Notting Hill or Play for Today?

BBC4 have been putting out a series of documentaries about rock groups from the past, and me being a pop music addict I can’t resist them.

I recently caught  – Take Me I’m Yours, the story of Squeeze. If you have an hour to spare it’s a great watch, or just 30 minutes would you give you half a great watch, or 15 minutes a quarter, 10 a sixth…etc. Jools Holland was an original member of the band, later replaced by Paul Carrick. It particularly appealed to me because much of it was dedicated to the song writing partnership of Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook who wrote numbers like Cool for CatsLabelled with LoveTempted and this one – Up the Junction.

This song was everywhere in my last year at school,

and must rate highly on the list of songs with the most lines that almost rhyme but not quite… rhyming words like kitchen with missing, common with forgotten, assumption & junction, Stanley & handy, basement & engagement, daughter & walker, forgiveness & business, doctor & stop her… and so it goes on. But it’s also one of the great ‘story songs’ and is described in the documentary as being like an episode of BBC’s gritty series Play for Today but in a  three minute pop song. It’s a real kitchen-sink drama about a young guy and girl who fall in love, get pregnant, move into a basement flat, he gets a job, she has the baby, and then, just when thinks are looking dandy, he starts drinking and she leaves him for a soldier. (Rhyming couplet – ‘now she’s two years older, her mother’s with a soldier.)

As with all of Squeeze’s songs, Chris Difford wrote the lyrics, then took them to Glen Tilbrook who came up with the tune, and in the documentary the comment is made that Chris just wrote what he saw. He looked at the world around him and turned that into catchy pop songs. In the same way the BBC Play for Today series told stories of normal life with all its ups and downs, non-hollywoodised tales of reality, sometimes ending sadly. And as I was thinking on this it took me back to the Bible, and its Up the Junction  approach to life. It’s loaded with stories that are either open-ended or inconclusive, and some of them downright heartbreaking.

It’s easy to hollywoodise the Good Book

and see the stories of people and God through spiritually-rose-tinted glasses, expecting everything to turn out dandy – but the Bible is based in reality. A wayward brother returns home and instead of a great family welcome his older brother stomps around spitting threats. A woman is set free from a  death sentence by Jesus, and then encouraged to sort out the mess that got her into that predicament, but we’re not told what she did. A man gets cured miraculously, but is then cautioned by Jesus to change his ways or things will only fall apart for him again. Song-writing-action-man David spends years on the run, then, when he finally becomes the rightful king, he sleeps with another man’s wife and his family disintegrates. Notting Hill this is not.

Some movies are designed to help you escape reality. The ordinary guy gets the movie star girl. His dreams come true. Elvis Costello sings Charles Aznavour’s She and the world is all right. We need these dreamy tales – you may not like Jules and Hugh – but I’m sure there are other tales which help you dig a tunnel and slip out of reality for a while. Mr Bond’s Skyfall is currently sucking the audiences in around the globe, helping them forget their troubles as they watch James deal with his. But the Bible is different. It is full of real people and their kitchen-sink struggles. Rich, poor, weak, strong, privileged and marginalised. Its pages fall open and we find their honest, heartfelt cries and their faith in an awesome God, grounded in the up-the-junction grit of life.

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