As we moved into May, that damn weather front kept the warm sunshine at bay for the first part of the month. Just when we were thinking about sitting in the garden with a gin and a smile, I found myself loading logs onto the wood burner in the living room. I shouldn’t complain though; it’s not a terrible thing to have to do; I don’t know many blokes who don’t like playing with fire. However, it has to be said, wood burners don’t work the same way as general out-of-doors arson. They can be tricky buggers can wood burners. Especially mastering that little lever that restricts the air flow so that the wood cooks and gives off maximum heat rather than sending it all up the chimney! It’s a bit of a dark art and I had quite a few frustrating evenings staring into smouldering nothingness for three hours or so. I like to think I’ve got it nailed now though.
It has to be a metaphor for life: If you’re impatient and hurry things that require time and care then you’ll bugger it all up and fail. Grabbing all the best bits is rather childish and spoils the overall enjoyment. Like eating your favourite bit of your dinner first or reading the end chapter of a novel in order to decide whether to read it or not (those people should be dealt with in the harshest terms!). It’s infantile. We forgive the very young for impatience and try to explain to them how waiting will give a greater reward. They don’t always buy it though, do they? And it seems as though half the adult population is suffering from the same problem: ‘I want it and I want it now!’ We all know what I’m on about, don’t we?
But we’re not going there.
So, waiting for the fire to kick in properly or waiting for the warm weather to finally arrive is an exercise in patience (although, waiting for warm weather in England could also be called an exercise in futility). All good things come to those who wait (as Heinz told us in the eighties). It all sounds a bit pious and probably is but it does seem to reflect the truth. I remember back in the seventies before prog rock was called prog rock, a new album would come out by a favoured band: Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream… the list is endless; the new album would arrive in the shops and you would purchase it as soon as you could raise the three quid then rush home and stick it on the turntable. You would be delighted at first that something new was assailing your auditory senses and then, a few minutes later, the beginnings of a confused frown would appear, later to become a deep frown. Maybe a bit of puffing and blowing and a strange sense of betrayal. You would flip the disc over in the hope that familiar sounds would emanate from this side of the vinyl only to be (probably) more disappointed. It sounded nothing like the previous album!
This would be the death knell in music today. If it isn’t instantly accessible to the audience, then it won’t be released in the first place. Not so back then: you would sit in silence after the arm returned to it’s little rest and you would pick up the album sleeve and start reading through it. The song titles, the writers, the narrative blurb that usually accompanied those albums and the artwork. Mostly the artwork. You would soak up all this creative stuff and let it swill around in your mind for a bit while you considered putting their last album on again. But you didn’t do that. No, you flipped the disc again, picked up the arm and dropped it on the edge of the first side once more. Then you sat through the entire album for the second time. Now you would hear the odd thing that would make you smile or nod in recognition. There would start to appear musical motifs and even jokey references to tracks you already know so well. It wasn’t uncommon to listen to that album six or seven times in that first afternoon, by which time you were starting to ‘get into it a bit’. By day three, it was probably the best album you’d ever bought or even heard. That’s how being patient, biding your time, waiting, works. The album Selling England by the Pound by Genesis went from utter bewilderment on my part to staying on the turntable for three months solid. Three months! That’s all I listened to.
I don’t like to think that those days are gone.
I’ve tried to think of a parallel in literature. It’s not so easy. I mean, it’s not difficult to list novels that would fit nicely into the ‘pop music’ bracket. Easily accessible, non-challenging and ultimately disposable: Twilight; Hunger Games; Dan Brown’s stuff; 50 Shades; Jack Reacher et al, but what would fit with the progressive rock/jazz/blues/classical side of things? If you take stuff from the (arbitrary) English canon then you’re stuck with ‘Old dead dudes’: Forster; Conrad; Steinbeck; Dickens; Shakespeare. Heavy reading. So what of the modern classics? And why should they be called classics? Atwood; Jonathan Coe; McCarthy; Golding; Salinger… It’s not as clear cut, is it? Where would Stephen King fit in? Or Hosseini, McEwen, or Irving? I can’t find a clear cut-off from over-sweet, shallow storytelling and serious, well-written fiction. How do you gauge which books will provide long-term satisfaction over a short-term sugar hit? With music, if it’s in the charts then it is probably for instant consumption (though not always: Bohemian Rhapsody is in the top one hundred singles chart now and Fleetwood Mac, Bowie, and The Rolling Stones in the album charts) but the book charts are not so simple. In the top ten there’s, Where the Crawdads Sing and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. Quite a range. In the top one hundred: Harper Lee; Fitzgerald; Orwell and The Meuller Report!
Maybe I’m over-complicating the whole issue.
This whole thing came about from the thought that we should savour what is good. Linger a little when you look at a view; sit in silence for a while after listening to some music and reflect; watch the damn credits at the end of the movie! If your name was on there then you would hope people did. And indulge yourself with some quality reading. I’ve tried to find a way to identify the good stuff but failed completely. I guess we have to rely on reputation and recommendation. Which means that I’m advocating building a modern classics canon. I am hopelessly contradictory. Anyway, go for it and pick something you think might be hard and take your time; an Ian McEwan or a John Irving. Or go for the ‘dead dudes’ and read Tess or Jane Eyre. Treat yourself!
And, of course, you can also further your pleasure by visiting and reading my stuff on: