133. (Holding On For) Dear Life

Part 2 of the 'Invisible Sky' series. (Starts here.)

EVERY NOW AND THEN I pull out that album and listen to it again, always with the same mixture of pleasure and pain. When I first head it, everything in our lives was turning to dust, all kinds of dust: gold dust, because it was late summer, and the days were hazy, and we were in love and fucking practically all the time; diamond dust too, because we stayed out late most nights, and the nights were warm and clear and the sky was sprinkled with stars; stardust too, now that I think about it, although we didn’t know it at the time; but above all regular, everyday dust, because we never had much money, and everything we had was second-hand, and there was a long-haired cat in the house I was living in, and the vacuum cleaner in the house I was living in didn’t work properly, and no one never did any housework anyway. I was dating a skater called Kid Congo. I’ve never seen a boy in so much turmoil, but he was beautiful, which is to say that though he was beautiful, he was in too much turmoil to know that he was beautiful, which in my eyes only made him more beautiful. We spent a lot of time at the skate park. Because I couldn’t skate, I would listen to a tape Kid had given me when we started seeing each other at the start of summer while he skated the half pipe with the others. It was a blank tape with the words ‘Invisible Sky’ written on it, and for a long time I wasn’t sure if that was the name of the band or the name of the album, or maybe it was both – an album called Invisible by a band called Sky, or a band called Invisible who’d made an album called Sky. This was because Kid Congo was monosyllabic. He communicated mostly by way of grunts. This used to annoy me, although looking back now I think I know why: there was so much turmoil in him that he spent his entire life in a daze. His preferred way of talking was with his body, which meant in his case either sex or skating. At any rate, when he gave it to me, he’d managed to blurt out one of his rare full sentences, saying it was his favourite album. At first, I couldn’t see what he saw in it, but slowly, with a few listens, I started entering into the album, or rather the album entered into me, and each song flowered within me, one after the other: first the third song, about a sick boy who gets visited by his neighbour; then track 7, about an aeroplane stranded in the sky, unable to land, and a beautiful girl in the aeroplane, and the number 17, which is not just her age but also a portal to a universe of shadows; then track 4, which is about falling in love; then track 13, which is about a three-legged child who learns to fly a hot-air balloon in the 19th century (I stayed hooked on track 13 for weeks, listening to it over and over). Because there was no album cover, we designated the songs by what they were about, only over time we developed a short-hand for them, so that, for instance, the song about the sick boy who receives visits from his neighbour soon became ‘Sick Boy’. Over the course of the next few weeks and months that tape became both an obsession and a talisman for us. Throughout this time, Kid Congo’s world was crumbling all around him, which was something I only realised when it was too late, and that album became the soundtrack to that whole period of our lives – we barely listened to anything else. It wasn’t until later, much later, when I could afford to buy a CD player and actual CDs, that I bought myself a copy. Kid Congo and I were no longer dating by this stage – he’d pulled himself back together somehow and started seeing a girl called Alice, while by this time I was also seeing someone new, a guy called Milo whom I would later marry. As for the cassette, it just got played so many times the sound became garbled, and finally the tape got stuck in the player and I had to snap it to disentangle it. I bought a CD player with the first pay packet from my new job, which was with a company that did political polls. I worked in the evenings, ringing numbers randomly and asking people about their voting intentions. Tracking down the album was no easy task. Firstly, I had to figure out what it was actually called: I asked a guy at a record store down the street from where I was living about the Invisible Sky. He was one of those guys with a ponytail and a goatee who only ever wear black. He told me the Invisible Sky was the name of a Scottish band that had recorded two albums before they split up: one was an EP called Man With Gun and the second was an LP called Dear Life. They were both out of print. He said he hoped I was looking for Dear Life because Man With Gun was a collector’s item, almost impossible to find, whereas Dear Life was merely very hard to find. Next I had to rummage around in second-hand music stores, which I did for months. When I finally did find a copy, it was at a party. I stole it, fully intending to give it back, only I never did. I went home and listened to it a couple of times, studying the cover art greedily. I can’t say I enjoyed hearing it again – it was painful, being sucked right back into the vortex of that earlier time – but there were pleasures in it, too, old pleasures and new pleasures too. The strangeness of the music hadn’t diminished – if anything, its strangeness kept it alive. And I could finally see what the songs were called. About some of them, we’d guessed right – ‘Sick Boy’ was actually called ‘Sick Boy’ – but with others the name of the song had nothing to do with what the lyrics were about – track 4, which we’d called ‘Falling in Love’, was actually called ‘(Holding On For) Dear Life’. As for the band Invisible Sky, at the time we knew almost nothing about it other than that they were from Scotland and had split up. The guy with the goatee at the record store told me the lead singer of the band, who was also the songwriter, had fallen into some kind of disgrace and had disappeared. He delivered this news to me nodding very slowly, stroking his goatee like a sage, hinting that there was more to the story that he was not at liberty to divulge, but I knew he was faking it, that he’d told me all he knew, and probably invented half of it. It wasn’t until later that we found out what had really happened.