(This piece should have a subtitle saying that I make some connection with running, in the end!)
I think it is just a sign of my age but I am keenly aware of an increasing number of deaths of people who have a place in my inner life. The musicians I listened to, the writers I read, the actors I watched – the ones I thought had a special relationship with my own generation. Mostly these people are a bit older than me, because you tend to make the most vivid associations in your teens when they are in their prime. They have therefore reached an age where you would expect more of them to be dying. But even so it is still a shock.
Their death is not so much a reminder of my own mortality but a spur to remember the taste and atmosphere of the time. The things I heard and the meanings I attached to them.
This year has seen the death of a few people from jazz. It started with Michael Brecker and Alice Coltrane. (George Melly occupied a slightly different cultural space because I remember hem mainly for his cultural writings in the Observer) and yesterday I read of the death of Paul Rutherford.
I did not expect name of Paul Rutherford to mean much to very many people and so was quite surprise to se the size and prominence of the obituary in the Guardian. To be quite honest he was not a big name in my internal landscape – I was aware of him mainly because he played in the Mike Westbrook Band, which I really liked. But the obituary made me think of the time I used to listen to free jazz. I don’t anymore and now think it was made much more for the musicians rather than the listener. However at the time I was attracted to the idea of the hard core, the cutting edge, and an uncompromising personal vision. I think I was buying into the romantic idea of the artist as the visionary and the harder the exterior, the more profound the inner truth, i.e. I was slightly delusional.
And yet… and yet there were moments of great clarity and beauty. I don’t know quite how it happened but if you stayed with it, sometimes things just came together and something surprising and rather wonderful happened. And the people involved were genuine and committed. It was a serious endeavour.
Sometimes my running is a bit like that. It is a serious business that involves a certain amount of pain and a deal of incoherence, especially towards the end of a long run, but it does reveal moments of clarity that pay for everything. Why and how it happens I don’t know but, just as with the jazz I used to listen to all those years ago, those moments do happen and you know it is good.
I am talking about this because I read recently that Michael Nyman has been commissioned by the Great North Run to write some music that will in some way illustrate what it is like to run a long distance. It will be interesting to hear how he interprets the jumble, the false dawns, the set backs and injuries, the rhythm, the endeavour, the sense of achievement and the peace. Of one thing I am certain – music that can express those things will not be the sort of music you want to listen to whilst you are actually running.