Impossible to write poetry this last week. And to begin with hard to do anything other than read the news and try and keep a brave face. But after a couple of days music came back. Not much (Paris n'est pas encore une fête) but four songs made it onto my playlist.
1. Noel Coward, Don't Let's Be Beastly to the Germans. After the attacks in January there were a lot of voices saying that Charlie Hebdo had it coming and that if only we were a little nicer then the Islamists would leave us alone. That argument struck me as offensive at the time. And illogical too - what exactly had the customers of the Hyper Cacher supermarket done to deserve being killed? Now it is clear that the Charlie cartoonists and the Jewish shoppers were only the precursors of what was to come: everything we do is offensive to these people and we are all potential victims. Noel Coward's light hearted mockery of those who would have sought to make peace with the Nazis made me laugh. And it gave me strength to know that people had lived through worse and kept on smiling.
2. Leonard Cohen, Democracy. Judging by the Republican presidential debates the US is at risk of abandoning democracy for some kind of racist theocracy but I still love America (no other country has such noble ideals - at least on paper) and I admire Leonard Cohen for holding them to those standards. There was one couplet in particular that gave me strength this week. "It's coming from the sorrow in the street/ The holy places where the races meet." After those first few shell-shocked days I started going out again for my morning coffee or early evening beer, and standing at the bar I realized how much I need that contact of multifarious anonymous city people. Rubbing shoulders with all the races of the world makes it that bit harder for barriers to go up.
3. Alice Cooper, Poison. I had never heard of the band who were playing in the Bataclan on Friday so this is as close as I get to their brand of metal. I would rather someone sang about "poison running through my veins" than actually embodied it. And ultimately this is what art is for - a way to go a little crazy and thus keep the real craziness at bay.
4. Lou Reed, Coney Island Baby. This is my fall back song when I am feeling sad, and when I found myself listening to it I knew that things were returning to almost normal. At so many dark moments in my life I have been lifted by Lou's snarled warning "Just remember that the city is a funny place" and then his cooing chorus "And the glory of love might see you through." At a time when totalitarian bullies are trying to destroy everyone and everything they don't agree with it seemed right to be listening to this weirdest of love songs: a speed freak addressing his transsexual lover and singing about high school football.