Excerpted from Apathy for the Devil: A Seventies Memoir reprinted by arrangement with Da Capo Press. Copyright © 2010 by Nick Kent. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Chapter One: 1970
When you get right down to it, the human memory is a deceitful organ to have to rely on. Past reality gets confused with wishful fantasy as the years march on and you can never really guarantee that you’re replaying the unvarnished truth back to yourself. I’ve tried to protect my memories, to keep them pristine and authentic, but it’s been easier said than done.
Music remains the only key that can unlock the past for me in a way that I can inherently trust. A song from the old days strikes up and instantly a film is projected in my head, albeit an unedited one without a linear plot line; just random scenes thrown together to appease my reflective mood of the moment. For example, someone just has to play an early Joni Mitchell track or one of David Crosby’s dreamy ocean songs and their chords of enquiry instantly transport me back to the Brighton of 1969 with its Technicolor skies, pebble-strewn beach and jaunty air of sweetly decaying Regency splendor. I am dimple-faced and lanky and wandering lonely as a clod through its backstreets and arcades looking longingly at the other people in my path: the boys enshrouded in ill-fitting greatcoats and sagebrush beards and the bra-less girls in long skirts sporting curtains of unstyled hair to frame their fresh inquisitive faces.
It was at these girls in particular that my longing looks were aimed. Direct contact was simply not an option at this juncture of my life. Staring forlornly at their passing forms was the only alternative. This is what happens when you don’t have a sister and have been sidetracked into single-sex schooling systems since the age of eleven: women start to exert a strange and terrible fascination, one born of sexual and romantic frustrations as well as complete ignorance of their emotional agendas and basic thought processes.
And so it was that – on December 31st 1969 – I found myself glumly ruminating on my destiny to date. I kept returning to its central dilemma: I had just turned eighteen and yet I had never even been kissed passionately by a lady. It was an ongoing bloody tragedy.
But then it suddenly all changed – just as everyone was counting out the final seconds of the sixties and getting ready to welcome in 1970. I was in a pub in Cardiff when a beautiful woman impulsively grabbed me and forced her beer-caked tongue down my throat. She was a student nurse down from the Valleys with her mates to see the new decade in, she told me giddily. She had long brown hair and wore a beige minidress that showed off her buxom physique to bewitching effect. She smiled at me so seductively our bodies just sank into each other. In a room full of inebriated Welsh people, I let my hands wander over her breasts and buttocks. So this was what the poets were talking about when they invoked the phrase ‘all earthly ecstasy’. Suddenly, a door had opened and the sensual world was mine to embrace.
It was only a fleeting fumble. At 12.05 I unwrapped myself from her perfumed embrace for some thirty seconds in order to seek the whereabouts of a male friend who’d brought me there – only to return and find the same woman locked in an amorous clinch with a bearded midget. The door to all earthly pleasure had slammed shut on me almost as soon as it had swung open and yet I left the hostelry still giddy with elation. At last I’d been granted my initiation into fleshy desire. I was no longer on the outside looking in, like that cloying song by Little Anthony & the Imperials. And it had all happened just at the exact moment that the seventies had been ushered in to raucous rejoicing. I sensed right there and then that the new decade and I were made for each other.
On the train back to Paddington the next day – I’d been visiting old friends in Cardiff the night before, catching up on their adventures ever since I’d moved almost two years earlier from there to Horsham in Sussex, a mere thirty-mile whistle-stop from London – I felt further compelled to review my sheltered life thus far. Everywhere around me in the new pop counter-culture of Great Britain and elsewhere, young people were gleefully surrendering themselves to states of chemically induced rapture, growing hair from every conceivable pore of their bodies and cultivating sundry grievances against ‘the man’. And yet I was still stuck at home with my parents, who’d brainwashed me into believing that my adult life would be totally hamstrung without the benefits of a full university education and degree. As a result, most of my time was being spent furtively spoon-feeding ancient knowledge into my cranium until it somehow stuck to the walls.