COME HOME: A Poignant, Biographical Trip Through Adolescence Sound Tracked by JAMES

Published on 27 February 2021 at 21:13

Am I Cursed or am I Blessed? 


By Paul Laird

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In his 2014 book “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion” philosopher Sam Harris makes a compelling case for restoring spirituality to its etymological roots and  removing it from the realm of religious thinking and the supernatural. In a blog post before  the publication of the book Harris noted that; 

The word “spirit” comes from the Latin spiritus, which in turn is a translation of the Greek  pneuma, meaning “breath.” Around the 13th century, the term became bound up with  notions of immaterial souls, supernatural beings, ghosts, etc. It acquired other  connotations as well—we speak of the spirit of a thing as its most essential principle, or of  certain volatile substances and liquors as spirits.” ( 


If the roots of the word lie in “breath” it shouldn’t be too much of a leap to suggest that  things spiritual are things that make us feel alive. If we don’t breathe we don’t live and if  others do not feel the impact of our breath, then how do we differ from any inanimate  object? Religion, of course, can provide feelings of being alive; the joy of communal  singing, the sense of belonging, the notion of purpose to life are all valuable. Spirituality  though does not have to mean the acceptance of a God or Gods. 

Harris goes on to note that atheists, sceptics and believers alike have an issue with the  use or appropriation of the word spiritual for differing reasons. One can understand why  but, to my mind, it is undeniable that there are moments, fleeting at times, that make us  feel something that can only be described as spiritual. More tangible emotions can be attached to such moments of course. When I held my daughter in my arms for the first  time I felt an overwhelming joy, an unconditional love, I cried a little…but there was  something more than that too. I felt something; spiritual. I felt the breath of life. I felt alive. It  was a deeply profound and moving experience. There have been others like it, although  perhaps none quite so intense. 


From the sublime to the comparatively ridiculous.  


Popular music has long had the capacity to make me feel joyous, comforted, understood,  elated, uplifted and at peace in an, at times, turbulent personal life and hectic wider world.  Stood in the midst of a crowd of people all united by their love of the song, the singer and   the band, eyes cast up, feet moving, body swaying, hands clapping, voice shouting praises  can be a spiritual experience. There is much in common with the religious experience… perhaps only communion of some form is absent. 


I know a bit about religion and spirituality from bitter but also, occasionally, sublime  personal experience. My parents found God and religion shortly after I was born. Two  immaculate American boys knocked on the door of their rundown, humdrum, council flat  on a rough estate in Edinburgh and, inexplicably, found themselves invited in to share their  message of faith, hope, love, charity and family. Meet the Mormons. Good teeth, good  manners and good behaviour. My father “felt” something almost from the moment they  crossed the door. Through investigation, prayer, discussion and reading he found himself  unable to refuse the invitation to be baptised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of  Latter Day Saints and that was that. Discussion of the sublime, of a life after this, of the  importance of faith, of God’s love and His plan for us was a regular part of my existence. I  was a good Mormon boy...I believed and I shared that belief with others.


Things changed though...bad experiences, flaws in the doctrine, revelations and  unpleasantness opened a window to doubt and soon I found myself having travelled from  a theist to atheist. I was adrift. A God shaped hole in my life. My world in turmoil. 


There were things, are things, I miss; the sense of belonging, the community, the certainty  in a world so full of uncertainty, the hope and the singing...I loved to sing the songs of  praise. Raising high the roof beams with songs of the heart, voices joined together in  exaltation and love. 


Where now for the breath of life? 

It seems like a long time ago now. 

At my age everything seems like a long time ago. 

Maybe everything seems like a long time ago at any age. 


It’s 1989, which really is a long time ago, and I have recently turned sixteen. I’m clumsy  and shy. I’ve got terrible acne. My hair is greasy no matter what shampoo I use or how  often I use it. I’m a bit awkward. I’m not bright but I’m not dim. I’m a teenager. Sometimes I  feel like I might still be a teenager. Doesn’t everyone? 

I’ve made friends with a boy called Dave. 


Dave is just like me. 


Actually Dave isn’t just like me, he’s different in one crucial respect. 

His record collection doesn’t contain a single album or single by Rick Astley. My own  contains at least two albums by Rick and a few singles too. I’m pretty sure at this point that  his version of “When I Fall in Love” is even better than the original. I’ve also convinced  myself that he is a style icon; my wardrobe contains some cream chinos and a blue double  breasted blazer. There is no use apologizing now…it’s too late. 


One night in the bedroom of Dave he puts a record on. A single by a band I’ve never  heard. It’s not Rick Astley and it isn’t Erasure so I’m a bit out of my depth. I’m exaggerating  here. My record collection isn’t quite as awful as I’m making out…it does contain “The  World Won’t Listen” by The Smiths but only because another friend recorded it on the  other side of a C90 cassette I had given him to record the Westworld album. 

You don’t remember Westworld? 

“Sonic Boom Boy”?



Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I was beginning the tentative journey from popkid to  indie kid. 


This record that is now booming around Dave’s bedroom isn’t The Smiths. It’s something  different. Something new. It’s making me feel…well, frankly, happy. There is piano and  horns and guitars and drums and it has a groove that makes me want to dance. 

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. 


Stepping from side to side and sort of wiggling my hands a bit. 

That’s me dancing. 

“Who is this?” I ask Dave over the glorious racket. 

James” he replies. 

“Who?” I say. 

He shakes his head. 

Dave is one of those guys. He finds a band nobody else has heard of, drops their name  into every conversation, giggles furiously at the ignorance of those who don’t know them  and then ditches the band whenever they gain a modicum of public attention. 

A snob. 

The record is “Come Home”. 

It’s the first thing I ever heard by James.

I don’t pay much more attention. They are just another band that Dave knows about and  that I don’t “get”. I am still giving my heart to people, bands and things that don’t really  deserve it.  

I’m 17 now and I’ve got a girlfriend. 

A proper girlfriend.  

We’ve done snogging and everything. 


Yes, I know 17 seems a bit late to be getting your first proper girlfriend but there are  mitigating factors; I’m acne ridden and a bit odd. Not odd odd but odd enough. She lives  on the other side of the country and I travel over on the bus every Friday night to spend  the weekend at her parents place. Her bedroom is basically a cupboard…a long narrow  cupboard. It’s big enough for a single bed, a bookcase and a little desk and chair. On the  desk and chair sits her collection of cassettes and a cassette player. On Saturdays she  works in a local pharmacists and so I am left alone. One of her cassettes is called “Seven”  by a band called James. “I’ve heard of James” I think to myself. “They did that “Come  Home” song and the one where everyone sits down.” 


I put the cassette in the player and wait to hear something familiar. I don’t. Instead I hear  something that I won’t ever forget. An album that I don’t want to stop. Every new song  lifting me up, filling my heart, making me cry, soothing my aches and heartbreaks. As I  listen I feel like I am swimming in a warm pool at night. The music washing over me, my  eyes closed and my heartbeat slowing and quickening depending on what I am feeling. I’m  in love. 


Like most teenage boys though I can’t commit and I forget about James for a  while...because like so many of us I don’t really recognise the good thing I’ve got until it  has gone. I end up settling...convincing myselt that other things are great when, in truth,  they are far away from being even “good”. 


I get swept up in the nonsense of Britpop and try to convince myself that it’s 1964 and I’m  the face. I’m not. I start trying to dress a bit like Damon All Bran because the girls like him.  It’s a bit tragic. 


Towards the end of the Britpop “era” I am in a car with my new best friend (told you I  couldn’t commit) Chris. It’s late at night and we are heading home from a night at a club.  He doesn’t have a tape deck in his car so we are listening to the radio. Maybe it’s Steve  Lamacq. Maybe it’s somebody else. As we drive and talk and listen and laugh a song  comes on…it’s so quiet, so delicate, so fragile, so beautiful that we stop talking and  laughing and just listen. I don’t recognise the song but it seems so familiar. It makes me  feel like I’m back in my old girlfriends bedroom on a grey, rainy Saturday afternoon feeling  happy about being there. “Blue Pastures” by James the DJ informs us. Neither one of us  says anything for a while then we turn the radio off so we can talk about what we had just  heard. We are both moved. We both felt something. We are both glad to have heard it. 


Chris isn’t part of my life now. He moved away and we drifted apart. Even (anti) social  media hasn’t allowed us to reconnect. When I listen to “Whiplash” though I think about the times we spent together. I think about how much he meant to me. I think about how I’ll  never have a “best mate” like him again. Then “Blue Pastures” arrives and I don’t feel  maudlin…I feel the closeness of being in that car and sharing something so special. 


I love you Chris. 


In 2014 I stumble across a video for a new single from James. The single is called “Moving  On” and the video has been made by Ainslie Henderson, a BAFTA Award winning director  of short animation. You probably know him best for being the indie kid on BBC talent show  “Fame Academy” though. That’s a shame because his artistic output as an animator  dwarfs his musical offerings. I watch the video and listen to the song. By the time it has  finished I am crying. 

Real tears. 

Fat drops of salt water rolling down my middle-aged cheeks. 

I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. 

I sit quietly thinking about what’s just happened then I play the song again. In the video a man sits by the side of his dying wife. He watches her shrug off this mortal  coil…literally unravelling in front of him. He grabs at the threads of her life and tries  desperately to keep her with him. It’s futile of course, when our time has come then our  time has come.  

I’m reminded of the passing of my maternal grandmother. Sent home to die in the comfort  and peace of her own home my grandfather sat gently, quietly by her side and held her  hand as she slipped away. But she wouldn’t leave. Each time it seemed as though a  breath would be her final breath…another would come. Eventually we realised that my  grandfather was pinching her hand as hard as he could whenever he thought she was  gone. Desperate to keep her by his side. Terrified by the prospect of the half life that lay in  front of him without her. My mother told him that he had to let her go. He let go of her hand  and soon she was gone. 

The lyrics to “Moving On” carried as much emotional punch and resonance as the images  that accompanied them. “Accept leaving when leavings come”, “Never said I love you,  hope you knew.”, “When my pulse beats slow, hope to have you close at hand”, “I’m on my  way, leave a little light on”. 


Again I watched and listened. 

Each time left me reeling just like the first time. 

Lots of songs have spoken to me, have described the despair, the longing, the sadness,  the joy, the humour, the pain and the loneliness of moments in my life. Songs that saved  my life. But for the first time and in my forties something utterly unique had happened as I  listened to a pop song; I felt totally connected with the singer, the musicians and with  everyone else who would hear it. It was a genuinely spiritual experience…I felt the breath  of life fill my lungs and I felt soothed. 


Something else happened too; I felt an enormous sense of guilt. At key points in my life  this band had been there. Sound-tracking, speaking to and about me, lifting my spirits,  comforting me, setting my feet to stomping and my hands to clapping. They had been loyal  to me and yet I had drifted from them, never returning the love that they had shown to me.  Some people who read this will think this is, at best, ludicrous and, at worst raging, roaring  pretentiousness but some will know exactly what I’m talking about. They will understand  how the right band, the right song, the right note, the right word can be enough to change  you. 


This is my apology to James. I’m sorry I didn’t pay you enough attention.  I’m sorry I didn’t thank you.  


I’m sorry your love for me went unrequited for so long. I hope you can forgive me.  I hope you know that I’m grateful to you. 


I’m grateful that when I felt the breath of sadness you were there to put a smile on my  face. 


I’m grateful when a suicide pact lay at the back of my mind you were there. I’m grateful that you showed me a movie that doesn’t deal in black and white. I’m grateful that you gave me a love that was the drug of healing.






WES KING has released the wonderous 'LIVING STRANGE' Click here to listen.


The new single from the incredible JAY TENNANT is called 'Noxville' and it is OUT NOW. Click to listen.


'LATCH' is the incredible upcoming tune from FORGETTING THE FUTURE. Out 01/03/21 - You'll want to pre-save this. CLICK HERE.


Out Now, 'Underneath The Pain' is the stunning new single from NOYOU. Click to stream.


'LET YOU DOWN' the soaring guitar anthem from YOUNG DECADES is out now and available to stream here.








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