Why I Bother

Boeing’s Randy Tinseth has just, with typical ill-grace, bid farewell to the A340. I’ll be the first to admit that it was never that hot to begin with: pilots joke that it only gets off the ground because, if you bowl it down a runway long enough, the earth eventually curves away. Still. I remember, vividly, being very drunk and very miserable on the last row of one of these monsters, on the interminable great circle between Johannesburg and Hong Kong, flipping through the entertainment system and chancing upon a compilation of hits by a certain Nina Simone. So, it now transpires that one of the most singular and formative musical experiences of my life was had not in a club or in front of the record player, but folded up and shivering, sat at the back of an aeroplane.

There’s always a record. I still can’t listen to my favourite Rolling Stones bootlegs without drifting off into the all-night bus that I used to take back from the pub I used to play at, half past two in the morning, walking the last three kilometres to my room for want of extra fare, orange-sodium-lamp glare, cats and litter, peeing woozily into a dustbin, my attention divided exactly equally between my plans for my future and the urgent Brian Jones-or-Mick Taylor Question. Or the first time I heard XTC, which got me instantly taking a taxi I could ill-afford halfway across town, because I just had to have my friend listen to it right now. And getting memorably, gloriously laid to the Kinks, in a hotel room, with a much older woman who then promptly left the country, leaving me clutching her pack of Marlboro Lights and, as a parting present, a shrink-wrapped single copy of I Don’t Know What to do with Myself.

When I listen to a new album, therefore, it becomes a question not of liking or disliking it – that bit’s straightforward – but of working out where in my life it can fit. Sometimes it goes in my favour, and I’ve come to recognise the feeling: stumbling upon something that then starts drawing me in, reveals itself to be good, and then, better than good, and, finally, as something I know I will have to now keep with me for the rest of my life. And then I wonder, where will I take this? What achievements of mine will it oversee, and which transgressions? Will I fall in love to this, and will it be around when my children are born? What, in time, will I remember this record for?

Reading back, all of this looks like one giant behavioural glitch. It may be time to expect the men in white coats. The point is, though, that these records are my world; I carry them around wherever I go, all the time and without exception, like a snail carries its shell. And, because when I do let one in I let it in completely, I keep the bouncers at the gate armed and suspicious, with orders to shoot summarily at the first sign of unfitness.


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