James Fleming gets hit by a glitter-coated brick and finds he is not alone! 

“You’re not alone!”-David Bowie

Many an adolescent stopped dead when they heard that for the first time. Or suddenly snapped back to reality from his/her escapist fantasies. It’s a line from ‘Rock n’ Roll Suicide,’ off The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars.

It’s one of those moments that sends excitement surging through a person. Like the first time you heard your first favourite band. Like hearing music for the first time…

Scott Walker’s “Didn’t you know I’m not the world’s strongest man,” similarly speaks volumes in just a few words. Such tremendous sensitivity conveyed in a mere sentence!

And Bowie’s line is no different. Especially when you couple it with the anguished screech he employs to deliver it.

It’s a blunt example, like being hit with a glitter-coated brick. But Bowie put in to just three words the reason why.

Why we listen to music. Why we pay a small fortune to stare at the Mona Lisa. Why we sit still for hours on end immersed in a movie.

David Bowie told us why.

“We read to know we are not alone,” C.S. Lewis once said. By extension; we listen to records to know we are not alone, we watch movies, look at paintings, etc etc.

‘Cause you’ve felt it too. Melancholy, joy, fury, excitement, or indeed, loneliness. Whatever emotion the artist is expressing in their work, we’ve all been down that particular road.

It can feel like you’re trekking a lonely endless highway sometimes. Like something straight out of an AOR power ballad.

So you do what any weary traveller would; you stick out the thumb and hitch a lift on a record…

And lo and behold things aren’t so lonely anymore! ‘Cause Iggy Pop on Funhouse was twice as pissed off as you are! And Leonard Cohen had just the perfect lyric for your melancholia! And Dropkick Murphy’s are a perfectly fitting soundtrack to whatever joyous party you’re headed towards!

We listen to music to know we are not alone. So we know that this “fundamental isolation of the human condition” stuff isn’t quite all-pervading.

While it’s true that no one will ever quite know exactly what your pain or happiness feels like, sometimes other people get damn close. Painfully close.

And if we’re lucky, the tape was rolling when they did.

We simple homo sapiens are pack animals. We need a certain amount of social interaction. Some people get their dose in a nightclub. Some get it in their record collections…

A shot of socialising straight in the mainline. Hard as nails rock n’ roll or chilled-out mellowness. Pick your poison. There’s one for every occasion.

In a century where people spend more time on their phones “socialising” than they do socialising with actual people, where the ever-growing interconnectedness of the human race is resulting in a breakdown of actual human connection, the bond between man and record collection is growing more important by the day.

‘Cause you’re not just bonding with a series of notes or a beat. You’re CONNECTING with how another man or woman has felt.

And that empathy is important. Nothing will ever replace the bond between best friends, or the connection between a lovestruck couple. But for those of us who have trouble with the socialising aspect of friendship, nothing will replace the record collection either.

There’s a human aspect to music. Even the electronic music that many people criticise as “soulless.” You don’t see a painter as they work their brush. But you hear a player hit the strings, tickle the ivories, blow the sax.

A painting is static. Music moves.

In the simplest sense; it moves from note to note or beat to beat. And that movement creates an energy that we people get off on. It holds our attention by the scruff of the neck and gives it a good shaking. If the tunes are good that is…

In a more complicated and vague sense; the passion in a performance can move us to our very cores. Be it Aretha Franklin’s soaring soul vocals or Miles Davis’ expressive trumpet mastery, you get a sense of what it means to be human to that particular performer.

Music is not just about the relationship between notes. It’s about the relationships between fellow human beings. And how each person’s experience of being this thing called homo sapient is unique.

Which is why statements such as “white men can’t play the blues” are fucking daft.

If one thing on this planet should be totally universal it’s music. To pigeonhole a genre as being for one particular race, religion or gender is not only discriminatory but harmful.

For when you limit who can make what sort of music, you restrict the flow of ideas and creativity into that field.

And when that happens we all suffer. We suffer a great loss indeed.

“To know we are not alone,” that’s our reason for listening to music. If we were to strangle the voices of certain ethnicities or genders or religions, we’re missing a valuable and valid human voice.

It’s not just so we know that there are other people out there like us, who feel the same as we do. It’s so we can gain a greater understanding of just how unique and individual a person can be.

It’s a damned shame that we haven’t all quite realised that in the 21st century. You want proof we haven’t? Turn on a top 40 station…

And you’ll hear an endless barrage of songs that all sound eerily similar. The money is more important than the message. So, the white men in suits who rule the world have condensed and oppressed the supposed “artists” into all sounding the same. The individual has been all but lost.

“You mustn’t lose that spark,” as Robin Williams once put it. That spark is there; look at the protest against supreme overlord Donald the Duck.

Or even better, Look through the independent section in your local record store. In there, no matter how small a section it is, you’ll find a record that speaks for the individual and to the individual. It’s there. You just gotta dig man…

James Fleming

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