Trixie’s Big Red Motorbike – Norman & Narcissus (1983)

I heard this song on John Peel’s Radio 1 show in 1983 and taped it. The vocals are by Jane Fox of The Marine Girls, who were very popular with students at Xaverian Sixth Form College in Rusholme; we all bought the Cherry Red sampler Pillows & Prayers, mainly because it was so affordable at 99p.

That same year I bought The Smiths’ second single ‘This Charming Man'; I discovered The Smiths through friends at Xaverian, although, to my knowledge, none of the 1200 sixth-form students had any direct link with the band, which was very odd because the majority of us were of Irish Catholic descent.

I wrongly thought that the picture on the record sleeve was the lead singer:

Jean Marais 'Orphee' 1949

In fact, the ‘cover star’ was Jean Marais, a French matinee idol, who was the lover and muse of avant-garde artist, writer and film maker Jean Cocteau.

I assumed the cover referenced the story of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection… but actually the still comes from Cocteau’s 1949 film Orpheus.

Within mythic symbolism and psycho-analysis, Orpheus and Narcissus can be considered to represent opposite qualities, but in general terms, Orpheus symbolises music and Narcissus symbolises self-destructive self-love.

Name-dropping Greek mythic characters, picturing French artists’ muses, and the use of literary references in general, were par for the course within early 80’s indie music; the lyrics were often unashamedly bookish… Lloyd Cole*, Orange Juice and Prefab Sprout also spring to mind… At that time, rock’n’roll excess was something indie bands self-consciously avoided.

There was a ‘folk music’ vibe, although we didn’t think of it like that, because during the seventies ‘folk’ meant hippies, rose-tinted rural nostalgia or left-wing political activism, whereas we were interested in city culture, art, film, Americana, retro-glamour, ‘glamour of austerity’ and tales of romance and introspection. J.D. Salinger and Beat Generation writers were in, and so was jazz; the promise was a counter-culture which was more hip than hippie.

Walking past magazine racks in Tesco, it’s hard not to feel nostalgic. The only alternative which music and music journalism seem to offer to mainstream consumer conformity these days is rock’n’roll excess, which is not really an alternative, as our entire culture is built on self-indulgence. But they do give us a practical demonstration of Orpheus and Narcissus: music, combined with endlessly repeated, self-referencing, cliched images.

*Lloyd Cole embarks on an acoustic tour next month, see www.songkick.com for more details. Martin Stephenson is also touring this spring.

Postscript
I should differentiate between individual narcissism (a personal flaw but a performance advantage) and the smug superficial corporate narcissism radiated by the music establishment and associated media.