Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
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1)The Vanishing Girl
She stands in the foreground in all of her washed-out wintry splendour. In the background is an old watermill and its millpond. The trees and overgrown vegetation which surround her, have an aura of pre-raphaelite decay about them. Over the whole photograph is a trippy psychedic tinge. To modern eyes she appears gothic – a Lily Munster or Morticia Adams figure. To anyone who was there at the time, she would only have seemed to be an average hippy chick cloaked for winter -- were it not for the greenish hue of her face, which endows her with a ghostly quality. Known variously as 'the figure' or 'the woman on the first Black Sabbath album cover' she is one of rock music's unsolved mysteries, since no one now can remember who she was.
Using her as a metaphor for the end of the Sunny Sixties, the decade in which I grew up, this seemed as good a place as any to begin my quest. Black Sabbath recorded their debut album in November of 1969. The disc was released on February 13th 1970, spawning in the process a new genre of music which the world came to know as Heavy Metal. Sabbath, were at that time an 'underground' band, very much an unproved, unknown quantity who in a famously fickle business, had just recorded their debut album on a budget.
The photo was taken at Mapledurham Watermill, in Oxfordshire. Let's speculate then, that cold and bored, our vanishing girl posed for the shots, got back in the car, was paid and went home. She may not have even known -- possibly didn't care where the photos ended up.
Assuming that she's still alive, she'll probably be in her sixties now. Whatever she was doing then, she's almost certainly doing something different nowadays. As am I.
I was six years and ten months old at the start of the 1960s. And I was just two months short of seventeen when 1970 dawned. I lived through the whole of the 1960s -- The Party After The War as someone once called the period -- firstly as a child and then as young teenager. I've been haunted by it ever since.
After a recent brush with death, the memories and little flashbacks of that time kept coming back to me with ever increasing intensity. I realise now that I'd witnessed the decade through very innocent young eyes. We hear so much from those people who were there at the time, -- people who are eight or ten years older than me, – now debunking the era, destroying in the process some of its mystique. For me, however, that mystique was very real. The 1960s was akin to one sunny week in a long decade of rain and darkness. There must have been others like myself who felt the same, surely? Or is it the pure nostalgia of one whose ship now draws ever further away from the distant quayside of his youth. For, after all, I wasn't really in the 1960s. I never experienced it as an adult. I merely watched it, felt it, and heard it as it passed through my young life. Like a vanishing girl, in fact.