Serendipitous moments when art unexpectedly intersects with life can give you a window into a different kind of reality. A piece of art applied at a precise moment can sometimes teach you things about yourself and the world around you you might never otherwise have considered.
Part one: A warm place
Once my grandparents’ old house was emptied out I visited it for a final time before it was sold. It was 1999. I was 17.
I’d spent a lot of my childhood in their house surrounded by family. I hadn’t planned to go back there, but I was cycling nearby and for some reason went over to have a look.
I had a Discman in my rucksack as I always did once it had replaced my old Walkman. Then, as now, my headphones were on more or less permanently. It was playing The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails, a band I was deep into at the time. I used to listen to my shit way too loud and it was fairly cranked.
I rode up what had been my grandparents’ long steep driveway and round to the back of the house, feeling pretty emotional. To my surprise their hidden doorkey was still hanging on its hook inside the wooden trellis that ran up the outside wall. As I had done so many times when they were both alive I let myself in, for one last time. I floated round the empty house in a daze. It smelled exactly as I still remember it did. It all felt like a dream.
Then I realised that at some point as I had been arriving at the house, the Nine Inch Nails record in my headphones had reached A Warm Place, which was now in full flow:
I looked back at the house once as I left the gates. The track finished. I was compelled to stop the CD and pack away my headphones for the ride home, as some kind of acknowledgment of that moment.
That sensory experience and that feeling will never leave me. Goodbye Sheila and Victor.
Part two: Party rollercoaster
I went on a day trip to Blackpool as part of a team that worked at a restaurant. We had voted to spend our tips on the trip. Perhaps 30 of us went in a hired coach.
It was 2002. I was 20. I had a great Minidisc recorder I’d got cheap in Japan, and these miraculous Sennheiser folding headphones. Those two things had revolutionised my music listening. I could keep five whole records in my pocket on a single disc – with no skipping! – and the Sennheisers folded so beautifully they would also fit in my pocket. I was never without music.
The restaurant staff were a pretty tight group. I still have friends from that time now. A lot of us went out together in smaller groups all the time. Most of us were students working part time, and it was a good time for debauchery. However there were also normal, functioning members of society on the staff, and so we’d chosen a day trip to Blackpool democratically as a destination that had something for everyone including colleagues that didn’t drink and so on. As well as students we were working parents, strict Muslims, sixteen year olds. Those that weren’t game for a standard night out got respected.
But then, if you think some of the group weren’t drinking heavily on the coach and pre-rolling whole boxes of joints to smoke on the beach you’re out of your fucking mind.
So it was that I came to be at Blackpool pleasure beach on a brisk spring weekday, on the Pepsi Max rollercoaster in the glorious cold afternoon sunshine, half drunk and completely baked, headphones on playing 10 000 Hz Legend by Air, the carriages tick-tick-ticking their way slowly up that huge incline at the start of the ride.
The beauty of that rickety old Pepsi Max ride is the way it’s designed to rise slowly high above Blackpool. The town stretches out all around and beneath you. To one side, the sea stretches away and the track design gives you time to enjoy the view before the inevitable high speed plunge and adrenaline.
The jerking, climbing rollercoaster reached the top of its chain-driven climb and started gently rolling round the long slow bend before that first precipitous drop. I was gazing out at the beauty of the scene all around. Just as the tick-tick-ticking of the drive chain stopped, Air finished playing on my Minidisc and everything became calm in the moment. The sea breeze gently whistled past as the drop drew nearer.
And then the next record on the disc came on loud. It was Party Hard by Andrew WK. It opens with this:
I felt it immediately, those first quiet chords heralding the euphoric rush to come. Now, at this exact moment? I breathed in the cold air and laughed in the bright sun. As the coaster began to whip downwards, the song kicked in: “It’s time to party!”