The first time I heard any music by Alexi Murdoch, it was the song “Breathe”, when it was played in the TV show, “Stargate Universe”. A group of scientists, led by Robert Carlyle, are stranded on an alien spaceship and don’t know how to generate enough oxygen. When the geeky teenage genius figures out the solution, the characters are filmed breathing deeply accompanied by Alexi Murdoch’s deeply moving song. A cliched story but a very affecting scene, making effective use of music.
At the end of another episode of “Stargate Universe”, everything has gone wrong and everyone is doomed. A series of images showing the sadness, memories and fears of the characters is accompanied by Flogging Molly’s “The Worst Day Since Yesterday”. It’s a good song and it’s another effective use of a relatively obscure song. However, that phrase, “the worst day since yesterday” has been bugging me for years. I think that, in the context of the episode, a better song would have been titled “Another Terrible Day”, if such a song exists. I think the director wanted some music to set to the ongoing predicament of the crew. If today is the worst day since yesterday, surely it means that yesterday was worse than today, so things are looking up – there’s an improvement today and maybe things can only get better. “The Worst Day Since Yesterday” is a concept that gives me cause to anticipate a better future.
Today, I’m writing about anticipation and also “Anticipation”. At the moment February is the worst month since January which was pretty bleak. There’s anticipation in the air and I’m looking forward to Monday to find out what Boris Johnson is going to say about easing lockdown. He has promised us a road map. As much as I despise our Prime Minister, he has a very effective way of communication. “Roadmap” can be set alongside “Moonshot” and “Worldbeating” as phrases that powerfully convey a much needed sense of positivity. By contrast, Keir Starmer, who I like and respect, gave a much heralded speech yesterday in which the only memorable phrase seems to be a “British Recovery Bond”. Although this is a good idea, it’s not memorable or likely to be relevant to most people who have lost jobs or are struggling on Universal Credit.
Boris Johnson has dithered over decisions in the last year and that has undoubtedly cost the lives of many people. He seems unwilling to be seen to taking unpopular but necessary hard decisions for the long term benefit of the country. He seems quite needy insofar as he needs to be appreciated and loved. Thus, the first lockdown was eased too early and the current lockdown was imposed too late. On the other hand, hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s easy now to identify mistakes. Sitting in the comfort of my own home, with an imminent food delivery and contact with three good friends later today, it’s simplistic of me to think that lockdown should be maintained for as long as possible. If I were in different circumstances, I would feel differently. Should restrictions be completely lifted or maintained at their current level? Clearly, the answer is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes but whereabouts in the middle? I certainly don’t envy Boris Johnson and his old Etonian cronies who have to determine a way forward from here. Infections, hospital admissions and COVID-related deaths are all falling but not so much that they can be ignored. The country is anticipating Boris Johnson’s statement on Monday with a full panoply of expectations. The government has been doing an excellent job in dampening our expectations this week and has been flooding the media with more stories of doom, despair and death. This has been the worst week since last week. By lowering our expectations, I guess that the country may be mildly surprised by some of the easing of restrictions announced next Monday. That’s what I’m anticipating, anyway.
The problem with the sensation of anticipation is that it causes us us to focus on the future and not the present. If the last year has taught me anything, it’s the need and benefits of enjoying the current moment and not trying to fit the present into a context which takes account of the past and the future. On the other hand, that context defines who we all are, our needs and our pleasures, and to deny its existence is to suppress our personality.
I asked Roo some time ago whether she liked surprises. I had ordered the live War On Drugs album for her and did she want to know about it beforehand or would she like to wait? She preferred to wait and she was overjoyed when it came. I think that, on balance, I’d have preferred to know beforehand because part of the pleasure was anticipating its arrival. Simply enjoying the moment probably isn’t enough – I enjoy the anticipation. The pandemic has made it difficult to have that many pleasures to anticipate.
There’s also an issue with the common usage of the word “anticipation”. I believe most people (including me) use it to mean thinking about something pleasurable that is likely to happen in the future. However, I would contend that the true meaning is just thinking about an event in the future that may or may not be a nice thing. If someone were to talk about anticipating getting ill, they would be dismissed as a negative curmudgeon. By contrast, it’s good to hear someone talk about anticipating their birthday celebrations.
The title song from Carly Simon’s album “Anticipation” starts with the lines “We can never know about the days to come but we think about them anyway”. Exactly. It’s very common to think about the future and forward project how you are going to feel. Jeremy Snape, psychologist to the England cricket team, once defined stress as thinking that you couldn’t cope with some event in the future. In his case, when talking to batsmen who were about to face bowling at over 90 mph, their stress and anxiety was caused by anticipating that their reactions wouldn’t be quick enough to avoid getting out or getting hit.
The last two lines of the first verse are “I wonder if I’m really with you now or chasing after some finer day”. How common is it to think that what you are doing now is okay but will hopefully lead on to something even better? A bit like going to a Van Morrison concert and not really enjoying “Dweller On The Threshold” because it’s not my favourite song and waiting for him to play “Summertime In England”. This is what I have done lots of times – unable or unwilling to embrace the present because I’m hoping it will lead on to something better. If I had been able to turn off my mind, relax and float downstream in the glory of the moment of a Van Morrison concert, my enjoyment could have been enhanced. How many callers do I get at Samaritans who tell me that they think too deeply about things? Responding viscerally or emotionally is healthier than responding intellectually. That’s why there’s so much music that I like but I can’t explain why. “It was a little bit frightening but they did it with expert timing”.
The chorus of this song is really excellent: “Anticipation is making me late. It’s keeping me waiting“. By thinking too much about the future, she is not experiencing the present.
The second verse is “I tell you how easy it is to be with you and how right your arms feel around me. But I rehearsed those words just late last night when I was thinking about how right tonight might be.” I’ve often rehearsed conversations in my head. I’ve often found it difficult to sleep because I’m worried about a difficult conversation I need to have with someone. I’ve imagined the conversation turning really nasty and it’s caused me much anxiety at 3:00 a.m. When reality kicks in the following day, it invariably turns out to be easy and nothing like I had imagined. Anticipating something, in a positive or negative way, isn’t always sensible. In Carly Simon’s song, she is anticipating feeling wonderful with his arms around her. This makes what she says pretty shallow because it’s not what she is actually feeling, rather it is what she was anticipating that she would feel.
The final verse of this magnificent song tells us the answer – how to behave and how to express our feelings. “Tomorrow we might not be together. I’m no prophet, I don’t know nature’s way. So I’ll try to see into your eyes right now and stay right here ’cause these are the good old days.” That phrase, “these are the good old days” is so important to me. I sincerely hope that February 2021 is not part of the “good old days” and things will get better but on the other hand, rather than spend my life anticipating events, it seems more important to embrace the present moment and experience it emotionally rather than intellectualise what it’s significance is.
“Anticipation” was written by Carly Simon about a date with Cat Stevens. It was a Number One hit in the UK Charts. On her next album, the song “You’re So Vain” caused a 50 year debate about who she was berating – possibly Warren Beatty. Carly Simon was no stranger to writing about celebrities. The following song, “Legend In Your Own Time” is also about Cat Stevens.
Carly Simon is often categorised, dismissively, as AOR. That’s unfair. The song “Share The End” on this album has a phenomenally intense vocal. Lyrically, the song describes the end of the world: churches are being burnt, leaders are apologising for their mistakes and the people are begging for just another day or even an hour. I’m not anticipating the lyrics to this song being relevant to our current situation.