(I wrote this about four years ago, for the lamented literary magazine Zembla. Recently, while looking for something completely different, I found it again. Normally such rediscoveries are excruciating, but I think this one just about stands up.
Which is a contrived excuse for not being able to come up with anything new.)
When you're fifteen, sixteen, pop music speaks to you. Not just figuratively, in that it's aimed towards you with all the black arts that the marketing Nazis of the music biz can muster. But it really talks. To. You.
When I was fifteen, sixteen, I was listening to The Smiths, and heaven knows my bicycle was punctured and I walked home alone. The boy with the thorn in his ear and the hearing aid in his side, he knew me. He said plenty to me about my life.
But then I wasn't fifteen, sixteen any more, but I was still listening to The Smiths and Primal Scream and The Stone Roses and De La Soul and The House of Love and Syd Barrett and The Velvet Underground and James Brown and Northern soul and Jamaican ska and Stravinsky, and I still enjoyed them all. But they didn't sit down at the foot of my bed and say: "Yeah, I know what you're thinking. I know your problems. Of course I understand." And that, I thought, was that - another thing you leave behind when you're fifteen, sixteen, like acne and anarchism.
Spool forward a while and it's 2000 and I'm working for a big publishing company and life is OK, you know. I make decisions. I exchange droll badinage with the likes of Ian Hislop and Johnny Vaughan. I consider getting a suit made, a proper one. Occasionally I Google my own name and the result is not displeasing. And pop music is still there but I'm not listening to it, just hearing it. In fact, I'm starting to prefer instrumentals because they make better background music while I work. Print runs. Blurbs. Find a picture researcher. What about the Spanish edition. Talk to the Daily Express. Stay late. Drink coffee. Talk to The Bookseller. Reissue, repackage. Pick a colour for the cover.
And at the same time, I'm playing a triple CD called 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields. And, crazy as it seems, it contains sixty-nine songs about love: sweet, bitter and the other. And there I am, trying to choose a colour for the cover of the next book, when track five of the first disc begins. It's called 'Reno Dakota'. Female vocal (Claudia Gonson). Something that sounds like a ukulele or an autoharp or a banjo (as played by Gabriel the toad on Bagpuss). Crazy rhymes, some of them for "Dakota". One minute five seconds. And Claudia sings the couplet...
It's making me blue
...just as I'm looking at the swatches of colours to pick the Pantone reference for the book (numerical Pantone references indicate a specific combination of primary colours, to enable designers and printers to get a precise match). And, for about two of the sixty-five seconds that the track lasts, Claudia is talking to me. Me. She said that to *me*. She's saying a little something to me about my life in a way that nobody has for a decade and a half.
And then I decide we'll do the cover in orange. Which is significant, I think, although I'm not quite sure how or why.