My song today is ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’. This song was co-written and recorded by Canadian singer Shania Twain. It was released in December 1998. The song was written by Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange and Twain and was originally released to North American country radio stations in late 1998. It became her third biggest single on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ and remains one of Twain's biggest hits worldwide. ‘That Don't Impress Me Much’ has appeared in all of Twain tours. The country version was performed on the ‘Come on Over Tour’ and the dance version on the Up! Tour. ‘That Don't Impress Me Much’ was named ‘Foreign Hit of the Year’ at the ‘2000 Danish Grammy Awards’.
The song describes three self-absorbed suitors with whom Twain, as the title implies, is not impressed: a know-it-all ("Okay, so you're a rocket scientist"): a man obsessed with his looks ("Okay, so you're Brad Pitt”): and another obsessed with his car ("Okay, so you've got a car"). Twain states that brains, looks, and the car "won't keep (her) warm in the middle of the night" and seeks a man with "the touch" that can do so.
When I was first married in 1968, I was at the stage of being socially mobile in a seemingly upwards direction. At the young age of 26 years, I was a Mill Manager on the night shift earning over double the average salary. I started married life with a teacher wife, and with 90 percent of a new three-bedroomed detached house that cost £4.400 paid for. I was also planning to take a university degree in History after I had gained my university qualifications at three years of night school classes. I planned to teach history to secondary school pupils. I was a handsome young man of good intelligence, in robust health, and the world was my oyster, just waiting to be opened.
In the crescent behind our matrimonial house was twenty new-build semis, in which lived five newly married couples next door to each other. Over the next ten years, we would all become close friends. Ours was the only detached house in the crescent and being almost mortgage-free the day we married placed us in an enviable position for any young married couple from working-class stock. Our money for our house purchase came from two accidents that yielded each of us compensation; myself when I was run over by a wagon at the age of 11 years, and my wife’s compensation for being the child of a man who had died from industrial cancer.
The era when we married was known as ‘keeping up with the Jones’ time. We six crescent couples socialised together a few times a week, and it could be said that we finished up living in each other’s pockets as we became the closest of friends. The six husbands would drink together at the local pub on a Thursday night while the six wives would gather in one house and entertain themselves until supper time, after which the men would have returned from the pub. The men’s arrival would be the cue to taste whatever delicious food spread that weeks’ hostess had prepared for our discerning and critical palates. As the hostess received the highest of false praise from her house guests for having prepared such a sumptuous fare she had reportedly ‘thrown together’ in a few hours that afternoon, the men would commence some serious conversation which was designed to change the world, and the twelve of us would talk ‘intelligently’ until the early morning hours.
Meanwhile, the poor hostess (who had spent all week preparing her secret ‘thrown together’ supper) would be thinking of still being up at 3:00 am, before she got to bed after washing and tidying everything away. It was no good the hostess expecting her poor tired husband to assist, as he would be fast asleep in bed snoring his head off five minutes after the last house guest had left, making manly noises loud enough to frighten the downstairs’ dogsbody and dishwasher. After all, the poor husband had played his part to perfection that night. Having placed the responsibility on his wife of cooking a meal that would be remembered and spoken about for months after, all he was required to do as ‘man of the house’ was to gratefully receive the plaudits from his house guests for having married ‘such a good cook’. Such praise was usually intended, understood, and accepted as a ‘double entendre’, as each of the six sexy wives could have easily been picked from a fashion parade of models strutting the catwalk.
As well as taking turns to entertain on Thursday evenings as well as providing sit-down food for a dozen people once a month, we would also eat out at as a group at a good restaurant once a month, and we would usually go dancing once a week. We also holidayed for two weeks every year for the first six years of our friendship, before the first of our children came along. We were all able to keep up with this high standard of living because of our professional jobs, our good monthly salaries, and because none of us (apart from me) wanted to start a family until our seventh year of marriage. They wanted to make sure that no ‘seven-year itch’ would disturb their cosy marriage existence as they intended to give it a bloody great scratch! In short, they had all settled for living the ‘high life’ and to hell with putting the ‘married life’ on hold until the physical and monetary resources had been greatly dissipated and a more serene and settled life would be advocated by the doctor.
It is difficult for people today to grasp how shallow were the values of the middle-class households in the late 1960s and 1970s. Many evenings would be considered as being ‘socially stimulating’ to entertain half a dozen over a sit-down meal and a few bottles of decent wine, and where the conversation would always come around to the very same subjects as the group discussed the previous time they'd met. Such stimulating subjects included the rising cost of houses: the profit we had all made on the house we lived in since we’d initially bought it: how expensive and functional our new dining table or suite was: the nature of the expensive indoor wallpaper we had hung in the loo: the price of the new oven and the bargain we had managed to get by beating down the aggressive salesman: or what type of motor car we would be getting when we next exchanged vehicles. It is no surprise that one of the well-remembered ‘Plays for Today’ on B.B.C. in the 1970s was ‘Abigail’s Party’; devised and directed in 1977 by Mike Leigh. This play showed the snobbishness that still prevailed in the lives of those socially-upward mobile individuals who an aunt of mine would often describe as ‘mutton dressed up as lamb!”
It shames me today to think that though I always was out of step with my new marriage friends, and never truly fitted in with the ‘in-crowd’, I nevertheless allowed myself to be prepared to follow their way of life for my first seven years of marriage. It wasn’t until after I became a Probation Officer and allowed myself to see the superficiality of such an existence, that I began to rail against the shallow materialism that we were all drowning in as the whirlpool of our commonly practised values, dragged us lower and lower.
I became the ‘rebel of the group’, and my first wife would even apologise on my behalf whenever we got together at each other’s houses, even before I had verbally objected to some social, sexual, disabled, or racially discriminatory comment by one of the group.
The bottom line was that what once impressed me no longer did. I was now instantly repulsed, and I found myself returning to my core working-class values which I had previously thought I had left behind upon my marriage to a teacher who had come from working-class stock with middle-class pretensions. This change ‘back to my roots’ and my refusal to continue with ‘my new way of life’ became a marital wedge that split us up as soon as our two children were born. Before the children had started their first school, my wife wanted us to separate and divorce. Within a few years of my divorce, five of the six crescent couples had divorced, and they all went their different middle-class ways.
As for me, I deeply resisted and regretted the ending of my marriage at the time, but once having left it, I knew that our breakup was inevitable, and was for the best. I had opened my eyes once more to the gross inequality, unfairness, poverty, and rottenness of ‘materialism’ and ‘financial aspiration’. I have often heard it said that sometimes a person needs to be broken down before they can be properly rebuilt. That was certainly true as far as I was concerned.
The remaining years of my life concerned the reconstruction of my own character into a mind, body, and soul that was at peace with its unified whole. This is still a project in the making, but hopefully, the passing of each day brings me one step closer to being the good person my Maker intended me to be.
Now that I think about ‘image’ and ‘impressions’, it fascinates me to think about the extent people are prepared to go to impress another/others. My advice to such social climbers today would be to always put one’s best foot forward, not to impress others but to impress self and enhance self-respect. One always impresses more by one’s appropriate actions than one’s words.
When I think back to my shallow life of the early 70s, and before I became a Probation Officer, I shudder to think about the money we wasted on buying things to socially impress and to elevate our position as a newly married couple on the up-and-up in the ‘gang of gross gullibility’.
Over the years, I have grown more comfortable in my own skin, and I have learned to like more the person I have become. I am not perfect, nor ever could be, but what I lack in perfection, I make up for in humanity. Very few people are held in awe by me, and the ones who are most likely live next door to you and me. I have learned to compete fiercely in most of life's activities but to lose graciously. I have always taken the side of the underdog, and nothing pleases me more than to see a person of small stature take command in a huge arena. Most of us are impressed when the small person stands tall, stands proud, and stands up for what they believe in!
There are lots of things which might have once turned my head but today ‘don’t impress me much’. I have often wondered, “If the whole world was blind, how many people would we be able to impress then?” Then I ask myself “What would it take to impress a blind person?” I now know that being able to express our love is the most impressive thing of all and that our need to genuinely touch another (as the current pandemic virus has taught us) is more important than ever to our continuing comfort and constant sanity.
Love and peace Bill xxx