In very many ways the nineteen-nineties was a period in time that was defined by Blur more than any other group. Nirvana were a big deal…but the despair, the angst and the howl that they dished up were never going to shape the popular culture or reach the masses. Oasis were, arguably, the biggest band of the decade…certainly in the UK and certainly in terms of record sales and they inspired fashions in both music and clothing in very real ways, ways that stretch on ’til today. Radiohead were the darlings of the music press…certainly of a particular type of muso critic but they were wilfully, defiantly, niche.
This is all, of course, viewed through the prism of my own nationality. In worldwide terms the nineteen-nineties were defined by multi-million selling soul, r ‘n’ b, rap and hip-hop acts. From Lauryn Hill to Dr Dre through to the likes of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey black and female artists outsold the bands I named above many thousands of times over.
Despite that there really cannot be any doubt that here in the UK Blur created, defined and, arguably, ended the biggest pop culture movement of the decade. In the process they changed the way people dressed, the types of music people listened to, the way people viewed their country and, maybe, helped usher in a Labour government for the first time since 1979.
Much of the nineties is bathed, thanks to nostalgia, in a sunlight glow. But as the decade drew to a close there was a palpable sense that things were changing…and maybe not for the better. The horrors that lay in wait at the start of the noughties couldn’t be imagined but, still, the promise that “things can only get better” didn’t seem to be one that was going to be kept. There had been positive developments under New Labour with a fall in unemployment, the introduction of a minimum wage, the removal of hereditary peers and the setting up of a Scottish Parliament but still there seemed to be a feeling that things were not changing enough or quickly enough.
Maybe that isn’t true.
Maybe things are coloured by what happened next.
What was undeniably true was that, in relation to pop music…the last party was over.
Director: “Can you tell me what this song is about?”
Damon: “Our song’s about…just, er…it’s…it’s…it’s definately a sad song. It’s a song that’s…it’s a warning…and a kind of, gentle reminder.”
No Distance Left to Run – November 15th, 1999
The last Blur single of the decade.
At the end of a century.
It is a heartbreaking work of staggering musical genius.
Revealing a level of emotional honesty not yet seen by Damon Albarn up to that point.
When I heard it for the first time I had no way of connecting with it on an emotional level.
I had been in love a couple of times but those were adolescent flirtations with the concept of love, when they passed I was liberated as opposed to being broken.
In 1999 I had been married for a year.
Everything was dandy.
By 2007 things were…different.
There had been bad choices.
There had been betrayal.
A hurt of the sort I was ill equipped to cope with when it came.
The marriage was crumbling.
It was over.
I didn’t need her to tell me.
She had found someone…else.
Feeling safe in her sleeping.
Neither of us was prepared to kill ourselves to keep things going…there was no distance left to run.
Did we know it would end that way?
Nobody falls in love expecting it to sour.
Love makes us…naive.
We dismiss all the examples of love not working and convince ourselves that, somehow, that won’t happen to us.
We ended up turning our backs and walking away.
At the time it was this song that I listened to on a loop.
Lying in the ashes of what I thought was love.
What is important though is even though the song is achingly sad and almost utterly devoid of hope it made me think about what love could be…what it should be. I resolved to find that…first with myself and then, with luck, with someone else.
I had to learn to feel safe in my sleeping.
Then I found love again.
But this time it was different.
This time there was no distance I wouldn’t run to keep it, to protect it, to feed it.
The real thing?
Now when I listen to “No Distance Left to Run” I don’t hear a sad song, I hear a full stop and feel the challenge of healing. When I watch that astonishingly intimate video of the four boys in the band asleep…alone in their dreams…I don’t see the loneliness of a bed filled by one body, I see the confidence of loving yourself and a space for someone yet to be discovered.