24 September 2011


I am standing in a shop, looking for superglue, when the ever present background music resolves itself into a song which I knew well when I was sixteen. As it happens, I recently saw the title in an internet jukebox listing sent to me by a friend, a couple of weeks ago; before that, I'd not thought of it for most of the 40 years since my teens ended.

I shall write more later, when I've time and space to think; for now, I'll just record the moment and then go back to finding that superglue.

[...time passes...]

And here we are again. It is later.

The song was by a group called Union Gap (which I always assumed, for no obvious reason that I can now justify, to be named after the place in Washington state, roughly equidistant from Seattle and Portland). Googling both song and group, now, I discover that memory is at fault: it was "The Union Gap, featuring Gary Puckett" (and, shortly after this one song which I remember, changed to "Gary Puckett and the Union Gap"). I have no memory whatsoever of Gary Puckett ... but then, I have rarely been good at knowing the names of individual members within a band.

Anyway ... to return to the subject ... the song itself was Young girl. In it, the first person voice is (to quote Wikipedia's delicately neutral wording) "a man distressed to find out his lover is under an acceptable age".

Perceptions change with time, age and experience. The reason I find it worthwhile to stop and think about this now is that, within the first few bars, I became aware of a sharp discontinuity in my own perceptions of this song between "then" and "now". What mix of time, age and experience, I am curious to know, accounts for that? What does it say about me, about the world, about the times?

When I was sixteen, we listened to Young girl often. In the youth club, on café jukeboxes, on the radio, on Dansette record players at home in our rooms... it wasn't in my usual line of musical preference (I was a folk rock sort of youngster) but it had a good, compelling tune and rhythm which got into my bloodstream and drove me along just as much as anyone else. The first two words, belted out loud but slow, guaranteed my attention ... and the next five, rattled off fast, held it:

YOUNG ... girl ... GetOutOfMyMind!

We (the teenagers around my age at the time ... or, more accurately, the teenaged boys around my age at the time), muttered to one another that the song was about Lindsey Cook*, a bubbly, vivacious and dramatically well developed fifteen year old in the class below me who spent all her free time with young soldiers (probably only a couple of years older than me) from the nearby military base. Looking back, I realise that this had less to do with moral judgment than with selfish envy: Lindsey, we felt, if truth be told, should be bestowing her attentions on us instead.

Now, four decades on, I find the song ... I can't think of a better word ... creepy.

Why is that?

Is it the result of working some of my time with vulnerable young people? Am I hearing echoes of two cases in which I saw young girls damaged by inappropriate relationships with older authority figures? Have I succumbed to that pernicious "bogeyman du jour", an obsession with fear of the pædophile behind every tree? Or have I just changed with the passing of time, become a boring old fart who has lost touch with his younger self?

Or all of the above, perhaps.

Whatever it is, I now feel my skin crawl when I hear the song (especially since discovering that Gary Puckett is still performing it today) – even as I find it impossible to eradicate the tune which, having been reheard, is now superglued into my neural pathways and won't ... “get out of my mind”.

* Not, I should mention, her real name.

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