Last weekend I was at my friend Francesca’s house. There were four of us there, drinking wine, talking and listening to music on her boyfriend’s iPod, which was on top of the bookshelf. (Incidentally, Francesca is the only person I know who orders her books by colour.) We were sprawling around on the sofa or the floor, because we are bohemians and the Man ain’t gonna tell us where to sit. On the other side of the room sat a MacBook, slightly open but in sleep mode, the white light on its front breathing peacefully in that way MacBooks have, and which contributes more than it ought to our collective desire for them.
A song came on from one of Johnny Cash’s American albums – maybe American III. I suddenly had a great urge to listen to Hurt from American IV, and I asked Steven if he could put it on. He said that he didn’t have it on his iPod, only on his laptop. And then, suddenly, the untended laptop on the other side of the room roused itself from sleep (but without turning its screen on) and played Hurt. We stopped the music on the iPod and listened to it. When the song finished, the computer resumed its silence, and soon the light on its front was softly breathing again.
This sort of thing occasionally happens to me: an event that is completely inexplicable and very powerful in the moment, but which isn’t verifiable and – crucially – doesn’t make a very impressive story. Nonetheless, this one happened.
Hurt is about a man who has ruined his life with heroin. The bit that affects me most is where he sings, “If I could start again / A million miles away / I would keep myself / I would find a way”.
When I feel particularly depressed, I sometimes imagine that twenty years in the future I have done something unforgivably terrible and some supernatural agency has given me the chance to put it right, and I’ve been allowed to go back to the part of my life where the trouble began, and start again, put it right.