She told me that she liked Cud.
I had never heard of Cud.
I told her I liked them too.
I went out that weekend and bought “Leggy Mambo” and “Elvis Belt”.
I had to get the bus to Glasgow Buchanan Street bus station then walk to Glasgow Central train station to get the train to the nowhere town where she lived. I used to make up a mix-tape to listen to on my Walkman and I would probably have brought along some Morrissey approved book…”A Taste of Honey”, Oscar Wilde, “The Female Eunuch” or a collection of Betjeman poems. I wouldn’t actually read them, I would just have it with me to make myself appear more interesting than I actually was. Long before the bus had left Fife I would have fallen asleep. I used to wake up as the bus turned into the station. If there was time I would visit Tower Records before catching the train. I wouldn’t buy anything, I would just hang around a suitable section…hoping, again, that someone would notice what I was looking at and think; “He’s interesting.” Nobody ever did. Because I wasn’t.
Nothing has changed.
Friday night would be spent in Paisley at the indie disco.
I can vividly remember dancing to “Touch Me I’m Sick” by Mudhoney and “Been Caught Stealing” by Janes Addiction.
No, I don’t know why either.
Back at home there would be what swimming pools used to describe as “heavy petting” on the sofa in her parents front room until the sun began to break, at which point she would attempt to extricate herself from my lascivious graspings so that she could get an hour or two of sleep before heading for her Saturday job in the local pharmacy.
I would sleep until late in the morning then get up to find the house deserted.
In her bedroom there was a table.
On the table was a tape player.
Beside the tape player was a small collection of tapes.
Nine Inch Nails.
Some mix-tapes featuring things like Orange Juice, Heidi Berry, Jonathan Richman and Doris Day that had been made for her by her big sister’s indier than we boyfriend.
But there was only one album that I ever listened to all the way through.
Usually more than once.
Always more than once.
Often more than twice.
I would pop it into the deck, press play and then lay on her single bed with my eyes closed and just listen.
I had spent a long time convincing myself that The Smiths really spoke to me…so much time that I had actually grown to believe it. In some ways they did of course but, if I have to be honest with you, I never really felt anything when I listened to them.
Oh, I felt the urge to sing along.
I felt happy as those chiming, shimmering, shuddering and shaking guitars pinged around my head and rattled my bones.
I felt pleased that I was in on something that made me stand out from the crowd for reasons that were unconnected to my acne or my religion.
But I didn’t…feel them.
I’m not explaining this very well.
Look, here is the thing…when I listened to this album I felt something deep within myself and felt connected to something outside of myself.
I felt something…oh Hell, I’ll just say it…spiritual.
I already knew who James were of course.
I had watched baffled as people had sat down at the school disco.
But laying there, on her bed, alone and genuinely feeling quite lonely I felt connected to them. Felt that they had something to say to me and that if I could just listen it might change me in some way…for the better.
I was 19 and I didn’t know who I was.
I had shuffled home eighteen months early from a twenty-four month long sojourn as a missionary for my Church. Attempting to share a set of beliefs that, again in the interests of honesty, I wasn’t sure I really believed. Desperate to do the right thing. I couldn’t cut it. I was homesick. Lovesick. Sick. Tired.
Everything had been very clear six months earlier.
Black and white.
But now I wanted to see a movie that didn’t deal in black and white.
I was frustrated.
Then I heard it…
“…talkin’ about who’s to blame, when all that counts is how to change.”
That should have been it.
I heard it.
I didn’t listen.
I think even now I’ve only really started to listen to that.
“I no longer feel that God is watching over me.”
I heard it.
I heard it dozens of times on those Saturday afternoons.
I couldn’t really have been listening.
Even if I was I couldn’t ever admit that this was exactly how I felt.
I was really frightened too.
I didn’t know what I was meant to do…with myself or with my life.
Get a job?
I wanted to do something creative.
I couldn’t though.
I was too afraid to take the chance.
“Do everything you fear, in this there’s power, fear is not to be afraid of.”
I heard it.
Fear stopped me from really listening.
“How many words will you waste on the telephone?”
A call to arms.
An invitation to start living my life.
See people. Speak to people. Face to face. Feel their warm breath burn on my body.
I heard it.
I chose to stay indoors.
There was safety in wallpaper.
I wasn’t actually alive at this point.
I was a corpse with a pulse.
The walking dead.
I was, in all likelihood, depressed…or anxious…or stressed…or miserable…or desperate…or…
I was capable of love…but I could hate you today, hurt you. Especially if we were joined at the heart.
“Everybody’s restless with a deeper need.”
If I had been listening I would have screamed at them to stop talking to me.
Isn’t that often the way with people who are ill…the cure can seem more terrifying than the comfort of the familiarity of what ails them?
Now though, decades later, I wish somebody had pinned me to that bed and forced me to listen until I bore witness of my healing at their hands.
Before I had left for London, dizzy London, to do my duty as a man (a boy, just a boy) of faith I had been innocent. Now innocence had faded away and now there was bitterness…bitterness and regret.
“I’ve been praying for the King of the world to come rescue me…”
I heard that.
The problem was that I had been praying for a long time and I hadn’t had any answers. I had the awful suspicion that nobody was coming to rescue me.
I told you.
Hope gone and hopelessness arrived.
Trapped in a well of solitude despite having people all around.
“Climb out of your well”
That seemed impossible to me then.
“God is LOVE to me, thank you for those things, understand the world we’re living in, LOVE can mean anything.”
I wanted to love.
I wanted to feel love.
I was loved.
There was love.
It was all around me.
But I couldn’t see it.
Couldn’t appreciate it.
I would have if I had really listened.
“Seven” by James.
You’ve heard it.
Go and listen.