Sunday, 22 March 2015

winter wine

Life's too short to be sad, wishing things you'll never have
You're better off not dreaming of the things to come
Dreams are always ending far too soon

Once upon a Time there was a girl and a socially awkward and clumsy boy. . . 
Actually for several years there was always a girl. Taking some children and splitting them up in going to single sex schools may work for some kids but in my own case, it didn't really do me a lot of good. For one thing, I didn't really take to the Grammar School system and pretty soon sunk to the bottom of the class. For another, as mentioned elsewhere on previous posts, when I left the school rather ignominiously and attended the local college, I didn't find talking to girls that easy. 

My sister got married and moved away from home when I was in the third year (Y9 nowadays) but, truth to tell, we weren't the closest of allies. At the same time as moving into the local Grammar School, we had moved away from 125 Haycroft Road and into the newly built Council estate of Four Acres. The friends I had grown up with had all moved on too. We were just kids and we all played together, had our Measles parties and spent our wild youth running around bluebell woods and cornfields before they built the newer estates of Grace Way and beyond. So suddenly, here I was in a new school full of boys, my main childhood friend and I had parted - not even good enemies in Steve Ashley's lovely phrase - and my only other friend went on to a totally different school*. 

By the time I got to the third year I was lost to music. At the time I dreamt of being a great songwriter and after getting my first acoustic guitar, maybe a performer too. The damned thing was un-tunable - perhaps I should have seen the signs. Anyway, despite being a Prog fan for many years (I've waffled on about this before) I had not really listened to Caravan. At college one guy kept telling me how great they were and gradually, I suppose, through osmosis I got to know the album In The Land Of Grey And Pink pretty well. Eventually I bought it. The songs were quite whimsical and very English in that Ray Davies/early Genesis way, all tea and psychedelia. Golf Girl by Richard Sinclair was a fantasy song about the lady who later became his wife, the title track was a contender for the most far out piece of dope-smoker whimsy imaginable. It was up there with Traffic's Hole In My Shoe only without the sitar. The  second side of the album - yes we had to get up and physically turn the album over** - was a side long prog extravaganza. But the real killer - and it still is, really - is the second song on the first side, Winter Wine. It seemed to be just a long epic song about fair maidens wandering minstrels so I didn't pay that much attention to it at first. I guess I didn't listen to the lyrics too carefully.

A couple of years later a good friend, let's call him Jim, noticed that I was a bit morose. Not my usual happy joke-telling self he may have said. In these times we went as a large group of friends to pubs all around the area and often to gigs. Jim was older than me and had been to the same school as me and had also been asked not to come back after O'levels. Jim came round my house one evening, I guess we were going to go over to the Longship and have a glass or two of beer and a chat. Before we went out, he asked me what was wrong and eventually I told him about my unrequited love for a particular girl. I guess he must have told me that the obvious thing would have been to ask her out but I wouldn't have considered that option as I would have probably said that she was out of my league. So, Jim being Jim, he put Winter Wine on and told me to listen to it carefully. All of a sudden, the whole song made sense. The dreamy lyrics that seemed to have drifted out of Sinclair's lungs along with whatever he was smoking at the time weren't just about pastoral scenes and Arthurian ladies. There was a sort of stoned eroticism about it:

Bells chime three times, naked dancers enter slowly
Smoky room, scented gloom, audience eating, fat men drinking
Candles burn, a dull red light illuminates the breasts of four young girls
Dancing, prancing, provoking - dreams are always ending far too soon

The last line of that verse seemed to point towards something else, not just that awkward moment when the best bit of the dream is about to happen and the alarm bell goes off. And then the first three lines of the final verse hit hard (I quoted them above). That's why Jim played it to me and that's why I occasionally play it to friends (or daughters!) who seem to be down in the dumps about something. Some of us spend far too long "wishing for things we'll never have." I've been dreadful over many years for doing exactly that. I'm better now.

Another thing is that it reminds me of Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris which explores the nature of nostalgia. The Golden Age syndrome some call it. In the film the Allen character, played by Owen Wilson, is an Hollywood writer who is trapped in an upcoming marriage that he really shouldn't be in. During a trip to Paris he travels back in Time via an old car that turns up at Midnight and whisks him off to 1920s Paris. It's the Paris of his dreams when writers and artists sat around drinking, arguing, loving. And for him, it's his absolute dream come true. Where does he belong? Should he stay back then or carry on in the present? During the film his new love interest wants to go back to an earlier time and several other artists they meet, such as Lautrec, want to go back to the Renaissance. No matter how far you go back, someone always thinks a previous time was better.

So, for me, the song's final verse (well, I tend to ignore the actual last two lines) tell me that I shouldn't waste time wishing for something I can't have. Sure, there's nothing wrong with dreams, for me that's where the creativity often lurks. There's nothing like the feeling of waking up with a whole song in your head. It doesn't happen often but it's a great feeling. But generally as any decent Buddhist would tell you, you should live in the present.

The boy grew up and as an old guy instead of wishing for things he'll never have looks back and wonders why he wasted so much time doing that! The wisdom of age, I guess. Also, he isn't as socially awkward any more. Still clumsy though! As for the girl, after a few years of a platonic relationship they drifted apart and she did well. She came to the boy's father's funeral but that was 26 years ago. That was the last time they spoke. There were other platonic relationships until eventually the awkwardness wore off.

So, essentially here's a song that I use to remind myself to stop moping about and get on with life. I'm not talking here about ambitions or drive - they've got their own songs. But that's for another time.

*And prison later but that's not really important.
** or leave the arm up so the same side repeated - how often I fell asleep listening to John Martyn's One World or Pink Floyd . . .ahh!


Brendini said...

What a poignant post. My youngest thought Winter Wine was a bit pervy!

Dave Leeke said...

Hi Brendan,

Thanks - I've been meaning to write about it for a while now. I re-edited it today as I thought it might be taken slightly the wrong way. I'm not talking about dreams and ambitions: they're the driving forces we need. You know, Martin Luther King and all that.

Of course, it is a bit pervy I suppose, but it's only the bit about fat men watching naked girls dancing. And then he woke up.