My aesthetic refuge in fine music and writing
For as long as I can remember, I’ve taken refuge in music and reading. Thanks to my mother (for the books) and two sisters (for the music), my early childhood was partially populated by characters from the works of authors such as Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson and soundtracked by the likes of Hank Williams, Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison.
With companions such as those to call upon, the daily grind of honest poverty was a lot easier to bear. Soon, I progressed to Emile Zola, DH Lawrence and Mark Twain; and by my early teens, to The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and (the original) Fleetwood Mac.
My search for good authors and musicians has continued to this day. It is impossible to describe the emotions unleashed and mental images evoked by perfectly aligned written words and sublime musical compositions.
Ready access to good music and good writing gives greater satisfaction and is a more complete (not to mention healthier) escape from reality than alcohol or drugs. Nowadays, an inability to keep pace is my main frustration. The list of authors I really must read is growing all the time.
Joseph O’Connor, who had been hovering about the lower reaches of my list for quite a while, rocketed to near the top of it the other week on the strength of a book review he wrote for this newspaper. That I am already a fan of well-written book reviews, and O’Connor happened to be reviewing the autobiography of Neil Young, a favourite musician of mine, was entirely incidental to the impression his piece of writing made upon me.
It was exceptionally good: so beautifully balanced, rhythmic and descriptive, and replete with such finely turned phraseology, it wouldn’t have mattered what O’Connor had been writing about, the impact would have been the same.
As a journeyman at this writing game, who oscillates between hating and loving words – the first when I am wrestling with them, and the second upon discovering them aligned in perfect symphony – I can only admire the craftsmanship of a real writer like Joseph O’Connor.
Moreover, as a reader who is baffled by the enormous popularity of the mostly ill-written, semi-coherent books that regularly top bestseller lists around the English-speaking world, I take great heart from the fact that his ilk still exists and has a ready market.
If good writers have become progressively scarcer in recent times, the opposite is true of good musicians. There are so many excellent bands and vocalists around, it is difficult to keep track.