If our homes express who we are, what of the home where all of your literature and music is invisible to the casual eye; no trace of the stories and music that move you and define you represented alongside whatever art or furniture or decor you’ve put together to create a place that is special to you.
Through the ready availability of his books and records while I was growing up, I came to know some of what my dad loved, and so, some part of who my dad is. My nascent exploration of his collections naturally then coloured my own interests. Unquestionably, I was enriched.
He had loads of heavy and immaculate hardback books of battleships, and is something of an amateur historian regarding them. I pored for hours over the story of the Battle of Jutland, the escalating race to build bigger ships, culminating in the monster Yamato, a final but pointless achievement for the species as the supremacy of the aircraft carrier asserted itself forever after.
I didn’t know there could be battleships that were beautiful, like the Hood, and ugly, like the Tirpitz. They were like knights, their personalities shaped in steel. My knight was the Hood, her(?) tragic death at the hands of the dashing, muscular Bismarck sealing her place in my fledgling imagination, my die cast Hornby replicas replaying the encounter in her favour ever afterwards.
Perhaps I was fortunate too that my dad had books about mysterious phenomena; encyclopedias full of flying saucepans, the chubby strolling Bigfoot of California and photos of luminous strands of spaghetti-like ectoplasm in thick long clumps hanging from the mouths of otherwise conservatively dressed Edwardian men or women, for all the world looking like they were caught in a strangely dignified mid-chunder.
Every creak from our Victorian terraced home, every plane landing at Cardiff Airport had the potential to stand my hairs on end as I imagined the former as evidence of poltergeists and the latter’s lights at any moment zig-zagging at ‘impossible speeds’ through the clouds.
Then, as I got older, it was his albums that opened my awareness to music beyond my beloved ska and pop. The music, from the languid and earthy Solid Air to the apotheosis of 60s britpop in Nazz, bemused me and titillated me with its obvious quality and acoustic disparity with the synths of my own era. But the albums themselves were fascinating to peruse. There was the marvellous ‘3d’ cover of the Stones’s At Her Satanic Majesty’s Request to the garish covers of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia period and Angus’s fabulous sneer on Highway To Hell. In fact, in those hours I worked my way through his albums on my dad’s wonderful old Yamaha turntable, I was working my way through a personal visual and aural history of music stretching back from the seventies to Robert Johnson and Memphis Slim, via the Beatles, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Dusty Springfield and the Kinks among others.
While the art itself is preserved on media players, the notion of it as a possession, an object in and of itself, is lost. To have and to hold, these ingredients of our history and personality have an individual presence. They’re not lists on a screen, they exist, in a more trivial way, as paintings or ceramics exist, tangible expressions of taste.
But their principle value is that they can be shared and explored freely, they can be discovered; they’re public, not hidden behind a Kindle or an iPhone’s passwords and not thereby restricted from others to those times when said device isn’t otherwise in use. They can connect us asynchronously and without mediation. I could explore this art without my dad’s stewardship and form my own impressions of it.
Long live the hard copy, it shaped who I am today.