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September Gurls - Big Star





From Marseilles I travelled by train along the coast towards Frejus where another four girls from my school had taken a caravan for a fortnight. You can see that there's pattern emerging here, was I travelling Europe in search of adventure or was I merely "cherchant les femmes"? Maybe it was the same thing.


I was told I had to change trains at St Raphael to get to Frejus, so when I arrived at St Raphael, a surprisingly sleepy, small station for a thriving Riviera town, when I got my Interrail booklet stamped at the ticket kiosk, I asked the guy there when the next train for Frejus was due. He had what I think of as a French café proprietor moustache, halfway between toothbrush and small comb, and solemnly declared it was in 2 hours time. I thanked him, and, with time on my hands, I strolled off in search of a coffee and something to eat. It's lucky I thought the little rise to my right looked promising because after a five minute walk to its summit there in front of me was a sign welcoming me to Frejus. I have often wondered if the ticket seller was just being unhelpful in not telling me that it would be far quicker to walk to Frejus as opposed to waiting for the train, but more recent experience with local authorities in France leads me to believe it was a certain, very French bureaucratic pedantry, that meant it just did not occur to him.


It was August, not September, when I stayed a couple of days with the girls, who, I'm sure, could spell their group noun correctly. On the second day there was a concert by a local band, but before they came on, the compere, having played some dance tunes, invited members of the audience to get up and perform using the gig gear, guitars, drums mics and all. Looking back, I'm not sure what possessed me - presumably a desire to impress my hosts - but I jumped up on stage and found myself with a bunch of similarly aspirant rock stars. There was a guitarist, a bass player and a drummer, all young, green and French. I asked them in French if they knew "Proud Mary" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, the guitarist nodded and off we went, with me on lead vocals. We did it first time, straight through, and I'm sure it was pretty awful and I must have been out of tune - I'd never done anything like that before -, but we received a tumultuous round of applause afterwards, before modestly returning to the audience, instinctively realising we'd pushed our luck, gotten away with it and shouldn't chance it any further.


Suitably inflated by my new status of stardom, I stayed up all night with my schoolmates, drinking and smoking, before retiring to bed in their caravan where I was joined by one of them. We fidgeted intermittently and separately on top of the made-up mattress for several hours before drifting off to sleep. When I awoke next morning, I realised from the looks of my companions that more had been expected of me than I'd had the courage to admit to myself. My moment had passed, and I could see it was time for me to move on, taking my vanity with me.


Looking back, I see a confused young man, who had the bravado to jump up on stage and sing to several hundred French people, but not the courage to kiss the young woman lying next to him.


"September Gurls" is from Big star's second album, "Radio City", nowadays widely regarded in the US as a seminal power rock classic, but a commercial flop at the time largely due to continuing marketing failures by record label Ardent who were owned by the struggling Stax Records ( see last post). It's a wonderful album that musically anticipates much of what came after it in the U.S. Love the chunky guitar chords, the spikey electric picking and the in-your-face drumming which together give an edgy feeling to a simple pop song whose lyrics nearly, but not quite, make sense. A bit like life.

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