It has been a while, old friend. I won’t pretend to ask how you are as I know all too well – and I am glad. You deserved it, you really did.
As I sit here writing I realise that I don’t know whether I am writing to thank you or to blame you. My hope is that, as the words come out of my fingers, my thoughts will take form and, by the time this letter has come to an end, we will both know one way or the other.
I was 15 when we first met. My parents had just bought a desktop computer, thereby marking the end of our working class roots, and I was beginning to lose interest in school. I was hopelessly in love with a girl from Park Side Comprehensive and we were going on a date at the weekend to watch Meet The Fockers. I decided that I needed to impress her and so I sat down at the large cream box and connected to the internet.
[Reader, just to clarify, this letter is not about to take a sinister turn; feel free to read on and loosen the knot in your stomach.]
At 15 my musical tastes were exclusively informed by the NME. They had recently reviewed your first full length album and awarded it a meaty 8 out of 10, well above my listening bar. Please forgive me for this next revelation (it is not one I am proud of), but once I was finally connected to the internet the first thing I did was find a torrent of your album and illegally download it. You have to understand that I was a broke 15 year-old kid who had access to a seemingly unlimited library of free music. We will discuss this later, but, for now, you should know that I would download anything that was rated above 6/10 by the NME, leave it to gather digital dust in my expansive iTunes library, and instead play a select few albums on constant repeat. Yours was not one of them.
No, I think it is safe to say that at 15 I was too early for LCD Soundsystem. Daft Punk is Playing at my House was the only song I saw any redeeming qualities in; the others were too long, devoid of guitar hooks with obtuse and inaccessible lyrics. Nonetheless you had been awarded a staggering 8 (stars?) and so I decided I would force a few listens. Sadly, my adolescent self hadn’t yet grasped the concept of a ‘grower’. My teenage id instead demanded instant gratification along the lines of The Fratellis, The Vines, and (worse) – Jet. I gave up halfway through the first spin.
Some years went past with my ill-gotten download of LCD Soundsystem slowly aging alongside stolen copies of Antics, Kid A and Agaetis Byrjun. I occasionally spotted your debut when scrolling from Bloc Party to Late of The Pier, but never gave it a listen. In fact, by the time 2007 rolled around, I had even turned my back on Daft Punk is Playing at my House; you were an antique, in the same category as the Kaiser Chiefs or Embrace. Another boring guitar band. And then you released Sound of Silver.
Some months ahead of its release I had upgraded my musical bar from the NME to Pitchfork (the >6/10 benchmark remained the same). Your sophomore won a staggering 9.2 (thumbs up?) out of 10! I couldn’t believe it – dad-rock band LCD Soundsystem? 9.2/10? Surely that was a mistake – I don’t think I had seen a score above 9.0 since I had started reading Pitchfork. I was excited. I opened the review. “As close to a perfect hybrid of dance and rock music’s values as you’re likely to ever hear” read the opening paragraph.
[Reader do not mistake me for an obsessive at this part of the story – the review is open in a tab next to this word document.]
James, I must apologise once again. Although I now had a job, and did occasionally spend my minimum wage on CDs, I was skeptical after my failure to appreciate your first album, and so I once again found a torrent to illegally download Sound of Silver. After a download time of roughly 45 minutes – which may sound long but bear in mind it was 2007, and I’d waited almost three hours for LCD Soundsystem in 2005 – I ripped it to a CD and took it to my room. You’re probably expecting this to be the tipping point in the letter, right? No. I didn’t like it. I think I made it through an entire listen and again only found one track with any redemptive qualities (you don’t need me to tell you what it was).
I could probably have ended my jaunt down memory lane after slating your first album, but I know that you yourself have been a critic of that record. Not that you are right to criticise LCD Soundsystem – far from it – but I felt it important to tell you that the seminal Sound of Silver also washed over me like tepid water. Several years passed and I carried on listening to it piecemeal; gradually Get Innocuous wormed its way onto my driving playlist, Someone Great sound-tracked a messy breakup, and talking about the happy-sad ratio of All My Friends was my mascot of indie-credibility; however, it was still a fair few years until we really got to know each other.
Everyone downloaded music in the 00s. Honestly. Paying for digital music just wasn’t a ‘thing’; CD purchases were acceptable but kids that paid for iTunes downloads had more money than sense. The tipping point came with In Rainbows when Radiohead validated the millions of hours of digital theft stored on hard drives around the world, by releasing an album for free. I am sure this is a debate we would enjoy over a beer some time, but it is not the point of my letter. It is, however, crucial to our next encounter.
[That’s 1000 words there, feel free to stop at any point dear reader.]
Black Friday 2015. I was living with a flat-mate and found myself a weird mix of jealous and scornful of his record collection: Bach, The Rolling Stones and Joe Bonamassa. I did not want to own these records. I wanted to improve them. And so, I bought a discounted turntable as an early Christmas present. Obviously a turntable is essential to a record collection, but it’s also useless without any records. I was employed now, earning more money than my parents’ joint income at its heights, and I felt it was time I repaid the community I had been stealing from for a decade. However, as a complete novice I had no idea where to look, and so clumsily typed ‘vinyl’ into Amazon. Guess what was suggested?
When I met my girlfriend I began to believe in serendipity. We met in our fourth year at university, the year after all of our three-year degree friends had graduated. The prospect of returning to a sleepy town with no friends and an uphill struggle to improve my grades was not particularly inviting, and I left it late to enroll. This resulted in a slim choice of accommodation and I was forced to take the most expensive hall on campus, with a rent bill equal to >90% of my entire student loan + grant. That year was a 2-meal-a-day struggle, but I met the love of my life, so clearly it was meant to be.
I have no idea why Amazon (where I was working at the time, I should add) suggested I buy This is Happening. It had been years since I had thought about you, but as soon as I saw you there in that black suit I got this weird premonition of anticipation. I added the vinyl to my shopping cart and checked out. Amazon has this great feature where a digital version of a physical music purchase is added automatically to your digital music library, however I resolved myself not to listen just yet. Instead I read the review of your final album on Pitchfork – another 9.2 – in which they featured a quote from an interview you gave to The Guardian: “I spent my whole life wanting to be cool… but I’ve come to realize that coolness doesn’t exist the way I once assumed.”
As soon as I read that I knew that we would have a very long relationship. I had also spent my entire life wanting to be cool; dressing in a certain way, liking certain things (or, rather, disliking other things), downloading music to impress girls on dates… you had summarized my entire young adult life and demolished it. What did it mean to be cool? James Murphy was what it meant to be cool.
I hope this letter does not come across as false-flattery. I can’t think of a way to express my feelings towards you other than through admiration and respect, and I’m sure being referred to as ‘cool’ will make you squirm in discomfort. I’ve seen you in interviews, I’ve seen your attempts to deflect any question about your role as a cultural icon, and it adds to the many reasons I admire you. Please believe me when I say that, for me, you are the epitome of cool.
Anyway I digress and we still have some ground to cover. The record arrived and I listened to your music the way you intended it to be listened to; analogue, retro and loud. Obviously I loved it. In the years between my flirtation with Sound of Silver and that first spin of This Is Happening I had taken my musical blinkers off; Antics, Kid A and Agaetis Byrjun were now among my favourite albums, and I had fully grasped the concept of a grower. [Ignore the phallic images that conjures, please.]
I spent months discovering your music. Something inside me had changed and suddenly it all made sense. I really, really lost myself in your work for a while and became a borderline obsessive. Don’t worry, I’m not about to send you a lock of my hair or a toenail or anything, I just want to paint a picture of a 26 year-old guy, who had grown up with some of the greatest music ever made around him, and he’d ignored it in favour of Franz Ferdinand’s third album. Seriously. What a fucking idiot.
By the way, at this point in writing I seem to be leaning towards thanking you. I feel like that’s where I’ll end up but, again, we are still not quite done, are we?
The fact I had become an LCD anorak is important. I’d gone through your entire library, including the running album 45:33 (small side note: thank you for the 5 kilos I lost, by the way), and I was wondering what to go to next.
“I was really a failure. Like really really really…really…really really really a failure.”
That’s the opening line of an interview you gave with SVT Play, available on YouTube. The clip is called Interview with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem about how to deal with Failure. If you haven’t seen it, I cannot recommend it strongly enough, even if it is a bit weird to watch yourself talk about…yourself. Honestly, man, this interview changed my life.
Suddenly it felt OK to be living with a flatmate when my girlfriend had moved out of our home and back in with her parents. It felt OK to be trapped in a job on a career path I hated. It felt OK that I hadn’t written a best seller and that I wasn’t even fucking trying. The fear of failure at all of those things had paralysed me for years, and when you articulated those exact same feelings, the knot around my heart loosened. It was OK that I hadn’t tried yet. It was definitely OK that I hadn’t succeeded yet. When you have thoughts and feelings that aren’t shared by anyone around you, but one of your personal heroes admits to them – well, it’s remarkable. It’s like having a bucket of cold water thrown in your face. I suddenly felt less alone.
[Dear reader, if you’re still with me – obviously I was not alone at this point in my life. Like I said earlier, I had found the love of my life. It’s a complicated feeling and it’s why I’m writing this letter. But dearest beloved, please don’t be offended.]
It’s cold and dark outside now. I’m listening to the fade out on Black Screen from your #1 billboard album American Dream. Congratulations again on that, by the way; when I said you deserved it I really, sincerely meant it. I won’t keep you for any longer and I was right about writing this, I feel a new sense of closure. Not that our relationship is over, James, far from it. No, I feel closure about the second to last paragraph. I don’t think I’ve ever articulated that before and it feels like I’ve worked out a splinter, a thick knot of something inside me, something dark and brooding that has now faded away.
Before you get too big-headed, unfortunately I should tell you that you are not the hero of this story. Music is a one-way dialogue from artist to listener; you talk to me but I can’t talk back, and this letter is the same thing. You have an opinion but frankly I’m not interested in it, in the same way you continued to make music when I was 15 and thought you were shit. I am not deluded into thinking you are a tangible part of my life, you don’t have any idea who I am. You should, however, know that it’s because of you that I took accountability for my life.
That discovery took place over a year ago. I would update you on the status of the things I was scared at failing at, but I won’t. It doesn’t matter, because it’s OK to try and it’s OK to not and it’s OK to succeed and it’s OK to not. There is only one thing that I should update you on.
I felt alone, I no longer feel alone.
[Reader, as a thank you for sticking with me, please enjoy the video I talked about earlier, it’s worth a watch. It might just change your life.]