Monday, August 01, 2005

After The Army

After The Army

If I'd factored in the sand then there was one thing I hadn't bargained on.


And not just a little bit of drizzle. Oh no. Pouring down, soaking you to the skin, leaving you with a wet bottom type rain. Ok, maybe the wet bottom bit wouldn't have happened under normal circumstances [unless I'd been lying with my bum in the air] and had more to do with deciding to sit in deckchairs. But, as one of my all time favourite films notes "there's a point when you can't get any wetter". I might have drowned, but I wasn't going anywhere.

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Scarborough. In July. I really should have guessed how it would turn out.

But along with the tiaras, party bags and comedy shaped balloons there was also the little matter of Griffin. After hitting 50 appearances in 52 weeks, it's slowed down somewhat this year. So much so that Saturday was only the second time I've seen Griffin this year. It was, however, devoid of some of the pre-Ilkley angst. I was rather unashamedly looking forward to the gig. If indeed it could be called a gig, given the fact it was part of a summer roadshow type thing and meant a return to the backing tracks of old. For a long, long time the only songs I heard Griffin sing where 'Bring It On' and 'Wherever You Will Go', always to a backing track, not always in that order. Post UMTV I've seen him sing to a backing track once. So I confess to not having particularly high hopes. I wasn't expecting magic. But equally there didn't seem to be any risk. If the risk came anywhere it was probably, and ironically, caused by this blog. Ilkley, and the last time I say Griffin fans on mass, was prior to DA-gate. And whilst I'm not egotistical enough to claim it caused more than a minor blip, it was enough for this blog to quadruple its daily hit count (such is the incestuous world of the Griffin fan that within 24 hours my blog had gained its own thread in the mods forum of AG and I had a steady stream of repeat viewings from there. And I think I can be 100% certain that they weren't coming to see what I'd written about cowboy boots). Thus I'd been very honest, to how I felt in that moment, how I've felt for a long time but I remain unsure of who exactly has read that great splash of honesty. How many people have peered into that bit of my brain and then wandered away. And being honest makes you a little vulnerable. I guess, since the beginning of the Griffin experience I've made myself slightly vulnerable. At one point I wrote lavish reports for AG, chronicling the experience, undoubtedly giving more of myself than I should have as I strived for that bit of me that likes to enertain with my writing whilst treading the increasingly difficult line of what it was possible to say about Griffin. I stopped that when it became clear that my writing was putting myself - and indeed my friends - in the firing line. Writing the DA-gate blog, in the college computer room one sunday evening, was something that was probably long overdue but it also meant I was sticking my head - and my honesty - over the parapet. And in doing that you open yourself up to being shot at.

As it was, there wasn't any need to stress. The rain and the deckchairs meant that it was impossible for me to socialise. Or if not impossible then on the difficult side. There were people I'd have liked to have spoken to, but in my need for self protection I've maybe become a little inward looking. In the past I remember spending endless hours socialising at Griffin gigs with an enthusiasm that now escapes me. For good or bad my own group of friends has tightened and I'm much, much less likely to go beyond them. And when I do its to people I've known since the beginning. Indeed it strikes me that the great AG-community has moved on, to be something that I'm emphatically no longer part of, even if I wanted to be. I think the Northern Division, or the ND as I always consider us, have written ourselves into its history, just as others have, and I know I'm still recognisable enough to have gotten all those extra hits to a blog which, ultimately occupies a very, very small part of the blogosphere, but we're AG's past. Not its present. And probably not its future either.

So maybe the fact that with the small stage, the pouring rain and the backing tracks Scarborough's gig was taking both Griffin and me back to the past was acting as a double bind. When it was announced the gig worried me. Would I - could I - deal with such a reminder? About where we'd been and how far we'd come, or more terrifyingly, not come? I have to confess that had the gig not been Scarborough, not have been in my back yard, I probably wouldn't have gone. If I'd travelled, like I did for Harlow back in 2003, it would literally have been going backwards. I'm not in the place I was then any more than Griffin is. But that remains hypothetical because it was Scarborough and I did go. And even with the rain, the predicted setlist (Wherever You Will Go, Oblivion, and a double dose of Bring It On) I'm really glad I did. For starters it never hurts to be reminded of just how lovely Griffin is. And his hair really was a work of art.

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And I think I can safely say that for as long as I live there will be something about Grififn's voice that makes my stomach flip. Even with the rain and the backing track and the jumping in the srowd and talking to the policewomen it was there, that undiscribeable thing that always makes me return. And when Griffin added our shouts of 'it's gone' and 'COME ON!' into the final 'Bring It On' I was rather touched.

The other moment of catharsis came, unexpectedly, when one of the presenters was talking about Griffin's fansite. He enquired if Griffin's fans had a name before suggesting one of his own. Griffin responded that we already had a name. But what that name was hung, unpronounced in the air. At one time a question as to what we were called would have been answered with a deafening shout. We were Ali's Army and then, with the familiarity of the name, we were simply the army. The army was something to be proud of. Was being the optimum word. It struck me, as it stayed unsaid by the collection of fans at the barrier, that "the army" had become a dirty word, a phrase that couldn't be uttered in public for all it represented.

Rather than depressing me, however, this revelation lifted me. Because I am and will always remain proud of being part of the army. And the reason that it has become a dirty word is not because of what it represents, but of who it represents. It's not a catch all tag that fits the current AG generation, its a tag that belongs to those who've gone before. Even in the beginning it wasn't as universal as it appeared. I can remember being completely thrilled that on his album notes Griffin had a special "and of course Ali's Army" thank you as well as one for "the fans". The army became even more specific in reality than belonging to members of AG. If it had always belonged to the site it would have remained so. But it didn't. It belonged to us. Not the ND us, though I think our very name - and its continued use - points to how embedded we were - are - in its myth - but to all of those who in the heady Bring It On days were part of the story. At York Grand Opera House, when Griffin dedicated Wherever You Will Go to "the army of fans who've followed me everywhere", it was implicit in his very words. "Wherever You Will Go" is our song, it's the army's song, testament to those Christmas light switch ons, those single and album signings, those early nightclub gigs. And the army - Ali's Army - were those who treked the country. Some of us still do. Some of us don't. But to be a Griffin fan, to be a member of AG, to be a prolific poster even, is not to make you part of the army.

Which is why, as the new generation attempts to establish itself, that the name has become one which, like Voldemort, must not be spoken. But in my recognising the position it now occupies, it's freed me. I was - and will forever remain - a member of Ali's Army. ALI'S ARMY. The Army. We've shared some wonderful times, we've done things I'm incredibly proud of and, if it never was our dream, our story, then it didn't stop us from walking some of the path. And however dirty the word, however much it is hidden under silence, nothing will ever be able to change that. In some way - even if just in memories - it will always exist.

After the gig we didn't stop to talk to Griffin, it was far too wet, and instead made our way to the pub. Soon though, we were on our way back to York, for the first time in months with Griffin's album playing in the car. And as we sung our way through it, adding Griffin's phrasing, our interjections, it felt wonderful. Each song, each line, brought back hundreds of memories.


Zelda said...

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but thats no matter - tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further... And one fine morning -
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have been a daily reader since before the 'DAgate' post and for what it is worth, I rather miss your reports on the forums although I was never quite comfortable with the Army tag.

Corinne said...

Zelda - it was rather lovely to come on here and see my all time favourite literature quote in my comments box. Not to mention your name ;-). Very true to the nature of the blog entry too I think. And thank you, I've always accepted the army tag wasn't to everyone's taste - and for all my eulogising of it even I see its failures, but there's a little bit of me that does miss those report writing days.

Anon - I hate to think how much space I've taken up, formerly in reports, in the travelogue, and now on here trying to talk through/round the Griffin experience in order to understand it. I'm never quite sure if it hits the mark or not - for myself as much as for other people - but I guess I've got some obsessive sharing disorder about it *rolls eyes*. And you're right, the army did defeat itself but it's something none of us - and if I can be as presumptuous to say maybe even Al as well - will forget.

Jude said...

Oh, how I miss those old Army campaigns! Have also missed reading your reports, so come here from time to time instead, to see what you're up to! I often go back to 'A Year in the Army' to wallow a little - when are you going to finish it?!!

Corinne said...

I'm actually writing a bit more of it at the moment...;-)

Anonymous said...

crack on then love