Led Zeppelin were playing when we walked in. Nothing has changed! Thirty years and I return to the music of my youth. I look around, and recognise the same faces, the same clothes, the same casual eagerness; and yes, that same easy confidence is still there. Nothing has altered. Only the accents are a little more homogenous than before. All the differences belong to me. The most obvious is the most terrifying - I look into the mirror of these pretty faces to see the uglinesses of age. I panic. A friend tries to calm be down. It is no use. I stupidly ask for a black marker and an eraser… Gently she tells me what a fool I am. Time, she says, is not a badly written exercise we can rub out and start again. So wise. I do not listen; of course I do not. I am crying on the floor when an old couple walks past. Glory be to God Almighty! I get up. Wave. And blow kisses in their direction. My friend pulls me down with her gentle sardonic smile.
A university is an Eden, where adolescence lives on for all eternity. Time has actually stopped on this campus; around about 1974, is what I roughly calculate, based on this brief visit. My friends certainly felt it. Tonight we have come to enjoy a few hours of nostalgia. Though we need to keep our irony close at hand - for should we really be feeling sentimental about a bunch of perverts and sexual predators? But we cannot help it. What a joy it is! For time civilises all things; turning a once aggressively avant-garde play into a homely period piece that even grandma can watch. The 1970s. What days they were! A decade when transgression was as innocent as an episode of Blue Peter.1
As a teenager I thought about literature only through the filter of politics. Insensitive to the shades of meaning that exist between the words - literature evokes meaning it doesn't denote it, a lesson it took me a decade at least to learn - I needed some big ideas to take the place of these invisible mysteries. Politics was the perfect helpmeet and substitute. A child of the times, I grew up in a decade still experiencing the excitement of political evangelicalism, I therefore had plenty of help around. The radicals only too willing to tell me that artists are the fools of Capitalism and the servants of the exploiting classes.2 It seemed so exciting back then. We could be rebels. And at virtually no cost. It was so much fun. And we were so righteous! Because of course we were on the side of the Good and the Just. We knew that we were right. Knowledge and Reason were our allies. Anybody who stood against us was without question stupid, ignorant and silly; or worse: we suspected that most of our enemies were covert Nazis; their liberalism undoubtedly a sham. It was all so easy. We were going to change the world with our words. Well, not quite our’s exactly; Marx’s, Gramsci’s, Althusser’s…3
Tonight, as I listen to Led Zeppelin, I return to these times, and I wonder: could I really have been such a klutz. Did I really think all that?
When the song ends I have my answer….