Friday, 13 November 2009
2. Ms Jackson, Outkast (2001)
In September 2000, I finished my Masters degree in (deep breath) Postmodernism, Literature and Contemporary Culture, and, a month later, I started my first job as an assistant at the new, two-man UK office of an American company called Westminster John Knox. WJK published works of theology, religion and self-help, and I hoped that this unusual entry into the big industry of books would lead to a glittering future in academic publishing. This was the official reason, anyway. I mainly took the job because the boss had promised me a trip to the annual sales conference in Louisville, Kentucky – in the United States of America! – where I intended to track down Bonnie "Prince" Billy and drink a lot of bourbon.
The many delights of a week in Kentucky aside - no Will Oldham for me, but great gulps of Makers Mark, a barn dance in a motel on the freeway where a band of vicars played Van Morrison covers on Moogs, a lesson learned that a winter coat is not enough to fight against a walk across the bridge to Indiana when it's minus 5 outside, and a ringside seat as the fall-out from the Bush vs Gore election entered its last, sorry stages – the job didn't warm my heart. I ended up working in a business centre in Watford, and then in a '60s tower block in Wealdstone, very often on my own, as my boss worked at home. There were few attractions to these places during lunch hours too, and it didn't help that I had to commute into central London and then out again to get to them, especially when the Hatfield train crash in October made most journeys last over two hours. I missed university very much, and I spent hours with a face on, wallowing daftly in melancholy.
One thing kept me going, however. Every day when Philip was out – and this was often – I'd listen to the radio. In the late autumn, Radio 1 DJs started to play a song called Ms Jackson by a band called Outkast. I had no idea who Outkast were, or who Ms Jackson was, and only found out later that Andre 3000 had written the song about the mother of Erykah Badu, his ex-girlfriend. But that didn't matter. All I cared about was that rising synth line, the twirling electric piano, that "OOOOH!" in the chorus after the title, which I'd sing into my coffee mug for the trillionth time as I looked out of tinted windows at the concrete and rainclouds, and the sun would seem to pop out for a moment. I finished the job the following March, but I've never thanked that song enough.