Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Today I Found Love in God's Jukebox.

This will be the most personal post I am ever likely to make. So it's a little daunting. But I must tell it.

Tonight I found a play list of the radio 2 show, God's Jukebox. And I'd like to try and explain what that means to me...

In 2006 my daughter was 6 years old. My marriage was 5 years old. Our dog was 4. Our car was 3. My job was 2. And God's Jukebox was just coming into our lives.
Wikipedia says:
"On 22 April 2006, Lamarr started a new Radio 2 show called God's Jukebox. The show aired from Midnight to 3.00am on Saturdays where he played a wide variety of music from the past 70 years including Soul, Ska, Reggae, Country, Gospel and Rap. He also, with Jo Brand, regularly covered the Jonathan Ross Saturday morning show on Radio 2 when Ross was away. His final God's Jukebox show was broadcast Christmas Eve/Day, 2010. At the end of 2010 Lamarr left Radio 2, claiming the station had lost interest in non-mainstream music"

That's right, midnight to 3am. Country and Rap. And not your Vanilla Ice shit either. A VERY broad church. It's worth noting that it was not actually religious in intent, although it didn't shy from Gospel. The title referred simply to the idea that it was the tunes you'd hope were playing up there in heaven, if such a thing - were a thing.

My wife, Alicia and I had a lot of overlap in music, but also some big differences. She hated techno or electronic music of any kind, and while that changed a little with time, I've always loved it - for example. But one night I saw Mark Lamarr had a show...  I'd seen him DJ many years earlier in Shepherd's Bush, with an old school friend. I'd always found him funny, and a great presenter, but was blown away by how much good music he knew, and how diverse it was. I loved how he didn't give a crap about when or where it came from. All that mattered to him was: "Is it good"?

I had two rules when it came to music back then. No Cliff, and no country. Now its just no Cliff. Thanks to Lamarr.

So we popped it on as we lay in bed. Ali probably read. I might have coded for a while. That first night we might have actually listened to the whole thing. Right from the start it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. To lie there with my beautiful young wife and simply enjoy some great tunes. Every single one of which I'd never heard before. I'd never heard 3hrs of tunes that were completely new to me before in one go. Everyone worth listening to. Staying awake for. Holding tight to my Boo.

Ali and I were from different worlds. I'm painfully white. Red hair. Went to boarding school in a picturesque area of the North East of England. Not known for its cultural diversity. Big into techno and computers, and the common vices of the era. Ali was the biracial black-Puerto Rican Daughter of a US naval serviceman. Having her formative years in the Bronx, including the year the city went bust. She told me about getto soup (free McDonalds ketchup sachets and hot water) and the time the garbage between her building and the one adjacent reached the second floor. And how they use to through cans from the 5th to see the rats run. Ali's shit was real back then.

But we both loved every song that came on.

Here's a bit thats difficult to say: we loved each other already, we'd just not figured out how to love each other that well yet. But that show, every week, was a time when, without saying a word, we showed each other how much we did love each other. Yes ok like 'that', sometimes, but mostly we just lay there and listened and held each other.

This went on for 4 years. By the end of which the ritual was part of my very soul. So much so, I would fall sound asleep, then wake just as the end of show clip was about to be played. And more than once I cried with the sheer beauty of the moment. At 3am. Ali fast asleep. I'd well up like I was watching the end of Monsters Inc. And I'd switch of the radio and snuggle down.

Ali's style was clearly shaped by the show. With a kind of Bronx dredlocked rockabilly cowgirl on scates thing going on. And I loved it.

Eventually it had to end, but it seemed to soon. One Christmas show he announced that he'd pissed off one too many exec, and the station no longer had room for his brand of brandlessness. We were both very sad. But it had been a good run. Because he didn't give a crap about anything other than: was it 'good'. And such a great last show.

Later that year, unbeknownst to us, at the time, Ali developed cancer. It took a year to really show itself. It took 2 years to drag her kicking and screaming away from me and our daughter.

In those years she appeared on the TV several times in her capacity as a London Roller Girl (Roller Derby rocks - check it out), passed her paediatric course,  raised thousands for charity (including roller skating 71 miles in a onesie, in 24hr). Regardless of the end score, she kicked cancer's ass up AND down the street.

And we saw raw love. #nofilter. Pure. I won't go into details, but cancer simply doesn't give a crap. And it teaches you to do the same. All the ifs and buts fall away. All the ways you might hold back for fear of appearing soft. Or weak. Or wrong. They matter so little. And they really do not matter. It had been a good run. Because we didn't give a crap about anything other than: was it 'good'. She gave such a great last show. 

Sometime after her passing, I reached out to the internet to find comfort in the show we fell completely in love to. But it wasn't podcasted, and I'd not recorded it. It wasn't on iPlayer. It wasn't shared on bit torrent. There was a guy with a website dedicated to it, bit it was a bit of a mess. Just a bunch of YouTube clips, mostly.

This stung. It underlined the loss of my true love. And that while it wasn't gone completely, much had been lost. All those hours. All those cuddles. All those tears of joy at 3am.

I'm not going to lie. Losing your love to something like cancer is just perfectly terrible. It's the worst thing you can imagine, and then some. It will never be right. Not one bit. And you find yourself needing to say things like "she'll always be here, in our hearts and memories". Partly because its true, and partly because if you don't you will be swallowed whole by the horror of it. And all the while there is a devil on your shoulder, pointing out the obvious: that my memory is terrible. It's just not a safe place to keep something as precious as Alicia.

The other thing I tell myself is not always seen as very positive, but it comforts me: The worst IS going to happen. You and your loved ones will die. What's less certain is wether you will get to experience love, and let yourself look it right it the eye. And cry with the joy of it. We did. Make sure you do if you get the chance.

But then something wonderful happened. Something that makes me love the waves and ripples of tears and joy that this crazy universe pulses with. The good people at the BBC made it easy for you to see the playlist of old shows AND... export them to other playlist formats. I suspect this is how the saintly John Davis made a 240hr long 6,516 song Spotify playlist of the entire 4 years of 3hour long shows. Since I'd not yet signed up I get 7 days free to download songs for offline listening. With my fibre optic broadband running at a good pace, I've just slurped long and hard at a well of love and memories I thought I'd never have back.

Bare in mind that I'd be asleep, or close to it for the last hour of each show, there are memories I'm feeling, listening to this, which are clearer today than they were the day after show. Some will be 'false' memories. New feelings grown from old. Indistinguishable from memories.

At Ali's funeral I had this to play on the list, but I thought my heart would just explode if I heard it. It's what I'd hear at 3am every Saturday. Curled up in a ball of soppy love in North London.


Now for the love of all things 'good' go listen to this playlist. With the person you love. At your mutual convenience. Say nothing. Just hold them.