Stick with me, this is about Whales.
Hearing properly for the first time London Calling by The Clash was one of those life-defining moments. I don’t wish to exaggerate but I imagine the unveiling of Picasso’s Guernica was but a ripple in the artistic pond compared to what this record meant (and means) to me: Mick Jones’ atom bomb guitar punctuating Joe Strummer’s desperate howls. I was, and I mean this quite literally, transfixed with every pulsing, sweating, sneering word and note. If He played in a band, this is what God sounded like when He brought His A-game.
Looking back on the experience with hindsight, I always knew this was what music was supposed to sound like. Before the needle even rested in the groove I carried a genetic imprint in my fibres of what would happen to all of my endorphins, hair follicles and cells when music was at its best and most affecting. But until that moment, it was largely a matter of faith, kept alive by what history has proved to be a pretty tasty collection of my Father’s records. Records like London Calling turned me into a true believer.
Seeing a whale for the first time brought about much the same crisis of physiology and mental instability. Despite being steeped in affection for the wild and wild things from an early age this was a piece of blubbery, evolutionary liveliness on a scale which was unlike anything I’d experienced before. The animal, a fin whale in this case, was breathing, stinking and swooshing just a few yards away from me and I was suddenly plunged into a depth of feeling for which I was quite unprepared.
Up until that point, I had seen endless hours of footage and countless photographs: I knew what whales did, how they moved, what they looked like, that there were species that seemed impossibly strange, that they made noises and leapt and breached and swirled and blew. I knew all of that. But seeing the thing… that was a needle dropped on a very deep groove indeed.
Since then I have seen thousands of cetaceans. It would be cool and detached of me to say that the experience of that first whale is dimmed slightly in the light of the sheer volume of blubber I’ve observed since. But that would be a fabrication: Much like the first listen of that record it wasn’t a one-off high but instead acted as an elevator of everything after that; It was a new lens through which I could view everything else rather than a temporary hit. Because of that, my experiences around whales and dolphins since then have built in a slow-burning intensity and never, but never, get boring.
And years after that first listen, I met Mick Jones, guitarist on that beautiful mess that is London Calling. He had just come off stage at an event which I was involved in and in the backstage bustle he looked exhausted but elated after a barnstorming set with his band of the time, Big Audio Dynamite. Always intending to play the cool and reluctant observer it was inevitable that this façade would crumble in the presence of yer man. He was with an eye-wateringly beautiful woman but I barely noticed the poor girl as I shambled up to him and proffered a hand. He was, of course, the quintessential rock n’ roll gent: pleasant, affable, self deprecating and patiently putting up with my ridiculous questions before autographing a scrap of paper and leaving me beaming.
Like I said, some things do not diminish with the passage of time. I, and my pleasures in life, will age well having been gilded somehow. Because whales (and The Clash) can do that.