For a moment as I heard the opening notes of "The Drowners" it was the early 1990s again, and I was a shy confused teenager dreaming of some kind of gilt-edged glorious beauty that I barely knew existed. Later, dancing to "Ever Fallen in Love (with someone you shouldn't've)", I almost felt as though I was back at Oxford, back in the sticky cellar of a tacky club, dancing at him while he danced at her and all of us knowing we'd go home lonely. But even the happiest songs have melancholy B-sides: I tried not to think of why "Rebel Rebel" used to make me smile. You have to just keep on dancing; "There's no other way".
The newer songs give me the thrill of still being in touch; it's good to know that somebody can still "Take me out" and I'll know enough words to sing along. "Do you remember the first time?" -- I do, and the last time, and all the times between. I remember those first "Teenage Kicks", when we thought we'd invented love and sex and the whole wide world all over again, and I remember every radio "Transmission" that gave me another set of words by which to understand the world, another reason to spend my pocket money on records I could hardly afford. And sometimes it all piles up like dust against the stylus until all you can hear is noise.
But all the time I'm writing new layers of meaning over each song as I copy out the lyrics into the margins of my life; this time I cried at "Just Like Heaven", and laughed at "Love will tear us apart", and looked back at the heartbreak wreckage of all the songs I'd lived through, and wondered how on earth I got here from there. "Letting the days go by", I guess.
On Saturday I went to acronym's birthday party, where he premiered his new EP. I am always awed when someone who counts me as a friend can actually create music rather than just endlessly listening to it and borrowing it and quoting it like I do. We sat and tried to listen unobtrusively, so as not to embarrass Andrew, but intelligently, giving his music the attention it deserved. It's good stuff; intricately interwoven electronica that still manages to sound clear and uncluttered. It's tinged with a loneliness that I've seen up close and personal. It's part of the pattern of somebody else's life, and I count myself privileged to see it.
Yesterday, at Andrew's excellent birthday dinner, he talked about plans for setting up a record company; tangentially, lnr and I recalled Richard Lanyon who we'd both known at Oxford, who'd been in a band and set up his own record company. "John Peel actually phoned him up!" we reminisced delightedly. That, we unspokenly agreed, was the pinnacle of musical cool: for the legendary John Peel to phone up somebody we actually knew.
John Peel died today.
That faint scratching sound you can hear, like a catch in the throat, is the needle hitting the end of the record again and again. The song's over.