Because I can get in my own way in such an accomplished fashion, I have found myself with something of a log-jam concerning All The Promised Posts. Later in the day that I posted last, I was, in a peculiar fashion, bereaved, and I felt I owed my sadness a post. It has, as usual, taken me longer than I would have liked to write, because, Ann.
My earliest memories contain music. I can still hear the click and split-second static buzz of the radio in the kitchen as my mother, every morning, turned on Radio 2. The sound is filed away in my long-term storage, along with my crystal-clear audio-print of her briskly shovelling bucketfuls of anthracite into the museum-piece water boiler at dawn, followed by the rhythmic yet truly calamitous noise of a violently agitated ash grate section. (I do not know I am born, obviously, what with my fancy tank of oil outside and no frost – inside – the single-glazed windows.) Sounds stick with me tenaciously, is the point I’m making, and are intangibly enmeshed in memories involving other senses, and of other sorts. I don’t know the band, or the year, or the song title, but if they played it on Radio 2 from 1978 to 1985, I can sing you the chorus, likely as not, and maybe a couple of verses.
My parents were young city-dwelling teens at the end of the 1950s. Rock & roll was en route: they watched it arrive. My father, an even worse squirrel than I, still has all the extant 45 singles he evidently spent his Saturday-job money on. Later, they were to queue outside overnight for Beatles tickets, with their parents bringing them flasks of hot drinks and, I expect, mild disbelief at their fervour.
But there was only ever one sound for my Dad, after he heard it the first time. A seamless meld of effortless harmony underpinned with either scything acoustic catchiness or ballads of teenage heart-break; the Everly Brothers’ music had such beat, soul and depth that Dad was caught for life. Graham Nash (Hollies, Crosby Stills & Nash) had a similar epiphany “It was like the opening of a giant door in my soul, the striking of a chord… from which I’ve never recovered”.
The Everlys were the soundtrack underpinning my childhood, and I hear so many of their songs suddenly soar and cascade into my mind whenever I am recalling events of my past. Their songs were always playing, you see: a constant curving weft snugly uniting the warp yarns of my life at all its times, places, and emotional stages. From my earliest time of memory, to now. Every car I have driven, every place I have lived, every year of my life: has heard their music. It has shaped me so very much: I will pause in the midst of the most urgent of tasks if I encounter good harmony, wherever and whatever the musical context. I have an ineffable, perpetual pathway to the comfort, the enjoyment and the sheer musical elation they have gifted me for all of my nearly-39 years.
It brings a smile to my face to think that I was, for several years, the youngest member of their international fan club. I was, and remain, an unfashionable soul. This was a long time before Roots Country and Blues became cool again, I might add, but in truth, Don and Phil were ahead of their time, and the period of their chart success was comparatively short. By the mid 1960s the hits had stopped, but their influence continued, to an extent that is so hard to quantify today. So many pleasingly disparate artists have paid tribute to the influence the Everly’s sound had on their own music. Paul McCartney said that ‘When John and I first started to write songs, I was Phil and he was Don’. Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones duetted on an entire Everly Brothers tribute album late last year.
I had a particular soft spot for Phil.
I’d met him once: waited for his autograph outside a stage door in Newcastle on Tyne, half a lifetime ago. Exchanged a few tongue-tied words, and melted, utterly, at his voice. All I can remember now is that extraordinarily soft, husky voice, and a glance or two from the far side of a very muffling scarf. (It is always winter in Newcastle, even in July.)
My parents were fortunate enough to meet with Phil and Don’s family last September, at a private family party-cum-gig for the small gathering of fans who had travelled across the world to meet one another, in Nashville. It sounded marvellous – I was writhingly jealous – and Phil’s wife Patti said how very much he wanted to be there too, but he was just too ill to travel. So they agreed next September, they would Do It All Again.
But on 3rd January, Phil – until quite late in his life a smoker – lost his battle with lung disease. I found out, of all places, from Twitter: a sign of my particular times. Duane Eddy, Bono, Joe Elliott, Nancy Sinatra, Paul Simon, Iggy Pop, the Brians May, Adams and Wilson, etc – hordes of ’em – all said how terribly sorry they were. By some inexplicable oversight I was overlooked by the world’s media for a quote, so I feel lucky to have this space. Because to the complete nonplussedness of my husband – although notably not to my parents – I was sincerely and miserably grieved. A month later, I still contemplate his loss every day.
I feel a little absurd discussing it, as Phil himself was a complete stranger; my loss is the artist, not the man. Everything meaningful that I possessed of him isn’t fundamentally altered, or gone away from me. I can reach for every song he ever wrote or sang, just as easily as before, and lose myself just as fully. Tonight, on BBC4, I can watch the Reunion Concert again, although it isn’t my favourite show of theirs – this is – and also the documentary that Alan Yentob made about them, years ago – the wonderfully titled Songs of Innocence and of Experience.
But despite all of this, I feel so terribly unhappy that someone so intrinsically special to me no longer walks under the same sun as I, and… well, I suppose I wanted just to say so. And that wherever Phil is, he is undoubtedly making the place sound very much sweeter.
Ignore the visual quality: do have a listen.