When does the age of awareness kick in. I know there are large swathes of being a kid that seem gone from my memory but if I sit back and let the mind wander, it is astounding what pops up. In an era when there wasn’t a TV or radio in every room and tech gadgets were something you found listed under ‘the future’ in our 1964 edition of the World Book Encyclopaedia, your imagination and motivation was often all you had to work with. And if I was home from school ill, I was sent to bed until better. But sometimes a song would echo off in the distance on the radio downstairs in the kitchen, or the sitting room, and because it was radio, if you heard something you liked you had to pay attention right at that moment.
Laying in bed all day is not a lot of fun even with a few books, the odd comic book and several stuffed bears who spoke loud enough for only me to hear. I clearly remember lying in bed, bored, watching the curtains; they were white with blue spacemen, Apollo modules and satellites, with the odd star dotted here and there, Mom had made them for me. When I was ill (or whenever in bed unable to sleep and bored) I would stare at the curtains for long periods of time until this strange feeling in my head started to play with my spacial distance and the curtain would zoom in close and then shoot away, and then zoom in again and shoot away. It wouldn’t happen if you tried to make it happen, it would only happen out the corner of my eye. The characters on the curtain would move in opposite directions, zooming in and out, and create the feeling I was floating in space and couldn’t tell which way was up or down. . . . . one of many indicators that imply you are likely to become a musician, Your curtains tend to float around the room zooming in and out and you have difficulty pointing to the sky without falling over. . . . It would be years yet before I made those experiences more real and persistent.I could also hear everything. I could hear my friends in the school-yard at break time playing and running around, That made me lonely. I could hear Mom working around the house doing different tasks and wishing she would come and play with me, I could hear the birds and dogs outside, sometimes the wind, and often the sound of a distant TV or radio.
Off in the distance the music that sticks in my mind here is the gut wrenching, totally seventies (because it was the seventies), ‘Seasons in the Sun’ by Terry Jacks. I must have been about 9 or 10 when hearing this song on the radio, perhaps a sister had the single and played it on her suitcase record player, or maybe on TV, it was a hit around then. The guitar lick at the beginning was like an alarm bell to me. I didn’t know what an electric guitar was and the song started with this strange guitar lick which announced the arrival of the song. Seasons in the Sun comes in to play at an age where I was becoming aware, starting to perceive and experiencing strong emotions. A song that suggests it is hard to die when the sun shines and birds sing, spring comes and there are friends and family around, captures the imagination and starts your romantic thinking and feeling, testing out the theory, ‘what if it were to happen to me?’ . . . and so the journey goes. Feeling things that deeply was maybe a little rare in my childhood so when it came along I would grab it and hang on. Later, these sensations would trigger my own need to write and express images and feelings.
Melancholy is such a weapon(tool!) of creativity and inspiration to the songwriter/artist that can also be a debilitating crutch when left to run rampant in the mind. Having a focus for melancholy means you can revel in it, explore its outer reaches and try it on like a coat and see if it matches your hat and gloves. For a kid loving music, this is a way to entertain dark thoughts and troubling times as the hormones change your childhood, swimming within the security blanket of a song and exploring all the corners, humming the verses, singing the chorus, making noise through the guitar riff.
True melancholy signals an end of something, a grief for loss, freedom childhood ebbing away, the moment where mortality becomes real. The person in the song is going to die and it is no different than me not knowing my own fate. It can be poetic and surprising, ultimately sad and perhaps untimely, but very real and very personal. And the feeling in the gut, the muscle cramp, demands reality in a depth that is new to the youngster.
I am not 9 or 10 any longer and my powers of description have grown and my life is something I could never have imagined, but this song is still so powerful it can, in an instant, trigger all the same feelings in my gut and my heart. I return immediately to my parents house, sitting at the top steps in the hallway looking out the window to the front street, watching for cars or people and this song on the old radio in the sitting room floating up the stairs; there is the tummy ache, the muscle cramp and the hunger so fierce you don’t dare eat, and the curtains begin to zoom in and out. I feel dizzy and safe.