So here’s my Weatherall story. Make of it what you will.
I remember the day I decided to die very clearly. I was 19. I’d been circling around deciding to leave this life for some time. Hesitating. Bottling it, in truth. But that day, when I finally decided to make the plunge and get it done, it was a very simple – and simplifying – decision. I actually remember feeling, absurdly enough in retrospect, quite proud of myself. So much weight lifted in that moment. The clouds broke and I could breathe.
I’d decided at work that I’d just finish up what I was doing, wander home, run a bath. Check out.
To this day, that hours-long moment between making the decision and ultimately getting derailed from executing it, remains one of the most still and peaceful moments of my life. All those internal monologues and arguments hushed. Nothing left to say. Conversation over.
On my way home from work I stopped in at Our Price. My mind by this stage was blissfully unhurried, unstressed and – here’s the kicker – simply at peace. It was all as good as done. All those knots, if not untied, then at least about to be chopped through. But there in the shop, in the new release singles section: ‘Wilmot’ by The Sabres of Paradise. And in that moment of untroubled calm I remember thinking something like, “Weatherall. Yep. I’m in.”
I grabbed a copy, took it to the counter, paid for it, went home.
Back at the flat I ran a bath. I found a Bic razor, broke a blade free from its cheap plastic housing, and placed it purposefully on the edge of the bath. All set. Just needed the bath to fill.
Then I remembered that tape. Wilmot. I dug it out from my coat pocket where I’d left it, went upstairs, stuck it in the player and pressed play. I figured I’d just let it play while I went and got in the bath to check out. But the music had other ideas. It commanded my attention and it sucked me in. It distracted me. It stayed my hand. And it held me.
Wilmot is a curious tune. It sounds like a carnival. There is a joy to it. But it sounds haunted too – appropriate enough given the album it heralded: “Haunted Dancehall” – like a black parade of the dead marching gleefully into the afterlife. Some years later, when my second son was about two, he would refuse to have it on in his presence – it literally gave him the fear, every time, from the very first reverberations of those voodoo vocals right there at the start of the track.
When it finished, I put it on again. I don’t remember how many times I repeated that process – truthfully I don’t think it was any more than three times: I was still unswayed from my intentions to depart. But for a minute there I’d lost myself. Got distracted. Been delayed.
Just long enough for whoever it was that was now buzzing at the front door to get there. It was my kid brother. He’d turned up for no good reason and I remember asking him over the intercom what he wanted – I had plans you see – and he didn’t really want anything. He wanted to sit on my sofa and watch Neighbours. Which was annoying, but big brother habit dictated I humour him, so I buzzed him in and he went and watched the telly. We didn’t have any deep and meaningful conversation about anything. I just told him I was gonna go have a nap and did just that. With Wilmot playing on a loop. And when I woke up a couple of hours later, the moment had passed. The bath was cold. I didn’t get in it. And I didn’t check out. That funeral march of a tune had somehow marched me back from the land of the dead and into the land of the living.
And I’m still here.
Jump forward a couple of decades to just last year. My wedding night. Years and years of ups and downs and round and rounds. Fatherhood. Two marriages that I spectacularly failed to save from calamity. Years and years of echoes from that near detonation rippling across a catalogue of victories and defeats, but at long last truly to a place of contentment and peace and, most importantly, a long-delayed willingness – appetite even – to exist. The last dregs of that whispering demon, urging me back into that bath, finally exorcised.
The night of that wedding my wife and I found ourselves back at ours with a few friends and partied into the night before eventually it was just me and Becky still (barely) standing. In love and alive. And as we faded into the dawn of the next day I remember wanting to put some music on for us to drift off to. It wasn’t Wilmot. It was the Fuck Buttons album, Tarot Sport – another Weatherall masterpiece. A blissful tsunami of noise that wordlessly says everything that needs to be said about what it is to be alive.
And the thing that only occurred to me last Monday, when I saw the news about Andy Weatherall having died and my heart broke, was that there he was again. Carrying me across another rubicon of existence. The ferryman.
And wasn’t that the thing about him? The tattoos on his arms plainly stated that “Fail we may. Sail we must.” In his work and all he did, it was never about him. He wasn’t the legend or the thing to be worshipped. Never the star. He was never that guy that came to mind when you contemplated your heroes. He was just there, somehow everywhere and invisible at the same time, in the very blood of it all. Doing what he did. And what he did was to carry us to places that made the journey worthwhile, and don’t worry about the destination. Fail we may. Sail we must. So it is to live. Just that. Nothing more. Nothing less. It’s all we need to do.
Weatherall saved my life once. His spirit was there, in Wilmot, at the very beginning of my journey to a true appreciation of living, and it was there again, in Tarot Sport, at my eventual, belated arrival. Not by design – neither mine nor his – but by some kind of cosmic inevitability. He once described his work as “a series of beautiful, totally futile gestures”. To me, the core of my new-found capacity to live is to actually see life in the same, uncomplicated, unburdened way. A series of beautiful and futile gestures. It is a wonderful place to be. And Weatherall got me here.
I had no idea how much it would hurt to hear the news he’d gone last week. But it did. It really hurt. It was beautiful and futile. And I thank him so much, for all of it.