Minor victories

I have a little story. I tell it only because at the moment all stories seem to be so goddam fucking miserable, and this one is not. I mean, it’s not going to turn your life around or anything, but it does have a happy ending.

First, a little history.

I spent the nineties listening to music that went bang bang bang in dark basements and converted churches and disused warehouses and wide open fields. That music and the culture of that music absolutely defined me; it permeated every moment of my day, every fibre of my being, every relationship I had. For 10 years I lived and breathed and ate and slept and danced and danced and danced. Britpop passed me by. Grunge passed me by. Pop Punk (was that seriously a thing?!) passed me by. Once I got in I never left the record bag next to the decks.

For 10 years I was happy as a pig in shit. Until in late 2000 our spiritual home, our safe space, the Arts Centre, closed down after nearly a year of being poisoned by shit drugs and shit people. Its closure made me reassess and rethink; made me think about ten years of no sleep 3 nights a week and 500 Weepy Wednesdays and I realised I had to stop. Just like the Arts Centre I’d become poisoned by shit drugs and shit people and I too had to bow out gracefully, grateful for what I’d been part of but unable to carry on without the risk of massive structural damage.

Of course change, particularly dramatic change, brings its own problems. Ejecting myself from a scene that had defined every single moment of my life for so long left me with a gaping void. I’d kept close to friends who understood, we still went out on Friday and Saturday nights, but there was something fundamental missing.

It took me a couple of years to realise, but it was music. I was all at sea, adrift, no longer wanting to listen to hissy mixtapes, no longer feeling the burning need to spend every available hour at the decks, finding new mixes, perfecting old ones. The record collection that I proudly measured in feet because there were too many to count was so intrinsically linked to the past that I’d had to leave it behind.

I was a massive music nerd with nothing to be nerdy about.

In 2002 when I finally realised the problem I did what every nerd does. I read a book. In my case Mojo magazine’s “definitive” chronology of its greatest albums of all time. I started at the beginning, the 1950s, and I worked my way forward. Slowly borrowing and buying – secondhand or new if I had to – every album as I came to it. I worked my way through in order, listening to the records that – at least according to Mojo – had defined pop, rock and jazz over the previous six decades. I took this seriously. Every time a record caught my interest I’d seek out other albums by the same artist, other artists that were similar but not included in the book, bands that shared members, anything related; I explored every tangent, side shoot, every tributary. The fifties took me about a year. The sixties took longer. I was still deeply rooted there in late 2005, drinking deep from the well that contained everyone from The Creation to Sly and the Family Stone, from Van Morrison to Iron Butterfly.

There was a lot going on in 2005, not just me hearing Hot Buttered Soul for the first time. Our first child was changing from baby to toddler. We were trying for a second. We got married. I quit my job of 10 years and set up my own business. And the world was changing too. It was the birth of web2.0. Tony Blair was on his way out. Iraq, Afghanistan and weapons of mass destruction dominated the news.

And a friend introduced me to Funeral, Apologies to Queen Mary and Feels all at the same time.

My tiny mind was blown.

It’s hard to express the depth of the effect those three albums had on me. I know they were unfailingly listed in the top ten of the year by pretty much everyone; my “discovery” was far from being anything special and it certainly wasn’t the crate-digging obscurity that had characterised much of my relationship with dance music.

The effect was seismic nevertheless.

The Mojo project went by the wayside, never to be picked up again. For the next few years I ricocheted around the new freak folk, neo psychedelic, art rock, call it what the fuck you want scene. And along came Yeasayer, Sufjan Stevens, Franz Ferdinand, Hot Chip, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, LCD Soundsystem, anything on DFA, Besnard Lakes, Suuns, Iron and Wine, Sleepy Sun, the list went on and on.

Underpinning it all was Wolf Parade. For me Apologies To Queen Mary was the best album of 2005 and nothing in 2006 bettered it. At Mount Zoomer was hard to love, but I did. Come June 2010 and Expo 86 was a glorious return. Music had evolved hugely by then, but Expo 86 managed to distill the previous 5 years into a single glorious hour.

Now. In Spring 2010 my back had gone. I was suffering long bouts of sciatica that lasted weeks at a time and were getting closer together. When I was in the grips of one of those bouts I couldn’t walk more than about 100 yards, nor stand for more than a minute or two. Come September, when Wolf Parade – MY FAVOURITE BAND – were playing The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds – MY FAVOURITE VENUE – I was permanently walking with a stick and taking prescribed codeine 4 times a day, every day, waiting for surgery. There was no way I could get to the gig. I fought. I argued. I cried a little. I railed at the injustice of it all, but I had to accept it was impossible.

No matter, I thought philosophically. I’m having the operation in February. I’ll be recovered by April. They’ll be back. I’ll see them next time.

Except, of course, at the end of that tour – November 2010, 3 months before my operation – they announced “an indefinite hiatus”.

And so missing Wolf Parade – MY FAVOURITE BAND – at The Brudenell Social Club – MY FAVOURITE VENUE – became inextricably intertwined with my back and the operation. 7 years after the operation I would still tell the story. It became a way of telling how fucking awful that period of my life had been without getting into the detail.

The recovery from major spinal surgery is an emotional journey. I was warned that there was a 10% chance I’d be paralysed from the waist down. I was told there was only a 75% chance of success and that success was defined as “feeling 80% better 80% of the time”.

I have won a thousand tiny victories over the operation; I have run a competitive 10k (47 minutes, thank you very much), I have learned to swim, I commute by bike, I go to gigs every month and dance just like I used to all those years ago.

I feel 99% better 99% of the time.

But I still hadn’t seen Wolf Parade.

Until now.

Thanks guys, that was fucking amazing.