I was in a record store. I recall browsing without purpose for some time, wandering around considering whether I should add to my rapidly expanding music library. It was 2003, and I was a student at the time. I’ve always derived great pleasure from random music searches, yet it’s been trickier these past few years due to my locations. On this particular day though, I had no idea the purchase I was about to make would have such a lasting and definitive influence on my tastes in music, or perhaps more significantly an enduring effect on the way I aspire to look at life events (not always successfully I must add, especially recently).
As my seemingly fruitless search for new music neared a conclusion, and I contemplated leaving empty handed, one record caught my eye. The strange album cover was compelling. A myriad of colours and faces all intertwined. It was unashamedly psychedelic, and seeing as I had at this point embarked upon a fairly dedicated journey toward 60s music discovery, I decided to at least give this item the acknowledgment I believed it deserved.
Upon inspection the song titles were suitably convincing that for some reason the record had to come home with me. ‘The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This’, ‘Andmoreagain’, ‘Alone Again Or’, ‘Bummer in the Summer’, and ‘You Set The Scene’ to name a few. Everything about this record intrigued me. Even the name of the band, Love, seemed so clichéd yet perfect.
“For the time that I’ve been given’s such a little while, and the things that I must do consist of more than style…”
My reason for providing this fairly mundane anecdote is because I’d like to touch on the theme of change. As the record I bought that day testifies, forever does change, and this has been a fairly weighty feature of my life in the past few years. I’ve experienced some notable transitions, with the most recent being arguably the toughest challenge of all. I left Bangladesh (see previous blog) to pursue a slightly different career path. I’ve been lucky enough to get the opportunity to rejoin the WorldTeach team.
WorldTeach is an education non-profit organisation that links up with governments and organisations in developing countries and sends volunteer teachers to spend a year in their country of choice. I volunteered with WorldTeach in Rwanda in 2010. I’m now the Field Director in Guyana, which basically means that I oversee the program on the ground here and assist the current Guyana volunteers. It’s rewarding in that even though I’m not in the classroom directly teaching, I am still very much involved with international education.
“And for everyone who thinks that life is just a game, do you like the part you’re playing?”
So, I’ve changed jobs and I’ve transferred location. From the most densely populated country in the world I now find myself on the northern coast of South America in a country home to just 750,000 people….total. I once again face the guilt of being a Brit in a former colony, but this guilt is slightly negated by the fact I also live in the only English speaking nation on this continent…..which helps….me.
However, the most notable change of all has been the people in my life. The past three years have been a quite remarkable adventure. The places I’ve seen, the photos I’ve taken, the foods I’ve tasted, the journeys I’ve embarked on, the insects I’ve battled with, the inspirational folk I’ve met and stared in awe at, the stories I’ve heard and shared, the generosity and hospitality that has always been so welcome, the number of instances I’ve mused ‘Ben Fogle would probably do that if he were here now’, the smells that have at times purified my senses, the occasional challenges I’ve struggled through, the suffering I’ve witnessed that’s so often faced with sheer strength in adversity, and finally the quite incredible sunsets I have had the privilege to capture in both my mind and on camera.
“There’ll always be some people here to wonder why, and for every happy hello there will be goodbye….”
However, principally, the past three years have been defined by the people I’ve met and formed close relationships with. And with that comes the toughest part of travelling, because moving on inevitably means leaving behind those who have shared so much with you on that particular stretch of road in the crazy journey.
Saying goodbye becomes the toughest challenge of all, and it doesn’t get any easier with experience. Location in life is often irrelevant. If we’re surrounded by good people it doesn’t matter what exterior conditions we find ourselves in. I have come to realise this at a number of points throughout the past three years. Waist deep in water and suppressing fear in a dark, dark cave in Laos was one. Lost and a little bewildered at a Nuns’ dining table in Rwanda was another. Sandwiched between a huge man and a good friend on a minivan in northern Botswana also springs to mind. In the middle of the night lined up against a coach by South African police on the border with Zimbabwe I recall being particularly grateful for company. Sat on a sweltering bus for sixteen hours straight in Bangladesh, and in gridlocked traffic on the single lane highway between Chittagong and Dhaka was completely bearable because of one person.
These are examples of specific moments, but Prague, Rwanda, Bangladesh, and all travels in between have been distinguished by so many genuinely good people. People who I have learned so much from and who have made the journey that much more enjoyable and meaningful. All people who I have at some point in the recent past had to say goodbye to. However, goodbyes aren’t always forever.
“You Set The Scene”
The name of the record I bought that day back in 2003, long before I embarked on this journey, is ‘Forever Changes’…perhaps fittingly. Written and performed by 1960s LA band ‘Love’, they were led by singer and chief songwriter, Arthur Lee. Lee was an incredible lyricist. A poet many say. The collection of songs concludes with my all time favourite by any artist (‘You Set The Scene’), and I mean that. For me the composition is perfect. Perfect in terms of structure. Perfect in terms of the dreamlike instrumentals that weave into its dramatic crescendo. Perfect for the manner in which it is constructed and delivered, and perfect for its seemingly timeless message.
However, primarily it’s perfect for its lyrics. The song’s powerful and inspirational words have always made me wonder just how far we can push ourselves. Change is inevitable, but right now as I begin a new chapter I’m struggling to know quite how to deal with it, having at times been completely overwhelmed by its total disregard for stability. However ‘You Set The Scene’ has been a constant reminder of the wider picture.
“This is the time and life that I am living,
And I’ll face each day with a smile.
For the time that I’ve been given’s such a little while,
And the things that I must do consist of more than style.
There are places that I am going.”
“Everything I’ve seen needs rearranging,
And for anyone who thinks it’s strange.
Then you should be the first to want to make this change,
And for everyone who thinks that life is just a game –
Do you like the part you’re playing?”
The lyrics of the song in full can be interpreted in many ways. Written in 1967 Los Angeles, it clearly expresses the burning political frustrations of the day, namely Vietnam. “There’s a private in my boat and he wears fears instead of medals on his coat”, “There’s a man who can’t decide if he should fight for what his father thinks is right.”
Dramatic change was beginning to define a generation in the 1960s, and Arthur Lee reflected this perfectly in his songs. I discussed the words with my students at AUW a few months back, and they presented their own understanding of what Lee was conveying. These were both characteristically thoughtful and extremely well considered.
So, as I continue with my journey, I do so with the words of Arthur Lee ringing in my ears. They provide strength, and they crucially pose testing and provocative questions. This is not a usual post for me. However, my blog has never really followed a set structure, and the recent move has once again left me pondering how I can represent my new experiences through words. Right now my experience is defined by change, and I’m therefore grateful to have the opportunity to write about these moments.
To conclude, here are the full lyrics of You Set The Scene, and below is a live recording of it performed by Arthur Lee and his band in 2003. Bear in mind Lee is 58 in this video. He sadly passed away three years later, but for fans of Love his legacy lives on.
Arthur Lee and Love – You Set The Scene (Live on ‘Later with Jools Holland’ 2003)
You Set The Scene – Love (Lyrics: Arthur Lee) 1967
— Part I —
Where are you walking, I’ve seen you walking
Have you been there before?
Walk down your doorsteps, you’ll take some more steps
What did you take them for?
There’s a private in my boat and he wears
Fears instead of medals on his coat
There’s a chicken in my nest and she won’t
Lay until I’ve given her my best
At her request she asks for nothing
You get nothing in return
If you want she brings you water
If you don’t then you will burn
You go through changes, it may seem strange
Is this what you’re put here for?
You think you’re happy and you are happy
That’s what you’re happy for
There’s a man who can’t decide if he should
Fight for what his father thinks is right
There are people wearing frowns who’ll screw you up
But they would rather screw you down
At my request I ask for nothing
You get nothing in return
If you’re nice she’ll bring me water
If you’re not then I will burn
— Part II —
This is the time and life that I am living
And I’ll face each day with a smile
For the time that I’ve been given’s such a little while
And the things that I must do consist of more than style
There are places that I am going
This is the only thing that I am sure of
And that’s all that lives is gonna die
And there’ll always be some people here to wonder why
And for every happy hello, there will be good-bye
There’ll be time for you to put yourself on
Everything I’ve seen needs rearranging
And for anyone who thinks it’s strange
Then you should be the first to want to make this change
And for everyone who thinks that life is just a game
Do you like the part you’re playing?
I see your picture
It’s in the same old frame
We meet again
You look so lovely
You with the same old smile
Stay for a while
I need you so, oh, oh, oh, oh
And if you take it easy
I’m still teethin’
I wanna love you, but
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh