Monday, 20 July 2020

Author Guest Post and Book Spotlight: Homeward Bound by Richard Smith.

Homeward Bound by Richard Smith
  I want to be alone.
After weeks of lockdown, when people have struggled with isolation, it may seem odd that I should invoke the spirit of Greta Garbo and crave solitude. But there are moments when things just can’t be shared.
Take dreams. They may seem vivid, exciting, riveting and real, as if they really happened and were not created while you slept, in your imagination. But they were and that’s the best place to leave them. I find a way to rid myself of them is to write them down. I have often forced myself out of bed, slunk off to the loo with a pen to make notes on toilet paper. It’s the only time I miss those hard sheets of paper from my childhood, the ones that were a cross between tracing paper and sandpaper - with brand names like Bronco and Izal – because you could write on them, unlike the soft tissue of today. But I digress. Next day, I will transcribe what I can decipher with the intention of using it some time, but invariably it gets filed away, then forgotten. Which tells its own tale. If that’s how unmemorable a dream is to the dreamer, I can’t imagine how unbearably dull an unrestrained soliloquy over the Rice Krispies must be to the listener.
There’s also another medium that should not, in my view, be shared. Recorded music. I love it and it’s a vital part of my life (anyone who’s read my novel, Homeward Bound, can’t fail to have realised that, even though it’s fiction). But it’s best listened to alone. There are lots of reasons.
The first is volume. Two people rarely have the same hearing – or tolerances to loud music. One may want the volume to be high, picking out every nuance in the recording, enjoying the vibration from the loudspeakers, the bass bouncing off the walls. The other might prefer it gentler, softer. Only one can have their way.
The second is mood and thus is not entirely unrelated to the issue surrounding volume. Whereas one listener might feel energised, wanting music to excite – usually at high volume - the other may be feeling more subdued, preferring to relax or even read with it in the background. And it goes further than that. Mood will affect the choice of music. While one may have in mind Saxon, the other might want Sade. There is no satisfactory compromise. Perhaps, if the music is stored alphabetically, the couple will end up with Santana, an easy listening alternative that satisfies neither. After a few tracks, the moment will be lost, the music off, and they’ll wind up in flicking Netflix menus.
Part of this stems from my view that music should be foreground or not at all. Not for me Alexa spluttering away in the background. Or in the shops and hotels. I wonder if Paul McCartney enjoys standing in a lift, speeding his way to a suite on the 30th floor, listening to Yesterday. Or on phones. True, it’s good to know you’ve not been cut off while you wait thirty minutes to get through to a call centre. But what would Vivaldi have make of Spring played endlessly on a Casio, interrupted by a voice claiming, ‘We apologise for keeping you waiting. We are currently experiencing exceptionally high call volumes. Your call is important to us’? No, they wrote music to be listened to. And so it should be. Alone.
And you should be in the middle of the music. That might mean headphones. I don’t mean ear buds, but cans that cover your ears. These literally place you in the centre with the added advantage that you choose what you listen to and at the volume that suits. And if you have the space to listen in isolation and thick enough walls, you can’t beat loudspeakers. For optimum sound balance, I sit in a central position, with the speakers angled towards me. I once had a friend who had string from each speaker laid across the floor at a 45˚ angle, and where they intersected, he sat. Perhaps that’s going too far.
Getting to the middle of the music at a live gig is ore difficult. Getting a seat at all can be a challenge, and find yourself in the wrong place and you can be deafened or lose the sound in the wings or the ceiling. I was once at a Springsteen gig and the reverberation around the auditorium meant the vocals were a good few seconds ahead of the drums and guitars. Not ideal. But then, you rarely go to a gig to listen. Yes, you might want to hear certain songs, but he best gigs are where you join in, sing along, clap, dance even. The performers relish it, encourage it, give better performances because of it. It may be imperfect and nothing like the artists strive for in a studio and during the painstaking process of post-production. Even ‘live’ albums are taken into the studio for sweetening, auto-tuning and editing. What people really go to a live event for is the experience. Being there. You can enjoy it even if you don’t really like the artist. There’s something about the collective spirit that can lift you. Why else would seemingly mature people spend an evening at the Albert Hall waving flags to tunes they wouldn’t give the time of day to at any other time of the year?
But there’s one sort of performance that doesn’t work for me, no matter where you sit. Those Bring your vinyl nights in bars and pubs. Bring your favourite records and we’ll get ‘em spinning,’ they promise. Nightmare. It’s fatal to try and persuade someone to enjoy something you like. And in a bar? Forget it. Though I’ve often been tempted to show up with Des O’Connor’s Greatest Hits and insist they spin that. Perhaps I’m scarred by an experience I had with Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies album. I’d just bought it when weekend visitors arrived at my home. They’d not been before and they asked to have a taste of my hifi system that they’d heard so much about. I went straight to that album, the antithesis of all I considered evil and was killing music at that time – Gary Glitter, Little Jimmy Osmond, David Cassidy – even though I knew they were glam rock fans. I wanted to give them a lesson in music and one that would highlight the full capabilities of my speakers. Cracking guitars, wailing vocals, pounding percussion. They couldn’t help but be impressed. It didn’t strike me that the song I chose, I Love The Dead, might be unsuitable. And yes, it is about necrophilia. That wasn’t the point, it was the sound that mattered. And were they impresses? The answer was in their frozen expressions and faint gasps.
“I think that’s enough of that. Tea and a piece of cake anyone?” my wife suggested, turning down the volume before we’d got to the good bit.
Still I didn’t get it. “Hold on, wait for how it ends.” I turned the volume back up. But they’d already closed the door behind them as they headed for the kitchen. Leaving me alone. Which is how it should be. But the lesson of sharing music and turning on friends to it was learned. Some things are just better between you and your imagination.

Homeward Bound features 79-year-old grandfather George, who didn’t quite make it as a rock star in the ‘60s. He’s expected to be in retirement but in truth he’s not ready to close the lid on his dreams and will do anything for a last chance. When he finds himself on a tour of retirement homes instead of a cream tea at the seaside his family has promised, it seems his story might prematurely be over.
He finds the answer by inviting Tara, his 18-year-old granddaughter, to share his house, along with his memories and vast collection of records. She is an aspiring musician as well, although her idea of music is not George’s. What unfolds are clashes and unlikely parallels between the generations – neither knows nor cares how to use a dishwasher – as they both chase their ambitions.

Richard Smith is a writer and storyteller for sponsored films and commercials, with subjects as varied as caring for the elderly, teenage pregnancies, communities in the Niger delta, anti- drug campaigns and fighting organised crime. Their aim has been to make a positive difference, but, worryingly, two commercials he worked on featured in a British Library exhibition, ‘Propaganda’.