Hall v Oates: Writs on my List

Say it isn’t so.  If further proof were needed that the world is hurtling towards hell in a handbasket, it comes in the form of news that one of pop music’s most enduring and beloved duos are locked in legal disputation.  When news broke that Hall had sought and been granted a restraining order against Oates, I struggled to believe that it wasn’t some kind of cosmic hoax.  No matter the circumstances, I felt in my bones that this kind of action wasn’t something that I, in good conscience, could support.  In fact, my exact words at the time were ‘No, I can’t go for that.’

If you don’t know who ‘Hall and Oates’ are, I can only say that you’re out of touch.  Put simply, Hall and Oates are the greatest duo since sausage and sliced bread.  Other musical duos can’t hold a candle to their catalogue of superior pop and soul.  The Captain and Tenille?  Not even close.  Chas and Dave?  Don’t make me laugh.  Hall and Oates are responsible for some of the most amazing music of the 1970s and 1980s.  Their songs were part of the soundtrack to my childhood.

It’d make more sense if the restraining order was specific to John Oates’s moustache.  Large and with a reputation for unprovoked violence, it was often feared that the moustache of John Oates might one day break free from captivity and seriously injure an unsuspecting Madonna fan.  That’s why his ‘tache was often sedated and under armed guard.  It was a safety thing.  But as far as I can tell, the restraining order is against John Oates in his entirety rather than confined to an errant piece of facial hair.

Details are scant and it’s difficult not to speculate.  How did it come to this?  I’ve been in lots of bands where my musical contributions might best be described as ‘negligible’ and my personality not so much an irritant as it was a source of ongoing and severe mental anguish, and yet none of my band mates ever saw the need to get a restraining order.  Frankly, I deserved one. It might even have taught me a lesson about the importance of harmonising vaguely in key and not blaming every atonal squawk that had the misfortune to escape my mouth as advanced jazz improvisation and something that real music lovers would ‘get’.  John Oates was always in tune.

Some are born to pop stardom.  Others have stardom thrust upon them.  The road to fame for Hall and Oates was littered with great music that was broadly ignored by the record-buying public.  Their first album landed in 1973 – entitled ‘Whole Oats’, it was produced by Atlantic Records’ legendary producer, Arif Mardin and didn’t trouble the charts.  That’s despite being some to some spectacular songs like ‘Fall in Philadelphia’, ‘Waterwheel’ and ‘Goodnight and Good morning’.

Their second album, ‘Abandoned Luncheonette’ fared little better, although was home to the song ‘She’s Gone’ which would go on to become a hit three years later after it was covered by someone else.  Still, they stuck at it for one more record before parting ways with their label.  It wasn’t until their fifth album that they started to get some serious traction with the song ‘Rich Girl’.  But their moment truly arrived in the as one decade fell into the other.  The eighties – or the first part of the eighties – was theirs.  They had an ability to blend a disparate array of influences from soul, folk and rock into perfect slices of pop music.  They stood astride the first half of the decade like a musical colossus, notching up hit after hit until, eventually, fashions changed and they fell out of style.

   Hall and Oates were from Philadelphia.  And Philadelphia is a very important city for our family as it’s my sister in law’s hometown.  Suffice to say, ‘Go Eagles’.  Before she married my brother, a group of us spent time in Philadelphia.  More than just the city that witnessed the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art that were once pounded into submission so memorably by Sylvester Stallone in ‘Rocky’, Philadelphia has a rich musical history.  I was keen to experience it, first hand.

When I arrived, I was certain there would be a Hall and Oates museum.  I longed to go there.  I imagined myself being thrilled by the big drum kit from the ‘Out of Touch’ video, or learning how to do the ‘shoulder shimmy’ dance so beautifully executed by Darryl in the video to ‘Maneater’.  Perhaps they still had John Oates’ moustache in captivity.  But, sadly, there was no such place.  Bands aren’t commemorated with statues or museums.  They just tour the nostalgia circuit.

That they’ve fallen out is bad enough.  That the reason for their falling out is unknown is intolerable.  Luckily, I have family members in Philadelphia as we speak and I am assured they’re looking into it.  Hopefully we get some answers soon.

When I first learned that Hall and Oates were in some kind of unspecified dispute, it felt like part of my childhood had died.  It also made me go back to some of those glorious songs. Perhaps it’s just a misunderstanding.  Maybe they’ll find a way to put their differences aside. I hope so.  If they do manage to get over it, it’d surely make my dreams come true.  

The Colossal Car Stereo Conflict

There was no escape.  Once the call went out, seven people who, under ordinary circumstances, kept a respectful if not healthy distance from one another, would be required to submit themselves to the exquisite agony and confined space that is the family car.  Truth be told, it wasn’t so much a car as it was a van.  That’s how it goes with larger-than-average families.  For most of my childhood, we had a Toyota ‘Dante Inferno’ that came with a sign above the sliding door that read, ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’.  Each of us had an assigned seat. 

There were lots of things to dislike about a family car trip.  Cramming parents and children into a metal box is not a natural state of being.  To be squashed up against a sibling is an invitation to conflict.  Suffice to say, that car saw more than its fair share of bickering, petty arguments, seatbelt pulling and pinching over the years.  We kids were often almost as bad.

But more challenging than being lumped together for an extended period of time was the fact of music.  At the best of times, music is a tricky business.  Back before everyone was permanently head-phoned (so to speak) and listening to the music of their choice, families had to select and listen to the same music. 

When it comes to communal listening, there are several approaches.  There’s the autocrat, who determines what music everyone else will be listening to.  However, to be the autocrat, you either need to be driving the car (because the act of driving comes with a range of other special powers such as determining when windows are open and whether or not you’ll drive through or past your preferred fast food vendor) or in close proximity to the stereo.  Basically, it means you have to be an adult.

There’s the ‘take turns’ model.  To be honest, this requires a good deal of bravery.  By giving everyone in the car their shot, you may well get a burst of something from the ‘Baby Shark’ extended Universe.  Granted, not everything chosen by a member of your family would be drawn from that particular hellscape, but it was a real risk.  Kids, little kids especially, have a tendency to latch onto something and flog it to death until you begin to question why it is that God cursed you with ears.  To this day, I know the lyrics to a lot of tunes from the Sesame Street songbook.

 Autocrats are one thing, and there’s a certain perilous democracy inherent in the ‘take turns’ model, but best practice is also the most difficult to pull off.  I speak, of consensus.  Getting seven people to agree on anything is an achievement worthy of a prize.  Spirited debates were almost always guaranteed to descend into conflict. 

Service stations used to stock emergency cassettes.  The range was confined to the world’s greatest musical artists – The Little River Band, Queen and Chad Morgan (in no particular order).  These were available to either break deadlocks where consensus proved elusive or, alternatively, provide relief from the Wiggles.  I don’t recall my parents ever resorting to Chad Morgan, although they may well have threatened it.  For a consensus, there was one cassette and one band that brought us together.  That band was ‘The Beatles’ and the album ‘The Beatles Ballads’.

 It may have come with a magazine.  The cassette appeared in the mid-eighties and featured a strangely stylised drawing of the band on the front cover.  It was, apparently, considered as the cover for the ‘White’ album but was rejected in favour of, well, almost nothing.  Unlike the ‘Red’ or ‘Blue’ albums, the song selection seemed largely random, plucking tunes from various points of the Beatles’ career, then presenting them in an order that may well have been drawn from a hat. 

The collection kicks off with ‘Yesterday’, a song that might safely be described as ‘well-known’.  It’s followed by ‘Norwegian Wood’ and then, somewhat puzzlingly, ‘Do You Want to Know a Secret?’  ‘All My Loving’ sat next to ‘Hey Jude’.  In retrospect, it was jarring, but at the time, I didn’t know any better.  The songs were, of course, mesmerising.  It was impossible not be struck by how incredible this music was.  It set a standard.  It was no accident that in primary school, I drew a picture of Paul McCartney on my exercise book. 

That tape remained a fixture on the dashboard of our Toyota ‘Dante Inferno’ right up until the sun got hold of it and it really became a fixture after it fused with the plastic.

Two weeks ago, I had a birthday.  And on that day, The Beatles released a new song, ‘Now and Then’.  It would probably be quite at home on side B of ‘The Beatles Ballads’.  I know there’s some computer magic involved and it’s not the same as something recorded on the floor of Abbey Road, but it’s wonderful to hear those people and that voice again. 

Even now, there’s still fierce competition for the control of the stereo, but I’ll slip on ‘Now and Then’ when the kids aren’t looking.  And even if it feels like a long and winding road and those in the back seat are imploring me to let it be, I will smile and think of ‘The Beatles Ballads’.    

Pony Up! Confessions of a Failed Jockey

I don’t care much for horse racing.  I appreciate that to say so during the Spring Carnival is tantamount to sacrilege and by merely uttering such a sentiment, I am at risk of being immediately deported, despite having been born here.  I suppose when you’ve ridden horses at the elite level like I have, it’s hard to get that excited about a bunch of people dressed like Christmas presents galloping around in a circle.

I rode horses as a child.  Whether my parents erroneously believed I’d stopped growing at ten years of age and was a chance of becoming a professional jockey, they never said.  I don’t recall asking for horse riding lessons.  But our parents believed that if we were growing up in the country, we ought to be able to ride a horse.  Perhaps they were skeptical as to whether the whole ‘car’ thing would catch on, and being able to ride would give us a substantial advantage over all those suckers who thought the horsepower of a Ford Cortina was better than an actual horse.  Fools!

The lessons were in a paddock in Mount Eliza.  Mostly, I remember being completely terrified.  Not of Mount Eliza, but at the idea of having to ride a horse.  It was always a grim affair.  We’d arrive for our lesson and the stable hands were always possessed by the type of dismal countenance that made you want to turn around and leave.  Glumness hung heavily from their faces as they walked the horses from the stables to the front yard.

I can’t remember the name of the owner, only that his primary means of communication was shouting.  Perched on a saddle, you never knew when he’d turn his attention towards you and unleash a torrent of abuse about the most trivial of perceived infractions.  He had strong opinions on posture, bridle grip and how tight the strap on your helmet was.  I suspect he had opinions on everything, from interior decorating to international currency exchanges.  He was ahead of his time.  Nowadays, ill-informed but keenly felt opinions are in high demand on Sky News.

At horse riding lessons, I wasn’t there to learn.  I was there to hang on.  Nothing can describe the sense of churning terror I felt whilst riding – maybe a Goya painting, but not much else.  Whilst we were encouraged to relax, I kept a firm grip on the saddle at all times.  Things only got worse when we had to trot.

Trotting on a horse requires that you bob up and down, or otherwise run the risk of bouncing around before tumbling from your mount.  I could never get the timing right, so was always bouncing around in the saddle.  Cantering was faster but less jarring.  Occasionally, one of the horses would get spooked and would take flight with the rider hanging on for dear life.  It was the random nature of these events that frightened me most.  One moment, you could be trotting along, the next, you were hurtling at the speed of light towards the windbreak.

I let my parents know how much I was enjoying horse riding lessons by crying incessantly whenever it was time to go and begging to be left behind.  But they were determined.  They had seemingly decided that horse riding lessons ranked somewhere between learning to swim and green vegetables in terms of importance. 

There was only one way to end the madness – by buying a horse.  I appreciate that getting a pony for Christmas might seem to many like a dream come true, but this was more like the moment in the horror movie when you realise the scary person on the phone is, in fact, calling you from inside the house.  There was no escape.

Magpie, as he was named, was probably the meanest horse that ever lived.  He was the kind of horse that, if he’d had fingers, would have administered a nipple cripple for no reason other than that he could.  If it’d been up to him, he’d have been swathed in tattoos.  Magpie took great pleasure in trotting towards the nearest tree with low-hanging branches in the hope of ridding himself of the unwanted passenger on his back.  I begged not to have to ride him.  To no avail.

Things only changed when we were moving house and we had to transport him from the neighbours to his new home.  Magpie didn’t have a saddle or bridle, but my father insisted I ride him anyway.  I refused.  Intent on teaching me a lesson, my father climbed on the horse and trotted off down the driveway until they disappeared.  I was left to follow with nothing but my shame for company.  Until, of course, the horse returned up the driveway without my father, who had fallen off and broken his arm in the process.

It was a pivotal moment.  One in which I realised that defying my father had ensured my personal safety. 

Magpie lost a champion in my father that day.  And I officially retired from horse riding.  Magpie would long have gone to the great paddock in the sky, but I still think of that horse sometimes.  He was the first real enemy I ever had.  And to this day, I can’t bring myself to watch horse racing.  It’s too painful.  Perhaps if they introduced some low-hanging branches I might take an interest.  But until then, I’ll leave it well enough alone.