When I was a kid, I’d always compare myself to young footballers; not only were they literally the only celebrities 10 year-old James had any contact with, but these 17 and 18-year-olds were that perfect mixture of being young enough to be relatable to a child, yet old enough for their lives to be separated from my own, and their lives as athletes to be something I was so far away from that I could put off becoming a pro footballer for the foreseeable future. But then I became 16 and 17, and slowly crossed off milestones that I’d missed: Aaron Lennon was playing for the Leeds first team at sixteen; Wayne Rooney won the BBC’s Young Sports Personality Of The Year award at seventeen; Iker Casillas was starting the Champions’ League final at nineteen, the age I’ll be in almost exactly a month next week.
I don’t think it’s harmful to have these aspirations based on people, especially when you’re younger; they provide some general parameters for what you define as a ‘successful’ life when the rest of your time is spent playing Need For Speed Carbon, and can help split up the various phases of life into manageable sections, as opposed to the only other people you know in your life who are either old (your parents and teachers) or the same age as you (your friends). But as you grow older, and people turn out to be more than images on a screen for you to gawp at and feel inferior to (at least most of the time), standards shift to more tangible things, things that you can achieve, rather than people you can emulate.
And with this aspiration based on product, I have found a mark against which to judge myself for the next five years: Classified’s excellent 2001 album, Union Dues, a record so obscure it’s not even on iTunes. All of these aspirations work off the dodgy indicator of progress that is age – we all grow and develop at different rates so it’s not a great scale but bear with me – and if we look at that, Classified released this album at the age of 24 and, frankly, it’s one of his best: it’s punchy without feeling like a churned-out, record exec cock-sucking EP; it’s musically stripped down and edgy without any of the musical fuzziness of a Minor Threat album; it’s lyrically diverse, and surprisingly mature for a bloke without much commercial success to his name. Obviously, it’s not a perfect record, but I think that as a piece of art produced by someone very much in the early stages of their life, it has a depth and stylistic craft that’s truly commendable.
I’m not going to be dropping a rap album any time soon, but it’s those last two things that I can work towards in my writings (be it in these posts, prose, poetry, journalism or god knows what I’ll try next), and those two things that I’ll judge myself as a writer against on my 24th birthday. With any luck, I’ll still be writing this blog, and we’ll be able to see how it’s gone.