Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 30 Sep 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Jim Rockford, America and wood veneer

When I was very, very young, I remember going to bed at about the same time The Rockford Files started, with its distinctive theme tune. What captured my juvenile imagination, though, was the way the camera panned along Jim Rockford’s desk, capturing his chunky phone, the playing cards and, more importantly, the wood panelling. I was transfixed by this, for reasons I can’t remember. Perhaps it was that the world of adults, who watched TV programmes after I’d gone to bed, seemed to be American, to have chunky phones and, more importantly, to have wood panelling.

So this strange, plasticky veneer, which probably wasn’t even real wood, was responsible for my child’s love affair with America. Even now, it’s redolent of what I realise was a very seventies idea of what it meant to be mature, with old Jim R. cradling a glass of whisky, sat in his chair and having a bit of a ponder with that distinctive wood backdrop. This, I thought, was what being a grown up was, and my early ideas of America as a country were all, curiously, bound up with this longing.

We learned at school about how you could drop Great Britain into an American state and lose it, which, falling into a fertile mind suffused with a passion for panelling, seemed amazing. America, then, was a vast place, vast beyond my imaginings. I decided that it was probably brown, because that was the colour of the wood and was a sort of bleached Kodachrome, because that was the colour of the still of Jim Rockford’s car that flashed up in the credits. Even this car was much bigger than our maroon Vauxhall Viva and looked excitingly alien and strange.

As I grew up, I knew that all of America didn’t look like the opening credits to The Rockford Files. It was set in Los Angeles for starters, and I learned that was on the west coast, along with things like The Beach Boys. There was also an east coast, with slightly alarming cities like New York, that almost certainly wasn’t so sunny and pleasant. And as the seventies gave way to the eighties, and the first President I can remember being aware of, Jimmy Carter, gave way to Ronald Reagan, I imagine the wood panelling went the way of flares and seven track stereo cartridges.

But it’s still in my head and, as I dig more deeply into a certain type of American music, my child’s idea of adult America and that wood panelling is still there. When I listen to songs that have become my favourites, I revert to an imagined America that is part panelling, and yet also, in part, an idea of a place that is no less fictional, imagining vast expanses of sky, battered pickup trucks and scattered, lonely settlements. In my head, I’m drifting somewhere in the midwest, slinging my bag in the back of the truck and driving off while I squint to see some distant horizon.

All deeply silly, of course, but for America for me is a land you project stories onto, and this, I suppose is mine. You can’t imagine superheroes flying around, say, Shrewsbury or Milton Keynes, but you can imagine them, capes billowing with air, over some unnamed American city with its tall buildings and hectic clamour. And superheroes are no more or less credible than the idea of me as some homeless drifter, when in reality I’m a 43 year old copywriter who is as likely to jump on a freight train as I am to wear a baseball cap. These things are all fantasy.

That brings me back to the wooden panelled, Kodachrome America of the seventies or, rather, my own childish imaginings. To imagine somewhere is to know the pain of exile, because you’ll never make a home in your imagined place. You’ll always be distant from it, present only in fleeting thoughts. And of course, I’ll never find my way to Jim Rockford’s caravan or cradle a Scotch while the answerphone picks up a message, but then I suppose that isn’t the point. Dreams are there to be dreamed.

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