What was it that led me, this afternoon, as I dusted and swept and vacuumed up the builders' dust, to play Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells at top volume? I'd bought this CD a few months ago, in the middle of the summer of radiotherapy, as part of Joel's musical education, and I remember then lying on the couch in nostalgic rapture at its melodrama. Even though I knew it was coming, I was still blown away by Vivian Stanshall's sonorous voice as the Master of Ceremonies announcing the instruments, from the proud "Mandolin" to the enigmatic "Two Slightly Distorted Guitars" and then finally the triumphant "Tubular Bells". At the time I was struck by the music's affinities with things like Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, Ravel's Bolero, or even Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf; as the instruments each made their distinctive entrance.
Today, though, this music has done different work for me, of a slightly odd kind. I had actually been planning to blog, today, about the winter solstice just gone. It has been the year's midnight, though not St Lucie's day, and after several days of low-lying cloud, today dawned crisp and blue. The birds along the creek this morning (blue wrens, willy wagtails, bellbirds, honey-eaters, cormorants, ducks of various kinds, and also the bright blue kingfisher I saw yesterday) have been making as if it were spring, and I was going to blog about the odd seasonal effect of seeing baby cormorants — small, pink, and grey, but with that distinctive head movement back and forwards — in the middle of winter. Whose day is it, if not Lucy's? Philip hasn't updated his journal so I can't tell yet, and that's the nicest way I know to find out, so I'm not going to google it...*
But instead of thinking about the seasons, I'm thinking about the years; and in particular, 1973, the year Mike Oldfield cut this first version of Tubular Bells, to become Virgin Records' first production. At this time I was living in London with my family, attending Barking Abbey Comprehensive School, studying for my O-levels. Yes folks, an Essex girl at heart (thanks to DW for this reference!). I remember being intrigued every time I entered one of my friends' houses and stepped into their tiny kitchens (small by our luxurious Australian standards): there was always chocolate or sweets lying around. To my shame, I can also remember taking a long time to realise that the people who lived in small council flats weren't just living there temporarily... It was the era of speckled, textured wallpaper; coarse shetland wool jumpers; the heyday of Steeleye Span and Genesis; and we were given the day off school to watch Princess Anne's wedding. Because I was exotically Australian, I got to hang out with some of the older A-level students (did we call them the lower 6th? quite possibly), and I remember being invited to someone's flat to listen to Tubular Bells when it first came out. I bought my own copy and played and played it.
This music has been sampled over and over, for the Exorcist, for Janet Jackson's Velvet Rope and some other track recently I can't recall. Oldfield didn't seem able to leave it alone, either. If you look it up on the iTunes library, it's worse than trying to sort out the manuscripts and versions of Piers Plowman.
As I listened today I thought about those small apartments as I cleaned up our comfortable house. I thought about Liz at Spinning Tumor who has just had to sell her house to pay for cancer treatment, and the difference that a half-way reasonable national health care system makes.
It's been a weekend where I haven't worked much, in line with my new resolution. So I read (pace P's Cat) one of the stories in Ken Gelder and Rachael Weaver's new MUP Anthology of Colonial Australian Gothic Fiction, drawn to William Hay's "An Australian Rip Van Winkle" (after Carolyn Dinshaw's paper on the original story and medieval temporalities at NCS last year) and thought about the gothic haunting of the Australian landscape, and the relation between the medieval and the gothic, and the various translations of time and space that structure both those modes, in this hemisphere, and the other.
This afternoon it clouded over again, but we headed off on our bikes to ride along the Merri and then the Yarra, past ghostly river gums and steep cliffs, down to Dights Falls, where I remembered that last summer, about the time I bought my CD, a girl had been killed and left by this junction of the two rivers, not far from where Joel was playing cricket with the under 12s. There were still a few flowers and memorials left at the spot, and all I could think of was Raymond Carver's "So Much Water", Jindabyne, and Paul Kelly's "Everything's Turning to White" - another example of cultural translatio from the US to Australia? We then rode past the "Protectorate Station" where William Thomas in 1843 used to distribute rations and teach school and religious classes to Aboriginal people. For a brief history of this park and some old photographs, go here.
The last thread in this network of music and time was the episode of the British TV drama "Life on Mars" we watched. We missed the first few, but the premise seems to be that a policeman is injured and falls into a coma, but in his mind he is transported back to Manchester in 1973. In this episode, a man who worked as a caretaker in the newspaper building had taken the journalists hostage: a quick search of his small council flat showed he had medievalist delusions of heroism and chivalry: like a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, someone said.
Is this what happens when I give myself the day off from the computer? that threads and allusions, times and seasons come out to play like this?
Where were you in 1973? Or, for the young paduans who don't go back this far, what music *does* take you back like this?
*Update: June 21 was St Aloysius's day. Not that I expect the Christian year to map onto the seasonal one; in fact it's interesting to see how it doesn't, particularly. Or at least, not in this hemisphere.