We are ugly but we have the music…

This weekend I have mostly been investigating the question – what is living?
Is it a simple question of being alive, breathing and all that, or is it about moments when we ‘feel alive’, real living, some feeling of transcendence, some otherness beyond mere animal function?

Religious language and alternative culture both like to use the word high to describe the feeling I am searching for. There is a higher calling, there is whatever your choice of almighty is, who is usually on high; or the simpler, more self indulgent, interior modern version – getting high. Maybe my version is somewhere in between the two, not drug induced, not created by some immovable belief, but still something more real than frustrating, cold, controlled, C21 life.

So where can I find such moments on a slow grey, low grey, mid February Saturday?

I find one in a simple, shared moment of collective joy. Adrenaline-fuelled fun at Stamford Bridge, me and my boys and the Didier Drogba goal two minutes into the FA Cup fifth round tie against Cardiff City.

Then again after the match as we watch, as they say in London parlance, it all kick off outside a pub on the Kings Road. Bricks and punches and traffic cones fly before the police horses arrive, more adrenaline and testosterone enhanced living. Like some throwback to our days as hunters, like some escape from the confines of modern society created for our controlled, patrolled, regulated, snooped-on city life.

As the Barbour-clad boy in the brown flat cap screams “Let’s have it…” into his phone before rushing into battle he knows at this moment that he is really living.
Then again that evening at The Garage in Islington, watching Georgia Ruth, a harp-playing girl with her cello-playing side-kick, covering Leonard Cohen’s classic Chelsea Hotel Number Two.

There it is, as she warbles in a not unpleasant fashion, the line about giving head on an unmade bead as limousines wait in the street, everything is higher, alright, it all makes sense, there is no need for anything more.

“We are ugly, but we have the music,” she sings. And perhaps that’s it. Perhaps Leonard, all that time ago, when he wrote the song for Janice Joplin, was already the proto-Buddhist. He already understood, life is still relatively ugly and brutal and far too short, or at best, most of the time, a little boring and frustrating. But every day, we can find moments of transcendence, of goose-bumpy, hair-raising beauty, in collective joy, in the threat of violence, in song, in sharing with friends and family.
And that’s the higher something. The moments that are worth so much more than money. That’s the living that is so much more than being alive.