“Absolute Beginners” is a love song. Therefore it should come as no surprise that today’s blog is primarily about the power of love (yes, feel free to either start singing either the Jennifer Rush operatic power ballad or the Frankie Goes To Hollywood festive epic, depending upon which now is winning for dominance inside your head).
I’m posting this as Sal and I celebrate 25 years as a married couple (not forgetting the that we have actually been together for 31 years as a couple following the historical events of the 6th March 1986 at legendary Newport nightspot, Lazers Nightclub, Stow Hill, Newport), and are embarking on our own silly week of celebrations just because we bloody well can.
“Absolute Beginners” is our song. It was released on 3rd March 1986, just as we were getting together (with the invaluable assistance of friends from both sides who could see that something was going on between the two of us). Yes, it involved me pulling her off a chair and causing a slight back injury. Yes, it involved some serious decisions about what to wear. It also involved finding ourselves in the centre of a bar fight with the result of a table full of drinks getting tipped over us. Ah, the power of romance, eh?
As the single tracked up the singles chart, it seemed to perfectly match the heady rush of that initial burst of falling in love – it only reached number 2 (which in retrospect seems to equally perfectly capture the perfectly imperfect nature of our personal history together, but more of that later maybe). It is perhaps one of Bowie’s greatest love songs, and certainly qualifies as perhaps the highlight of his entire post-“Let’s Dance” 80s output… unless you happen to be a fan of Tin Machine (but let’s not open up that particular container of worms).
Ready for some romance? Here goes:
It is practically perfect as a love song.
“Absolute Beginners” was written as the title song for the film of the same name, itself based upon the book of the same name that was written by Colin MacInnes and set in the jazz revolution of 1950s London, telling a story of young love in the midst of race riots and teenage rebellion. Bowie had been approached by the director of the film, infamous Sex Pistols associate Julian Temple (who had directed the long form video for Bowie’s single “Blue Jean” from the disappointing “Tonight” album), to write the title song and only agreed upon condition that he was cast in the film as the “villain” – advertising executive, Vendice Partners.
The film was expected to be the British cinematic event of 1986, featuring such acting talent of the new starlet Patsy Kensit, Eddie O’Connell, James Fox and Steven Berkoff mixed in with such British music luminaries such as Sade, Ray Davies (of The Kinks) and Ed Tudor-Pole (of Tenpole Tudor). It flopped. Not only did it flop, it was was also critically beaten about the head until it suffered traumatic injuries – which was sad because it was not entirely the terrible stinker of a film that it was made out to be at the time. It suffered from such extreme hype that it was never ever going to live up to expectations. You can get it on blu-ray and dvd depending upon your chosen viewing platform. It is worth a watch.
Honestly… you can trust me.
However, I digress. Bowie’s title song sparkled and gained a life outside and unconnected with the film, including becoming “our song”:
I’ve nothing much to offer
There’s nothing much to take
I’m an absolute beginner
But I’m absolutely sane
As long as we’re together
The rest can go to hell
I absolutely love you
But we’re absolute beginners
With eyes completely open
But nervous all the same
If you have read my blog on the Iggy Pop song “Shades”, you will already know something about my 30+years relationship with Sal, who has now been my wife for twenty five years. Our relationship has been a defining factor in both our lives, since the day that we started going our with each other when we were both sixth students in the same comprehensive school sixth form.
We have managed to continue our relationship through our university years: she lived at home and went to her local teacher training college where she did her BEd (Hons) degree so she could become a primary school teacher (although she had actually wanted to become a nursery nurse but had been told that she was too clever and should aim for teaching), whereas I went off to Nottingham for three years to undertake a degree in Creative Arts thinking that I would spin off into a life of imaginative, inspirational artistic adventure across various media outlets. Then I realised that I needed to get a “proper job” so I spent another year living in the multicultural delights of Birmingham where I did my year of teacher training on a PGCE course, whilst Sal moved to Aldershot to start her career as a primary school teacher. We lived in Hampshire for a while, then we moved to Bridgend in South Wales where I worked as the only drama teacher in a tiny secondary school in the devastated mining valleys, before we moved down to Newquay where we have made our home now for twenty years, and have raised our two boys.
Has it been easy?
Is it ever?
Nothing much could happen
Nothing we can’t shake
Oh, we’re absolute beginners
With nothing much at stake
As long as you’re still smiling
There’s nothing more I need
I absolutely love you
But we’re absolute beginners
But if my love is your love
We’re certain to succeed
We both felt like rejects during our teenage years, and very little has really happened to change that feeling of not fitting in either with the way that society tells us we should be living our lives, or what we should be doing with our time, or all the other combined pressures that can be brought to bear upon individuals – you know the phrase “death by a thousand cuts”?. Yeah, I think society operates like that.
We found strength in each other, even though people were surprised when we initially became a couple because we were quite unlike each other in terms of personality – Sal was a very quiet and quite introverted character who was passionate about dance and art and all things musical theatre, whilst I had gained a bit of a reputation for being a class clown and constant performing idiot which is not really surprising considering that I had my own passions about theatre and art and music. People were surprised as we were considered to be polar opposites: she was quiet to the point of almost hardly ever saying a word whilst I would be egocentric to the point of almost possibly never shutting up.
Time has brought us closer to each other in that she now has loads more confidence, and comes across with much more self-confidence (although I know that Sal would say that she feels as insecure as she always felt back then), and I’ve seen her grow through a couple of career changes including standing for election as a county councillor. On the other hand, I have quietened down to the point of being extremely quiet and now take much longer to take decisions to speak coz I believe that it needs to be worthwhile or it is probably best not to say anything, even though many of my students would probably say I still have an excess of character (but that is part and parcel of the job – you’ve got to make it interesting and engaging other wise you and the students might as well bugger off home if they are not interested enough to actually attempt to do some learning).
We still feel like it is us against the world – sometimes this has been good because sometimes the world has conspired to fuck things up for us. Sometimes it has not been good because there have been times when perhaps we may have made our home too much like a castle to protect our family. You can only look back on things with the benefit of hindsight and decide that there may have been a better or simply different way of dealing with things. We both have regrets, and that is good – I don’t trust people who say they have no regrets.
Oh let’s do a live version for a minute…
So do I have any words of wisdom gleaned from 25 years of marriage, and 31 years of being part of a partnership? Not really.
My eldest boy has been in a committed relationship for several years now and they have a wonderful two year old daughter – they are doing things their way. Not the way I would have done things but I can’t say for definite that I know my way has been the right way – because they have been times when I’ve felt that it wasn’t. I went to university, got a well paid job and then had to cope with all the stresses and struggles that come with the life of working in education. The only thing that I ask is that they do what they believe if right – to bring up their daughter in the way they feel is right, and to earn their living in the way they feel is right, and to treat people in the way they feel is right.
I can put my hand on my heart and say that I tried my very best to always do what I thought was right – most of the time. Hey, nobody is perfect.
If our love song
Could fly over mountains
Could laugh at the ocean
Just like the films
There’s no reason
To feel all the hard times
To lay down the hard lines
It’s absolutely true
So happy anniversary to us – we are treating ourselves to whatever we bloody well feel like, because we have worked hard and not given up even when things turned to shit and life became really fucking hard… because that’s what you do when you love somebody – you don’t give up on them, and they don’t give up on you.
That will be the story of the next 25 years, if we are lucky enough to live long enough to see our 50th wedding anniversary. I fully expect to see difficult times ahead. I also fully expect to see good times filled with fun and laughter.
Fuck it – have another live version
So if you are lucky enough to find “the one” – that special person who is your soul mate, treasure every single aspect of that experience (even the shit times) because I can’t and don’t want to imagine life without her.
Where’s the champagne and the hot tub?