1. Love love is gonna lead you by the hand, into a white and soundless place
Debbie and I are walking through the effortless Edinburgh drizzle, wet sandstone and quickly disintegrating posters. We walk down Lothian Road towards the Traverse Theatre. I am remembering out loud the time I saw Arcade Fire supporting Franz Ferdinand in the pouring rain, I am remembering the choral howl that opened the set and how it splintered into the cool night, and I am remembering the end of the set, Win Butler wrapping the rest of the group in the tangle of his microphone chord and pulling, and pulling and pulling. And from here I end up talking about the Sunset Tree by the Mountain Goats – not a concept album as such but rather a collection of songs all dappled with the same unbearable bruising. On the Sunset Tree, John Darnielle navigates a journey through the memory of his abusive step father, and it is so angry, and so full of hurt, the pain of it thrashing around looking for a way out. And yet at the same time the record never feels hopeless, never lost – he is carrying us somewhere. Somewhere both definite and uncertain. Actual and unknowable. We are moving defiantly forward, not towards resolution or redemption or revenge, but perhaps towards something that feels like a victory even if it doesn’t look like one. I buy a packet of crisps and a can of coke in the newsagents and head downstairs to watch Men in the Cities.
2. Men in the Cities
I’m watching Chris Goode’s Men in the Cities. Chris stands in a pool of light and begins to describe people – all these people seem to be waking up, in England I assume, maybe even London. Initially they are to us just names spelled out in undirtied snow. These names become characters, becomes histories, become ruins, but they do so not like narrative arcs but rather like colours or instruments in a symphony; swelling and sinking, counterpointed and combined in eddies of feeling, a dizzying rush of movement and textures. Chris looks like he is storytelling, but that’s not what it feels like, it feels like he is orchestrating fragments of imagined lives, his own included. A sequence of notes tumble over each other so quickly we can barely keep pace with them, a tone flares up into a deafening roar and then dies away never to be heard again, a refrain plays and replays itself at the very limits of our hearing and Chris holds onto it gently, and then firmly and then, eventually, he just lets it slip away.
I saw a show once by a company called Deerpark. I was at the National Student Drama Festival and I was 19 years old. I’d never seen anything like it. It was entrancing, intoxicating, unsettling, baffling, indecipherable. Nothing I had thus far been taught about theatre would allow me to decode what was happening. The show was called See You Swoon and it came accompanied by a small brown book that I still have in a drawer over a decade later. In the book there was a quote from someone and the quote said
THIS IS MORE THE EXPRESSION OF A LONGING THAN AN ACCOUNT OF WHAT IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING
and I still think about this all the time.
4. In the middle
At some point in the middle of Men in the Cities everything seemed to grow darker, the rest of the audience drifted into inky blackness and I felt the hot wooziness of being high or being scared or being exhilaratingly lost. All I could see was Chris speaking into the microphone and beyond that nothing.
5. What else did I feel?
I felt full of everything. I felt full of anger and pain and sadness and love and lust and desire and longing. So full of longing. And I felt the world to be full of all these things. And I felt the refusal of resolution, or redemption or revenge, I felt the white heat of urgency to be as full as the world we live in.
6. What else did I feel?
At the end I felt like I had witnessed a victory, even if it didn’t look like one.