How I found wisdom through my organ

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The Independent Culture
A-one, a-two, a-one two three four, cha-BOOM (ting), BOOM (ting) and once again life proceeds on its normal course, ie, off at a tangent, squawking, yelping and shaking its fist. Sitting at the Hammond organ in this converted barn, the walls shaking to the sound of Gary (piano), Dave (bass), Robbie (guitar) and Mark (drums), I suddenly realise, yet again, that it's definitely time to settle down, and, yet again, that I'm damned if I'm going to.

Settling down has always been a bit of a bugger. Do you remember that advertisement a few years ago? It was for a building society, I think, one of those organisations dedicated to getting their grippers in your pockets, not just for a one-off (an expensive suit, a luminous watch, a snake-hipped bar-girl, very good, very clean) but for ever. The commercial opened with a rather gormless young man off to see the world while, in voice-over, his father, in a voice like a maladjusted surgical ventilator, drivelled pointlessly about Swimming with the Fishes and Running with the Lions (but nothing about more common travel experiences like Pleading with the Thai Police or Waking with the Diarrhoea).

And then came the sting in the tail. "But I know you," the old git creaked. "One day you will Settle Down. And buy yourself a Home."

Well, argh. What a confidence trick. The implicit message is that freebooting around the planet having a good time is a temporary aberration, after which you pull yourself together and place the rest of your life in hock to some disgusting financial institution in order to live in a place you dislike, doing a job you hate in order to repay the bastards, living in fear in case you get made redundant, and trying to ease the misery by settling down with someone who before very long won't want to sleep with you any more. I used to think it was because of some instinct for security, an urge to protect oneself against, not just trouble, but the possibility of the unexpected: a desire to have a place for everything and everything in its place, so that you knew where you stood and nobody could get you. In short, I believed that Settling Down was a terrible and ultimately lethal defence against the outside world.

That was before I found myself sitting at the Hammond organ in the barn, seven bars in, counting down as Gary, Robbie, Mark and Dave powered their way through the introduction. I'm a dots man myself. Classically trained, read from the score, follow the notes. The neurological link runs from eye to fingers, which is the way it should be: sober, diligent, meticulous. Always rather looked down on rock musicians. Three-chord-tricksters (never mind that Gary knows more chords than Scriabin), and can't manage without a dim drummer pounding out the backbeat. Pah. And when, years ago, my contemporaries were sitting around with their rudimentary beards and rudimentary girlfriends, listening to Procul Harum, I was up in the organ-loft, wrestling with the intricacies of baroque counterpoint and feeling rather pleased with myself in that carefully defined way you feel pleased with yourself when you suspect that everyone else is having a better time and getting laid.

But the whirligig of time brings in his revenges; and there I was, last week, sitting at the Hammond organ while four very distinguished rock musicians were running the intro to "Holding On". It's the sort of thing that would make you think, except there wasn't time because they were on the up-beat by now and it was time for the big pedal D and all you can really think is "Well, I'm not a rock musician and I feel a bit timid and out of place but we'd better have a go at it" and then...

It comes up on you and you just don't expect it. Who was it who said "Television isn't for watching. It's for being on"? You could say something similar about rock music: it's not for listening to, it's for playing. The others were very nice to me and made me feel at home, and I loved playing the music so much that, while I was doing it, I didn't even realise how much I was loving it. And it wasn't until after we'd finished and I was on the way home that I thought: "Bugger me. There I was, playing the organ part in 'Whiter Shade of Pale' on the very same Hammond it was recorded on, with the very same Gary Brooker who wrote it. Bugger me!"

The two gigs went very well and the audience loved it; I was dissatisfied with my own performance, but one always is, and you learn to live with it. But Nature has her way of dousing one's fireworks, and duly clubbed me behind the ear with a sock full of wet melancholy. "I wish," I thought to myself, "I had discovered this years ago, before it was too late. I could have been a rock star."

And I thought: this is what settling down is really for: not a defence against outside forces, but against the inner world. You protect yourself against feelings of lost opportunity by restricting your life. If I had Settled Down, when Gary had rung up a couple of weeks ago and said "Douglas says you're an organist. I'm doing a concert. Do you want to play?" I'd have said "No. I am a middle-aged man. I am not a Rock Legend and it is too late to start. I have settled down, and have no wish to rock (ha ha!) the boat," and then I wouldn't have had the aftermath of thinking, yet again, of yet another path not taken, and regretting it terribly.

But then a curious thing happened. As I at last realised the real point of settling down, all my ridiculous melancholy and regret fell away. I decided instead that I was a lucky bastard to be offered, yet again, temporary relocation into an alternative life. It had happened so often before - pilot, quack, sea-dog, pimp - and if settling down would stop such disruption happening again, then settling down was out of the question. One in the eye for the building societies, but quite possibly a sign of the wisdom that comes with age... And that really is something to feel regretful about. !

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