Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Off-Kilter for Company (does that even make sense?)


I can't help it. I know it was only a couple of posts ago but I have to watch the video for Shirley and Company's Shame, Shame, Shame again. There is another clip on youtube which appears to have a different male sharing lead, but I find myself drawn to this particular pairing, this near-meeting of the hips, if not the hipsters. I think it's because, like Archie Bell and the Drells, they "dance just as good as we want" - which is to say, probably not that good, actually.

But who cares? They are so palpably enjoying themselves that it doesn't really matter. And even if they are miming on this occasion, the sound of the record is so great that it excuses everything else. And although dancing is often equated with sex, there is something sort of decorous about the dancing here: they are together, surrendering to those jazz-crazed rhythms, but in a kind of companionship rather than a suggestion that they will be getting it on shortly.


Though who knows? Maybe, as with Float On, this is a lengthy preamble. Or maybe there's a kind of purity about it: that it is about simple enjoyment, surrendering to the beat. And for the moment the urgency of that need transcends the horizontal activity which may or may not follow. They seem to be enjoying showing off their moves and their voices to each other, oblivious to a larger audience, and maybe that's all they want. I've frozen the hand-above-the-head moment from the clip as the male singer seems about as in the zone as he is likely to get.

For about  a year, around the time Shame, Shame, Shame came out, I went to discotheques on a regular basis. Disco music was the main deal, although later I discovered there was a regular rock'n'roll night elsewhere in town. I never did learn to dance, even to the point where it was just as good as I want, but I have many happy memories of those times and the sense of release, and in the art school discos around the same time.

In a way, sad though it is to admit, the blog fulfils a sort of similar function: a public acknowledgement of the - I may as well call it joy - which music brings, a freedom which crept under our parents' radar, as they couldn't very well whip our transistors away, however much they might disapprove.

And sometimes that disapproval had the opposite effect from what was intended: it wasn't until a grandparent happened to be watching Top of the Pops with us and tutted her disapproval of Pan's People that I consciously realised the sexual element in their dancing and costumes. Until then - though I can't speak for my elder brothers - I think I had mostly been watching with a kind of innocence mirrored in the Shirley and Company clip. (Incidentally, the same grandparent had tutted her way through Doctor in Love, a relatively innocent romp with Leslie Phillips and someone who had replaced Dirk Bogarde: the remark which pained her was when a would-be receptionist tells her interviewer that she used to do an act dressed as a budgie - and moulted.)

I remember a dispute  with an authority figure which ended with his scornfully remarking "It seems like the only thing you're good for these days is dancing." It was meant to sting or to goad me, but it didn't. I never became a John Travolta or anything like that, but the pleasure of moving or shuffling around on a dancefloor is open to all (just as - according to Joyce Cary's Gulley Jimson - the pleasure sloshing paint on a surface, even if you're only whitewashing a shed, is real for everyone who can hold a brush. All you need to do is fight selfconsciousness and trust that others will look even more foolish.) And as a fresh-faced art student, I could experience the dual pleasures of paint-sploshing and idiot dancing - though I didn't become the artworld equivalent of John Travolta, either, and eventually the act of writing became a substitute for painting and drawing.

It was a loss I felt keenly a few weeks ago when I revisited a Glasgow park where once I had laboured as an art student. The same arrangement of trees and rocks was there, still recognisable after about thirty five years, and I couldn't tear myself away, wanted something from this sight, wanted to suck all the goodness and richness out of it, as though I could become seventeen or eighteen again and not make the same mistakes. I reached out to touch the rock as though to embrace it, stupid as it sounds, needing some kind of ceremonial gesture of leavetaking or connection or something - though the spell was broken when someone walked past and I realised that my stance might suggest I'd been having a crafty pee - and there was, as I immediately saw, no point in following that person to the gates, insisting all the while that he had not seen what he thought he had seen.

I rarely dance these days. Now I have to be considerably intoxicated to reveal my flatfootedness to anyone else, and that feels like a loss: when I was able to whirl myself around it may have been embarrassing - and there may still exist, somewhere, snatches of film which testify to that - and it may have been exhibitiionistic (ditto) but it was still about catching a glimpse of a freedom not possible at home.And that strange, unresolved feeling in the park was, I think, in part a mourning for that self who has shuffled his way into the darkness of the past.