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Revisiting Aberdeen University thirty years on - click opera — LiveJournal
February 2010
 
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Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 11:25 am
Revisiting Aberdeen University thirty years on

For the most amazing Proustian rush of your life, here's what to do. Go to university in a chilly north British town from, say, 1978 to 1984. Listen to lots of indie music, read the NME, study English, Sociology, Psychology, hang out with art students, that sort of stuff. Then -- this is crucial -- don't go back. Not for at least thirty years.



When you finally do revisit, make sure you choose a beautiful sunny day in summer. Walk around on your own, investigating the buried archeological layers of your own soul while replaying in your head the songs you associate with these granite buildings and grim 70s interiors. Revisit the sacred place where you lost your virginity, the place where you wrote the songs for your first album, the place where you told author Ali Smith about the big crush you had on her.

Take the 20 bus from Marishall College and the Student Union (both about to be turned into something else) to the ivy-clad gentility of King's College, where you attended lectures and read books of fashionable alienation late at night. Then continue to Hillhead Halls of Residence, where you lived for three years. Tell the porters you were a student here thirty years ago, and ask if you can stay overnight. They'll charge you £20 and give you the keys to a little cell with a desk, a lamp, a bed, a basin, a cupboard, a mirror. You'll wake up there and walk out into this amazing simulacrum of the scenery of your youth. It'll be the most incredible time machine you've ever assembled, the biggest expanse of adult life you've ever eliminated all at once, a succession of madeleines.

Bear in mind that this kind of thing won't happen twice. Next time you visit your old university it won't all be so powerfully evocative, so multiple. The seagulls will just be seagulls, not 1979 Simple Minds seagulls. And there's nowhere else you knew this well, and left deep-frozen in a time-sealed capsule for quite this long. The poetry won't ever be quite this poignant again, the personal archeology quite this deep.

30CommentReply


(no subject) - (Anonymous)

(Anonymous)
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 12:15 pm (UTC)
Mmm


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 11:05 am (UTC)

I have to say, I think our music was better and more modern than the music the class of 2007 associate with their time at Aberdeen: The Killers "All These Things That I've Done"...



That's more efficient and more old-fashioned than the New Wave I link with Aberdeen. You know, that copy of The Wire I found in McHardy's newsagent -- where I used to buy the NME thirty years ago, and which is written by many of the same writers, and features Mark Stewart now whereas it featured The Pop Group then -- had a couple of very interesting little sentences in it, on the Film and DVD review page. Asides, really, but very telling ones.

Reviewing Chris Petit's film Radio On (which of course I saw when it first came out), reviewer Owen Hatherley says "1979 is a pivotal year for British music, the point where Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, PiL, The Slits and others were confidently creating a new, paranoid, fractured futurist music out of a post-industrial landscape... That [Radio On] has had so few successors is sad, if predictable. It proposes a turn to Europe, when... the future lay in seamless Americana and an infantilised retail culture."

Then Mark Fisher says of Grant Gee's new Joy Division documentary: "Joy Division, which begins with an epigraph from Marshall Berman's All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity, is selfconsciously a study of a time and a place, both of which are now gone. (So, too, perhaps, is the experience of modernity itself, with Joy Division one of the last paragons of a paperback and pop mass marketed modernism, long since supplanted by a populist postmodernism.)"

That really rings true: we were definitely living in the very last part of Modernism, a mass-marketed outer ring of an elitist, idealistic art movement which still had "make it new" as its motto. And then Post-Modernism came along, and the whole idea of making it new went out the window.

I think Mojo and The Wire are both "magazines in mourning", because they both remember a time when pop music was trying to "make it new" rather than "make it classic". Mojo is the conservative face of that nostalgia for Modernism, The Wire the radical face. Two sides of the same Retro Necro coin, perhaps.

Edited at 2008-06-21 11:38 am (UTC)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 11:42 am (UTC)

It's worth adding that I saw The Pop Group live at the Aberdeen University Students Union in 1979, supported by The Good Missionaries. Today's Aberdeen students, confronted by Mark Stewart screeching "she is beyond good and evil... we are all prostitutes... how much longer must we tolerate mass murder?" and Mark Perry's krautrock-dub readings of Marshall McLuhan, would probably be completely wall-eyed. They'd wonder what the hell was going on. We did too, but at least we got the chance to wonder.

Then again, we couldn't eat a whole tube of wasabi at one go then vomit it up in the toilet. We didn't even know what wasabi was back then.


ReplyThread Parent
thegooseking
thegooseking
Barnyard Royalty
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 12:07 pm (UTC)

I remember the "horrible 70's refectory" as recently as probably 2002. It's only in the last few years that it was stripped out and remodelled and rebranded as The Hub. McHardy's, too, used to be the post office, but the post office part of it was closed only about three years ago.

It is very strange to hear nostalgic ruminations contextualised with images that are, to me, very contemporary (especially since, I imagine, many of the changes are so recent). I took a walk around the campus only last week, and it's only a few weeks ago that I was sitting exams there. Marischal College is just around the corner from my flat. I wonder if my experiences and thoughts will be similar in 2040, or how they will differ.

I didn't lose my virginity at Hillhead, though. That was at Liverpool Uni's halls of residence instead. I never studied at Liverpool; my girlfriend at the time's mother worked for the accommodation service.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 12:17 pm (UTC)

I think this was definitely the last chance for a deep archeological dig back to the late 70s; there are big changes afoot. Marishall College is going to be the Aberdeen City Council's new offices, the old Student Union I think is going to be demolished, or certainly completely refitted inside, and even Hillhead is going to change completely when it's taken over by Liberty Living, the private (and expensive) student accommodation firm. The uni doesn't want to run student halls any more.

I was too late to see Dunbar Hall before they razed it to the ground (leaving a very lovely meadow in its place), but apparently the new structure is going to be very similar, just with more surveillance cameras and fewer trees.


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dabroots
dabroots
dabroots
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 12:16 pm (UTC)

Very entertaining! Did you put it together on Powerpoint?

I'd like to do something similar with a visit to University of Illinois. I was a student there about five years before yours at Aberdeen. U of I had that similar feel of architectural contrasts between classic halls of centuries past (really just one century past in the case of Illinois) and functional, yet ugly new ones from the 1960s and 70s. Terrible time for popular music in the US. I was one of the last graduating classes to use card catalogs that had real cards, instead of computers.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 12:21 pm (UTC)

I put it together in iMovie.

I bet the University of Illinois wasn't founded in 1495! That would be some time travel -- get some of the class of 1499 and show them how the place has changed. They'd put a nice film together with some madrigals that would put my shouty New Wave to shame.


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thomascott
thomascott
Thomas Scott
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 03:49 pm (UTC)
That Time

This is obviously a very personal account.
There is a particular poignancy in re-visiting the physical geography of memories, to indulge in that ineffable sadness at what is gone but also, very immediately, this desire to leave, to return to the life you now lead.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 03:53 pm (UTC)
Re: That Time

Oh, absolutely. It feels great to be back in Berlin! Or Aberleen, as we Aberlonians call it.


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peripherus_max
peripherus_max
peripherus_max
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 03:53 pm (UTC)

"The seagulls will just be seagulls, not 1979 Simple Minds seagulls."

This line... is just too beautiful to bear. Uncanny. I've never been to Aberdeen. I've never lived close to the sea, nor experienced Jim Kerr in exactly the way that you describe. Yet, I suddenly want to hear that broad lifting synth coupled with his voice and to stare smilingly at a fizzy grey sea.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)

Seagulls were an important part of the North Sea New Wave!



Oh no, now I've ruined the beauty with a cheap joke!

But I do remember seeing Simple Minds in concert in a tiny room next to the Art Gallery, and there were literally 20 people there. Perhaps they're back down to those kinds of audiences again now, who knows? Perhaps they're playing free shows "for the birds".


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desant012
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Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 04:05 pm (UTC)

Pretty sad how some parts of culture seem to stop. I remember sitting at my school's library reading old 60s paperbacks of Artaud, trading copies of Bataille with potential love interests, etc. The music that was big when I went to school was ... late 70s post punk like the Pop Group (this was the 2001 post punk revival). I don't even know what was new then, I think stuff like Enon and Boards of Canada... but the meat of it was talking about whatever revival you were more into.

Of course now students have their Ariel Pinks and Blank Dogs, and they're better for it.


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desant012
||||||||||
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 04:57 pm (UTC)

Nevermind, I just found a fan email I sent to the lead singer of Xiu Xiu nearly 6 years ago, so some interesting stuff went on. It really is sad, though, how ""retro necro"" or whatever does have its grip on culture. Go to bars in Indie Land and 80% of the music played is from 76-83.


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daisy_suzuki
daisy_suzuki
daisy_suzuki
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 08:39 pm (UTC)

I'm enjoying your account. I left Aberdeen in 1979 as a 3-year old, during a what I understand was a particularly messy family breakup. Also, I too have a crush on Ali. What a lovely woman she is.

dx


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cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 08:39 pm (UTC)

Good timing. I'll be doing just this in two weeks - visiting my home town, Pittsburgh, Pa., which I haven't seen since 1982 and while we're there we plan to visit my old school in Latrobe, Pa., Saint Vincent College where I received my education in The Benedictine Fucking Tradition.

This post also made me think of the Map of Swindon inside XTC's Go2 album.


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shadowshark
shadowshark
ShadowShark
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 11:50 pm (UTC)

So how do you feel about Lacan these days? It's strange to think that nobody's borrowed them since then.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jun. 25th, 2008 10:44 am (UTC)

Actually, the images and voice together at that point might be misleading -- I didn't really discover Lacan until much later in the 80s, through TV broadcasts of his Sorbonne cours, which I collected avidly on VHS. I found him provocative and interestingly impenetrable, but I think it was his OTT delivery which really impressed me most, more than the Freudian revisionism.

The Lacan in French at Aberdeen library had never been borrowed, period. I guess Psychology undergrads don't speak French, and French undergrads don't read Psychology.


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nagrom_the_pink
nagrom_the_pink
nagrom_the_pink
Sat, Jun. 21st, 2008 11:53 pm (UTC)

this makes me wonder more whether I'm missing something terribly important by doing an undergrad that feels like a graduate degree at a campus-less city school.


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st_ranger
st_ranger
Palimpsests of a Secret Whistler
Sun, Jun. 22nd, 2008 12:07 am (UTC)

I'm sure you'll find something just as illusory and silly to be nostalgic about.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jun. 22nd, 2008 06:54 am (UTC)
Thanks

That was a beautiful entry--thanks for sharing :-)


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