This post directly follows on from the last extract I published, Old Man, which you can read here.
Mark would give anything to see the look on the PR bitch’s face if she knew he was sitting here listening to Aqua. As an alternative rock singer was very much expected to give standard answers to questions about his own taste in music and his incisive dismissal of Aqua’s “ironic” 1990’s hit Barbie Girl had netted the band substantial press coverage and earned PR bitch a pay rise. But now he really did wish he could Turn Back Time.
He missed Marianne. Really missed her. She’d made this whole city seem fresher, brighter, and a bit less pessimistic. He missed their coffees and their chats, and the feeling that he wanted to see more of her and know her better had grown much stronger now that that was looking much less likely. He hadn’t seen or heard from her at all since that night. He had thought she was pretty on the tube, he remembered, pretty and animated. Her smile got to him – it was natural and genuine, sincere. Marianne was now, he realised, the only person he knew outside of the murky, sycophantic music industry and his family (who were even worse). Humans have an inherent need to trust and that had automatically made her the only person he really trusted – the only person who seemed to simply enjoy his company and didn’t want to use him. That was why he had been so reluctant to tell her who he really was. The band were still not getting on as well as they used to. They had always been a tight group but the fear that they were past it and the frustration at not being able to produce anything good were the ever-growing elephants that now crowded out everything else in the metaphorical room. Mark and Melissa had always carried the writing but now neither of them seemed to be able to come up with anything, and the group was barely even talking. He had left for Dublin without saying goodbye and no one had tried contacting him.
It was age. Age was complicated and Mark knew he was dwelling on it and should stop, but he dwelt on it anyway. In hindsight, the idea of him, who had opted to give himself up to a popular culture that likes its icons young, and lived in an industry where the norm was to inject poisonous toxins and dubious “vitamins” to keep yourself fooled that you were young forever, feeling that he had any right to take the moral high ground and not kiss a pretty girl who although a lot younger than him had no doubt lived in reality and grown up much better than he had, was just ludicrous. 40. 40 was months away. 40 was scary. “Thirties” is a nice vague term and no-one really thought that “thirties” was too old for anything. When you’re in your thirties it’s no big deal to kiss someone in their twenties. But 40 is twice 20. Just a few months from now she would be officially “about half his age.” He got the feeling he was fixating slightly on the 40 thing.
Who was he trying to kid anyway? It hadn’t been age or moral high ground or doing what was best. It was that he hadn’t tried to kiss anyone whose rejection would matter in a very long time and he bottled it. Simple as.
He wondered how Elisa was getting on. He had never really liked Elisa. Privately, he had thought that one of the reasons the up-and-coming Californian actress was so convincing on screen was that she had no real personality for the characters she played to replace. But he was getting bored with groupies and his future was starting to look frighteningly lonely when he and she were set up in what he now realised was a fairly blatant publicity stunt orchestrated by the management company they shared. It fizzled out spectacularly, soon, and publically of course, but at least the sex was ok. And it was easy. Everything was put in place by their respective managers and he just had to go along. He didn’t miss Elisa, but he did miss how easy it was when all he had to do in a relationship was do as he was told
He should just have lived in the moment and kissed Marianne. As Bono once sang “you lose too much these days if you stop to think.”
Almost without thinking, he reached for his guitar and started to strum as he tried to make sense of it all – of how much he missed her now when he hadn’t realised how much she meant, of his regret at not kissing her when a little voice – the old, common-sense voice – told him it was probably for the best, of wishing that he could still believe age didn’t matter and of wishing he knew what he wanted.
He looked out on the dark docklands, lit up beautifully if early for Christmas, and played.
He stopped suddenly and realised that he had found a song that was trying to be born. He was playing and creating as he hadn’t played or created in a long time, without trying or forcing it, just letting himself feel something he needed to communicate and marrying words and music to do it. The song was tender and melancholic but he felt an urgency inside he realised he hadn’t felt since the late 1990’s, because he was writing about now. He wasn’t an adult mining material from his teenage years; he wasn’t trying to write about surreal, drug-fuelled events that he could not say, hand on heart, had happened anywhere outside his narcotics-addled mind; he wasn’t trying to cling to the outdated gender politics and anti Cool Brittania patriotism the band had used to make their mark when they first came on scene, even though they understood neither, something that had been far more obvious to music journalists all along than it had been to them. He was writing about a real feeling, something that mattered, and it mattered now. It wasn’t a political issue he would think he was championing only later to discover that it was far more complex than he could comprehend, it wasn’t mistrust against a cultural phenomenon that would pass before it really took root, rendering the song outdated. It was a melancholic tune to communicate a melancholic feeling that was free of politics or ulterior motive. It was just human.
He was still playing and singing softly as the almost black of a winter twilight darkened to the complete black of night, into the small hours of morning when the first drops of snow began to fall, tiny airborne specks that sparkled in the starlight and city light, only stopping when the pale sun came up on a Dublin that looked quite different to the one it had left hours before.