20 May, 2006

Sudden death

On Wednesday 26th June 1996, I cried upon hearing the sound of 'Walk Away' by Cast.

Now if that doesn't make for an improbable, not to say alarming, opening salvo to a blog, I'm not entirely sure what does. At least not for the next five minutes or so. Yet such a grotesquely sentimental shuttle back ten years is not without cause or consequence.

I heard the same song on the radio earlier today, and while it didn't make me bathetically blub, it did transport me to that day a decade ago when I momentarily took leave of my faculties and surrendered shamelessly to the emotional resonance of John Power's nasal whining.

Before I go any further I need to stress this outpouring of grief was not prompted solely by sound alone. The song had been set to a very particular sequence of images on television, which were being screened following a very particular sequence of emotions, which had been generated by a very particular sequence of missed penalties.

For Wednesday 26th June 1996 was the night the England football team took their leave of Euro 96 after losing to, as I wrote in my diary, "West (sorry, Freudian slip) Germany." The BBC concluded their coverage of this nation-consuming, history-stopping, street-emptying occasion with a montage of the squad's progress through the tournament up to and including their seconds-old defeat, tastefully cut to the then-contemporary sounds of Liverpool's then-fourth best band. And the impact was overwhelming.

Up to that point, in any and every context, 'Walk Away' had been the kind of song to divert but not especially distract or absorb my attention; an inoffensive, borderline-dreary balled, topped off with John Power's usual reciting-a-shopping-list style of delivery. But suddenly, there and then, in a matter of seconds, it was methodically transformed into a eulogy for the country and a crucible of national shame and frustration. The effect was intoxicating, magical, and desperately moving. And I gave in. Completely.

Even though I was sharing a house at the time, I had watched the conclusion of the match alone. Cynically at first, I have to confess, then with an infectious sincerity that long afterwards surprised me in its all-encompassing fervour. Re-reading my diary now I am still struck by how raw my emotions were that night: "A cloud of inescapable gloom and regret seems to have descended over everything, and it's entirely football generated...England did deserve to win the match, not have to suffer sudden death penalties, despite my previous attitude towards the effect of the game on the nation*. I suppose I was just won over by the immense enormity** and scale of the whole thing, the fact that the entire population*** gave over their evening to participate in this."

There's something enduringly magical about the way a song can become forever associated with one moment in time. There's also something perennially maddening about precisely the same process (c.f. 'Candle In The Wind'). Which begs the question: what tune have the BBC lined up for when England go out on penalties in the 2006 World Cup?

*In an earlier entry I had written of how bemused I was becoming by the way one solitary event was obsessing every inch of UK media and culture in a manner not really witnessed in my lifetime. It would get far worse, of course, in precisely 14 months time.
**Ah, the perils of writing a diary in an emotional state. What else is "enormity" going to be if not "immense"?
***More histrionics. I doubt the populations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were pretty much bowled over by the same bombastic flag-waving. Nor, as was subsequently proved, Armando Iannucci and co who'd spent the evening ostensibly robbing the Blue Peter garden.


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