In his much celebrated pop-psych manual Outliers, journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell suggests that ‘genius’ and the outstanding achievement that goes with it, is for the most part, governed by explainable circumstance and hard work; rather than the idea that some sort of privilege has been bestowed upon an individual, specially chosen by the gods, fate or any other mysterious factor at work in the world.
In one particularly memorable section, he posits the idea that the majority of high profile Canadian hockey players are born in what constitutes the first few months of the school year, which according to Wikipedia is ‘because children born earlier in the year are statistically larger and more physically mature than their younger competitors, and they are often identified as better athletes, this leads to extra coaching and a higher likelihood of being selected for elite hockey leagues’: a phenomena he refers to as ‘accumulative advantage’.
Apparently, there are parallels with high achieving English football players as well, but as I’m unlikely to commit to the same levels of effort in researching said phenomena, as Mr Gladwell – who it transpires is born at the beginning of September and would therefore be one of the oldest students in his year, had he studied in a UK school – I can’t confirm the veracity of such an assertion. And I’d be more than happy to have it suggested by Mr Gladwell or any other reasonably informed individual, that any such research-orientated reluctance on my part has something to do with me being born in what constitutes the UK spring term, and therefore lacking in the sort of tenacity required for such matters.
Had I realised however, that I could have ascribed a semi-scientific theory to my own youthful veering away from the beautiful game, rather than the self-conscious belief that it might have something to do with being pale, thin and being in possession of a greater than average smattering of ginger genes, it would have been a source of comfort. Particularly, if one compares oneself to those early developers who, not only sustained a place in the school team, but stood around the changing rooms, replete with mutton chops and the sort of Y-fronted pose that could only be found in the form of a Marshall Ward catalogue model. But then I probably wouldn’t have immersed myself in rock‘n’roll to the same extent. Marshall Ward or Marshall Amplifiers, it’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?
Rock’n’roll is of course, the natural habitat of the wan, and from the early teens I took to the form with aplomb, picking up a bass guitar in the process, and learning via the means of punk rock: which conveniently stipulated that ability was no barrier to expression. And naturally, as all stories of this description go, my grades – which had previously been sufficient to convince anyone I had been born on the very first day of the school year – suffered in the process. But it wasn’t all bad: I formed a band with some school friends, we learnt a load of punk covers (Ramones, Pistols, Damned…), played a gig in a church hall, and one of our contemporaries even took the trouble to gob on us. Not only were we easily pleased, we were also keen to catch hepatitis, it would seem.
Shortly thereafter, in punk terms, I sold out. Not only had punk rock inspired a little bit of confidence in me, it had also given way to a little bit of competence as well, and it wasn’t long before I was invited to take my place in a school band that were playing the working men’s’ clubs, and – in so doing – had provided a platform for a number of other individuals to pass through the ranks before me.
My turn had come around, and before long I was catapulted into an adult world consisting of the occasional drink (lager rather than mild, in my case, and sometimes more than occasional), the occasional proposition from middle-aged women (declined in a terrified state, on every occasion), the occasional fight (women again, invariably), and the occasional stripper (always women). All of which took place against a backdrop of ‘Play That Funky Music’, 50s rock’n’roll and a disproportionate number of Eagles’ songs supplied by our good selves. The downside? Having to smile endearingly and wear the sort of stage gear that would cause any self-respecting punk rocker to vomit in disgust.
But I was getting paid to have a good time, and if that meant dodgy stage-gear and Eagles’ songs, so be it. And, if we had two gigs in any given week, not only did it pay, it paid well. Added to which, I managed to pass my exams with little to no effort – a conceit that would come back to bite me on the backside at a future juncture – and if I had to pay a visit to the headmaster’s office once or twice, to answer his concerns about my lifestyle, it seemed like a sacrifice worth making. The fact is I was learning something that school could never teach me. I was learning that is not only is it possible to do something you enjoy, and do it outside of normal working hours but also, it’s possible make a living in the process; providing one could resist the temptations that come with the lifestyle, obviously. By which, I don’t just mean the middle-aged Mrs Robinsons.
Overall, my working men’s club period lasted about nine months, before I was replaced by a factory lad who the others were training up and bringing to the gig on a regular basis, so he might learn the music, and take over the role. I’d got the impression that the remnants of my punk rock sneeriness weren’t being too well received by my bandmates; along with a misjudged inclination on my part, to play trebly bass fills on a black Rickenbacker copy a la Bruce Foxton, at every available opportunity: particularly galling – or gauling, if you will – during a rendition of Charles Aznavour’s ‘Feelings’, I would imagine. In the end, I couldn’t say I blamed them. If I was in their position, I would have sacked me as well.
And that’s been pretty much the defining feature of my adult life i.e. the desire to do stuff be it music, comedy or otherwise that permitted a lifestyle that chimes with the nocturnal hours; as opposed to getting sacked on a frequent basis. Don’t get me wrong, I like a sunset morn as much as the next individual, but it’s possible to like it even more so when seen from the perspective of having stayed up all night. This is something that has caused me to wonder Malcolm Gladwell-style whether in my case – apart from the obvious wan-ness – whether having been born in the wee small hours of the morning had any sort of a bearing on one’s overall body clock, and inclination towards the nocturnal life. It’s a thought, isn’t it? Maybe I could research it and write something along those lines and call it Dirt Stop Outliers?
I haven’t always managed to sustain this idealised vision of a lifestyle, however. It was suggested to me further down the line – and rightly so – that it might be a good idea to re-assimilate into ‘normal society’, as there was a legitimate need to get one’s act together, and hopefully get a bit credit-worthy in the process. Thus, I ended up becoming an RE Teacher, if for no other reason than due to a certain amount of night-time consumption of the odd philosophical tome or two. Clearly the nocturnal life was still paying off. The re-assimilation process made perfect sense then, but despite that, it still managed to feel a little like the end scene in Goodfellas; the guns, drugs and killings notwithstanding.
Returning to the business of research briefly, a little while ago I saw that some scientists who, after much investigation, had discovered that people are at their most miserable on a Monday. Really? That sounds like a massively pointless undertaking for all concerned? I mean, whatever I might think of Malcolm Gladwell, I at least give him some credit for putting forward interesting ideas that make for further discussion. This sort of guff sounds as though it was funded by the NSS foundation, whereby the ‘N’ stands for the word ‘No’ and the latter ‘S’ stands for Sherlock (as opposed to the Nation Secular Society, with which I also have a connection). Do we honestly need to pay the over-qualified even more money to work this sort of stuff out? Repeated visits to any London commuter station throughout the process of any given week would be more than enough to confirm such speculative ideas immediately; without any need to invite a single soul into the lab.
Which brings me neatly around to the business of my presiding over the Punky Reggae Party on behalf of Hull Kingston Radio, Monday nights at 8pm. I’m told I’m the third incarnation in terms of featured show hosts so I guess that makes me the Jon Pertwee of the set-up; although the debonair spin Jon Pertwee put on his tenure as the Doctor hardly sits with the notion of punk or reggae. Unless, we fast forward a bit and see his Worzel Gummidge creation as some sort of early manifestion of the trustafarian, which it’s arguable was also in-part inspired by the punk movement?
Anyway, the point is that it covers all the bases. It’s on Monday so we can enliven an otherwise dull evening and put forward the notion of the weekend not having quite finished. It also provides an excellent opportunity to celebrate a brilliant period (or periods), in musical history, in a timeless sort of fashion, without – hopefully – waxing too sentimental. And because, for the foreseeable future, it’s going to be taking place after dark, I’m in my own little happy space as well. Who’d have thought that not making the football team could have proved so productive?* You can listen online as well: https://www.hullkingstonradio.com/
*Readers who have retained an affiliation with football may wish to learn that immediately preceding the ‘Punky Reggae Party’ is an hour’s worth of sport-orientated discussion entitled ‘Talking Balls’.