Do You Have That One Song?
Do you ever hear a song that takes you back to a particular moment in time? I don’t mean to a summer or a Christmas or something vague. I mean a specific moment in a specific place with specific people whose voices fill your head? I do. In fact, I just listened to it and it was like having a déjà vu or unearthing an old home video.
The time it took me back to existed before iPhones and Spotify, before even iPods and Napster to be honest. I used to carry my metallic blue Sony Discman with me everywhere. Of course one couldn’t carry a Discman AND a book of discs, that would be ridiculous, so before leaving the house I would carefully flick through my ample CD collection looking for the right album the occasion.
I was fifteen years old, two years from applying for my provisional driving license, so had to get the bus everywhere. It was these journeys that would be soundtracked by my careful selection. I miss riding the bus, it affords you time to daydream. You can’t rush the bus, it isn’t as fast as the train and is prone to traffic so you have no choice but to sit and let the gentle vibrations lull you into a trance, awake but aware of your surroundings and your music.
As the album begins to play you stare out of the window and imagine yourself as the star in your own music video. My bus wound through the suburbs of South London, the towns of Orpington and Petts Wood with their predictable high streets filled with WH Smiths, Barrats Shoes, Burtons Clothing and, yes, even a Blockbuster Video store. I would often imagine myself swaggering down the High Street in slow motion, knocking the fat track-suited shoppers out of the way just like Richard Ashcroft in the video for Bittersweet Symphony. (I was in a band at the time, but we weren’t in any danger of having a video made for us!)
The album I'm remembering was a constant companion throughout the summer of 1995 but there is one track that takes me right back to the bus, the 208 if you’re interested, at around 10.30 at night trying to get home before my 11pm curfew. It was the journey back from my first girlfriend’s house. As you know, I was fifteen but she was eighteen, two years above me in school grades. We met during the annual school play. I don’t remember much about what happened on stage, but behind it the school play was the only time the whole school - or at least the creative types - would mix across form groups and years.
Though babyfaced I was always mature for my age and gravitated towards the young men and women of the sixth form who wore their own clothes to school whilst I was still shackled by our uniform of brown and yellow. Anyone who has worked in theatre can attest to that 'backstage feeling', a mix of anxiety and camaraderie, a heightened emotional state that lends itself to quick feelings. It was here that she and I caught each others' eye and yet, nothing happened straight away.
The school production was my entry point into her social circle of sophisticated sixth formers. I started to receive invites to gatherings at their houses when their parents went away because sixth formers can be trusted as keepers of the castle, apparently. I adopted an air of sophistication, partaking of their alcohol and cigarettes. Over a period of days or maybe months (those summers passed quickly yet seemed to last forever), we became closer and eventually I received an invitation to her house.
She had a spectacular back garden; that’s not a euphemism, her father was a landscape gardener, but we would more often hang out on the streets wth the other teens in her neighbourhood. We weren’t trouble, we were artsy kids but those British summer evenings, light until 10pm, are not made for sitting indoors under the watchful gaze of parents.
I don’t recall much of what we talked about, I know we did a lot of kissing and smoked a little weed and at the same time every evening the fun had to stop so I could get home before curfew, or at least sneak in shortly after it. So, she would walk me to the bus stop, holding hands, petting under the street lights until the red double decker arrived. I boarded, took my seat downstairs, always near the front next to a window, put in my headphones, took our my Discman and pressed play. The journey was about 30 minutes each way and the album was about an hour. I would play the first five tracks on the way there and start with track six on the way home and that’s the track I heard today, that transported my imagination right back to the 208 bus at 10.30pm sometime during the summer of 1995. I can see, hear and feel everything about it. I can even smell her perfume, the ubiquitous Charlie Red!
Even though we split up shortly thereafter, as teenagers are wont to do, it’s a happy memory of an innocent and optimistic time. My first taste of freedom, which included alcohol, cigarettes, weed and women. Well, one woman. The first woman, which is perfect because her name was Eve. I’m glad I am able to remember it but I am also glad I am able to forget so much else, not because I had a traumatic childhood or adolescence but because I had an idyllic one that I could easily spend all my time reminiscing about. But you can’t look backwards for too long because whilst you do real life barrels on and by the time you look forward again you might find there’s very little left in front of you. Here's track six.