In The Beginning

Entry by: Nicholas Gill

13th May 2015
In the beginning – a modernist description of random causalities from the perspective of an Alzheimer Day Care Centre in the spring of 2015

Bye bye, blackbird. So they sing, the people in our circle at the day care centre, drawn together in a bubble of shared musical awareness.
But there were no words at the start. The beginning, they now say, was a traumatic moment when the Stillness of Stillness was broken by a Suddenness of Something and what we call the Universe came pouring forth, flowering out from an inconceivable point in the pointless indefinable nowhere. Believe it if you will. There wasn't even alliteration back then. But now we have Irving Berlin.

They tell us that was the start of it all. The clay grew tall. Fatuous sunbeams toiled and now I am here, playing the piano before an audience of the cognitively depleted at an Alzheimer day-care centre in a suburb of Oxford City. Another consequence of that mythical moment.

I play the old songs with my foot firmly wedged on the soft pedal. Gigs like this allow me to concentrate on singing, as the piano takes care of itself - the chord progressions for most of these songs being architecturally sound. My fingers are being directed by deep harmonic algorithms in the subconscious. So I can focus on singing softly in soft focus, not wanting to drown out the frail voices of my audience. Like my chord progressions, the songs emerge from undamaged deeps below the baffled surface of their minds. They seem to know most of the words. These tunes were written to last, and have fared well against the assault of time.

These people retain their peculiar human individuality. A bit of cognition has gone, but they still have a particular way of being in the world. Most of what they have been is still there. And together we form a collective musical hive. We warm ourselves in these golden moments. We came as strangers, now we have friends. Some are openly joyful, their faces lit up, singing with their eyes. Others sit smiling, breaking into song intermittently like a radio on a ship that is slowly moving out of transmitter range. Outside, late spring blossom clings to the apple tree.

Then there is this rather prosaic lady with sheep's wool hair, leaning forward - perhaps trying to hear, or attempting to understand some secret which she thinks I have - as if I were the only boy in the world and my fragile voice possessed some blessed Hope, where of I knew and she was unaware.

No my dear, I cannot disturb the dust on your china bowl of rose leaves. In the beginning you must have been a beautiful baby, but where we are going once this moment has departed, I cannot tell you. As we sing the old songs we form a circle, a feedback loop of awareness, a Daisy, Daisy chain. You are here because they say you have lost your wits - the clay grew tall and then it fell back to this moment, and these songs.

And I have something that they call cognition, but I feel that I have less substance than you. We, the self-aware, are the ghosts of evolution. Full-nerved and conscious we are aware of a terrible separation from the source. Conscious awareness - the endless negotiation with the idea of a Self - is an irritating fly-buzz disturbing the stillness that came before the blossoming out. John Peel never felt such a gulf as he tore across the countryside with his hounds in the morning. And still you look at me with that fixed, puzzled expression, benign yet infinitely questioning.

After the trauma of that beginning, a little bit broke off in brilliance and whizzed outwards through gaseous chaos, sulphurous gestations of galaxies, exploding stars which finally became settled constellations. Silent planets turning in the void. Ages on ages rolled over and then a primordial soup was formed in which the madness of sexual reproduction began. The beginning of all our troubles. And here we are at the Evergreen Day Care Centre, singing the old songs before they ask us to pay the bill.

The dinosaurs came and went. We don't know why they all disappeared so suddenly. It seems that Old Man Evolution, the Master of the Show got bored with their shadows revolving in his sun-illumined magic lantern, bellowing across the swamps of his spinning globe.

Finally, a complex hominid came along with a brain capable of composing miraculous songs. And still we sing them, even though their magic formula has been lost for these last 60 years.

All I can say to you, old lady, is that there is nothing of difference between us. We share a fundamental awareness. As fragile hominids we are born to impermanence and our little lives are rounded with a sleep. But for all your age, you are closer to life than I. My cognition separates me from visceral questions of sex and the mysterious abstractions of death. I am more of a ghost than you. The dinosaurs never had this problem. They just did what came naturally.

Perhaps you are asking me why we suffer in this blossoming flurry of life, though you lack the cognition to encode your question. What I can say to you, old lady, is that we are all enfolded in the wings of death and your treasured china tea set will be gathering dust in a charity shop before long. For you and I are no more real than mid-May's fallen blossoms, less than a single petal stuck to the wet pavement, a passing link in the chain of Old Man Evolution's ongoing experiment. But it was for this that the clay grew tall.

So take this present moment and these songs as a gift as I accept the gift of your presence in the musical hive, this primordial, sceptered moment expressing itself through the crafted songs of a fast-fading fickle age.

And for that moment a blackbird sang close by.

Blackbird, bye bye.