Last week saw 20 years since Blue released Parklife. In April 1994 I hadn’t even heard of Blur, although this was their third album. I was more interested in another London quartet *cough* East 17 *cough* Like many 14 years old’s, I was having a bit of an identity crisis. I had been bullied during the previous two years at school, and while my tormentors’ attention was no longer on me, I had emerged from the whole episode slightly worse for wear. I had always been shy and introverted, but now I had pretty much no self-esteem, no self-confidence, and was left with the daunting teenage task of building up friendships from scratch.I was really into the Chart Show at the time, and occasionally caught glimpses of this really annoying song called ‘Girls and Boys’, sung by some odd-looking, geeky blokes. At this point, that occasional uninterested glimpse was my only experience of Blur, until we went to stay with my cousins for a weekend, and my younger cousin put on a tape he’d recently bought. It was that bunch of odd-looking geeky blokes.’Oh, I hate them,’ I told him. But the tape stayed on. And the song didn’t annoy me as much as I thought it did. The rest of the tape most definitely did not annoy me, and by the time I left, I had a copy in my bag. Within weeks I bought my own, proper copy because it was so good that having it recorded on one side of a C90 just wasn’t enough.
I recently listened to Parklife for the first time in years, for the purpose of this blog post. I mean I really listened to it. Lyrics, music, all of it (I should add that I now have it on CD, not tape). I was surprised to find it made me cry. Not because it made me sad; if anything it reminded me how happy I had actually been.
It reminded me of having this black canvas of a life stretched in front of me; of walking to school listening to songs I’d taped off the Evening Session; of sitting beside the TV and VCR so I could record my favourite bands performing on Top of the Pops; of adidas trousers and puma jackets; of badges and scruffy trainers; of silver cuff rings on my thumbs and black bootlaces around my neck; of scrapbooks, and song lyrics written on my school bag; of band t-shirts and mix tapes ordered from the back pages of the NME; of wanting to be a music journalist and of learning to play guitar; of typing album reviews on my Amiga 600; of having loads of pen pals; of teenage angst over nothing at all; of being allowed the occasional sneaky vodka and coke at work.
It’s funny, because all of the above sounds like a bit of a 90’s indie cliche, but bear in mind I lived in the middle of nowhere and never went to a gig until I was 17, plus the internet wasn’t around so I pretty much had to make up my own ‘scene’ from what I could glean from music shows and magazines. And to be fair I think I did pretty well. I remember one of the most popular girls in my year telling me that I had the coolest trainers in the school. A small, superficial comment but for a bullied girl with low self-esteem it was possibly some of the highest praise she could have given me.
Parklife was a defining album for me because it bridged the gap between pop and indie, and I merrily skipped over that bridge to the indie side and never looked back. It brought me to music that spoke to me, that felt the way that I did and allowed me to tentatively find a comfortable persona and learn to like myself again. I had something to aspire to, and while I may have veered from the path I had intended at that point, I’m glad it was a path I tried to follow and I’m glad it took me where it did. This album defines an era for me.
That’s not to say I’m not happy now, of course, but it’s a different kind of happiness. Not better or worse, just different. And although I’m no longer in touch with any of the pen pals I had back then, what I’m doing right now with this blog is pretty much the modern equivalent. And I still wear scruffy trainers. Some things clearly never change.
Is there an album that signifies a defining moment in your life? Or an album that can catapult you back to another time?