THIS evening at 7.30pm, approximately 60 men and women will gather in the downstairs room of a bar in Glasgow and listen in reverent silence to all 42 minutes and 59 seconds of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon as it plays – on vinyl – on a Linn hi-fi system worth £60,000. I intend to be among them.
Classic Album Sundays began in London two years ago and have since spread to various cities, including New York and Tokyo. In Glasgow, they take place at the Berkeley Suite on North Street, near the Mitchell Library. The concept is to reintroduce the idea of listening to music as a communal experience, but proper, uninterrupted listening. No talking, no texting, no checking the internet for Nick Clegg spoofs. This is about tweeters, not Twitter. It’s about paying due attention to a work of art.
Which means, of course, that it is very different to how most of us listen to music these days. We hear it in snatches – on phones and MP3 players, on laptops while we work, in the background while talking to friends. That’s the modern world, but we’ve lost something by it. One of my best days in what has been a pretty terrible year was spent at Pluscarden Abbey, in Elgin, rising at four in the morning and listening for an hour, in the candlelit church, as the monks sang vigils and lauds. Their plainsong was beautiful in itself, but the emotional intensity of the experience – a sort of fierce melancholy joy – came from the fact that there was nothing else to do but pay attention. There is something healing about hearing, really hearing.
I was reminded of this last week while driving from Glasgow to Brechin and back. Listening to music in the car is an underrated pleasure, too closely associated with Jeremy Clarkson and his stale, stolid Top Gear compilations. For me, there is something about that confined interior, the changing landscape and the long, lonely hours that can be magical, even epiphanic. Think of cresting the Kingston Bridge and seeing all the city’s silvery verticals while New Gold Dream plays at high volume. Think of taking the steep, winding road to Elgol, in Skye, along the shores of Loch Slapin, while being lullabied by Sandy Denny. “Listen, listen,” she sings – and you do.
Last Friday morning, I left the house at 6am and drove north past fields pale gold in the fledgling sunlight. Crows sat in furrows like notes on staves. The soundtrack to all this was Bob Dylan, the new album Tempest. His rookish rasp seemed to go with the crows. It was later, though, on the way home from Angus, that the record really made sense. Beneath a buttery moon, with midnight drawing near and the taillights of a truck as a scarlet will o’ the wisp, Dylan sang of harlots and shipwrecks, long roads and long years. It was the right music for the darkness and the autumn and the hour. Nothing else, no one else would have done.
Some people, when they have very painful experiences, find it impossible to listen to music. They can’t relate to it or take any pleasure or even comfort from it. I remember Bob Geldof telling me that when Paula Yates died he didn’t listen to music for two years. I remember reading that, following his divorce, Charles Schulz stopped listening to music, even his beloved Hank Williams, whose I Can’t Help it (if I’m Still in Love with You) had inspired Charlie Brown’s longing for the little red-haired girl.
I’ve been going through something similar over the last few months. Nothing has sounded right. I could hear songs but I couldn’t feel them. I think, though, that this may be beginning to pass. Perhaps Dylan on the A90 is a new start for me. I hope so. It would be good to come back from the sorrow and weariness, from the dark side of the moon.