In The Year of Living Deeply I am trying to attend to the things which feed me very much (family; friends; music; (re)reading; writing; poems; certain poets; sunsets) and spend less time attending to the things which seem to deplete my energy (Twitter (etc.); buying new stuff which I will never use; pretending I am sorted; wondering if what X said about me in 1997 is really true). It is not going wholly successfully. And I am fine with that. After all, Cult Pens did have a sale on, and those notebooks were just asking for a good home.
You could say the effort I am trying to make is in paying attention to the things which are feeding me rather than my (constant) failures (buying new stuff, etc.). So in an effort to attend to and be grateful for just one of the small things that make my life one of the most privileged on the planet, I noticed the other day that the instrumental piece Children on the Hill by Harold Budd has become the most played song on my iPod. Not much of a thing to notice, you say, and you would be right. But you would be wrong, too.
My iTunes says that I have played it 154 times. For a song whose duration is five minutes and twelve seconds this adds up to over thirteen hours, more than half a day. When you take into account that I have had my iPod for only a few years, nothing compared to the length of time I have known and been playing the song, since the early eighties, I reckon that I’ve been listening to it, on and off, for about a week. As I have said before, for someone with a very short attention span, this is close to a miracle.
I encountered the song (Is song even the right word? It does not contain any words.) on a tape of the cassette-only release From Brussels With Love (Les Disques du Crépuscule, 1980) made by my hall of residence flatmate Kevin who made a project of educating me in all things musical and alternative. Sandwiched between the spiky, Siouxie(ish) Stranger by Repetition and the balm of the peerless Durutti Column’s Sleep Will Come, Children on the Hill immediately felt like music from another universe to me. It also felt like coming home. As the voice sample in The Orb’s Back Side of the Moon keeps reminding me: ‘I [had] been waiting for music like this all my life.’ I would listen to it over and over, followed by Sleep Will Come, quickly calculating the exact amount of time I needed to keep my finger on the rewind button in order to keep the dream-world afloat.
What is it? A gossamer-thing, nothing much, an improvisation around the gentlest of themes which nevertheless insists on spiralling back into itself in its own very meandering time. I lay on my bed gazing at the ceiling and did picture children playing on a hill, the childhood I was rapidly (in some ways, not in others) trying to leave behind, reconnecting with the feeling I remembering stumbling on one day when I was only ten, that you do not get it back, ever. And for a while, that was enough. Kevin said he loved it because it ‘existed purely on its own terms’, and I nodded in agreement, not knowing what he was talking about.
But somewhere I really started listening to Children on the Hill. It has been with me on car journeys at night, alone and with sleepless children; in my headphones on trains; when I sit in my kitchen marking essays; when I munch toast, or during coffee; ditto making the evening meal; during my happiest and most broken moments, often when I am alone. It’s on my favourite ambient compilation that I keep in the van. Recently I put it on a playlist for a friend recovering from a stroke. I have even tried dancing to it. Even writing. How many things, actual things, can you say that about?
When I think of the number of things I have held on to for the same length of time, thirty-six years, there are not many. My hair? Clothing? Don’t be silly. One or two books of poems, given to me by long-ago friends. Except for Sleep Will Come I parted company with the rest of that compilation years ago. (Which might be another blog post.) In the meantime, I notice my iTunes counter has just gone up to 161.