Wednesday, 24 August 2011

My Debbie Harry Crush

Trying to explain a schoolboy crush to young children is a tricky thing to do.

I was on the sofa with all four kids (12, 10, 8, 6), just before their bedtime. There’s always a bit of competition about the tv in the last hour before teeth brushing and bed, but Casey (10) got his own way last night. He loves his music and has been educated in the ways of David Bowie and The Beatles, so he flicked round until he found something he liked. It was a compilation of tunes from the late 70s/early 80s, which was right up his street. Love Will Tear Us Apart was on and they all sang along to it, cheerfully.

I love it that they pay no attention to the meaning of the lyrics in a song and just take pleasure in knowing the words. No matter how dark or tragic the content, my lot’ll trot it out like a nursery rhyme and it always makes me smile. It can be a bit unsettling at times though. Listening to a 6 year old belting out the line, “Whhhhhoooooaaaaah ho!! YOUR SEX IS ON FIRE!!” is a little alarming.

After Joy Division, there was a quick advert followed by the opening bars to a tune that instantly transported me to a point, two weeks before my own tenth birthday, in January 1979.

There was a brief aerial tour of New York before the camera took us into Studio 54 and a vision, with a beautifully scruffy hairdo and an asymmetrical dress started singing to us.

When I first saw the video, I remember it being a little bit hard to get my breath. I thought she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Everything around our telly faded away for 3 minutes 54 seconds. The camera flicked away from her occasionally, to watch the rest of the band arsing around with disco balls and telephone cables, but never for very long. She sang in a way that looked like she couldn’t really be that bothered with the whole thing.

I was instantly smitten with Debbie Harry. I had this poster on my wall for a few years but had absolutely no idea who Andy Warhol was.

She was the first bit of truly vibrant colour to enter my life and the impact of my first sight of her has always stayed with me. I was a bit too young to think that there might be a sexual attraction. I never daydreamed about her being my girlfriend or sharing my chips. I just loved the fact that every now and again, she’d appear on my tv screen and I could adore her.

The kids noticed me sigh and smile as I watched it and began to quiz me.

“Do you like this song?”

I said yes and then started on a long meander in which I tried to explain what a crush was. It was like trying to convey to someone who can’t whistle, how it is that you can whistle. They had no terms of reference. None of them, particularly the eldest two were confessing to having ever had such feelings so I floundered completely.

“Did you really like her?”

“But she wouldn’t be your girlfriend if you were little and she was a lady! That would be silly.”

“Did you tell her you liked her?”

“Why is it called a crush? Did you try and squash her?”

“Does mummy know you liked her?”

I hid behind the stock defence of telling them that, hopefully, the same might happen to them one day. It might not be a Debbie Harry type character. My mate Steve had a crush on a girl he saw at a bus stop, every school day for three years. He never spoke to her, just loved having the crush. Speaking to her might have ruined everything. I suppose that’s the beauty of having a crush. You never set yourself up for disappointment, there’s no risk.

When I asked a girl out at a youth club in Moss Side five years later, she said no, in front of all my mates. I’d only got up the nerve to ask because her best friend said it was a certainty. The back of my neck still goes red at the memory. Debbie Harry never let me down like that.

A quick spat about remote control ownership distracted the kids for long enough for me to get off the hook. I hopped off the sofa and left them to argue about the relative merits of the Boomtown Rats and Peppa Pig whilst I went into the kicthen and thought about being 9 again.

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