Me against the music?

My mates at Sounds Good To Me Too recently invited me to do some writing for them, which has highlighted how little music, especially new music, I listen to these days. Instead, I find myself tuning in to Radio 4, which at my age makes me like David Mitchell without the Cambridge degree and obligatory comedy career.

It was not always so. I used to live in my local music venue / dive which boasted before-they-were-famous performances from the cream of BritPop. When I arrived at university I swiftly got on the right side of the music editor of the student newspaper, eventually taking over from him. My CD collection expanded exponentially, I went to gigs for free, and I got to tell everyone (kind of) what I thought about music. I was pretty abrasive in print, which is to say ridiculously arrogant. I concluded one review with the line “If you like this, you’re a f***wit.” I had my headphones on everywhere I went, turned up as loud as possible to bar all other sounds from entering my consciousness. Which is probably why I have tinnitus now.

What happened? There was more to it than getting a mortgage. For one thing, there’s only so many times you can listen to A&R men telling you that their new band is going to change the world before you stop believing them.

Then there’s what happens if a band ‘grows up’. Not many get the chance to do so, even fewer do it without disgracing themselves. Last week I was channel-hopping and came across the Manic Street Preachers performing on Strictly Come Dancing. The Manics. With Bruce Forsyth. No irony. Does this invalidate their youthful fury or merely reveal it to have been posturing all along? Either way, hope in youth seems like a path to disappointment. The promise is rarely fulfilled, merely passed on to another group of scruffy urchins who have figured out how to play a chord or three. I can’t be bothered with that.
Andrea: “Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.”
Galileo: “No, Andrea: Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.”
Bertolt Brecht, The Life of Galileo
Music at its best does so many wonderful things. There’s a visceral thrill of listening to something great: the spine is chilled, the mouth grins involuntarily, the imagination is liberated. Crowds don’t just share a vicarious experience of listening, we can sing along too. Our emotions are magnified and explained empathetically. Ideas can be expressed in challenging ways. It makes us smile and dance. Missing out on all this would be foolish.