Once upon a time there was a groovy janitor. That is about all there is to say about him. He was groovy, and he was a janitor. Or, he was a janitor, and he was groovy. These two statements are not identical. We must be alert to nuance. Do we give more or less weight to his janitordom or to his grooviness? Much as we might wish to grant them equal importance, we know in our heart of hearts that to do so is blind idiocy. Oh come on, admit it. You are leaning, even if only slightly, in terms of your level of interest in this majestic piece of prose, towards the janitoriness or the groove.
As a janitor, the groovy janitor was often to be found in a corridor, with a mop and a pail, rattling a bunch of keys, or perhaps bearing down upon a fixture or fitting armed with a hammer or a screwdriver or a wrench. As a person of groove, the groovy janitor, while so engaged, would often be snapping his fingers to the latest sounds from some of our top beat groups, a long but not exhaustive list of which has been compiled by Bernard Levin. Shall we refamiliarise ourselves with the roll call?
Some [beat groups] were almost as famous, and successful, as the Beatles; some were known only to the most devoted aficionados. But all added to the atmosphere of the decade, and the isle was full of noises as never before, coming from, among others, the Rolling Stones, the Bee Gees, the Monkees, the Doors, the Cream, the Mothers of Invention, the Seekers, the Who, the Small Faces, the Pretty Things, the Animals, the Pink Floyd, the Scaffold, the Grateful Dead, the Tremoloes, the Family, the Supremes, the Holding Company, the Four Tops, the Led Zeppelin, the Shadows, the Exploding Galaxy, the Editors, the Fugs, the Gods, the Kinks, the Hermits, the Paper Dolls, the Breakaways, the Greaseband, the Casuals, the Amen Corner, the Big Sound, the Flirtations, the Herd, the Marbles, the Status Quo, the New York Public Library, the Hollies, the Foundations, the Electric Havens, the Four Seasons, the Bachelors, the Seychelles, the Love Affair, the Fifth Dimension, the Three Dog Night, the Equals, the Vagabonds, the Marmalade, the Mindbenders, the Moody Blues, the Mirettes, the Tuesday’s Children, the Plastic Penny, the Procol Harum, the Troggs, the Fruit Machine, the Union Gap, the 1910 Fruitgum Co., the Beach Boys, the Fairport Convention, the Vanity Fair, the Harmony Grass, the Aces, the Young Tradition, the Nice, the Dubliners, the Tinkers, the Fleetwood Mac, the Incredible String Band, the Web, the Little Free Rock, the Blodwyn Pig, the Liverpool Scene, the Spooky Tooth, the Third Ear, the High Tide, the Mamas and Papas, the Carnations, the Pacemakers, the From Genesis to Revelation, the O’Hara Express, the Pentangle, the Chickenshack, the Blind Faith, the Fourmost, the Searchers, the Four Pennies, the Bar-Kays, the Unit Four Plus Two, the Hedgehoppers Anonymous, the Applejacks, the Box Tops, the Edison Lighthouse, the Blood, Sweat and Tears, the Vibrations, and the Rada Krishna Temple.
From this we can adduce that our groovy janitor was being groovy, and a janitor, in the 1960s. But that was half a century ago! He is fifty years older now, creaking, wrinkle-rutted, near bald and toothless, gasping weakly from a bed in a Mercy Home. It is no longer accurate to describe him as a janitor, for he has carried out no janitorial duties for twenty years at least. We can call him an ex-janitor, or a retired janitor. And what of his grooviness? Is he still groovy? Let us ask the superintendent of the Mercy Home, Mrs Pantoofle.
“The retired janitor lying sprawled in his iron cot in Hopeless Ward? You are asking me if he is groovy? Define your terms, please.”
We set out for her the chief characteristics of grooviness, in alphabetical order, supported by illustrative diagrams we have tucked in our pocket for just such an eventuality.
“I see,” says Mrs Pantoofle, though as she is wearing a pair of very stylish mirror sunglasses we cannot be sure of the truth of this remark.
“I would say,” she continues, “Taking everything into account, that the ex-janitor has indeed retained his grooviness. Only the other morning, as one of the skivvies attended to his bedpan, she noted that he was babbling incoherently in his weak and reedy voice. With great presence of mind, she made a tape of his gibbering on the Mercy Home cassette recorder. We played it back during the staff meeting at lunchtime, while eating fruit. At first the tape yielded nothing intelligible, but when we pricked up our ears and concentrated very hard, we realised the retired janitor was reciting “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg. What could be groovier than that? It fried my wig, daddy-o!”
The moral of this story is that, while janitordom may fade away and vanish, grooviness prevails. Let that be a lesson to you.
Stirring stuff, mon brave. Indeed, as a groovy Italian Ginsberg enthusiast might perhaps be moved to say, “Mi prende fuoco il parrucchino”.