As I prepare for my... sixth?... trip to England next week, I've gone back into my blog drafts - there are over 450 unpublished posts! - to find one I wrote in 2006 and never published. For a long time I wanted nothing personal on this blog, but as time marches on, I just don't care. Another blogger encouraged me to post about some of my favorite albums, so with my impending return to the "motherland," I've chosen a perfect record of the 1980's: Prefab Sprout's Two Wheels Good.
As is often the case for music lovers, my attraction to this album is intrinsically tied to a period in my life. I was in my first year of college, in Fredericksburg, Virginia - The Town That Fun Forgot - and, by chance, met an older female student who I believe I was fated to meet. My self-image changed in the course of a matter of weeks - not everything, just certain pieces that came into clearer focus. An older student, she seemed so mature and wise, when she was actually just 23 at the time. She lived off campus in an actual apartment, which I didn't even know was MY dream until I saw her place.
People around me know I am a big proponent of the concept of mentors. Looking back on this relationship, I can see that's what was happening. I'm fortunate that people I've chosen to really listen to were wise.... and I've been protected in that way. But I was also open to it: there is an energy that flows in some relationships and it requires both people to be on a certain frequency. You know it when it happens - it's strikingly clear. These friends make you feel like a better version of yourself.
Two Wheels Good, known as Steve McQueen in the UK, is one of the definitive and most literate pop albums of the 1980's, along with records by Lloyd Cole and Kate Bush, among others. Produced by the esteemed Thomas Dolby, each song is a gem... so much so that I'm not sure I can describe my feeling for them.
The opener, Faron is a trucker's midnight fix, bouncing along, keeping him awake. Appetite is impossibly smooth and sexy, with a great refrain: "I think I'll call you appetite." When Love Breaks Down, the one you are most likely to have heard in an elevator, is classic breakup mode: "When love breaks down / the things you do / can't stop the truth from hurting you.. / When love breaks down / you join the wrecks / who leave their hearts for easy sex."
A few years after discovering this album, in 1991, when my friend had long since left Fredericksburg, I moved into an apartment off campus and I often thought of her when I'd walk home from class, going past her old building. Bonny is one of the most wistful, elegiac songs of the 80's - and so distinctly English. It seems silly now, but I remember thinking of my friend when I'd hear the line "Bonny don't live at home" as I walked past her place. I love Paddy's deep backing vocals at the very end, and I remember another good friend talking about how the easiest, best job would be being Wendy, Prefab's female backing vocalist, who had very little do except trill along with Paddy like a little bird.
Prefab Sprout Bonny
You must know me
Father, it's your son
And I know that you are proud
Of everything I've done
It's the wonders I perform
Pulling rabbits out of hats
When sometimes I'd prefer simply to wear them
No, I wasn't a baby genius, but I am an only child and have often lived for my parents as much as myself, so that's how I absorbed that lyric.
Prefab Sprout Moving The River
I think most true music lovers have stories like this, of a time and place that are bound up in one particular album - I know they do. I have many stories, but this one is special because Two Wheels Good is the soundtrack to such an important stage in my life. Although that friendship proved to be sort of temporal, it too exists inside me every time I hear Paddy McAloon's warm voice.
I've decided to post a few pictures taken during the weeks I describe above - and I should add that despite the friend/mentor described above swanning out of my life in the most baffling way, my best friends of that era are still my best friends today. Bless them each. You can buy this album for a song on Amazon Marketplace and it is available on iTunes as well.