Natalie Merchant performing at a gig in London in 2010

Lessons in Love

As we squelch through the final weeks to our first lockdown anniversary*, what have we learned? Will ‘year one’ of the peculiar deprivations triggered by the pandemic result in any surprising revelations about our innermost dreams, any deeper self-knowledge or a new profound understanding of the universe?

No? That’s fine, let’s move swiftly on to the one thing that any ‘lack’ consistently inspires: appreciation. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then our love for live music is hitting some Mount Everest-style peaks right now.

Time for serious reminiscing. One way to hark back about all things musical is the music quiz. My real life experiences of this game have been few and far between but, during the stay-at-home periods of the passing year, my partner and I have descended into a few animated home music quiz challenges.

We’ve discovered that we have inadvertently begun to map the musical landscape in a territorial fashion. Despite his strategic battle plans, I can solidly defend my position as queen of 80s Chart Music, reeling off one-hit wonders and unlikely chart-topping duets. However, my charges at the gates of Film Soundtracks castle are uniquely unsuccessful, as my arrows miss the mark and he wins point after point on sci-fi orchestration and spaghetti western themes.

Finding opportunities to draw on one’s musical knowledge is a joy. It reminds me of a summer job I held, during my student years, in our local record store. It was a tiny shop and the gaggle of misfits who worked there were delightfully diverse in their musical tastes. I’m not sure if it was luck or a strict recruitment policy, but we had the majority of genres covered. For instance, someone was the Dance and RnB guru, another had emerged from the Indie and Pop scenes and I covered Rock, Punk and Folk. Between us, we could just about muster up something looking like a small fountain of knowledge for our occasional Classical music lover customers. We each had our main Mastermind topics and cursory knowledge of some secondary topics. Whilst it meant we argued like cats and dogs** about every song played in the shop, there were quantifiable benefits.

Whenever someone came into the shop with a question about an artist or album, the relevant staff member would be presented for consultation, plucked from their task of unwrapping a new batch of 12 inch vinyl or putting the CDs on the shop floor back into alphabetical order. This was some years ago and the internet was not yet part of our lives. Finding out anything about bands required consulting the music press, tuning into radio shows and talking to strangers in cool band t-shirts. Or visiting your friendly local record shop. We’d regularly field questions from customers searching for a song they’d heard, but had no clue about the artist or title. They would earnestly sing the bits they remembered to us, across the counter. If we were lucky, with some fragments of lyrics. Otherwise just a hum. We prided ourselves on being able to name that tune, the musical Sherlock Holmes’s that we were.

The recent stripping away of gigs and face-to-face socialising offers a singular type of quietness to our lives that sometimes reminds me of pre-internet life. It’s possible that we can still find angles of joy in more low key musical pursuits, in looking back with humour at our melodic journeys so far and, yes, in straight up solid gold appreciation.

Many wise advisers (whether it’s for life improvement, building a business, finding a soulmate, or general meditation and prayer) suggest being grateful for desired outcomes before they happen. It’s not so much a case of: ‘ask and you shall receive’. Instead, we apparently need to say ‘Woah, thanks, that’s brilliant!’ before listing our burning requests and woes to be resolved. We must then put it out of our minds in confidence it’s a done deal, so the experience/person/thing can pop into existence at a later moment when we’re not expecting it, perhaps when we’re having breakfast or running a bath.

In this spirit of gratitude: thank you for the music to all you wonderful bands, merci for the atmosphere to all you spectacular fellow gig-goers, gracias to all you promoters and venue owners, obrigado to all you stage crew and front of house staff, danke to all you tour managers and festival organisers, dziękuję to everyone else who’s been involved in any big or small way to keep the heart of live music beating for so many glorious years. We’re all living on a prayer for your return…

*Anniversary dates will differ dependent on country. Where I live, the first lockdown was mid-March but for you it may be earlier or later. Whenever the actual anniversary date may fall, remember that year one is only Paper. So, you don’t have to buy your favourite lockdown buddy (either a live-in one or your most Zoom-ed family member or friend) anything too elaborate. A bit of origami from a recycled paper bag absolutely counts. These are hard times.

**Not literally like cats and dogs. No one actually scratched up the furniture, knocked over vases or ended up hissing at the top of a tree. But it was remarkably close.

Photo: Natalie Merchant’s glorious song of gratitude, ‘Kind and Generous’, has a chorus filled with the repeated chant “thank you, thank you”. She often plays it in her encore and the audience sings along, culminating in a reciprocated appreciation between those on stage and those in the crowd. It’s a lovely moment. Image shows Natalie Merchant performing in London in 2010. © Imelda Michalczyk 

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