The Rock Machine Turns You On

A Sunday supper of hot crumpets with butter and jam, then thick slices of malt loaf, all washed down with tea. The same every week. Once the pots were washed, the immersion heater would do on, heating the water for a bath.

Not much hot water mind, and stripping off in the freezing bathroom, relishing the heat as I lowered myself. Almost too much at first, as if it might scald my skin. Lowering myself down gradually, calves and thighs, then sticking them back up as I slid down.

Wash the hair first, always greasy by the end of the weak. The baby shampoo mam bought, coming up fresh and clean, then the green Palmolive soap on the body. Get rid of that tide mark around the neck, clean behind the ears and between the toes to avoid rot. Every Sunday, the routine.

No hanging around in the water, out as it began to cool, and rubbing meself with the rough towel while the little transistor played in the corner, bring some sound into the room. Switching over from Radio One where it was all jazz that made no sense, to Radio 3 and some chamber music that didn’t touch me at all. People talking in posh voices on Radio 4. I turned the dial, tuning in the only thing left. Sing Something Bloody Simple. Christ. A waste of air. Silence was better than that.

Dress quickly, before the November air could touch me, then time combing my hair until it was just so. 1968. Fourteen and spending my hours gawping at my reflection, picking at a spot as if it meant ruin.

My bedroom was freezing. But the record player was there. Not that I had many records to put on it. Four LPs and a dozen singles. Every one carefully selected, poring over the sleeves, going back and forth, before I’d part with my money. Each one precious. I took The Rock Machine Turns You On out of its sleeve, holding it at the edges and lowering it on to the turntable before wiping it clean. 14/11d. All those tracks, each different. A couple of names that were familiar, most a step into the unknown. But a budget price. A bargain, and I wanted that. New discoveries. Check the needle for dust. Watch the hypnotic magic as the vinyl began to spin. Stylus down gently, then Dylan was signing I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight. And suddenly I was somewhere else.


That was the power of music in those days. It was like a wall, keeping the world at bay, a place where I could disappear. Somewhere secret, where songs possessed power. Some more than others. The track at the end of the side, Leonard Cohen, had a dark elegance to its words. Poetry. The images built pictures in my head, the nuns who were lovers, who softly wove their spells. I didn’t even know there was a Catholic order called that.  But what I knew about the world would have fitted on the back of a stamp with room to spare.

Maybe it still can, if I’m cruelly honest.

Flip it over, and the grind of Taj Mahal’s Statesboro Blues, then the electric energy of electric Flag and Killing Floor, as if they were trying to break out beyond the notes, to bring that desperation right into my bedroom and lay it out before me. See here, sonny, this is what life is like. It’s chaos and mayhem, and every man looking out for himself.

I wanted to believe. But when your life is the school shit in the morning five days a week, on with the blazer and the stiped tie, how could you know? Everything in my life was ordered, even if I didn’t quite realise it yet.

Routine. Except for the music. That was the door to somewhere else. To the wild world outside. To being grown up.


2 thoughts on “The Rock Machine Turns You On

  1. Jackie Richardson

    Oh my gosh !!! Sing something simple ! My parents had it on every week, what a miserable mournful tune that was, even the introduction music sounded miserable (can’t think was the instrument was that played it)

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