Triggering a Dream

Earlier this month, my review of Marillion’s B’Sides Themselves appeared in Issue 7 of Mythaxis Review. As this is the only album I can remember ever reviewing, it will be no surprise to hear it is significant to me. However, the ways it is significant have shifted over time.

I bought the album on cassette from WH Smiths. I don’t recall the exact date but it was the middle of January. Given I bought it over thirty years ago, I’m surprised at how easy it is to recall doing it: I can’t recall with any certainty which other albums I bought from WH Smiths over the years, any other events in that shopping trip, or anything special that happened to me around that time.

The cover of B'Sides Themselves by Marillion

A few years later, I was making the same hour long bus journey twice a day. To pass the time, I took my portable cassette player and a few tapes with me each day. I have several memories of listening to B’Sides Themselves, but can’t recall listening to any other albums; looking through my cassette collection, I came across several albums that I know must have been among my rotation on the journeys, but even seeing them I can’t remember doing it. And, much like purchasing it, my memories of listening to it on a bus journey don’t align with memories of other significant things.

An easy explanation for the album sticking in my mind is that it speaks to me in a way others don’t: however, when I considered precisely that question a few years ago it turned out the message of most of the songs didn’t resonate.

Leaving aside that nostalgia gilds all of an imagined past, so would build memories of several albums rather than one, I don’t yearn for that time. It was before I met my wife, it was before any of my employers started sending me across the country to handle complex matters or assigning me to special projects, it was before I became a published author and a sought out reviewer. It was before Una and Jasper decided to make me their thumb-bearer. The album is not the icon of a better happier time.

It’s not even my favourite Marillion album. I listen to Script for a Jester’s Tear more often. I can recall the lyrics of Childhood’s End and Season’s End much more easily. I enjoy the tracks as something to listen to while cleaning and, as my own practice of poetry has expanded, have grown to appreciate the skill of the lyrics more, but it also contains “Margaret (Live)”, potentially my least favourite track ever by any musician I otherwise enjoy.

And yet, B’Sides Themselves has echoed and reechoed in my head for over three decades. No doubt sparked by reviewing the album, the probable reason came to me this morning: I love “Grendel” and bought the album as a cassette. With digital downloads, YouTube, and other modern ways of accessing music, the idea of listening to an entire album for a couple of tracks can seem slightly alien; but when I bought the album, cassettes were the advance on LPs and, because cassettes didn’t have skip or search, you either faffed around winding forward and back to find the start of your favourite song or you let the whole album play for a couple of songs. Of course, if you really liked one song you might stop the album just after rather than playing start to finish for each side and keep it like that, so it always played through with your favourite last.

The album is poppadums. I don’t order poppadums every time I go to an Indian restaurant, but I see myself as someone who likes poppadums with a good pickle tray. And that’s true in a way; but poppadums aren’t nearly my favourite food; they aren’t even something I might seek out because I fancied a poppadum. I like poppadums because they are a pleasant experience while waiting for the complex aromatic main course and sides arrive.

I think the reason I can remember listening to the album clearly but can’t find an event to link it to is because listening to the rest of the album reminds me of listening to “Grendel” and makes me feel like I’m about to listen to it again.

Which I now am:

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