‘Music’, said Leo Tolstoy,’ is the language of emotion’, in a comment so trite that it has to be true. I saw this in its rawest form this week.
When I think back to my childhood, it is often (and subconsciously) to the mental soundtrack of music that was around at the time that I happen to be thinking of. Because, until a certain age, your music gets chosen for you by the adults around you, these moments have become a patchwork of Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jim Reeves and Buddy Holly, either playing through the record player in our sitting room, or through the tinny cassette player in one or other of my parents cars.
Nothing is a more powerful reminder of those times, though, than the songs of the Seekers, whose lead singer Judith Durham died in Australia earlier in the week, and whose music my parents adored. Wholesome, unthreatening and memorable, its huge success circled around one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard, even fifty years later, even ahead of Joan Baez.
I had a long drive in the heat on Tuesday, and, there being a limit to how many podcasts a man can listen to, or how much Radio 4, I submitted myself to an hour of the Seekers playlist to pay some sort of tribute to Judith Durham. All the way down the M40 and onto the A34, my memory rose and fell to the sound, sometimes familiar, sometimes not, and I caught glimpses of where I had been when I heard whatever it was: Georgie Girl (waiting for the Iona ferry in the rain); When will the good apples fall (my grandparents sitting room in Hascombe), The Carnival is Over (in a parked car at Goodwood Airfield). Each song brought with it a moment in time.
But it was the lesser known Plaisir d’Amour that eventually unmanned me. Grief and nostalgia are close relatives and, as I sped between Oxford and Newbury, I was utterly unaware that I was about to be floored.
Suddenly, I was right back in that sitting room, the ‘drawing room’ was what they actually called it. I can tell you the chair I was sitting on, and where my parents and sister were in the room. I can tell you that it was Christmas night, and the old labrador was asleep by the fire. There was a plate of cheese straws on the shelf above the fire. I can tell you that I asked them what the title of the song meant. I can even tell you exactly what I was wearing (blue shorts, an aertex shirt and a red and white jumper that my mother had knitted). In the instant of time when it finished, I watched my father get up to turn the record over on the gramophone player below the small window out onto the drive.
The effect of watching my long-dead parents walking around the room did for me, or at least for any contribution I might make to road safety. Driving on was out of the question.
Grief is complicated. In my parents case, and for reasons I still don’t fully understand, I grieved fully for one and much less so for another. But in that ten minutes in a lay-by hard by the A34 just north of Newbury, I think I took a tottering first step in that direction. Music did it.
For some technical reason, I cannot share the song with you, but google Judith Durham Plaisir d’Amour, and you will get the idea!