9th and 13th – the sound of possibility

This post is, in some ways, a follow-on to my last one – a three-minute guide to relationships.

We all know, but try our best to ignore, that life is fragile and unpredictable.

One minute we’re here, and those we love are. And one minute we, or they, aren’t.

And for most of us we’ll never know when that last minute will be.

And it’s the same with what we do with our life. Where it takes us. What we ended up doing. Who we end up being.

Most of us probably do our best to script our lives, but it’s a fool who thinks we have much genuine control. There are simply too many variables. Too many outside influences.

But isn’t that what makes life so great? Who would want to know the future? What would be the point of living if we knew what was going to happen?

It’s the unknown possibilities that make life exciting. And it’s why we must take chances – risks, even – whenever we can.

Stuart Maconie presents a radio show on BBC 6 Music on Sunday evenings called the Freak Zone.

It is, by design, a mixed bag of music.

Sometimes I really enjoy listening to it. Other times it drives me crazy and I have to switch off.

The worst piece of music I ever heard was a few years ago.

Someone, I forget the artist, had recorded some music and put it on a loop of analogue tape.

Then played it, non-stop, until the tape, inevitably, degraded.

The result was a very long track of the same piece of music, repeating again and again, progressively falling to pieces. In the end it was simply noise – and then silence.

It was a really nice idea. An interesting exercise in entropy.

But I didn’t want to listen to it. At least not for so long.

I was in the bath and my iPad wasn’t.

I toyed with the idea of getting out of the bath and stopping it. But, no, wait, surely it will stop soon? No one would play this for so long. Not even Stuart Maconie on The Freak Zone.

But it didn’t stop. For what felt like hours. It was like a CIA torture programme.

The prospect of trying to drown myself entered my head (no, not really).

But sometimes Stuart plays songs that transform my life.

A few months ago he played 9th and 13th, a piece written by Jonathan Coe, a novelist and writer, with music by Danny Manners. I was washing up at the time and at first I was only half-listening, but I quickly stopped what I was doing.

I just stood there. In the kitchen. Listening to it. For about 15 minutes.

When it ended, I wasn’t quite sure what had just happened. But I knew it wasn’t going to be the last time I heard it. And I’ve heard it quite a few more times since.

It led to a brief chat with Jonathan on Twitter and he seems like a really nice approachable man. I didn’t realise the piece came from a CD, of the same name, but once he told me I ordered it. It’s really nice.

But 9th and 13th is the clearly the stand-out piece. To be fair, it would be hard to top it.

Fundamentally it’s about life, the choices we make, and the impact they can have. How the smallest decision can have the most wide-reaching effect. No-one, certainly Jonathan I’m sure, is claiming the concept is new but the execution is sublime.

I hope you’ll make the small decision to listen, and I hope it affects you anywhere near as much as it has affected me.

It’s nearly 17 minutes long. But worth every single second. If you can sit down and give it the attention it deserves, I really don’t think you’ll regret it.

A three minute guide to relationships

The other week I mentioned I was meant to be going on a date but it was postponed at the last minute.

It would have been my first date since the start of the year.

As I said in that blog post, I wasn’t ready until now. But now I am. Very much so.

We did eventually meet.

Thankfully I’ve never had a ‘terrible’ date (from my point of view anyway – you’d have to ask them for their view).

But, although she was a lovely woman, we had nothing in common.

So, after a couple of drinks we parted with a ‘nice to meet you’ and no pretence either side of a second date.

But that’s fine. It’s always nice to meet new people and learn a bit more about life.

Last week I got chatting online to another women who I really hope to meet soon.

Actually, I’m chatting to a couple but that’s not unusual for online dating and often it leads to nothing. A lot of online pre-screening goes on, on both sides!

But I really like this one woman in particular – her sense of humour, style, intelligence and manner are great – as well as the other important things (eg she’s really beautiful with a lovely smile – and I’m a sucker for a lovely smile!)

And she also has great English (she’s Spanish), despite not being sure she does – the opposite of how a lot of people view their foreign language skills. It’s really sweet.

It got me thinking about relationships in general. I’ve been single now for less than a year but that’s still the longest I’ve been single since I was in my early 20s.

I think it’s been good for me. I’ve grown a lot this year.

But I am a little bit worried I’m getting too comfortable with being single. I never thought it would be, but it seems like single-life could be an easy trap to fall in to.

Anyway, it made me think of one of my favourite movie scenes. The ‘idiosyncrasies’ scene in Good Will Hunting.

It sums up relationships better in just three minutes than a library of books could, or most experts could in a lifetime, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Amazingly, it was actually ad-libbed and not scripted.

Whether you’ve seen it before or not, it’s three minutes well spent.

Prince – addicted to music

Anyone who knows me or follows me on twitter knows what I think of Prince.

He’s probably the single most talented musician of our time.

As a musician friend of my ex-wife told her once (someting like) ‘Any musician who doesn’t like Prince isn’t a musician’. He’s simply incredible. Even if he’s not your cup of tea style wise, to deny his talent is sheer lunacy. He’s one of the few people, like Stevie Wonder, who can record (great) whole albums by himself. He’s so multi-talented it’s unreal.

Some great artists are taken from us too early (Hathaway, Gaye, Hendrix, Coltrane, Winehouse), and some survive but their initial promise fades out for various reasons – often drug/alcohol and/or mental problems.

Take Chet Baker. He had it all. A wonderful trumpet player, a great voice, amazing looks. In the 1950s he was full of promise (there’s lots of great work to recommend but ‘Chet Baker Sings’ is very accessible and a great introduction, as well as being a wonderful album).

But he quickly developed a lifelong struggle with addiction, mainly heroin. He lost his teeth aged 39 after being beaten up trying to buy drugs, which caused a bit of a problem for his trumpet playing (it ruined his embouchure and he moved to the flugelhorn for many years). Then he died at just 58 after falling out of a hotel window – with heroin and cocaine in his system.

Chet Baker in his 20s and his 50s

Chet Baker in his 20s and his 50s (I have a print of the younger Chet over my turntable – not just because it’s an amazing photograph but because it’s a great reminder of how fragile talent and life is).

And I realised last night, thinking about addiction, drink, drugs, early deaths etc, how Prince is one of the few artists of his calibre to actually survive and continue to develop, in part at least, presumably because of a lack of alcohol or drug problems.

Yes, sure, he’s had his ups and downs. Not everything he touches turns to gold. But considering how much music he’s recorded over the years his quality is incredible.

What would Hathaway have done had he not died at 33. Hendrix, had he not died at 27. Marvin Gaye had he not died at 44.

‘What’s Going On’ is 44 years old and, sadly, still as relevant today as it was when it was released. What would he be doing now had he not been unable to fight his addictions which ended with his tragic death by a gunshot from his own father?

Prince gets a lot of stick for his religious beliefs and odd behaviour. Sure, he’s an ‘interesting’ character. But the fact he doesn’t appear to have had an addiction problem that I’m aware of (other than music which he clearly does have an addiction to) is a testament to his character and a blessing to the world of music.

He could have died at 27, and still left a great body of work behind. But thankfully he’s now 57, working harder than ever, looking and sounding great, and still releasing amazing work.

Anyway, here’s a video of a song he did recently called Baltimore about the recent ‘troubles’ in the USA over police brutality against black people. It’s simply superb, and another example of how Prince doesn’t JUST sing about sex (ok, he does that a lot too…).

From what I’ve read, after an initial recording with his current band, he then went into his studio that night and re-recorded this version (except the female vocals added the next day) playing everything himself. What the hell? Anyone who doubts his talent just needs to listen to this.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.