Essays at the intersection of marketing and life.
I am possessive about grammar, like a dog with a bone. And like most dogs on the street, I know that ‘hers’ takes no apostrophe.
But Her’s does.
I’m aware of this because over the last years I have thought a lot about the meaning of music in the lives of young adults. I’m not the only one. Spotify has thought music through, building a global brand predicated on music’s unique ability to amplify or change mood.
I know from personal experience that music helps me know more fully who I am. But I’m interested in how our musical tastes evolve. Why is it that our search for quality and intimacy in our musical choices is more pronounced once out of college? What markers of musical taste are important to young men and women?
I grab every chance I can to enquire of music lovers.
One chap I encountered on my learning journey recounted a memorable gig with a half-known band in a tiny dungeon, called ‘Cigarettes After Sex’. The video he made of them that night is one which, he claims, will never be wiped from his phone.
A funky girl, cool and independent in her thinking, told me of another band she admired. A group called Her’s. They were a couple of guys who met at University in Liverpool, busy reinventing 1980s pop into something more complex.
Being a researcher and a lover of rabbit holes, I spent time communing with Cigarettes After Sex and Her’s, by way of YouTube. There is delight in uncovering a recommendation from someone whose opinion you value, no matter the context.
The two guys from Her’s were singular. They had an electric, melodious sound that invites you in. Even more importantly, there was a kind of easy love that moved between them as they performed.
Perhaps that cool girl was a kind of prophet, I thought, plotting the values and aesthetics of her generation. Perhaps Her’s were a totem of a new age?
And then my wonder passed.
The subject of my work was music that week. But it then became whiskey; then coffee; then peanuts; then financial services; then sustainability…
The variety of it all struck me forcibly this week. Across five days I facilitated four workshops in three countries – each with the intention of sparking creative energy and meaningful growth for my clients. I began to feel like I was my own private rockstar, on tour.
Take Holland, for example. I stood admiring a view of the docks in Amsterdam with a client. We were on the ninth floor of a hotel, awaiting the kick-off of our session. Giant container ships passed by as we gazed down. A tiny laser sailing boat slid between them, seemingly unperturbed by the clear and present merchant danger in its surrounds.
The sight of the port felt like a new window onto Amsterdam, far away from its more famous canals and cannabis. Here was the city in work mode and in the blue-collar glory told by Jacques Brel. The intensity of the Netherlands, a small nation of immense imaginative will, became clearer to me from our window on high.
You join the dots when you’re on the road.
The previous day I had been near Cheltenham, thinking about how my client’s elegant brand might take a more central role in cleaner nutrition. During a break, I looked out the window on the bucolic hills of Gloucestershire. I did not know what range I was looking at.
England beyond the Thames Valley remains a mystery to me. My four years spent paying taxes into her Majesty’s coffers were lived in a kind of metropolitan stupor. I realise now, to my regret, that I left London understanding little of Britain.
‘They’re the Malvern Hills’, my colleague offered. The Malverns. I knew the name well. I had drunk its water for sure, as Malvern is a pretty famous brand of mineral water in England.
I looked it up and discovered that Edward Elgar, one of England’s most delicate composers, grew up around these hills. There is something deeply pastoral in their look. Perhaps his Nimrod is the idea of the Malvern Hills set to music: gentle, steely, emotional.
All tours come to an end. I topped and tailed my work in Ireland. Satisfied and a little tired, I flew back for an early night and awoke Friday in the comforting morning light of home. From the bed, somewhat absentmindedly, I scrolled the news.
A headline caught my attention. ‘Band dies in USA crash’. The article was accompanied by a picture of two young men sitting in the middle of a summer field. My eyes lingered. The two lads were from Liverpool, the article explained. I did not recognise their names. Until suddenly, I did.
Stephen Fitzpatrick and Audun Laading, the two members of Her’s, died on their way to a gig in Santa Ana, California.
It emerged that their manager, Trevor Engelbrektson, had been driving their van to the next venue when it was involved in a head-on collision, with what’s known as a ‘wrong-way driver’. There were no signs of braking from either vehicle. Zero warning.
Everyone involved died instantly.
I stared at their picture. My mind reached to remember the sound of Her’s. I returned to the rabbit hole, and YouTube’s streaming source. I remembered how much I appreciated it – a 1980s groove, knowingly balanced between irony and reverence. Stephen’s voice was deep and lush, and his delivery fully mesmerising. Audun, on bass, seemed so full of caring. I scrolled again. A commenter on YouTube remarked that ‘the big guy looks like he would support you through anything. Like if I told him one day I wanted to be a human carrot he would go to the store to buy orange paint and dirt’.
For a brief moment I lay still, devastated by the randomness of it all.
Then I began thinking that I was their brother. And that maybe you are too; that we all are.
Each of us delighting in hitting that road, writing our own song, and bending the ear of a prophet before the sun goes down.