For nigh on 25 years, ‘Is This The Life?‘ (ITTL?) has remained my favourite song. It is the only song I know that refuses to allow itself to be truncated and packed away in the mind.
Most songs, once too familiar, spring forth complete in your mind on hearing only the first bar. And therefore need never be listened to again. Not so, ITTL?. For me it remains a song that must be unpacked again and again.
It begs the most fundamental question, ironically wrested from one of the most blissful and Vaudevillian expressions: “This is the life.”
When I watch the lead vocalist, (the hallowed but now sadly incapacitated Tim Smith), with forced elation and crudely-smeared make-up, as he screams into a confetti of maelström, I feel a keening ache for the divine that seems always to reside behind life’s veil. Plath knew too well of the pregnancy of sky – something glimpsed that hints of life beyond the Cave.
Human development. Enlightenment. I believe them synonymous and believe in the flourishment that they promise.
And to see Tim rail, uniformed, into the wind. Yes, there is a kind of beauty in that. It is a glorification of our dystopian age of abstracted regimentation, of keeping up appearances – an age in which the greatest irony is that individualism has bequeathed us the same fear-fuelled self-regulation as in our stereotypical visions of the darkest period of Soviet repression.
Is this the life? Always yes.
Always yes. But, unasked, the answer is no.
Criticality, and its suggestion that the horizon holds an unfulfilled promise, is the cornerstone of Enlightenment.
Our young faces smeared with grit. Our fraying uniforms festooned with medals, badges of attainment, totems for adherence. The wind: a flurry of data. The strained smile for the onlooking examiner – for the inspector.
Tim is both teacher and student, rictus-grinning into a storm of oppressive scrutiny brought on by a confusion of ends.
Ask yourself this: is this the life? Then imagine a point where the storm might cease and your smile will melt and reform in an expression of genuine elation.
Enlightenment. It’s out there.