He once told me that our relationship didn’t have to play by any rules, that we were free to make up our own rules, our own milestones and our own tropes of true love. There was an age gap of almost thirty years and though we had more in common with each other than we’d ever had with anyone before, there was a gulf of difference between everything else – the way we were raised, the way we saw the world, the values we held and the plans we had.
One thing we always had in common was music. I know a lot of people say that music is their life and I believe them, but with him music meant so much more than life. It was more than life and one of the bands that brought us together was Stiff Little Fingers and barring an impulsive Paul Heaton gig in the winter we got together, SLF were the first band we saw live together.
It was December and we’d just bought our first Christmas tree together. He bought tickets to see them down in Brighton and I think it was the first time that year that I’d been excited for something that was purely for my enjoyment. I packed my bag into the boot of his car and we drove down to the seaside. The cold was brutal and the walk from where we were staying to the club was hellish, but there, standing next to me for the first time in my life was a boy who was excited to see a band I liked.
He used to do this thing when we went to gigs and that night was the first night I noticed it. He’d stand behind me, all six feet and something of him, and he’d put one arm around my waist and pull me into him. He didn’t really dance, neither of us were those kinds of people, but he sang loud and out of key and he screamed along with Tin Soldiers in the sweat soaked club on the sea front and I felt how I was supposed to feel all those times before – I felt like I was in love.
After the gig we sat drunken and laughing eating kebabs soaked in chilli sauce in a hotel room with a broken thermostat that was trying to mirror the heat of our food. The Fratellis had released an album that year that would become the sound track to our first year and we put it on my Bluetooth speaker and we got into bed. I still can’t listen to a few of those tracks, even now but I hope one day when Slow ticks on or Desperate Guy shuffles onto my speaker, I’ll be able to listen to them and look back on that night when he was young and I was happy.
There is one song, I will link it below, called My Dark Places and for the longest of times it became our song. The first (but not the last) mix tape he ever made me opened with the original version of the song and closed with the acoustic version and there was a time when I was in his car, torn to pieces from one of many battles I waged during our relationship, and he quietly put the mix on his iPod and just looked at me knowing that when he didn’t have the words to help, SLF always would. He never knew, and I guess I’m telling him now, but the night of our first real date, after I somewhat assaulted him a few nights before and made my feelings known – I almost bailed.
I was sat in the dilapidated house that came with my job looking out the window of the living room at the pub where we met and the pub where we were going to meet and it felt like my heart was going to crawl out of my mouth. I still remember what I was wearing, the date, what I’d done earlier in the day and the way my hands were cold and sweaty. I’d spoken to my friend on the phone moments before and I stood with the phone still in my hand contemplating what this sick horrible feeling in my gut was.
I know now, for future reference, that it was butterflies. The first butterflies to have hatched in my gut for almost a decade. As an adult, so sure of myself and my identity, to have this ethereal man sweep in and save me from myself was the antithesis of what I believed I wanted. And I was scared. Scared that he wouldn’t find me interesting enough or smart enough or pretty enough, that every woman he’d ever had before me made me pale and unworthy. I put him on a pedestal then, and to a great extent, I still hold him there and probably always will. It was like I had closed my eyes and wished real hard for “that guy” and then, as if by magic – that guy was sitting across the road waiting for me.
I picked up my iPod and hit shuffle, not knowing then that the song would unite us the way it did. My Dark Places by Stiff Little Fingers ripped into my ears and Jake Burns started to shout about ashes and sadness and refusing to give up. I didn’t wait until the song had finished. I grabbed my keys and closed the door behind me, the cold October air hitting my face like an open hand. I walked up to the door of the pub and yanked my headphones out as the song finished and the warmth replaced the cold.
Then I saw him, all green eyes and smiles. And he was wearing a Stiff Little Fingers t-shirt. It was the cover of Inflammable Material, the first SLF album I ever owned. I’ll never forget the way he looked at me that night, like there was no one else in the room or the way we talked all night like we’d never had a real conversation with anyone else before that moment. Or the way he walked, all be it hammered, on the right side of the road so that I was tucked safely into the pavement. Or the way he tried to hold my hand.
The rest, as they say is history. And though there are other moments when this band made sense to us (we saw them four times in total together, I believe) I will end this post with the last time Stiff Little Fingers played a hand in our lives together. It was the afternoon when he came from work and our bedroom was covered in candles. He sat down on the bed and I got down on one knee and I pretended to propose to him with Star Wars rings I’d bought online to make a mockery of marriage, and institution that both of us had had painful experiences with. Listen, by the band in question was playing, and though it seemed unplanned, I chose that song on purpose though I never told him.
Long story short – it was the beginning of the end. The reaction he had was overwhelmingly negative and though now I feel like it was born out of a misunderstanding of what I was actually trying to do, at the time it just hurt like hell. Well, fuck, people it probably broke my heart if I’m being honest which I am indeed trying to be. In an attempt to comfort him, to prove to him that I didn’t need a white picket fence or a diamond or a wedding dress to be with him forever and be happy to be his regardless of what my last name was, I sent him into a spiral of panic that lasted for nearly three hours and exhausted the both of us.
And I don’t think either of us, or our relationship, ever fully recovered from that day.
The lessons I’ve learned from this patch? Don’t fall in love with a guy that likes the same music as you, because if it does go wrong, which it most certainly will, he will take those songs away from you forever. My Dark Places gave me the courage to go into the pub that night and now when I hear it I want to scream. Something that used to make me feel bullet proof now riddles me with them by the time the first riff is a few seconds in. The other lesson I learned from this patch? Fall in love with a guy that likes the same music as you because they will always know where to find the words to make you understand how they’re feeling or how you make them feel. Also, you will have an absolutely incredible soundtrack to your lives together.
Bonus lesson – nothing lasts forever (though this isn’t an Echo and the Bunnymen patch, the sentiment is true) but everything has the ability to grow into something new – pleasure from pain, healing from hurt, relationship to friendship – but enduring through it all, unwavering and refusing to ever bow down to change is what this patch taught me clearest, though it may have been the hardest lesson to learn – love always remains.
And I love this patch and the person it represents and as he is the person that told me to work on a project to get me through the rougher (pardon the pun) patches of my life, this project wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t have kicked it off with his very own patch. And yeah, there are other bands that will always remind me of him and yes there are still albums I can’t listen to without feeling like there’s an elephant sitting on my chest, but Stiff Little Fingers will always be “our band” and My Dark Places will always remind me that there are people out there that know how I feel and that I have never and will never be alone in my own dark places.
He’s got his own project now and I cannot wait to see what happens next.
For both of us.
So, number one with a bullet (a reference I hope he would get should he ever read this) Stiff Little Fingers.