My first music-memory is of being three, soaring on my swing set, singing “The Candy Man.” I can still see the tips of my toes peeking out of white strappy sandals, just skimming the tops of the sunlit trees of our garden in Woodland Hills.
“Who can take tomorrow…dip it in a dream…”
That garden felt like Eden: pomegranate trees, orange trees, plum trees, lemon trees. And then there were the roses and the radishes, the swimming pool and the apricots, the blackberries and the raspberries, the avocados.
“He mixes it with love and makes the world taste good…”
My mom still says that the squeak that swing made as I flew back and forth across her kitchen window was music to her ears. I know what she means. The thought of that sound, the swing’s squeak, brings back a lot, even now. It fills me with the dewy calmness of the garden and the innocence of being three and swinging on a summer morning. It’s hard to get back to that feeling sometimes, in the life that leads me now.
When I lived in San Francisco in 1991, a friend invited me go see an English band called James perform in Union Square. It was to be their first U.S. performance. But it was a cold and rainy Saturday, and I wanted to stay home. Thank God I changed my mind.
I was 22, at the beginning of my life in many ways, at the center of the most beautiful city in the world, huddled with an eager crowd underneath heavy clouds threatening to open up on us. It seemed like the show might not happen. But then the jangly guitars started, drawing us closer. And when the band’s front man Tim Booth began to sing, I was transfixed. By his voice, by his presence, at once, wild and still.
I pushed myself to the front of the crowd, leaving my friends behind. The rain had started, and I could see that the show’s concerned producers were about to pull the plug. I dug my camera out of my bag and started snapping photos. I wanted something to remember this moment by because I knew it was going to end soon. The rain fell harder and people in STAFF jackets drew their hands across their throats. Cut’em off. The crowd booed. No one wanted the show to be over before it had even started.
Tim Booth, seemingly unaware of what was going on around him, (though actually as aware as a tiger trying not to be caged) climbed a tower of unsecured amplifiers. Now the STAFF, who had been eager to stop the show, was focused on trying to keep Mr. Booth from falling to his death.
In a wool coat too big for his boyish frame and with a mop of curly hair moving too quickly to get wet, the singer began to dance on those unsecured speakers, in the rain, attuned to nothing but the sound and the energy of the crowd.
There is a sacred space that Tim Booth enters when he performs. If you look closely, you see a man completely present with his vulnerability, his heart wide open, and at the same time connected to the vast and unpredictable energy of the wild crowd that he holds in the palm of his hand.
On October 1, 2008, I attended my first James concert in about fifteen years. For months, I had been so sick, with what, I didn’t know. My belly was swollen, and I ached all over. I pushed forward to get as close as I could to the stage and to let the waterfall of sound wash over me, just as I had that day in Union Square. I couldn’t feel my pain in that moment. There was only the sound and the voice.
Six weeks after the concert, I found out I had cancer. And as you know, it’s the love of my husband and my son and my friends and family that gets me through this fight. I write about that all the time. But I keep some of my secrets to myself.
This is me sharing one of those secrets with you: Tim Booth’s voice.
When things are at their hardest, I have to disconnect completely from my body in order not to feel as though it is about to drag me right out of this life. In those moments, I can put in my ear buds, and when I hear Tim Booth’s voice, a tiny flame is lit somewhere underneath the disease, beyond my body. And the flame grows into a fire. And just the sound of his voice, just the depth and clarity and heartfelt grace of it awakens my will and strength and allows me to go back into my body with ease and joy.
And after a bit, I return to that place where I can hear the squeak of the swing, and I can see my toes in white sandals again. And they are tickling the sunlit trees behind them, and I am singing, “He mixes it with love and makes the world taste good…”
I’ve been wanting to write a post about Tim Booth for a while. I found out recently that he has a new solo album coming out on April 4th. Appropriately, for me, it’s called Love Life.
With the arrival of spring and the news that my new chemo regimen is WORKING, the new album is a gift, a soundtrack for the good, sweet times to come.