Tell me, is your love in vain?

‘Are you willing to risk it all?
Or is your love in vain?’

It’s day thirty-five in lockdown, or maybe it’s day thirty-four. At this point that count doesn’t seem to matter anymore; I stopped counting after the second week, more or less. It doesn’t matter what day it is when the end is an as-yet indefinite number. Linear time feels less and less relevant to me, especially now that these lockdown emotions feel so cyclical.

I feel like a broken record, and it’s not just my inability to hold any conversation without any mention of Coronavirus that irks me. Some days I feel warped, unable to move past a feeling or a thought that plays over and over in my head; too heavy to lift the needle. It drags. Then there are those days when I do manage to get by, sometimes with a little surface noise—a snap, a crackle, or a pop—and other times with perfect clarity (thinking of something the late John Peel once said in response to the frustrating CDs vs. vinyl debate: “listen mate, life has surface noise”). I recognise that some of these feelings may be more personal and some of them will be shared. I guess the overwhelming feeling for me is that of uncertainty, though I can say with some certainty that I will not be alone in this.

There are many things that I feel grateful for. Right now, I turn to my family, my garden, and Bob Dylan—both literally and figuratively speaking. My love for Bob Dylan aside (I have been known to go on), I’m speaking more broadly of a gratitude for music. At this time especially, I think of how music has uplifted me. Have you ever taken it literally when Paul McCartney tells us to ‘sing a sad song and make it better’? Perhaps wailing incoherently over the top of “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” didn’t fix anything, but it sure-as-hell did feel cathartic at the time.

Music offers more than an individual emotional release, though: there is a communal catharsis to be found in music. Turning to live music, I think of the times I’ve peeled through layers of closely-knit crowds dancing together on sticky, beer-stained floors. I think of those evenings I’ve spent huddled together with friends and strangers in small basement gigs, peering over shoulders on tiptoes to catch a glimpse of a band. I think of the times I’ve struck up conversation with strangers in the smoking area over a mutual appreciation for the music. These are some of the moments I hold dear. And whilst you wouldn’t expect a sticky, sweaty basement gig to bring about the fondest recollections, they always do somehow. I’ve forged many a friendship through these experiences.

Music has the ability to transcend language and reach back into the deepest caverns of our senses, to communicate beyond words. That’s what makes it so difficult for me to express in writing the value that it holds for me, except that it enriches my life and my experience of life. It is deeply personal, but it can also bring us all closer together.

I feel a great sadness at the thought of losing any one of the small venues that nurture musicians and gives them the space to hone their sound. The sticky floor and the roof dog at The Windmill; the tiny basement and cut square tiles at Sister Midnight; the fake grass in the garden and the strange flowers on the ceiling of the Shacklewell, to name but a few. I would miss them all.

‘Will I be able to count on you?
Or is your love in vain?’

These lines from a Dylan song (which appears on Street Legal—the album that seems to feature in every record shop’s bargain bin, don’t ask me why) stuck with me all day today. I know it’s hardly a jewel in his songwriting crown, but it seemed appropriate for the sentiment. In these gloomy times, I want to express my appreciation for these places. They are beacons of light in my life, certainly, as I hope they are for others, too. I risk a lot of non-existent street credibility by pouring my heart out onto the page but my love is not in vain now, nor will it ever be. I will do what I can to support them. I do hope that if you love them too, you might consider showing them that love as well.

One thing is for sure: I will never complain about the price of Amstel again.

Tell me, is your love in vain?