In 1992, seven years after Back To The Future came out, I bought a guitar and a skateboard, and it was directly responsible for both. One of those lasted no more than a few weeks, gravity and gravel disrupting my dreams of hitching through Peterfield’s sleepy streets. The other, though, took hold quickly and has been a defining part of who I am ever since.
Marty McFly has a lot to answer for.
From the very beginning, my end game was Johnny B. Goode. I have no idea how old I was when I first saw the scene in Back To The Future where Marty silences the gaping group of highschool dancers by introducing them to rock ‘n’ roll – with Chuck Berry listening in the wings to his own future hit (how’s that for a Bootstrap Paradox?) – but it left its mark early on.
I was fifteen when I bought that guitar, and leading up to that point was a major transition period in my musical education. I’d been raised on the softest of pop and rock – Aha, Buck’s Fizz, Duran Duran and so on – but at that point I was starting to seek out louder sounds. I’d always had music floating around in my head (something I’m eternally grateful for), and I think my musical tastes were changing in parallel with my view of the world. Out the window went Bros, Billy Joel and Mariah Carey (I know, I know), in came Bon Jovi and, like a brick through my window, Iron Maiden. Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter is still something I sing subconsciously, and completely inappropriately, to my kids. What the hell. The riff is amazing.
Music was starting to overtake my interests, and it was around then I saw Michael J Fox’s performance. It’s the freedom that does it for me, every time. His character is so pleased that he hasn’t been wiped from history – understandable, really – that he just lets rip. His uptempo version of Johnny B Goode soon descends into the Greatest Movie Guitar Solo Of All Time (officially), his body thrashing around, face completely closed off to anything but the music. It’s this total submission to the song that knocked me sideways, and still does, really. I wanted that.
So, in my ignorance, I bought a Spanish classical acoustic for $15 and then spent months agonising over the effects the think nylon strings and wide bridge were having on my poor, tenderised fingers. My friend at college wrote out a chart of all the major chords and, over the next few years, I spent a few hours a night just trying to make this instrument sing. It was hard going, but that dream of being Marty \ pushed me on.
By the time I’d gone to university, I’d been given a blue Stratocaster clone, and discovered the joys of a smaller bridge and steel strings. Suddenly all the hours wresting with the Spanish acoustic seemed worth it; the Strat felt like a dream to play and I improved quickly. The chords started flowing together and I began writing songs that weren’t terrible. At University, I formed a band and we played our first gigs in the main hall, and Back To The Future’s influence showed its head once more. I found I was unable to stand still while playing; even in the quieter songs, I moved and flowed with every beat. My body reacted to every chord and pace change; the young boy who’d been wowed by Marty McFly letting go took control in those moments. As a monumentally shy person, the sense of liberation was wonderful.
That reaction to music stayed with me as I moved into anther band, from guitarist to singer, pure and unhinged and amazing to feel. Even though I’m not in a band any more, and my guitar playing is almost exclusively either Old Macdonald or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to an audience of one, that reaction never changes. I feel very lucky that my will to create music, and move with my creations, has stayed with me for 23 years. I watch my two kids dance without prompting to the music around them and I feel so happy that they might experience my uncontrollable musical high for themselves one day.
And all of this because of a movie. I often think about Back To The Future’s influence on my life, and today seemed like an obvious time to put it into words. I love the whole trilogy, and the sequels have affected me in different ways – BTTF2’s time paradoxes constantly sneaking into my own writing, and who knows if my daughter’s name was subconsciously influcenced by BTTF3’s Clara – but it’s the original that I’ll always hold close to my heart.
So thanks Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, Steven Spielberg, Michael J Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and everyone involved in making this masterpiece. How fitting that your story of how past events can utterly shape your future has been such a large part in the definition of my own.