Tuesday 17 September 2019

John Masterson: 'An open mind - you never know where it will lead'

Laura Marling
Laura Marling

John Masterson

I like people who are passionate about things. They are interesting. I even like people who are obsessed with something, depending on what it is (obsession has something of a negative tinge to it). And as a rule I like the company of people who are deeply interested in something. They usually know things that I had no idea about and I still have a mind that likes new things and has a little room left. I also like people who have an open, receptive and somewhat critical mind.

I often hear about new things from young people. About a decade ago one of my nieces gave me a Laura Marling CD, Alas, I Cannot Swim, in an effort to keep me vaguely contemporary. I quite liked it but I didn't love it. I remembered the line "There's a house across the river but alas I cannot swim, I'll live my life regretting that I never jumped in… there's a life across the river that was meant for me, instead I live my life in constant misery". Laura seemed to me to be a precocious 18-year-old. . I didn't play Alas often enough to "know all the tunes…" - the standard The Incredible String Band had set in their wonderful The Hedgehog's Song - and after a while I forgot all about Laura Marling.

There is a series on Radio 4 called Great Lives. As I am prone to waking up at four in the morning, I often listen to it on a podcast. One night recently the woman speaking was a fascinating twentysomething, the same Laura Marling. And she was very worth listening to. She was talking about her massive interest, bordering on obsession, with a woman who is spoken of as the first female psychoanalyst, a Russian woman called Lou Andreas-Salome. I thought I knew a thing or two about psychology but I had never heard of her.

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Nietzsche said she was the cleverest person he ever knew, Rilke was her lover, and she was married for 33 years to a man with whom she remained celibate. The Nazis burned her books because she was friendly with Freud. She had been forgotten, not least because she was a woman. She was referred to as a muse, but was far more interested in expressing her own opinions than in liberating them for other people.

She sounded very impressive, as did Laura Marling. What stuck with me was the extraordinary amount of work Laura had done to learn about Lou and let the world know about this largely forgotten woman. I don't know if she was passionate, deeply interested, or obsessed, but it was compulsive listening.

Because my mind is somewhat open, it set me to wondering what the same Laura had been up to for a decade. I found the CD and liked it a lot more than I had previously. It turned out that after a successful career Laura had left the music industry for a few years, became fairly anonymous in LA, taught some yoga, and retained her independent streak. The reviews compared her to two of my heroes. When someone is compared to Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, I pay attention. I suspect such comparisons annoy her as she seems to be very much her own woman.

Thankfully Laura re-entered the human race and I am left with a bit of catching up to do. Her voice now turns up in Peaky Blinders so I will have to watch it. I am told it is very good. She still sounds like she has plenty to say. I found an election scene where she sings Dylan's A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall.

But the one that has stuck with me is the hauntingly beautiful What He Wrote which is the musical background to someone getting a bullet in the head. There is a lyric that goes "He wrote, I'm broke, Please send for me". I have written it on a postcard but cannot decide who to send it to.

In the meantime, I had better get to know Peaky Blinders' Shelby family. If you keep an open mind and listen to strong-minded people you never know where it will lead you, or what pleasures await.

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