We are in Richard and Andi’s kitchen in their minuscule flat on the Wandsworth Road in the early nineties. Richard is holding forth and making connections between Marshall Mcluhan and Captain Beefheart, Oolong tea and Alternative Worship. It shouldn’t hold together, but does, somehow, as he pours more drinks and asks us with a straight face for the hundredth time: ‘Oolong you been there, then?’ before his eyes crease at the corners into giggles.
That was the first time I had heard all of it, Blue. It was blue inside and out, marginally warmer in, and Richard forced it, the actual LP, into my hands, in disbelief, promising me that my life was about to change. Since then, how many times? The weeks on repeat on my new CD a few weeks later? On holiday in Scotland, ditto, ferrying relatives between distant stations? Snuck in between nursery rhymes and the Jackson 5 and Yellow Submarine on a tape -tape!- I made for the car when the kids were tiny called Everybody Happy? And since then?
Fast forward 24 years and my back still hurts and I am doing it no favours up a ladder in another part of South London really trying to live deeply and in the moment and unresentfully and not really succeeding. When All I Want comes on the playlist that my iPod seems to have made for me entirely without my help. Between not very expert brushstrokes I notice the repetition of ‘travelling’ four times (!) before the song has even got going. The use of the word ‘shampoo’ as a verb. The exquisite phrasing of ‘Bring out the best in me and you, too.’ The different energies at play between ‘I wanna be the one that you want to see’ and, a heartbeat later, ‘I wanna make you feel better’.
A week later I hear it again, a gorgeous, mournful reading by jazz singer Polly Gibbons. As though the universe is trying to tell me something, it’s then that I feel the lump in my throat forming, the prickles on my neck and arms, unfamiliar moisture somewhere behind my eyes. Perhaps it is the festival setting, that tired, slightly shredded feeling we all seem to be sharing sitting on the grass thinking of coffee and warm beds. I know I am not alone. Then a line I swear I’ve never noticed the song reveal before: ‘I wanna belong to the living’. That’s it. I want to belong to the living. That is all I really want.