Music came up again today. Every day I walk my dog over a local hill, Spotify-fuelled with my head in other worlds.
Today I took myself back three decades with Pink Floyd. I had a friend who used to play Comfortably Numb to me; a friend who, had he stayed in the UK, would have been one of my oldest and closest friends. As teenagers we walked hundreds of miles over mountains, under heavy, wet rucksacks. He gave me his only piece of Kendall mint cake. We went ice-skating, hung around in parks, sat on wet grass, talked about music, and he would take me into his physics lab and fasten electrodes to me to see if he could shock me, for laughs. We spent hours staring at water trickling from a tap, trying to gauge by eye whether the stream was being diverted by cosmic rays. Sometimes we got drunk together, sipping whisky in polite turns from a collapsible Solpadiene cup, in the back alleys of town while our parents imagined us drinking tea. Other times we wrapped our over-sleeved fingers around hot mugs of tea and discussed the merits of sugar. We were vegetarian. We read Kafka and Camus because it felt like the thing to do. We watched Monty Python because it made us laugh. We listened to Steve Hillage because we loved his music, but mostly Pink Floyd and Gong because they tripped our minds. He smoked roll-ups, I smoked Marlboro, and we regarded each other with fond disgust until they were stubbed out. His girlfriend disliked me. My boyfriend was his best friend. We raised money to buy a piece of Camaroon rainforest for WWF in an attempt to save the world. We ate politely and did our homework. We maintained eye contact, but we didn’t touch. We talked of everything unimportant, knew everything important. He travelled around the world and posted me long airmail letters and a dead, dried, roadkill frog. I took it into my exams for luck, and passed. I hitch-hiked across America and sent him 6,000 miles’ worth of postcards. We went to different colleges, met for easy walks and seasonal ales. We spent a winter’s night, one New Year’s Eve, on a hilltop, melting our trainers in the fire while our toes still froze. At dawn we struggled to stand, and rattled our way home like puppets. We agreed to meet one another ten years hence on a local bridge. He emigrated, but he didn’t say goodbye. I might’ve understood why. I went to the bridge anyway, he didn’t. He flew home, called me from the airport. I didn’t get the message until too late; he had gone again. A week later I stood on the Charles Bridge in Prague, and swore I saw him on the next bridge along. I looked, but no. I went home. I remembered his voice, but few of the things he said. I remembered his eyes; warm, mocking, infuriated, amused, private. I wrote, to no address. I dreamed of him. I missed him. If we meet again, that won’t matter. If we meet again, we might not speak. (If we meet again, we might not need to.)
On my way back down the hill, with a head full of intimacy, I bumped into a new friend who asked what I was listening to. I pulled out my earphones and gaped at him for not having the face of my old friend, despite asking what my old friend would’ve asked, in the voice he would’ve used. I jabbered hello, tripped over my dog, remembered I should be picking up my kids, and walked away without replying. Later I was sorry not to have answered.
This is what music does to me. Transplants me. Forgets to put me back.
And this is what I ask of it; why I play it just before I write and why I can’t always speak for a moment afterwards.
November is going to be a musical month: how indulgent.
Peace and love.