There was a time when music wouldn’t work for me.
I couldn’t listen.
Whether it was when a friend played ‘A Bridge Over Troubled Water’ on the jukebox in the pub and I broke down in tears, or when, following my first trip out of the house in weeks, I heard ‘I’ll Be Missing You’ blaring out of the speakers in a bar. Or the time I asked a bus full of my friends to turn off the drum and bass they were playing and put on the radio instead, and on came Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist.’
‘Nobody said it was over/No-one ever said it would be this hard.’
I hate Coldplay for a lot of reasons (okay, mainly just Chris Martin’s face) but that moment on the bus trip down south ranks very highly among them.
There was a bus full of us. All 18 or 19 years old, other than my dad and my sister. Driving to a funeral. A funeral for another 19-year-old, someone we all knew and loved, someone we were not even nearly ready to accept was gone.
Christopher Pinkston. Ponky. Now, whenever I think of him, just Chris.
Me and Chris had been ridiculously similar in a lot of respects. Shaved heads. A desire to get as wasted as we possibly could in any given moment. The need to make jokes when we felt like shit. There was even one girl at school (you know who you are) who we were both totally in (young) love with, the reason we at first weren’t sure about each other, and the reason we eventually bonded one night outside a night club and decided that from that moment on neither of us would go out with her again.
We both went out with her at least three times each after that.
And then there was music. Me and Chris also both left school at sixteen, taking jobs that my dad offered us and working as electrical labourers in a nothing town called High Wycombe. We shared a room for six months. If we weren’t listening to CDs on the tiny little stereo that we went halves on, we were downstairs in the pub we lived above putting most of our wages into the juke box.
Would some of that music (Craig David) embarrass me now? Sure. But we were kids, finding our way, forging our tastes, and spending our days, while carrying cables and pushing scaffolding around, talking and arguing about those tastes. Was The Slim Shady LP better than The Marshall Mathers LP? Was metal a pile of steaming shit, or the most exciting genre going? Would me or him make a better rapper and have the most groupies?
The answer to that last one is Chris, I have no doubt about that.
One memory from that time living above a pub is particularly clear to me, even now. I don’t know why. But I remember the two of us, getting ready for work in front of the mirror, singing along to Lenny Kravitz’s ‘It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over’ at the top of our voices (told you some of the music was embarrassing), putting our high-vis vests on top of our hoodies, preparing for another 12 hours of hard graft. The song finished and Chris punched me in the shoulder ‘You’re an ugly cunt, you,’ he said. ‘Look at your own fucking face, you ugly fuck,’ I replied.
Arguably not the loveliest memory, I know. But that was us, two teenage lads who spent all our time together and didn’t know how not to be dicks to each other. It’s a memory I cherish.
Another night above that same pub we came back to the room after several (too many) pints and put on Moby’s Play as loudly as that little boom box would allow. We talked. In that drunken way that people do, we let the music seep over us and affect our mood and we told each other how much we meant to each other, talked about how we would do our best to stay such close friends once this work came to an end, when I would go back to Derbyshire and he would begin his life in Dorset, where his parents had moved just a few months previous. We’d keep in touch, we said. We’d meet up for gigs and festivals and we would do that until we were old and grey. Music would keep us close.
So yeah, for a while I had to avoid it. Once the shock of Chris’s death wore off and the reality hit me, I had to hold anything that made me emotional at a distance. Music, more than anything, became impossible. I watched episodes of Friends and Phoenix Nights, rewatched the shitty comedy films that were so popular in those days, did anything to hold off my real feelings. Drank much more than was healthy.
But I came through that. Months later, a couple of stones heavier, and no longer a bright-eyed teenager with an endlessly optimistic view of the world. But ready for memories. Ready to spend time thinking about someone who meant the world to me, someone who I hope I will never forget.
And do you know what memories came back first?
Yeah, you’re right. The ones I mentioned above, the ones that are intrinsically tied up with music. And another couple that I’d like to share with you if you’ll indulge me for a few more minutes:
Glastonbury Festival (or V Fest, I can’t say for sure) – I think it was 2000. My memories of the weekend are hazy in general, I’m not going to lie, but I do remember flash points, moments that will stick with me for as long as I live. One of them occurred while watching Cypress Hill, my arm around Chris’s shoulder and his around mine, jumping up and down to ‘I Ain’t Goin Out Like That’ and feeling the power of the bass and the strength of the crowd that bounced around us. As everyone moshed we held onto each other and kept each other upright.
And then part of a week I spent at Chris’s home in Derbyshire while his parents were away, while we were still at school, before we’d ever worked together and while our friendship was still finding the solid footing it would later develop. It was to be a week of getting as wasted as we possibly could. That week included sellotaping a friend to a chair when he passed out, shaving someone’s eyebrows, telling someone we had got some drugs and giving them baking soda to snort, and locking a mate in a cupboard because he wouldn’t shut the fuck up. But it also included probably my favourite memory of me and Chris, a quiet moment when everyone else had left, Eminem playing on the stereo, and the two of us rapping along to ‘If I Had’ and giving each other a bear hug when we realised that we’d both nailed every single lyric.
If these memories sound quite juvenile, it’s because they are. We never got to make any adult ones. And I sometimes wonder if I would even have these ones if it wasn’t for the music that underpins them, if I wasn’t bought back to those moments every time one of those songs plays on a playlist or the radio.
Do I wish I knew what music he would have liked today? Of course I do. Do I wonder if we would have still been going to gigs and festivals together? No. I’m 100% sure that we would be. I’m not 100% sure that he would have got out of the metal phase he was starting to go down, the first musical phase of his that I hadn’t been able to follow, but I am pretty much certain that we would have always found some sort of common ground in our tastes. And yes, I wish he was coming to Green Man with me when I go next month. Of course I do. But, on the other hand, I feel lucky to have such cherished and valuable memories of me, my friend, and the music we shared and loved.
Words by Fran Slater