On a Good Day is changing

On a Good Day is coming to end. Well, its first phase in at least. When I started this blog, it was intended to be a personal blog about being a dad, a way of preserving of my thoughts and memories of fatherhood. But I love music as well, and so I thought, why not make it a blog about both fatherhood and music.

Problem was, I never really able to crowbar those two subjects together in a way that really worked. I was also constantly torn between blogging just as a hobby, and trying to make the blog ‘successful’ (whatever that means – lots of readers I guess). Eventually I came to realise that trying to make it successful was taking all the enjoyment out of it for me, and that at this point in my life I didn’t have the time or inclination for blogging as anything other than a hobby. I’ve learnt a lot over the last few years though, and now have dozens of others ideas for blogs and websites, some of which may even come to fruition in future years.

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El día de los Muertos

2015 has been a wonderful year for many reasons, not least watching my daugher grow from baby to child. I feel perhaps more contented this year than I ever have before. But it’s also been a year of loss, with death and mortality never too far from my mind.

The first piece I wrote this year was on Broadcast’s Trish Keenan, love and loss. My father, who passed in 1996 has been in my thoughts more than usual, now that I’m living back in Leeds, just round the corner from his old flat. A more than usually high number of friends and colleagues seem to have lost people close to them this year, although perhaps these things are just affecting me more now than they ever did before. Most significantly, back in March, my friend Nick Mann was killed in a tragic accident, and he and his death have been on my mind ever since.

Me and Nick, with beer unsurprisingly
Me and Nick, with beer unsurprisingly

Once you start thinking about death, you’ll find reminders everywhere, often where you least expect them. I remember sitting down with my wife to eat a takeaway the week after Nick died. We were searching for something light to watch with our meal, and settled on Series 2, Episode 2 of Inside Number 9. If you’re not familiar with the series it’s a comedy, dark and macabre at times, but essentially pretty silly. However, this particular episode proved to be one of the most devastating half hours of TV we’d ever seen, especially given the news we’d just had (I won’t spoil it, but it deserves to be seen if you haven’t already). By the end of the episode I was weeping into my falafel wrap, but also half laughing at what a spectacularly bad choice of entertainment we’d made.

Inside Number 9, Season 2 - Episode 2
Inside Number 9, Season 2 – Episode 2

Even watching Peter Kay’s Car Share, which is about as gentle as comedy gets, made me sad when they started talking of what song they’d have played at their funeral. I used to joke that I’d like the theme music to Johnny Briggs as it seemed the most jaunty and inappropriate tune imaginable for a funeral, but it’s not a subject I’ve wanted to joke about so much recently.

With mortality so much on my mind, I’ve found myself pondering more than usual what life would be like if I lost someone close to me. It’s not unusual or wrong, I think, to worry about these things, but I’d rather enjoy the company of those I love than spend time worrying about what would happen if they were no longer around.

The one person whose death I have never been able to think about is my daughter.  There’s no reason I would want to think of such a dark topic of course. However I now know a number of parents who’ve lost children in vastly different circumstances, from my friends who lost their son Theo, after just a few hours of life, to Nick’s mother, losing her oldest son completely out of the blue. So, in a way, it wouldn’t be surprising if I imagined losing her. However, when I say I it’s impossible to think about my daughter’s death, I don’t just mean that it’s difficult or tragic to do so, I mean I literally cannot. If my mind even begins to wander in that direction, it shuts off or changes tack completely, a protection mechanism of sorts, I guess. I’ve even found it hard to write this, feeling somehow that death, especially the death of a child, is a taboo subject, but the one thing that everyone I know who has lost someone close has said is that they want people to talk about it, to not be afraid to bring the subject up.

day of the dead

Today, in Mexico, is the Day of the Dead, a festival to celebrate and remember those we have lost, and that seems a much healthier attitude to death to me, even if it is an attitude that I sometimes struggle to hold. I’ve just read back the tribute I wrote for Nick back in March, and my main emotions are the time were sadness and anger. That’s still the case today, but I feel it’s starting to change.  Should I be sad that Nick is no longer around, or happy that I was lucky enough to know him for 15 years? The latter, of course, even if it is easier said than done.

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So today, and this day every year, I’ll be with the ones I love the most and remember those we have lost. I’ll remember Nick and smile at his ways. For some reason the time he chased two burly men who had stolen his chips up Oxford Road in Manchester always springs to mind, as do his fits of giggles at the clown college episode of The Simpsons. I’ll remember the good times with my dad, the trips to the seaside, the games of football in the garden, the staying up late watching Monty Python. I never met Theo, but I’ll remember his funeral, and how much love and support from friends and family was in the house of my friends that day. And everyone else we have lost, or will lose as the years roll on, I will remember them too, until I become one of those who is remembered.

Just as importantly, I’ll think of all those I love who are still here and how lucky I am to have so many people in my life who make me happy, even if I don’t see all of them as much as I would like. Some of those people will be reading this, and if so, I hope you know who you are, but if not I promise not to wait until it’s too late to let you know.

Where you begin to colour me in

Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of the death of Trish Keenan, singer and songwriter of the band Broadcast. When she died, it was the first time in a long time I had been shocked by the death of a musician. It was not just that, at 42, she seemed too young to die, it was also the means of her death. Musicians who die young are supposed to die in plane crashes, of drug overdoses or by their own hand. Not of an illness (pneumonia, after contracting the swine flu), the way that any of us might die.

I was also saddened by her death because of what her music had come to mean to me. I can’t claim Broadcast had always been one of my favourite bands. I first heard them on John Peel’s show I believe, around the time of their debut album ‘The Noise Made By People’. I liked what I heard, and that they were on one of my favourite labels, Warp, so made a mental note to investigate further. I never quite got round to it though. Thereafter they flitted around my consciousness, one of the many potentially great bands that I never found enough time to listen to.

What made them an important band for me, was meeting my wife in 2009. We began our relationship living hundreds of miles apart, and used to send each other compilation CDs in the post. The first track on the first CD my wife made for me was Broadcast’s ‘Tender Buttons’ from the album of the same name. So for me, that song became the sound of new love, and its’ opening chords produce an almost Pavlovian response in me. Each time I hear them, I feel that rush of new love again.

So I listened to Broadcast much more from that point, growing to love their music on its’ merits, not just for what it signified to me personally. I was even lucky enough to see them live at a Warp Records night in London around a year before Keenan’s death. So, by the time of her death, Broadcast were already the sound of new love to me, but events over the last three years have only increased their significance in my life.

In February 2013, two close friends of ours, A & G, were due to have their second child. I have known A since my schooldays and G for over ten years now, since they met. They even introduced my wife and I, albeit not on purpose. One day that month my wife we were attending a wedding. My wife and another friend of ours (who was also very close to A & G) had been asked to DJ. As they were up on stage spinning records, I received a text message from A. I opened it, expecting good news of the birth, but as the words scrolled slowly across my screen, I was heartbroken to read that their son Theo had been born and died within just a few hours. I didn’t want pass the news on to my wife and her friend, so they could enjoy the remainder of their evening before finding out the news. So I was in a strange limbo, the only person amongst the joyous revellers of the wedding aware of this tragic event.

My reaction was perhaps strange. More than ever I just wanted to dance. The sudden reminder that terrible things can happen to us at any time made me feel, in those moments at least, that I had almost a duty to enjoy the good times. Such as here, at a wedding, surrounded my by friends and music and laughter. So I threw myself onto the dancefloor with abandon, dancing away whilst a part of my mind wondered if it was wrong to be doing so after the news I’d just had. At one point ‘Debaser’ by Pixies was played, the one song I clearly remember dancing to with A at her wedding a few years earlier. I’m a rationalist at heart, and don’t believe in fate, but if ever I’ve thought someone was trying to send me a message, it was then (Incidentally my plan to keep the news from my wife and our friend until after the wedding ultimately failed. I forgot that of course they would have received the same message. So after they finished DJing they found out in any case)

But what has this to do with Broadcast? Well, a couple of weeks later was Theo’s funeral. A and G decided to celebrate his life, short though it may have been, with the family and friends who they love and who would have known and loved Theo too. As they stood and spoke of their little boy, their memories of him and how he affected their lives, I tried to hold in the tears. As always it was music that made me fail. After the eulogies, the attendees sat and contemplated as Broadcast’s ‘Colour Me In’ played. Only they will know exactly why they chose that song, but it was the perfect choice, I feel. As I listened, tears came in floods. I thought of the happier times with A and G, when we were younger, without responsibilities. How I never could have imagined they, or anyone I know, would have to go through this. How much it hurt to see them in pain. How much I loved them.

A year or so later, and it was time for our own daughter to be born, and when my wife chose the music she wanted to give birth to (as I wrote about in a previous post), Broadcast again seemed like the right choice. Whilst the birth didn’t quite go exactly according to our plans (a whole other story), I still remember the early stages, holding my wife’s hand, listening to ‘I Found The F’, feeling so happy about the new person about to arrive in our lives. When I started writing this post, I felt I wanted to say that Broadcast had soundtracked the happiest and saddest moments in my life. Which is partially true, but not what I really feel. What I really want to say is is that Broadcast, to me represent some the most important and purest forms of love there are. The first rush of romantic love, the love for one’s friends in the hardest of times, and the love of parents for their child, no matter how little time they have known him for.

So, to Trish Keenan and Broadcast, the most remarkable of bands, who not only represent new love, but are also a soundtrack to one child arriving in this world, and another leaving it, you are remembered and missed, always.