I was looking through notes I’d made on my phone earlier today. I came across this piece I’d written on 16 June with the intention of posting it with some photos I’d taken of central London by the river on my first visit for three months, as lockdown eased a little. I posted those photos, but didn’t use the piece at the time. And then I forgot about it. But looking at it today, I thought it reflected well how I was feeling in June, three months after lockdown, and three months ago. Music and podcasts have been a lifeline for me in these last six months. They both feature in this piece. Click here if you’d like to see all the pictures I published before.
I went up to town today. Quite a big deal after three months. I went to Brentford for a train around 1.45. I wore a mask for the first time, which I found quite disconcerting at first. I felt like I couldn’t breathe properly and my glasses steamed up. But I got used to it and started to be judgmental about the one third of passengers (not many in actual numbers) who weren’t obeying the rules. Of course I didn’t say anything.
I got out at Waterloo and headed up to the river – the lifeblood of London. I walked up to the Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge, stopping along the way to take photos of familiar scenes. But it felt important to capture them again on this special day. Before I did that I spotted that people were sitting around near the National Theatre drinking beers. I fancied one myself and went up to the bar, which was part of the British Film Institute. A man behind a screen and wearing a mask and gloves poured me my pint of Camden Hells. Six pounds! But I was ok with that. It was so good to be inching back to normal life. I stood by the river, looking out towards the City and watching the occasional boat go by. I was listening to a podcast in the History of Ideas series by David Runciman, a Cambridge academic, about Benjamin Constant, a French liberal thinker from the 18th/19th century. It’s a 12 part series about the philosophy of what we might call the modern world. His first talk was about Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and this formed the base upon which many of the other talks were constructed. I listened to three today as I walked a loop around my London by the river. Constant, De Tocqueville on America and democracy and Marx/Engel’s Communist Manifesto. Every one utterly relevant to our day.
As I walked and listened and took photos, I was engrossed, but not sentimental. It was great to be back, but not as emotional as I’d anticipated. I walked back to Vauxhall and got a train back to Brentford from there. As ever, I loved the sight of the river as we crossed Barnes Bridge. It was only later that I started to feel the true sense of today, as I was clearing up after our evening meal. I had a playlist playing which I made recently, called 40 from 2020. It should have been 20 from 2020 really, but as ever I couldn’t bear to edit myself that much – there have been so many good songs this year. I got a decent number of views when I blogged about the playlist. And I was listening to it tonight. There was this song by Alice Boman, called Everybody Hurts. She’s a Swedish singer and released an album this year called Dream On. It’s a beautiful album and Everybody Hurts is a beautiful track. But it is also the same title as another song that signified my love of London in 2005. I, my wife Kath, and friends Jon and Maggie were going to see REM in Hyde Park on 9 July. But there were terrorist bombs on the tube and a bus two days before. An awful, shocking time. The concert was postponed for a week – remarkable it was so soon afterwards. I suspect these days it would be a lot longer. But REM played a week later and we were there. And they played Everybody Hurts from their Automatic for the People album and it was incredible. So moving, so resonant. We felt our love for London in waves around Hyde Park.
And today I felt my love for London again as I wandered along the river. And when Alice Boman came on my playlist later I was reminded of that love for my city, of the moment when REM sang their song of the same title. And I loved Alice’s sentiment too, which was different but also the same. Everybody hurts, some time. A lot of times. Especially now. But music gives us the strength to come through these times. As ever it expresses what we can’t quite manage with our own words.
So, in a quite disconnected way, but a real way, Alice Boman’s Everybody Hurts summed up how I felt as I returned today to the place I love, just as REM did at Hyde Park in 2005.
Very good post, John. I do recall that rescheduled REM gig, but I’d forgotten that you and the Granthams were there. It must have been so amazingly powerful when he pulled out that song. For a band with such a great body of work, that will always remain one of their very best.
I liked the Alice Boman too, big time. A great voice, and such a sensitive rendering of a beautiful song. Oddly enough – partly by its pacing, as well as its tenderness – it put me in mind of Bowie’s elegiac ‘Where Are We Now’, from his penultimate album. Similar depths of emotion, though Bowie turns to optimism with that glorious modulation to “As long as there’s sun….” at 2:40. This link may or may not work.
Great songs all.
Thanks, Jon. The REM gig was very special – all in “I Was There” of course. I was never too keen on that Bowie song when it came out. I found it too depressing. All those masks. Things have moved on though, and it does seem to resonate with the times.
It’s a very odd vid, for sure, and people have read all sorts of stuff into it. But the final message is positive (if predictable) – love conquers all, so we’re going to be OK. And sung (or croaked) to that superlative, soaring guitar break that closes it off.
It’s always in my top twenty somewhere, along with the other fifty-six songs.