this life is the best we've ever had

By Caroline Crampton,

Published on Oct 16, 2020   —   4 min read


I went to a gig this week. In the horrible new sense of the word “went”, but still.

I watched The Divine Comedy play an hour’s set at the Barbican in London via my slightly greasy laptop screen. I sat in bed drinking a cooling cup of tea. I cried twice.

I bought the ticket for the livestream only the day before; I had known about it for a while but didn’t like the idea of watching something online that, in another timeline, I would have been experiencing in person. The band was going to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary this year by playing several albums live in their entirety and I was going to be there.

I changed my tune on livestreams when at the start of this week the part of the UK where I live was placed in the highest level of lockdown restrictions permitted under a newly introduced tiered system. I entered a rapid and almost comically accurate emotional rundown of those stages of grief, you know:

Shock — This isn’t really happening, is it? They can’t take their own incompetence out on the north west and also not give people proper compensation for the businesses they now can’t run?

Denial — But I can still go away to Yorkshire for the weekend, right? The travel ban doesn’t apply to us, a household that has not broken any rules up to now? (Spoiler, it does, and we will not be visiting our dog’s extended family — and their humans — as planned.)

Guilt — So many others have this so much worse. I can work from home and I have a house with multiple rooms and a yard. It’s ridiculous and selfish of me to even feel sad about this.

Anger — Well, obviously, I’m furious about everything. All the time. I’m surprised I have any molars left.

Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance — I can only assume that these are still to come.

All of which is to say: watching Neil Hannon sing about A Lady of a Certain Age suddenly seemed like a very acceptable distraction. And so it was. I just wasn’t prepared for the feelings that would come with it.

I decided I would write about this gig today because of those feelings, but now that doesn’t feel right. I wrote a whole book that is at least partially a memoir without being at all troubled about what to put in and what to leave out, because the right stories just appeared in my head as I reached the parts where they slotted in.

The sensation that something isn’t to be written about or shared is a relatively new one for me. The new writing project I’m working on will involve a lot of more of this issue and I’m still gearing up for it. Jami Attenberg wrote recently about how to write about other people in a memoir and her advice is always worth taking, I think.

The songs of The Divine Comedy contain my memories, whatever else they may be about. There’s one that is about the novel I tried and failed to write when I was 17, for instance, and another that’s about walking to school while arguing about music theory. When the band played “Tonight We Fly” — the number that has ended nearly all of The Divine Comedy gigs I’ve ever been to — I cried again because my friend Dan used to complain all the time when we were 17 about how much he hated its galloping drum beat. Oh, and the tears were a bit because of the way that song ends on a hopeful note — “this life is the best we’ve ever had…”.

The music that worms its way inside you during your formative years stays there forever, tangled up with what makes you yourself. This isn’t a particularly original thought, but I don’t think I really knew what it means until I watched this performance.

When I was a child I once walked into the sitting room on Christmas Day to find my dad listening to a Cat Stevens record and quietly weeping because he missed the city thousands of miles away where he had grown up but would never live again. Now I know that the back catalogue of The Divine Comedy is to me what that album is to him, and someday an inquisitive young person will probably want to know why the silly song about the bus makes me so sad.

Twelve things I’m reading, watching and listening to:

If you enjoy the podcasts I recommend in this newsletter, consider taking out a subscription to The Listener, the daily podcast recommendation newsletter I write. I promise, it’s really good, and it’s a great way to show your support of my work.

Apart from that, there are a few other places on the internet where you can find me: I write weekly podcast industry reports for Hot Pod, I make a fortnightly podcast called Shedunnit and I’m sometimes on Twitter and Instagram. My book is now out in paperback, find the links to purchase a copy here.

Until next time,


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