I’m not sure when or how I turned into such a law abiding citizen. I suppose I’ve always done as I’ve told and I’ve always been compliant and never been as rebellious as I’d like to think I am. I can remember at school, my good friend decided it would be good fun to get a PD (Prefect’s Detention) and it was kind of funny to go into a classroom and throw paper aeroplanes at the Sixth Formers who had the theoretical power to cause you trouble. Once, I thought I’d find out what an MD (Master’s Detention) was like and I ended up crawling under the desk in Counsellor Danby’s French lesson. This was in the Fifth Year (Year 11). I was very (im)mature. I liked Mr Danby and didn’t really want to cause him trouble but I thought it would be good fun to find out what a Saturday morning detention was like. I found out that it was just boring and a waste of time and I never got another detention.
My sense of right and wrong was probably instilled at a young age and forty years teaching, telling adolescents that they had broken the rules, made me even more pedantic and obsessive than I might otherwise have been. I always feel guilty if I break a rule. Here’s an example. My Senior Railcard is only valid on trains that leave Hassocks after 9:00. There is a train to Brighton that leaves at 8:55 and my railcard isn’t valid if the train leaves on time. But what if it’s five minutes late? That’s okay – the train leaves after 9:00 (if only by a few seconds). So far, so easy. But what if the train is four minutes late or three minutes late? If the train pulls into the station at 8:58 and I get on the train then, it probably doesn’t pull out until 8:59. I have done this and then spent the journey into Brighton rehearsing the arguments with the (non-existent) ticket inspector. A few times, the train has pulled in at 8:57 and I have not got on it, fearing the consequences of breaking a rule. I’m assuming most people would think I’m mad to even consider this.
Other people breaking a rule causes even more anxiety. Should I say something or not? In a classroom, it’s difficult. Is correcting a mild transgression worth the uproar that might ensue? I wasn’t a zero tolerance teacher but that just made the lines more blurred and difficult to enforce. Outside the classroom, it’s impossible. Near here, there’s a footpath that allows for a shortcut into the village. It’s not very long but it is a bit twisty. People with pushchairs or on wheelchairs use the path and so there is a clear “No Cycling” sign at each end of the path. This sign is a bit confusing – it’s a “No Entry” sign with a cycle in the middle so it could be misconstrued as signalling a cycle path. When I’m walking along this path and someone comes towards me, riding their bike, should I say something or not? Two days ago, I did say something and the cyclist was very apologetic. A few months ago, before lockdown, four cyclists followed me along the path after I’d had a few beers and they called to me to move out of the way. I refused and a mild disagreement followed. I couldn’t let it go but it wasn’t a very sensible thing for me to do. Everything I thought was right was wrong in that single moment.
Now it’s even worse. We are in lockdown. Can I meet Peter in his garden? Can I go for a walk with him? Lockdown finishes next week and we will be in tiers. Will Brighton we welcoming fans to the stadium? Do I want to go? Can people come into the house? There are different rules for Christmas. Three bubbles. My elderly Aunt is going to be by herself on Christmas Day. Can I go to visit her? Should I? What are the rules? What is right? Can I see my sister? Everything I thought was right last year is now wrong.
Slobberbone were a fantastic band. They released four albums between 1996 and 2002 and they are all full of hard rocking songs. I saw them a number of times. Once, at The Lift in Brighton when there were only three other people in the audience. Another time in The Borderline in Brighton, I got so drunk on Red Stripe lager that despite sleeping at Ben and Anne’s in the evening, I was still under the affluence of incohol the morning after and phoned in sick to work.
Slobberbone consisted of lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass and drums. They played mainly loud hard rocking alt-country songs. Great stuff. The words to their songs are really good too. “Meltdown” concerns the end of the world. Whether that’s literally the end of the world or whether its that this is how it will feel when the relationship ends isn’t clear.
“Placemat Blues” is uptempo, manic and angry. Brent Best, the lead singer and writer of the songs, is wondering why he doesn’t fit in and rebelling against his lover’s insistence that he see things her way. The lead guitar solo sounds like something from “Zuma” but at twice the speed.
Track Three tells the story of a salesman who in the course of his travels around the country paints “Trust Jesus” on bridges and overpasses. There is more of a country feel to this song with lots of banjo.
“Gimme Back My Dog” was the first Slobberbone song I heard and I was hooked within the first few seconds. After a messy split up, Brent Best says she can keep everything but he wants his dog back.
“That Is All” is a great rock song with dirty guitar. The lyrics tell a whole short story in three short verses, describing the loneliness when a relationship has finished. ‘Cause yeah direction’s just an arrow, not a place to reside. Though “home is where you find it” and “time is on your side” but none of that crap means squat alone on a Sunday night“. Everything has gone wrong and it’s not easy to take. He thought he knew what the rules of his life were but now it’s all come crashing down and he can’t take it. “And every version of me I tried so hard to retain gets swallowed and swept up and pissed on down the drain. There’s just no easy way to say that everything you thought was right was wrong today. Move along, ’cause you can’t stay.”
“Josephine” is the longest track on the album at over seven minutes. It’s slower, sadder and very bleak. The protagonist of the song is in love with Josephine. It’s not clear that she even knows he exists but everybody in the town knows about his infatuation and pokes fun at him.
“Lazy Guy” is more lightweight, uptempo and replete with banjo. Brent Best is a very lazy guy who doesn’t understand why everybody is so uptight and busy. “And I’m amazed at the way some people holler, fuss and run ’round like some chicken with their head cut off or a bullet from a gun. They should all sit back, relax and maybe try and have some fun. I’d help them try, but I’m a lazy guy.“
“Bright Eyes Darkened” is genuinely chilling. His friend is bleating on about how his girl has left him and he is bereft. Hang on, friend, we’ve heard it all before. You used to be a good friend to us all but why should the singer care about you now. “Yeah well stop a minute there, why should anyone else care? They’ve all got holes to plug. She’s a shovel in your hands, she’s a pail of sand. Someone you once dug.” As the song develops, the singer changes his view about all this. His friend used to mean so much to him that he couldn’t operate in his shadow. It was the singer who lost touch with his friend, not the other way around. “I’ve seen your bright eyes darken. Eyes that always shone so bright I had to close my own.” By the end of the song he is more forgiving and accepting, glad to welcome his friend back to him. “Yeah but who am I to judge or negotiate your grudge. I should keep my damn mouth closed. You should call them with the news, tell them they’re the one who’s screwed. You just might be right, who knows?”
In “Lumberlung”, the singer is dying and being tended to by his girlfriend. He hallucinates that he is on a drive through the Mid West and he sees a small boy driving a car into a bridge. It’s mournful and beautiful.
“Some New Town” describes an old girlfriend who is about to move to a new town. He is going to miss his friend but wishes her well.
“Pinball Song” is a beautiful song. It describes how a friend of the singer gets put in the drunk tank for a weekend and in the meantime the singer sleeps with his friend’s girlfriend. When they meet up, his friend hits him over the head with a bottle and their friendship ends. It’s got an insistent tempo and the banjo keeps moving the song forward to a sad and regretful conclusion.
So many rules – so many ways to live your life and so many ways that things can go wrong. This wonderful, exciting but very sad album describes them all.