I was sifting through Dark Horizon Records’ Summer Solstice sale some time ago, and came across a copy of Czech spazz-grind band Melancholy Pessimism‘s 1999 album Inconsistent World going for $3. I’ve had the CD for a long time, but it has spent most of the last ten years languishing away in a spindle that I rarely reach for anymore. On this occasion, however, I took Inconsistent World out for a spin, from a mixture of curiosity and listlessness more than anything else. I didn’t go past the first song, but not because my tastes have changed that drastically; in some ways, they have, but the reason for me stopping dead in my tracks was the intro to the first song ‘Paradox Life‘. Layered along with the sounds of gunfire are the strains to ‘Wonderful Life‘, a pop hit from 1987 by English singer-songwriter Black, or Colin Vearncombe, a long forgotten song from my childhood that I’ve had no occasion to think about in more than twenty-five years. Come to think of it, I don’t recollect this song jumping out at me when I first heard Inconsistent World either, but such is the way of things.
Intrigued, I pulled up ‘Wonderful Life‘ on youtube, and, sure enough, it was the same song from long ago, a gateway to a veritable treasure-chest of memories. I don’t think the song ever made it big on the American mainland, but it was a staple across Europe, and made its way into the subcontinent through one of those ubiquitous compilation tapes that were such a vogue in the eighties. It’s a simple song; it’s a pop song, what else could one expect from it? It is well-written, for what it is, but I’m not here to expatiate on its musical virtues or lack thereof. What it did to me was invoke lazy, sepia-tinted memories of Sundays in my Bombay home, when metal was still some ways from consciousness and the game of cricket consumed my living hours.
It’s a funny thing, taking stock of the past. When I think of it, what is it that I really remember from that time? Events remain etched in the mind, but the more you scratch beneath their veneer, the more obscure and jumbled-up everything becomes. Sounds, smells, voices; the mind tries to substitute analogues for these things from another, more recent time, and this is the sense of familiarity we have when we talk of them in the abstract and out of nostalgia. But to think of a specific event and to try to extract specific details from it is a slippery, verging-on-impossible task.
In that spirit, I describe Sunday mornings spent in intense play – and what play isn’t intense at that age – and our mothers’ summons for lunch interrupting those games at around noon. I would run upstairs and be greeted by the smell of chicken done up Konkani-style, simmering in coconut gravy, caramelized onions, and Indian spices, flowing through the house. My father would be enjoying a drink – this is from a time when he could still enjoy a drink – and listening to music, reading a book with glasses perched on the bridge of his nose. He had quite the eclectic taste in music, and it wasn’t uncommon to find Ornette Coleman follow right after something like Engelbert Humperdinck on vinyl. ‘Wonderful Life‘, too, was thrown on somewhere in there, I’m sure. I have no real evidence of this, but it is a sort of “pre-natal” memory that has come with me through time. We had to get rid of many of those tapes later on because they had gathered some kind of mold, something I regret today, despite advances in technology making everything so much more accessible.
Fast-forward again to the present, to Melancholy Pessimism and their use of ‘Wonderful Life‘. I googled this song’s history, and discovered that its creator, Colin Vearncombe, died earlier this year on January 16 in a rather grisly car accident. I’ve touched on the topic of synchronicity a couple of times on this blog; it is an old concept, of things colluding outside our immediate purview. We call it happenstance or coincidence, but we’d be lying to ourselves out of sheer stubbornness if we discount the almost-tangible aspect of orchestration that these events contain. In the post just linked, I compared this sort of serendipitous occurrence to a heightened state of intuition, which allows us to make sense of seemingly unrelated events.
When I take store of the “coincidences” involved in the Melancholy Pesismism-‘Wonderful Life‘ connection, they confound me. To hear a band I haven’t heard in ten years through the fleeting glimpse of a webstore’s bargain bin, a band so unremittingly harsh in sound and worldview, through this noise, detect the cloudy tone of a song I haven’t heard in over twenty-five years, then to hear that song and open the door to a host of memories, both pleasant and not so pleasant, and finally to discover that the man singing this optimistic, dulcet music, died not so long ago in a road mishap; I don’t know, it feels more than simple happenstance. Which is not to say I believe it to be anything more than simple happenstance, but from happenstance can also arise important realizations on the individual plane.