Sitting on the Randy Van Hornes of a Dilemma

There’s a record in a frame that hangs in my house. Unfortunately, it’s not a platinum, gold, silver or even polystyrene disc denoting sales in the greater Tyabb region, but a gift from my father.  Worse still, the framed record is not one I had anything to do with but one by ‘The Randy Van Horne Singers’.  I’ve never listened to it.  Having it in a frame kind of ensures that I never will.  I should be grateful.  There’s a sticker on the front of the frame that simply reads: In case of emergency, break glass.

This is just one of several framed artifacts gifted to me in a picture frame by my father. There’s also his Wham! T-shirt (no, that’s not a typo).  It too got the full framing treatment after I wrote a story about it. About how my father managed to get a free t-shirt from a work colleague and then tried to gift it to me. To a teenage boy, nothing could be less cool than a Wham! t-shirt and wearing such a t-shirt would be to invite derision from everyone I ever met from that point on.   Which, for any teenager, is a horrifying thought.

I was openly repulsed by the offer.  Despite or, more likely, because of that, my father insisted on wearing said Wham! t-shirt whenever and wherever he could.  It was an on-going source of embarrassment on such a scale that my father thought it worth preserving for all time, and put it in a frame. The reasons for Randy Van Horne’s elevation to the ‘McCullough Hall of Frame’ are more to do with my persistent, albeit incredibly well founded criticisms of my father’s record collection.  

Most of his LPs came from a record club. Presumably, the first rule of record club is you do not talk about record club.  The second rule of record club is that, under no circumstances, should you play anything they send you.  Ever.  They seemed to specialize in unknown pieces by well-known composers. With a generous serve of the Randy Van Horne Singers.  But I really shouldn’t judge.  For when it comes to criticizing people for their musical choices, I am very much occupying a glass house, full of glass modular furniture with a glass front door with Mick, Keef, Ronnie and the rest of the Stones as guests whom I am ready to throw at the slightest provocation.

I didn’t collect the dodgy music of others.  I made my own dodgy music with my friends. It’s one thing to horrify your peers with your poor musical choices but it’s another thing altogether to be able to clear a dance floor as if someone had just yelled ‘fire!’ with one of your original compositions.  There are classmates of mine who are probably still recovering from the time we performed for the end of year school dance at the Bittern Town Hall. Some of them have probably avoided music altogether since that fateful night.  A case of ‘once Bittern, twice shy’ if you will.

Sadly, our performances are not framed and hanging on my wall like the Randy Van Horne Singers.  I do, however, have a DVD of one of our gigs.  It was in Cheltenham, I think, which I regarded then as ‘the city’.  I was wearing a shirt with a suit vest because, frankly, that’s how things rolled in the eighties. My brother was wearing a really big woolly jumper and had used so much hairspray that there was probably a hole in the ozone named in his honour.  

We played our particular brand of rock and roll to a group of impassive people who, presumably, had remained only because they were unclear where to find the exits.  As each song finished, there was applause, although mostly I was only one clapping.  But as challenging as the music was, it was the sight of myself attempting to dance that proved most difficult of all.  What I lacked in skill, poise and grace, I attempted to make up for with sheer, frenzied energy.  The results were close to catastrophic as limbs flailed like one of those blow-up things they put outside car parks to get your attention.  It was not a pretty sight.

But despite the fact that I couldn’t much sing and certainly couldn’t dance, my friends all stood beside me on stage.  Whatever limitations we had as a group, we had learned to work together to create something.  We were a team.  That band was not so much about music (as the DVD made clear) but about friendship.

I learned last week that the father of our drummer, Chris, had passed away.  It had been years since we’d been in touch, but that week we were on the phone to each other.  Even after all this time, the sound of his voice was so familiar to me and it made me happy to hear him speak even in that moment of impossible grief. We made plans of a kind.  To get the band back together.  To be in each other’s company once again. And, possibly, to dance.

I find I’m making a lot of lists.  They’re lists of ‘things to do when this mess is over’. I’ve added ‘band reunion’ to it. For all the catastrophe of the past eighteen months, I’m starting to think about what’s important.  That very much includes my old band.  I can’t wait.  Maybe we’ll play a song or two.  And if we do, I’ll take a picture rather than make a DVD. Then I’ll take that picture and put it in a frame and on my wall, right next to the Randy Van Horne Singers. Where it belongs.