A Long Summer and the Death of a Scientist

Currently playing on iTunes is the new-ish Mull Historical Society album ‘This is Hope’. It’s every bit as baroque as ‘Loss’ and ‘Us’, every bit as giddily catchy in places and perversely dissonant in others. Colin Macintyre is one of those people who’s way too talented to take the easy route, so is constantly pushing against the edges of his already-wide talent (cf. Kate Bush, Andy Partridge). ‘How ’bout I Love You More’ is buzzing around my head right now in the same way that ‘Watching Xanadu’ did three years ago.

I associate Xanadu with a particular time during that year. There’s an odd link here, too. The most sweetly grandiose track on Hope is ‘Death of a Scientist’, which is, so far as I know, the first song written about the death of David Kelly — not the Hutton Report hoop-la that came afterwards, but the simple tragedy of his suicide on a bright, sunny, summer day in the woods of the Oxfordshire countryside. Not all tragedies happen in the shadows. I’ll always associate Kelly’s suicide with the summer of 2003 in England, which was hot and still and hazy and bursting with primary yellows and greens and blues. I was living at a friends’ place for a while, pending visa stuff, and the relative cool of the attic bedroom was a peaceful sanctuary. I could look out of the window and see woods much like the one in which Kelly slit his wrists and waited patiently to die. And that place, that attic, will always be brought back in a moment when I listen to the Mull album ‘Us’, which I played during much of that time. I’m not sure exactly what the process is that causes us to connect songs to times and places — whether it’s our mood, or the significance of the time — but I think there’s something about Macintyre’s stuff that makes it more likely.

As for Kelly, when the story of the 2003 invasion of Iraq ends up being written, he’ll not be much more than a footnote — a decent man driven to destruction by forces much larger, and far more ruthless, than him. Meanwhile, the instigators of that folly will be relaxing with a cool drink in Texas or Tuscany.

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