Once upon a time, many years ago, when I still lived at home, there appeared on the ‘scene’ a band who made a lot of noise in the press. They were called Sigue Sigue Sputnik, and their line-up included Tony James who’d previously been in Generation X with Billy Idol, who was now making a few waves as a solo artist.
This was in 1982, when I was still listening regularly to Radio 1, still obsessed with hearing dear forever-missed Peely four times a night, still reading the New Musical Express weekly, and before I first heard of R.E.M., though this was now in sight of the time when this concentration upon the new and the unheard would start to fall away.
I was still the same kid who’d first absorbed pop and rock with abandonment and enthusiasm that morning when the Christmas holiday started and I put on the weekday Radio 1 for the first time.
So I’d heard of Sigue Sigue Sputnik, whose name was supposedly taken from a Russian street gang. They were basically a bunch of wankers trying to get rich quick by posing as a philosophical stage in music, one of far too many futures of rock, whilst riffing off a seemingly more extreme fashion version of the then-current New Romantics. Tony James didn’t have any credibility whatsoever thanks to his Generation X days, and the bullshit he came out with, and the incredulous stupidity of the band having been given a £1,000,000 plus deal without a single song was another reflection of their complete hollowness.
I’m speaking after the fact now. Somehow or other, at the time, I managed to only become aware of their existence, and of their being controversial. I had managed, unintentionally, to neither hear their debut single, ‘Love Missile F1-11’, nor to see any photos of the group.
All this would change when the song came out. It crashed into the Top 40 on the Tuesday at no. 7 (I still followed the Charts, which had, during the previous five years, been known to feature lots and lots of bloody good music).
I was still living at home in those days. My sister was going out with her future husband, so my mother and I had a pretty regular Thursday night deal. After tea, and after I had washed the pots, she would sit herself down in the Breakfast Room with a cup of tea, the Manchester Evening News and a cigarette (or two) until 8.00pm, and I got Top of the Pops in peace.
Sigue Sigue Sputnik were first on. I sat and looked at them. I listened to the sluggish, badly produced electrobeat opening. I looked at their make-up, their hair, their clothes. I listened to the (non-singing) singer start to sing. All in absolute silence. Then, after about thirty seconds of that I stood and walked back through to the Breakfast Room. My mother looked up in surprise.
“I’ve come to apologise,” I said.
She looked at me as if I were mad.
“I’ve just understood,” I said, “everything you’ve thought about my music for the last dozen years.”
And that’s what it was. There’s been a lot of music flow past my ears in the thirty years since then, and plenty of it that I’ve found appallingly awful, astonishingly bad and unbelievably shite, and I’ve shrugged and just ignored it. It doesn’t bother me. There is more good music out there than I’ll ever find in this lifetime, and far from enough time to rehear what I love to hear, so what does it matter if the Cowells of this world make plastic crap for people who’ve no idea what music sounds like, or the boy bands manipulate the hormones of screaming kids, or bands like Slipknot wear ridiculous stage clobber and suck anything related to music out of their music. People like them, so let them. I’ve long since ceased to be anything like the audience they are playing for, and I’m not bothered that they think of me and my tastes with contempt, for their contempt is meaningless.
And that goes for Sigue Sigue Sputnik as well, whose time in the sun lasted about four weeks and vanished, never to return, their novelty so veneer-thin that they were passe after a single sighting.
But in that thirty seconds, in a moment of almost awe, I did see, and hear, a version of ‘my’ music with the same ears as those of my mother, experienced a moment of sympathetic magic. An apology was necessary, a momentary sharing of a common insight.
They really were that fucking awful.