As 2022 slips into 2023 a new dawn fades, bringing with it that sense of expectation to make one’s life better than it was the previous year. Fresh start and all that malarkey.
It actually had the opposite effect and got me feeling quite nostalgic and, if truth be known, a little melancholy. I was playing a few old tunes on Youtube when a memory washed over me.
It was about when I was selling books in Italy in the 1980s and I ended up jamming Joy Division with a band.
Below is a little anecdote about it if you’re interested.
As 2022 slips into 2023 a New Dawn Fades.
1985. It was a freezing cold February afternoon in the Italian port of Livorno. I was about 21 years old. My overcoat collar pulled up against a flurry of snow, my winkle pickers squelching slush from the holes in the ends of them. I was wandering the docks trying to hawk books door-to-door. I hated the job but I didn’t have enough money for a flight home. I could see an enormous Italian naval frigate in the distance behind a chain link security fence. I headed towards it to get a closer look.
As I was walking past warehouses with my head down, shoulders hunched, I heard the faint hum of a band jamming. I looked up and saw an orange glow from a first floor broken window. I pushed at a paint-peeled door and walked up a flight of rickety wooden stairs, the music getting louder. At the top, the room opened up and, at the far side, a three-piece band was practising. They were playing Disorder, by Joy Division – one of my favourite bands. I watched them for a while from the shadows. Snow melting from my black hair, dripping onto the floorboards.
When they’d finished, the guitarist & vocalist spotted me and said something in Italian which I didn’t understand. (I’d been in the country a short while and had only learnt my sales pitch phonetically.) He spoke again and, this time, offered up his guitar in his palms for me to play. I shook my head then tentatively pointed at the bass. The bassist un-slung his guitar and gestured for me to join them.
I swallowed hard. I wasn’t a very good guitar player. My fingers trembled as I took the bass from him and slid the strap over my shoulder. The three of them looked at me expectantly. The vocalist nodded encouragingly.
I began playing the bass riff of New Dawn Fades by Joy Division. It was one of the few songs I knew how to play and was confident about. It was also one of my favourites. After a few bars, the guitarist and drummer joined in. They knew what they were doing.
It felt exhilarating. We must have played that song for about 10 minutes straight. When we eventually stopped, I handed the bass gratefully back to its owner. He bowed his head in thanks.
The four of us just stood there looking at each other, smiling. Not talking. We had no need for language. Music had said what we could not.
Eventually, I left without saying a word and stepped out into the snowy night.
I sometimes think back to that experience and wonder what happened to those three guys. Did they make it in music? What are they doing now? Are they still alive? Still friends? Do they ever meet up and say –
Hey, remember that guy who crashed our practice down by the docks?
That was really surreal.
Couldn’t speak a word of Italian.
Yeah, didn’t we play Disorder or something?
Nah, it was New Dawn Fades.
Oh, yeah, I remember.
Wonder what he’s up to now?
Yeah, probably. He was heading towards the naval base.
(The story of my subsequent detention by Italian naval security guards is for another time.)