Why I didn’t like record shopping with my older brother

Today is Art Garfunkel’s birthday. The curly-haired half of one of my childhood favourite bands turns 69 today. Bridge Over Troubled Water takes me right back to our home in Mufulira in Zambia. And to records. Remember them?

An awesome album

I loved Simon and Garfunkel. They were not wild like the Rolling Stones, they didn’t wear tight pants like Tom Jones did, they were just right. To a young girl living in Zambia, who didn’t like wild, or tight pants, they were super cool.

I remember two brothers coming to visit my sister and me in Mufulira. It was one of those complex situations that brothers and sisters can relate to – I liked J, he liked my sister, she liked R and R liked me. No win situation. Anyway, I told them both that I liked the song, Bridge Over Troubled Water and, maybe to impress J a little, I said that I especially liked the words. R said he knew them off by heart (show off) so he could tell me them. I got my pencil and paper at the ready. He proceeded to tell me the words, but I didn’t realise those were the words – I thought he was telling me a story. I listened, and I remember thinking, “Where is this all going? Tell me the song words already.” Was my face red when I realised what had just happened. Duh.

My husband and I were lucky enough to see Paul Simon on his Graceland Tour in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1987 at Rufaro Stadium. It was an amazing experience. But I couldn’t help feeling sad that he and Art Garfunkel had by then headed off in their own directions. I watched the DVD of their recent reunion concert and even all these years later, I can understand why I liked their music then. They were really pretty special.

So fast forward to Cape Town in recent years. My brother-in-law is as mad about music as his younger brother (my husband), and both have formidable collections of CDs and vinyl. Different tastes, but identical passions. In an effort to keep vinyl alive, we gave him a turntable for his birthday a few years back. Since then, he and my sister-in-law have had a series of vinyl evenings at their home. They invite about 20 people round to share a meal, a few beverages, and to bring along their favourite record.

The first time, we all had to bring both our best and worst track, and then each person had to vote for each track in turn. Which became increasingly hilarious as the evening progressed and we discovered how different everyone’s taste in music was. Nutbush City Limits by Tina Turner (along with Jennifer Rush’s The Power of Love) is on my top ten worst songs list, and it was played as someone’s favourite. One person had Tiny Bubbles by Dean Martin as his worst track of all time. He hated it so much he didn’t have the record, so his forfeit was to sing it to us. His rendition was far more memorable than it was tuneful.

My husband chose Bridge Over Troubled Water as his best track. No-one could say anything bad or negative about it. It shot to the top of the list and won the best track prize of the evening. I guess the song is like that. For me it’s part of the soundtrack of my life, and I will always love it.

The song that won the un-cherished award of worst track of the evening was Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by Middle of the Road. If I’d still had that seven single (remember those? 45s?) I would have brought it with me for the same category. When I was about nine, I was given a record voucher (I think I might have called it a record vulture when I was that age) for Christmas. I was so excited because it would enable me to buy my first. record. ever. How cool was that?

My brothers, sister and I headed off into the centre of dusty Mufulira to the big departmental store to redeem our vouchers for stuff. I was beside myself. I had enough to buy an LP and a seven single. I chose a Springbok Hits album. If you are from the sub-continent, you will remember those hideous compilation albums of very badly rendered cover versions of current hits. I was thrilled. Come on, I was nine.

Now, on to the seven singles …. hmmmm, what to choose? What to choose? Along came my elder brother to help me choose. With his encouragement, which may or may not have come across as a threat, I bought Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. I can still feel the deep disappointment I felt at having to buy such an awful song. Those were my first record purchases. Pretty bad. And even worse.

Just before we left Cape Town last year, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law had a farewell party for us, in the form of another vinyl evening. It was a really wonderful, memorable and special evening where we all ate well, drank better and laughed more than ever. The hard rockers among us insisted on playing air guitar and “dancing” (you have to air-quote there) along to their numbers; some played air guitar on their legs, another played air drums with two pencils just above a bald guy’s head, one shared stories of heartache at a high school dance, when he introduced his track of choice, and all the while our laughter provided backing for tracks like Radar Love by Golden Earring, Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water and Neil Young’s Harvest. After a track-off, Neil Young emerged as the evening’s winner.

So, happy birthday, Mr Garfunkel. Thank you for the music and, today, for the memories.

Sunshine signing off for today.

You can find out more about these tracks at www.allbutforgottenoldies.com Seriously.