With apologies to friends who’ve read this – I thought it worth mentioning on the band blog as we’ve been working on this as a band and, all being well, we’ll be giving it a Layers début at a gig soon.
If you’re famous, fascinating or just fucking charismatic, you may be able to get away with telling the story of how you came to write the song. Once or twice. Most of the time your listening public would just as soon listen to the songs and if they want to know your life story they’ll buy your autobiography.
So I offer this in writing now so that if you give a damn, you can read it and I can spare you a minute’s rambling at a forthcoming gig.
In the sepia-tinted, stove-pipe-millinered days of my youth I had a friend whose girlfriend had fallen asleep at the wheel of a car and tragically suffered a fatal crash. He’d wandered by as I was presenting a radio show, seen me through the window and popped in. This wasn’t unusual as it was the habit of ‘Ranting’ Joe and mine to pick up a bottle of bourbon en route the studio and use it to render the coffee from next door’s cafe drinkable enough to keep us awake through our graveyard shift. Friends who knew this would often drop in to share a ‘coffee’ and an off-colour story.
On this particular evening, as I was flying solo and a little busier with the sliders, there was a lull in conversation where my visitor picked up the sleeve to the record I was playing and started reading the lyrics which were, as luck would have it, about losing someone dear.
I thought that this might trigger some sort of collapse but instead, in a calm and mildly amused voice, he started telling me how he’d been in town that day and impulse-bought a tee shirt that he thought she’d love, only realising when he got it home and laid it on the bed to fold and wrap that he was never going to get to give it to her. Then he drained his coffee (about 30% by vol), gave me a sad smile, got up and went.
There’s funny on-air stories and there’s that. If only someone had been listening it might have made great radio. Those particular radio waves are now 21 light years or so out into space.
An experience like that (plus a litre of coffee tending in increasingly large ratios to Canadian Club) will keep you awake at night and in the small hours of the morning that followed I had one of those cathartic lyric-writing moments that were sometimes the only thing, in those days, that would finally summon Morpheus.
The song’s called ‘Magic Lantern Show’ and we’ve been reworking it with The Layers. It became something that I found myself returning to, in the years that followed, when someone died; my Tralfamadorian ‘so it goes’. I wrote this post on my own blog originally because it just occurred to me that it was almost exactly eighteen years since a dear friend of mine had passed and I found myself playing and singing in the living room – this song just rushed back to me.
So I won’t bore you with the intro if you come to hear the song played but for all of my lost friends and because of when this thought hit me, especially for Jez: here are the lyrics to Magic Lantern Show:
Forgotten dreams… lost poetry,
pinwheel through the corner of my mind
as I sit, adrift in contemplation.
Unspoken words to lost love:
A magic lantern show
Raging at blind Fortune
for snatching future seconds
but lost and impotent without you here.
Unstoppable, unmerciful –
time’s river thunders on.
Awake, to drown in loneliness and fear.
Not the purest of their priests
not the wisest of their teachers
could ever hope to bring you back to me
but not the darkest thief of night time
could steal the love we shared
could steal away our past from memory.
 At the time of writing. The year in question was 1991.