Now You See It, Now You Don’t by Chris Green
The arbiters of taste are notoriously fickle. While The Moody Blues were cool in 1968, if you listened to their music a few years later, you would be considered a bit sad. But if anything their musical powers had grown. Their tunes became even better. Perhaps this was the problem. They became too musical. They no longer fitted in. As in other fields, fashions in music are fleeting. A case of now you see it, now you don’t.
I didn’t pick up on The Moody Blues again for years. In fact, it was the week before last. I came across a couple of their albums on CD in the Cats’ Protection charity shop. In Search Of The Lost Chord and On The Threshold Of A Dream. Not casual purchases, you would have thought. Perhaps the owner had died and their CD collection was part of a house clearance.
Mike Pinder is not a household name, but perhaps he ought to be. He was a pioneer, introducing the mellotron, the pre-runner of the keyboard synthesiser, to the musical world. Before he formed the Moody Blues, Mike worked as a tester for the company that invented the mellotron, so he knew the difficult instrument as well as anyone. He subsequently introduced the instrument to The Beatles, a popular combo of the time, who used it to great effect on Strawberry Fields Forever and then on virtually every recording they made until their breakup. Despite the instrument’s ethereal sound being such an emblem for the times, The Moody Blues were the only band to regularly use it on stage.
But what I am doing back in ………. 1968? Somehow I’m back in 1968, listening to In Search Of The Lost Chord. I am used to the year being 20 something. ….. 2022, wasn’t it? Isn’t it? How can 1968 be happening now, as if it is the present time? In sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch actuality. I haven’t seen Yvette for fifty years. She is exactly how I remember her. Mia Farrow hair, flared jeans and cheesecloth smock. What is Yvette doing back in 1968? How did we come to be here?
We are in a large murky room lit only by a single red light bulb suspended from the ceiling. There are around twenty people crowded in here, sitting around on beanbags and cushions. Incense and patchouli compete with the acrid hash smoke, that hangs in the air like captured stratocumulus. Someone has just passed me a joint and I am smoking it. I do not know him, or is it her. In the haze, it is difficult to tell the gender beneath the crusty hair and the Afghan coat. House Of Four Doors is playing, with the volume on the Super Dansette record player turned up. As I look around, I think I recognise one or two of the others in the room, but I can’t put names to the faces. Things were like that back then. People came and went. We were eighteen. ……… In this scenario, we are still eighteen.
‘The expression, the Lost Chord refers to a song by Arthur Sullivan,’ Yvette says.
‘Who?’ I say, passing her the joint.
‘Arthur Sullivan. You know. From Gilbert and Sullivan.’
‘Ah,’ I say. I find it difficult to imagine that The Moody Blues would have listened a lot to Gilbert and Sullivan.
‘Sullivan wrote the music at the bedside of his brother Fred when he was dying. The words come from a verse by Victorian poet, Adelaide Procter,’ Yvette says. Yvette was always the clever one. Straight A’s for her. I always struggled with my grades.
‘Ah,’ I say.
‘It is about a divine chord that she hears when playing the organ that she cannot find again and imagines she will only rediscover when she reaches Heaven.’
‘Now you see it, now you don’t,’ I say.
The song about Timothy Leary flying his astral plane is now playing. I want to remark that people don’t write songs about Timothy Leary and astral planes anymore, but the place I want to make this comment from is fading fast. The idea about what I should regard as now is retuning like a random radio scan.
Across the room, or perhaps it is from across the universe, it is difficult to focus on scale, they are talking about a story by the writer Jorge Luis Borges called The Garden Of Forking Paths.
‘The story is about the construction of a labyrinth that folds back upon itself in infinite regression,’ an adenoidal voice says. ‘All possible futures happen simultaneously, man.’
Man says that this can be explained by quantum mechanics, man.
‘Yeah, like Einstein said it, man,’ says someone else. ‘Or was it the other guy? Dirac. Paul Dirac.’
No one seems to know, but the conversation rolls around like thunder in the hills.
I continue to have difficulty working out who is who. It does not help that everyone in the room, male or female seems to be called Man. No, wait, one of them is called Buzz and another is called Doggo.
Doggo begins to talk about Schrödinger’s Cat. It is both dead and alive apparently. I lose the drift as other conversations begin to drift in and out, just as my consciousness is doing. Someone has turned the LP over. Voices In The Sky begins. The mellotron sounds like a symphony orchestra.
‘Am I really here?’ I ask Yvette.
She thinks this is a strange question. She puts her hand on my forehead as if feeling my temperature. She laughs and tells me I shouldn’t get so stoned. Perhaps Yvette is still living in this time as her present time. Perhaps she has not grown up yet. I cannot remember if we saw each other much after 1968, or even at all. Perhaps she has not left the room yet. Perhaps I have not left. I want to be able to feel that I have lived long enough to understand reality. But now I’m not sure that I have lived long enough. What if I’m only eighteen? I might be imagining the irregular shift patterns of the job at the kaleidoscope repair shop. I might be imagining those years of living with Fabula and the twins in the Stroud valleys. I might be imagining Dr Alkerdahji’s diagnosis. Or, all this might still be in the future. Or, what if everything is happening simultaneously as in Man’s story? Perhaps John Lennon was right and nothing is real. Might all of our experiences be an illusion? The universe could be a mental construction, a great thought rather than a great machine. After all, if matter is energy condensed to a slow vibration, then we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. Life is a dream, and we’re the imagination of ourselves.
I remember something about quantum theory that I saw, or am one day going to see, on television, or perhaps I am watching it now. It is known as the double-slit experiment. In the experiment, when scientists watch a particle pass through two slits in a barrier, the particle behaves like a bullet and goes through one slit or the other. Yet if a person doesn’t watch the particle, it acts like a wave. This means it can go through both slits at the same time.
Now you see it, now you don’t.
Dr Alkerdahji tells me I am improving. It is a good sign, he says, that the hallucinations are becoming less frequent. So long as I keep taking the medication, I might even be able to return to work at the kaleidoscope repair shop in a week or two. I am in Cat’s Protection again, looking through the CDs. £1 for A Saucerful Of Secrets and £1 for Dark Side Of The Moon. Another house clearance probably. Fashions in music are fleeting but somehow Pink Floyd always managed to circumvent the arbiters of taste. Roger Waters is not a household name but ………
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