In the last couple of months, two old mates have died. They were people I knew well enough to share a laugh and a joke with, people I spent a lot of time with back in the day when we worked on the crew in Leeds, humping heavy boxes in and out of trucks at obscene hours of the night, often cash in hand, never with insurance, and thought that our readiness to be available at a moment’s notice with no promise of regular work meant we were way smarter than the average bear.
I guess we had to think like that to do the job. Were we right? We might have been. It’s hard to say. Time has dulled the bright certainties we swore by back then, and when I think of these two dead friends, it feels like looking back to another world I can no longer be quite sure I know my way around.
One thing is sure: we were either too chaotic, or wanted too much by way of intensity, to fit comfortably into what we saw as the crushing boredom of a 9-5. And crewing offered us the opportunity to grab hold of the glamorous coat-tails of rock’n’roll, stay up half the night and get paid for it, and end up with enough money in our pockets for food and beer. It helped us create a lifestyle where we could have some kind of stab – however clumsy and ill-considered – at following our dreams. Half the bands in Leeds had members on the crew, and alongside them were anarchists, DJs, university drop-outs, and at least one poet. We were a bunch of people who just wanted to sit in a pub on an afternoon when the rest of the world was working and bounce ideas off each other. And we took drugs, and got laid, and thought we could live like that forever. Death, like taxes, was something for other people to worry about.
Now all of us, to some extent or other, have made compromises our younger selves would have scoffed at. It’s what happens. You get older, and slower, and the world takes some of the edges off you, and staying up all night getting wasted – again – seems somehow less attractive than it did when you were twenty-five. But the crew I keep in touch with are still a contrary bunch, even now. They’re still angry, still critical, still creative. Some of them are still musicians. A lot of them work in the industry, because life among those glamorous coat-tails is the best way they know to pay the bills, and allows them to believe – sometimes, and usually against all the evidence – that they’re just a little bit smarter than the average bear.
And every now and then one of the old faces drops away, and we hear about it by text or phone or the bush telegraph of facebook. And hand-in-hand with the disbelief and the sense of loss comes the recognition that we got things wrong. We never thought we’d get to be this old, and we were wrong. We never thought we’d end up paying taxes either, and we couldn’t have been more wrong about that. Back then in those days down the pub, playing pool and waiting for the speed to kick in, with no idea what we’d be doing this time next week, and less interest, we learned to busk it. And we’re busking it still.