As far back as I could remember, my tastes seemed to have stuck out from other children. It was the mid 1990s, and I was settling into my new home in Long Island, New York after spending my infant years in Queens. Along with other kids of my generation, I was sort of attached to my television set, except that I was absorbing the likes of Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' (the first music video I could remember seeing) and 'Dreams' by The Cranberries in tandem with the flow of cartoons and that. Another piece of music that stuck in my head was 'Buddy Holly' by Weezer through the original Windows 95 and was my entry into the world of the 'alternative' which would follow me forever after. In my teens, I fell in love with the likes of Daft Punk and Gorillaz via a strong presence of the former on the U.S. cable channel, Cartoon Network, during a time when hip-hop artist Eminem made clear that 'nobody listens to techno' even though, in regards to what my pop-culture interests were, I was pretty damn content with being a 'nobody' .
It should be noted that around this period, I was (jokingly) singled out by my older cousins for being far too 'white' for their liking, whilst they were immersing themselves in the Hip-Hop and R&B dump on BET. It did irk me a little growing up that some people had no shame in trying to confine me to one distinct culture of music/TV/etc. based on my race alone. Of course, it's the current 'popular' thing among black youths here in the States to venture outside the environs of social construct in terms of what stuff your into, but back then, your tastes seemed to be penciled in. Over at school, my oddball status was welcomed to a minor degree, with classmates being mildly interested in my 40% verbatim oral transcripts of documentaries about Bruce Lee and toss-away references to 60s Japanese Sci-Fi monster movies.
Undeterred for being called-out on my color-blind tastes by my family and the slight apathy from my classmates, I continued drifting through various sub-cultures before inadvertently hitting on a discovery that would change my life: a video on Youtube titled "Frankie Crocker - Ton of Dynamite", a two and a half minute, sepia-tinged video of several dancers played over the hypnotic 70s instrumental of the same name, written in honor of the legendary 70s NY radio DJ. In the 'related video' section of the webpage, there were a slew of clips featuring songs placed in this strange genre of "Northern Soul", these rare pieces of music that were long thought of as forgotten by the rest of the world, apart from pockets of the North or the Midlands of England.
So it was that I began a mini treasure hunt for these pieces, ultimatelyfinding gold with two other songs, "That Driving Beat" and "The Champion (part 1)", both by Willie Mitchell. For a time, the world of the Soulie was starting to consume me, leading me to develop a minor collection of hits on my Ipod (as I write this, my "Northern Soul Box" playlist consists of almost 180 'choons'). With my soft spot for rare 60s and 70s soul in place, I began to look into the history of the movement, finding its roots in Manchester's Twisted Wheel Club. As history states, the Northern Soul wave arrived near the end of the club's life in the late 60s/early 70s, when flower-power's grip was maniacally strong. The Wheel's true apex, of course, came during the Roger Eagle era of the early to mid part of the 1960s, which then catered to this odd gathering of sharply dressed men and women known as 'Mods'
Up to that point, the concept of Mod in the U.S. was pretty much stuck in the mid to late 60s Carnaby Street rainbow world of colorful short dresses, pinstripe suits, ascots, and a whole slew of repugnant proto-hippie gear, exemplified in the Austin Powers movies. The truth about Mod's genesis was, thankfully, a lot more alluring. Post-WWII British kids, fed up with the austerity of the past generation, choosing to develop something of a cultural melting pot by snapping up not only America's Ivy-League style and Soul/Jazz expertise, but also Italy's level of urbanity, both in sartorial flair as well as transportation, France's New-Wave cinema and literature, and The Caribbean's love of Ska and the Rude Boy culture. This melding of different lifestyles showed definite parallels to my own eclecticism, and a magnetism towards this world they call Mod was beginning to take shape. In time, I dipped my toe into everything the culture had to offer, only clicking with aspects that truly hit me on contact. The often stereotyped Mod diet of The Who, Small Faces, Quadrophenia, Paul Weller, et. al., while all entertaining, weren't (and still aren't) exactly my thing*. By contrast, I grew attached to uptempo classic and modern-day soul and garage-rock and a presently developing fetish towards one day owning a cream-colored Vespa smallframe, while simultaneously digging into outside influences such as funk, surf rock, 70s glam, etc.
In all honesty, however, I'm not a true member of the Mod scene as yet. Sartorially, I'm still stuck in teenager-mode, going for jeans and t-shirts, although there are plans for an upgrade. There aren't really any immediate places here on Long Island that fit this way of life, be it clothes, music, or people who share the same interests. But from that isolation comes strength and contentment in the knowledge that I'm a rare breed, someone who finds no joy in the tired world of velour tracksuits, gangsta rap, 'hipster' or 'emo' culture or Lady Gaga. I don't know where Mod culture is going to take me, but I do hope that this is going to serve me for a while.
*The film version of Quadrophenia does have a sort of attachment to me above the other three, as the company that released the film in the U.S., World Northal, was the chief distributor or many a kung-fu movie in the 1970s, effectively feeding both present love of Mod as well as my childhood love of Kung-Fu flicks