Thirteen - Big Star
Chris and I went our different ways, I to hook up with my French girlfriend Sophie who was due to return from Paris to her parents' home in Marseilles, and Chris to move along the coast in the general direction of Nice. When I found their balcony flat on a hill in the middle of the city, but with a view of the seafront, she hadn't arrived but they welcomed me anyway, putting me up in her room. They said she might not be back for a few days but that she was going to ring that night so I could talk to her then. They welcomed me as though I was a distant relative, a middle-aged pair, with the restrained good looks and elegance that seemed to me to be particularly French. Her stepfather plied me with wine and asked me if I played chess, and I said hardly, that I knew the rules, but that was just about it. We played two games, and I won them both, smoking and drinking long into the afternoon and early evening. He treated me as though I was some kind of chess genius, while I thought he must be hopeless as I had never ever won any of the dozen or so games I'd played up until then. The phone call followed dinner. The conversation meandered as to when she might be back from Paris, then it slowly transpired that Sophie had a flat in Paris and wasn't likely to return soon. Hearing the surprise in my voice, she interrupted, "but didn't you get my last letter?" It turned out that Id never received the letter informing me that she had got engaged to another guy in Paris, that she was living and going to university there. It must have arrived at my school after I left for the holidays. "No problem" I bravely replied, heroically hiding my devastation, " I'd still like to see you. I'll come to Paris. Just to say goodbye." Maybe I thought I could win her back. I don't know, but I had wanted to spend some time in the "city of lights" - or was it the "city of love"? She said she was just off to the country outside Paris for a few days to meet her fiancé's parents and didn't know when she'd be back. Not taking the hint, I said I'd ring her apartment regularly to see when she returned. She was very sorry for me, and I recall taking some relish in putting on a brave face.
The next morning I woke up late, having slept like a log, to find that Sophie's mother was up a ladder just above my bed, painting the ceiling in what appeared to be her underwear - it was summer in the South of France and very hot. They were converting the room into a guest room for visitors, possibly even a lodger. I moved on that day, shortly after my petit dejeuner, solemn but grateful for their hospitality.
Looking back, it was only when I began to write this, that it occurred to me that her stepfather probably lost the games on purpose - knowing what he knew he felt sorry for me, and as a regular player the chances of me beating him twice were almost non-existent. So too, her mother was telling me in her own strange way, that if they accepted that she wasn't coming back, so should I. But, with the optimism of youth, and the sense of freedom of a young man alone in Europe, I shouldered my rucksack and moved on. Life was a perfect accompaniment for my bittersweet holiday read of Herman Hesse and if anything, I took pleasure from the romantic situation, seeing myself as a Provencal poet, wandering from castle to castle in search of love. The new role was better than the old one, and I guess really I liked it.
With the break-up of the Box Tops in 1970, lead singer Alex Chilton teamed up with old Memphis friend Chris Bell to form Big Star, to produce a heavier, rockier sound. Their first album, appropriately entitled "#1 Record" was a critical success, but, due to a complete absence of marketing by record label Stax, which was going through extensive management changes at the time, it sold hardly any copies. It's now regarded as an early "power rock" classic, and it is a great record infused with subtlety, that grows on you. This is one of its gentler numbers, a short, nostalgic elegy on first love, and the defiance of having a relationship when you're considered too young - "would you be an outlaw for my love?"