she kissed me.
I remember how sweet and soft she tasted. I remember the intoxicating mystery of the scent of her skin. I remember Brian Eno’s Music for Films on my portable cassette player. When it clicked off, we kept kissing rather than turning the tape over.
A few weeks later I lost my virginity. It disappeared rather quickly, I’m afraid. “Wow!,” I breathed, “that…was…amazing”. To her eternal credit she responded by saying: “And it’s only going to get better and better, Stephen.” I had no idea what she meant.
A rite of passage requires a soundtrack. I got out of bed and flipped through my record collection. “What does one play the moment one becomes a man?” I pondered. It needed to be big, momentous and grand without being pretentious. I thought an instrumental piece would be good, but didn’t want to go classical.
Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield was my eventual selection. As the needle hit the vinyl of the very first Virgin Records release (natch), I knew I’d made the perfect selection. Rippling piano ostinatos quietly heralded a series of unfolding segues, riffs that built to themes, patterns that collapsed and re-emerged as new motifs. The music rolled, moved itself forward, inspired by its own suggestion. Across two sides of vinyl, this long, long song rarely faltered or got lost in itself, a mean feat for a conceptual, prog rock album from 1973.
While the playing was complex and skilled it carried a lovely human warmth, dotted with the occasional bum note and moment or two of wobbly tempo. I wanted something to wordlessly articulate the power, the joy, the delight and the relief I was feeling that morning. Tubular Bells formed the perfect soundtrack for my personal sublimity.
A few months later, as the low white sunlight of our mid-winter romance rose toward spring, she took up with a mate of mine and stopped seeing me. The music stopped too, for a while. I could find no melody to fit my despair, and I had to wait for my feelings to repair themselves in silence. I fell in love again, surprisingly quickly, but didn’t return to Tubular Bells for many, many years.
© Stephen Andrew.