I was listening to James Blake in the morning commute. No particular reason, I hadn’t heard him for a while. I figured I’d start with the Enough Thunder EP. When I got to “Case of You”, I put down the phone and really listened. I had a seat. The song’s outpouring of emotion had me stuck fast. When I got to the end I skipped back to the start, closed my eyes and listened again. I was pulled deep into a catharsis, releasing something held back by the stifling regimen of the commute.
I stepped away from the irritation of constantly moving my large bag so as not to inconvenience others, of contorting my body around other people and their baggage (literal and metaphorical). Of trying to be considerate of making space. Of encouraging other passengers to move into unoccupied areas of the train so potential passengers wouldn’t be stranded at the station for no reason. Everyone just wanted to get to work, so the best course of action was to make room for as many as possible. As Blake’s voice washed over me, I forgot all that. I thought back to when I first heard the song, working late nights at Sky TV. I thought of Joni Mitchell, who wrote the original. I thought of a Sunday morning post drinking at age 20. I walked into a room to find one of my friends peacefully listening to “Big Yellow Taxi”, humming along, blissfully unaware anyone else was awake.
I realised I didn’t know much of Joni Mitchell’s oeuvre and resolved to hear more. When I got to the office I put on Blue and went about my work. Something about the sound pulled me back to my childhood, to my parents. I’m not sure that my parents necessarily listened to Joni, but there was something in her sound that brought a scene to mind. In this mental snapshot it was night time. My parents must’ve been having friends over. We were all in the lounge. The long curtains and trusty old speakers stood out to me. The mood was jovial, adults chatting amicably, glasses filled with deep red wine. Plates were piled high and a couple of us kids were scattered around. The conversation was mostly going over our heads, but we were just excited to be around the adults that late. I don’t even know if this ever took place, but picturing it brought rise to feelings of safety, comfort and contentment.
As the album went on, it gave birth to some simple fantasy in my mind’s eye. In this fantasy my girlfriend and I go out to meet friends for lunch somewhere. We’re all a little older. The meal is great and laughter fills the table from start to finish. Phones are nowhere to be seen. We’re totally present and in the moment. We’re getting nostalgic over past adventures, stories we’d forgotten to the ages. It’s a long overdue catch-up and we revel in the affection we hold for each other. The warmth is abundant and it’s hard to keep from smiling. As we settle up and prepare to head on out, we all realise we have no particular plans. Maybe someone needs to run an errand in the surrounding shops and we decide to tag along and meander with them. The rapport continues as we mess around. It’s fantastic. Everyone’s doing bits and lifting one another up. We’re having a time.
The weather starts to take a turn and an idea sparks in my head. Why don’t we keep this party going, duck into a bottle shop and head back to ours? Everyone’s on board and we follow suit. We grab a couple of bottles of wine, order a car and pile in. The driver picks up on the vibe and turns out to be really interesting in their own right. We learn something new and by the time we’ve arrived, it felt like we shared a moment. It’s pissing down, so we rush the front door and get in as quick as we can. We’re all a little soaked, but the heat was left on. It’s beautifully balmy and inviting, despite our wet clothes. We figure we’re all friends and there’s nothing we haven’t seen of one another, so we all end up stripping down to various states of undress. Maybe someone’s still cold and they’re lent a plush garment. What we’re wearing doesn’t matter one iota, but what does matter is that we’re all abundantly comfortable.
My girlfriend grabs some glasses and I head to the stereo to toss on music. It’s something universally familiar, say The Big Chill soundtrack. Pillows and blankets are everywhere and we all cosy up with one another. We’re all chatting amicably, excited to be together. A song comes on and it sparks a memory for one of us. A long, heartfelt story is told, one we’ve never heard before, and we all feel privileged to be have shared in it. We realise it’s been a while since lunch and someone rounds up snacks while we all resolve to order takeout. We opt for candles in lieu of overhead light. The night continues in much the same vein. We lounge around, filled with wine, food, memories and song. The warmth we feel is in sharp juxtaposition to the storm raging outside. There’s an unspoken quality in the air that’s simply the representation of being excited to be together with the rest of the world on pause. The hours drag later. Wine swaps out for scotch and the music grows softer. Eventually it gets late enough that we realise we’re softly drifting off. It’s time to part ways. The storm has lifted. Nothing’s lost in leaving, because we’re all so filled to the brim with everything we could need. We don’t want for anything. A car is called and our friends get dressed to go. It arrives, we share long hugs and resolve to do it again sometime. There’s a note in the way it’s said that carries with it meaning. We know it’s not an empty gesture. Our friends head off into the night and we’re left with a warm, quiet house. One of us turns to the other and says “that was nice. Like, really really nice.” There’s no point in disagreeing.
That’s how I want to grow old.