The Infinite Jukebox: Black’s ‘Wonderful Life’


Once upon a time, I fell in love. Of itself, this wasn’t necessarily an unusual thing but what made this unique was that, for the first time, she had fallen for me. And before I’d done been smitten.
She was a very private person so, even now, over twenty years since the last time I saw her, I’m not going to give her name, nor any personal details. Loving and being loved was a new experience, and a formative one. For the first time, I had somebody to whom I was responsible, for whom I had to be strong. That experience changed me out of all recognition.
I was very into music, and it was inevitable that I would play loads and loads of it at her. The first day, I gave her a lift home after work and automatically shoved the cassette into the player when I started the car. The tape was of REM, Document, and I can still remember the eagerness in her voice when she turned to me and said. “You do know you’ve got some great music here!”
With some exceptions, it was me playing music to her and she revelling in all the new things she heard off me. Not everything, of course, and there was some feedback in the other direction: given her heritage, I started appreciating The Chieftains a bit more, though I had seen them in concert less than a decade previously: my second Chieftains gig was one of our first formal ‘dates’.
As we drifted further apart, in later years, our tastes diverged. She got heavily into Maria Carey, which was not something we were ever going to share. Sadly, given that our first musical bonding was over REM, I never got to take her to see them, but we did share a 10,000 Maniacs concert, which she loved to bits, and loved the band even more than she did REM. There was a second gig a year later, but the date coincided with something family, and family always came first with her, and no matter how close we were, one thing I was not and never would be was family.
Sometimes, music is pure, unadulterated nostalgia. ‘Wonderful Life’ reminds me of her, first and last and always, because she loved it. It’s rich, romantic sound, it’s easy, smooth chorus, Colin Vearncombe’s singing. I loved the song, but not as much as she did. Now, though, it is indelibly associated with her, whenever I hear it she is in my head, and all that we did to change each other’s lives.
The odd thing is that it was more her song than mine, but my love for it persisted, and hers waned, until putting it on on a pub jukebox for her produced only indifference, as indeed did I. So it’s a memory of her for that reason too. She changed her opinions about a lot of things in those last few, sporadic years, and we never got to discuss what led to that, about any of them. One day, she put the phone down on me, and that was it. We spoke together, on the phone again, only once, years later.
But ‘Wonderful Life’ has us both in it. It is a talisman into which we vested what was best and finest about our time together, so it is both light and shade to me. Like the stone axe in Alan Garner’s Red Shift, Jan’s ‘Bunty’, it is something real. Except that it cannot be taken away and hidden in a museum.
Does she remember me when she hears it? Does she still remain to hear it? She was older than me, and I no longer have any idea if she is alive. But as long as I have ears for this song, she will always be alive, and everything that was sad and bad and destroyed no longer exists, only our love and our passion. When things were good, when they were right, it was indeed a Wonderful Life, and I owe poor Colin Vearncombe, who is no longer with us, a debt for encapsulating what was in his song.
And sometimes I cry like a baby for what never will be again.

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