Saturday, December 1, 2007

Vamping Rose

December ’07 – A friend was talking about when his granddaughters had gone through their Spice Girls phase, and he assumed that in my pre-pubescence, I’d had an equivalent late-70s-early-80s, destined-to-be-embarrassing fancy for a pop band. I couldn’t think of one. I can remember going to a friend’s house in Year 2, and being played a Chipmunk Punk record, followed by an Abba record…I recognised it as the culture that I should have been absorbing (or at least pretending to absorb – I pretended to have seen Grease for years, finally genuinely watching it at the very mature age of fourteen) but for the time being, I was satisfied enough with my parents’ records.

On my father’s side, there was his clanging metal filing-cupboard full of Tom Waits, The Supremes, Chuck Berry, Frank Zappa, The Beatles, Daddy Cool, John Lee Hooker; my mother liked Linda Ronstadt, Nina Simone, Elvis, country compilations; my stepfather’s record collection included Blondie, Ry Cooder, Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark, Brian Eno, The Persuasions, Rick Nelson, Sarah Vaughan, Sam Cooke, Keith Jarrett. I didn’t bother about the music of my generation until I was fifteen and going out to pubs and hearing it (seeing it!) live. I told my sister recently about how in Year 8, our gym class had been given the assignment of pairing off and working out a dance sequence; so I subsequently brought in a bluegrass banjo instrumental taped from a warped LP of my father’s called ‘Blue Ridge Mountain Music’ and forced my partner into doing a square-dance-esque routine, complete with full, twirling skirts (supplied by me). My sister said, “When I was in Year 9, we had to review a song for our English class, so I taped VAMPING ROSE off the gramophone and reviewed that.”

My father also had a lot of 78s and a great, big wind-up gramophone that had been his father’s (our grandfather had been a haunter of auctions and a lover of bargains, even useless ones). I claimed a song called ‘Lu-Lu Belle’, my older brother John claimed a song called ‘Oh, Johnny, Oh’ and my sister Julia (middle name Rose) had ‘VAMPING ROSE’. I can only remember the chorus of my song, but almost all of ‘VAMPING ROSE’, a 1920s, bitchy, lilting, conversational dance-song, is fixed in my mind: “Vamping Rose, there she goes in her fancy clothes. Goodness me! – can it be? My, what class she shows! She don’t care for a heart, she just tears it apart – that’s why they call her Vamping Rose. She wears a gem from the Pilot’s End [no idea what she is really singing there, probably the name of a famous jewellery shop, but I pictured a perilous diamond mine in Africa], with her flash and her dash, she gets all the men. She’s got rouge on her cheeks, it’s been on there for weeks – that’s why they call her Vamping Rose.” Having been obsessed with boys from a very early age, Vamping Rose was exactly the sort of role model I sought (I am sorry to report that, in that respect, adult-Lucy has let down child-Lucy – I never wear rouge).