When I was at college back in 1992, there was a guy in my tutor group who played trumpet and was bang into his classic funk – James Brown, Parliament, Funkadelic, all that stuff. I remember him explaining one of the core structural components of the genre, which applies to a lot of other musical forms as well, most notably anything dance-orientated: it is called, simply enough, “The One”.
The One is that moment where a whole bunch of repeating riffs and figures of different lengths – a one-bar bass hook, a four-bar drum pattern, an eight-bar bridge, a sixteen-bar solo – all reach their loop point at the same moment within the tune. The One is the sound of something cohering, of an emergent higher order. It’s the point in the tune where everything comes together, that single first-beat-of-a-bar where everything strikes together, the moment when even the most grooveless of listeners feel the urge to to move.
I think I just hit The One in my life.
Most of you already know that I’ve just started my Masters degree in Creative Writing; my first seminar is this evening, in fact. In the last year I’ve sold pieces of writing to magazines that I’ve been reading since before I even considered writing as a career choice; I’ve just started writing a proper column at LitReactor, and other commissions are fluttering around in my in-tray. But not only that: today also sees me starting a new job with a title so cool you’ll think I’m making it up. As of this morning, I’m a telecommuting employee of the University of Sheffield’s Civil Engineering department — a Research Assistant in the Future of Infrastructure.
I’ve put a post over at Futurismic that goes into a little more detail about the job and what it means to me. Here, I’m just going to remark on the weird way my life has suddenly cohered into something strange and exciting and new, like I finally found a path I never realised I was looking for. These moments of synchronicity aren’t without their negative threads, of course; my uncle died the weekend before last after a few years of declining into dementia, and thanks to the timing of my first seminar this evening, I’m missing the funeral. I don’t feel great about that; the guilt is compounded by the knowledge that funerals are horrible things to have to attend at the best of times*, and that this one occurs at the same place we buried my old man back in 2002. I wish I was going, but I’m also quite glad I’m not, while simultaneously resentful of that spark of personal relief. Such are the contradictions of the heart that keep us awake at night, I suppose.
One of the great novelistic fallacies of the human condition is born of our instinctive need to stitch a narrative out of the cloth of experience and chance. We often speak of fate, or simply feeling that something was meant to be, even though we know that nothing is determined, and that even history shifts its meaning depending on where you stand to look back at it. Caught in the fragmentary slice of silence before the bass bounces back to the root note and the horn section stabs out a fat major chord, I find myself glancing back and wondering how I got here from there. In some respects it seems almost beyond belief, a daft tall story that a teenaged me would have scoffed at; in other ways it seems like a fortunate yet inevitable confluence of all the things I’ve been doing for the last decade, if not my entire life. Both stories are equally valid; neither of them are strictly true. The truth is in the telling, maybe. Or in the reading, or the ending.
Either which way, the page turns; one chapter ends, another begins, and a new act begins to play out. In the orchestra pit, feet and fingers twitch in an anticipation of rhythm; the audience, small as it may be, waits patiently for events to unfold.
Let the beat drop; bring on The One.
[ * I’ve come to the conclusion that funerals are a little like placebos, in that an understanding of their true function lessens said function’s effect. Funerals are for the living, not the dead; I don’t need to be there to make peace with my own mortality, but I wish I could be there to support the rest of my family. And so it goes. ]