this is not a column

Dear Roberto,

I hope this letter finds you as well as it can do. This past year has been varying degrees of shit for all of us and I hope you have made it through with your health, relationships and sanity fully intact. All three of mine have survived, though some days I wonder about the last of those.

I write to you not with a column as promised, because all attempts at one of those slipped into pandemic territory and I didn’t want one of those columns. My column is a happy place. #GoodVibesOnly. So I write this to tell you that the London gig scene is opening up again and that I should have another column for you soon. This is a glorified apology letter for not providing you a fortnightly column recently – there’s just not been much to write about, but that should be changing.

My jazz nights now have a residency and my work pays me to put on poetry nights. I’ve even been part of what people used to call an audience. Scanning in with an app, the masks, the keeping of distance – it’s not really the most chilled experience. But you kind of forget that when the music starts and takes you off on a journey. There’s a real energy, Roberto, that people want to expel. Even the notoriously withheld British audiences now need only the slightest provocation and they’re up – distanced, not-distanced, masked, unmasked. We may not have danced in sixteen months, but we haven’t forgotten how to do it.

You know it’s weird – when lockdown started I never thought I’d be able to spend this long without live music. Now it’s being lifted, I’m hesitant to venture out. C’mon, I’ve just got used to this: my girlfriend and I now live together in a lovely flat, I’m making jam, I’m taking afternoon naps. Why would I go out, if out is full of vectors of disease? But you get over that pretty quickly, and one day I realised I hadn’t worried about someone standing too close to me for at least three hours and I knew I would be okay. 

Remember chance encounters? Those people you talk to in the queue, the outside beer break with a new friend, all that stuff Zoom has eliminated. Social cues – what are those? Where’s the big red Leave Meeting button on this conversation? 

I’m at a festival this weekend – thousands of people in a field, imagine that. Maybe the concept will catch on. It’s been labelled as a “Test Event”, which I guess means I am a guinea pig. It never ends well for the guinea pigs. How will I cope with all those stimuli? Will I combust? 

I don’t think I’m alone, though, in thinking these thoughts. Someone I was talking to called it relearning how to be, which I think is a nice phrase for it. But we’re getting back to it. There was a poetry night across town a few weeks back where a girl from the audience stormed the mic and started rapping Can’t Stop at the audience. At that bit where John Frusciante does his head voice, the audience started singing his part – and I was suddenly part of this absurd, spontaneous happening. Digital communication is too linear, there’s not much room on Zoom for tangents. 

So I guess I’ve found that the way to overcome that anxiety is to confront it, like holding a tarantula, or getting on the Tube. It was weird for a bit, but weird is only new, is only change, and new becomes old pretty fast and soon you’re on a busy rooftop bar in Peckham and that feels cool. Except for the app ordeal: download, register, fingerprint, iris scan, log in with Facebook, forgot password, reset password, install update, allow permissions, insert table number, drinks order, add a tip?, card details, sell card details on Dark Web?, hit order. And just when you’ve done all that the waiter comes along to tell you your allocated time is up and they need the table back.

You might by now be wondering why I didn’t just write a column instead of a hugely long apology letter. If I’d put half the time into thinking up a cheerful topic for a column, we could both have been spared this letter. But that’s the nature of writing.

How are things your end anyway? What’s the live scene looking like in the States? We must link up if we’re ever on the same continent.

Until then, or until the next column, whichever comes first.


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