Back in the 1970s, I was discovering new music. Some of the acts went on to become big stars – Steely Dan, Joe Walsh, Doobie Brothers – and others – Judee Sill, Hydra and Buzzy Linhart – despite, or possibly because of my predictions of imminent stardom – didn’t. Buzzy who, you are probably asking, with very good reason. I saw him once on a TV show called The Old Grey Whistle Test, which showcased music you would simply not hear anywhere else on TV or indeed the radio. And he sang a song which stuck to my very soul and never left it: Friends.
Bette Midler covered the song and hers is the far more famous version. Linhart was not in Midler’s class as a singer, but I heard his version first and I will always love it.
As with all great songs, it resonates strongly with how I feel. I’ve had long periods of solitude, bordering on loneliness and emptiness and whenever I do, I start singing Friends, if only in my head.
It’s become especially relevant since I stopped going to watch my former beloved Bristol Rovers back in 2018. A large chunk of my world was at the Memorial Stadium, including friends of 30 years and longer and now it isn’t. People I saw every two weeks and more, I barely see at all now; some I never see at all.
Lockdown turned many people into hermits and when it happened I was already a long way down the road to the hermit world. Now lockdown is long over, I’m still a semi-hermit, emerging only on increasingly rare occasions and most of my friendships are maintained by the internet and little else. I am of course grateful for that but the little world I created more by accident than design isn’t enough.
I cast a slightly envious eye over my old friends who still go to the football, although I know I can never go back again. What’s the point of going to the football when you don’t want to see the football?
The melancholy spills over into despair on occasions and there’s always music for it. In 2020, I bought the eponymously named Purple Mountains, formed by the brilliant Dave Berman of the Silver Jews. Berman had already committed suicide before I even realised the record had come out and one song simply leapt out at me. All My Happiness Has Gone.
Fortunately, all my happiness hasn’t gone, yet, but those lyrics: “Friends are warmer than gold when you’re old. And keeping them is harder than you might suppose. lately, I tend to make strangers wherever I go. Some of them were people I was happy to know.” When the rain was falling in lockdown and anytime my friends are together and I’m not there, a part of me dies. But still I listen to the music because being sad is often who I am, being sad is what I do.
There is no one here beside me.
And my problems have all gone,
There is no one to deride me.
You got to have friends to make the day last long.
Someone came and took them away
And from the dusk till the dawn here is where I’ll stay.
Waiting for my new friends to come.
I don’t care if I’m hungry or poor,
I’m gonna get some of them.
‘Cause you got to have friends“
I’m getting less afraid about no longer being here. Not that I want the end just yet, but I’m not scared. And whatever happens today, I’ve still got my music.