“Come on then. Something new. Time for something new.” Those were the words with which I ended the last column I wrote here, more than a year ago. I was talking to myself, in a mood of encouragement, and was also being deliberately vague. For what I meant by “something new” was an Everything But The Girl album. I didn’t dare say that out loud for fear of jinxing the whole project, turning something fragile and tentative into something concrete, a promise I’d have to keep.
In the film Annie Hall there’s a scene at a Hollywood party where a director is briefly overheard saying: “Right now it’s just a notion, but I think I can get the money to make it a concept, and later turn it into an idea.” That’s always made me laugh, but it contains an element of truth about how hazardous the creative process can feel, how it might collapse if you breathe on it too hard.
Anyway, here I am a year later, and the end result is that Ben and I wrote our album and recorded it and released it, and its existence in the world now seems solid and inevitable. But there were times this year when I thought we would never make it over the finish line.
There has been a constant background hum of medical issues: Ben spent a short spell in hospital, both of us caught Covid for the first time, and I injured my knee, so that I limped my way through a session at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios, and spent a day of radio interviews taking knee support advice from our promotions guy.
I stood in front of Alice Neel’s portrait of Andy Warhol the other day and was struck, once again, by its beauty and power. It shows him sitting shirtless and vulnerable, his upper body scarred and stitched back together after he’d been shot. Yet it was Warhol’s face that really caught my attention this time, with its expression of almost limitless sadness and equally boundless defiance. “Look what has happened to me,” he seems to say. “It is so cruel, so unfair, and yet fuck it, I am still here.”
We all need a bit of that spirit as we get older. Earlier this year we were feeling sorry for ourselves, having to deal with a string of health issues when we just wanted to be celebrating our new album. But I said to Ben, “Look, the medical shit would be happening anyway. At least we’ve got a new project to take our minds off it all.”
We called the new record Fuse, with its double meaning of lighting a spark that ignites something, and also a coming together or coalescing of separate elements. But the other day, I thought of the Dylan Thomas poem “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower”, and I re-read the opening stanza:
The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever
I’ve always read the verse as being about the cycle of life and death, the way in which newness and oldness are the same thing. The energy that pushes you forward is also pushing you towards your own ending.
These kind of thoughts had been in our (subconscious) minds even while we were making the record. There are a lot of lyrics about seizing the moment. In an interview a journalist pointed out to me that the first three song titles are “Nothing Left to Lose”, “Caution to the Wind” and “Run a Red Light”. Get on with it, we seem to have been saying to ourselves.
Well, there’s nothing like turning 60 to give you a kick up the arse. I had two new tattoos last year to celebrate the moment. Not in a mood of trying to recapture lost youth, but more as an acknowledgement of the present, and all that we can’t change about it. A determination not to try to stop the passage of time, but to go with it at full pelt. What was it that Andrew Marvell wrote?
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run
That’s the spirit. Forwards we go, embracing the new. Although, I’m a bit worried my doctor is soon going to tell me I need a new knee. Some things you’d rather not.
This article appears in the 07 Jun 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Reeves Doctrine