Yesterday I attended the funeral of a friend. It was a good funeral in a lot of ways; a few people spoke, my friend’s favourite songs were played. There was no religious element at all, which was exactly what he would have wanted, but it made me understand better why most funerals have hymns. I think hymns serve as a cohesive element that bonds the mourners together. Singing together breaks down barriers between people, and nobody understood that better than Roger. Music was the force that drove him most of his life. Listening to Roger’s favourite songs piped over the crematorium’s PA system made me sadder than I can even say. The room was full of musicians. I can’t help but wonder if something played live would have brought us more together?
Thirty years ago Roger and I and a whole bunch of other people, mainly lads in their late teens to early 20s hung out together all the time. We lived in a few squats, drank together, had lots of funny adventures and escapades. He was a natural comedian, but it was never for effect. He was rarely bothered about what anyone thought of him. He was himself, for himself, and everyone else could take it or leave it.
I always felt at the time that there was a strong bond there between all of us in that group, something tribal. Roger had been kind to me at a time in my life when nobody else was, but it was never a boy/girl thing, we were just friends, and made each other laugh so much. He drew me into his group of friends and included me, though I was a bit of an ill fitting oddball. Maybe that’s what he liked about me. Roger was always for the underdog and a befriender of outcasts. Possibly he felt that way himself. It was hard to tell with Roger, it was hard to know what was going on under that ever cheery, affable exterior. He certainly was unlike any other person I have known, highly intelligent, but largely self-taught, he was a mine of odd and slightly arcane information. I always suspected that his depths were so deep even he didn’t want to examine them too closely, preferring to be gliding effortlessly on the surface like a swan rather than focussing on the maelstrom of self-propulsion beneath the surface. I liked his cheeky independence, his extraordinary “gung-ho, Let’s Go!” fearlessness and his philosophical acceptance of the consequences of whatever scrape he got himself (or all of us) into.
That happened quite a lot. It was hard to get angry with him. He’d listen to what you said, and then grin and carry on doing whatever the hell he liked. Completely infuriating, but a quality I think we all envied in so many ways
Roger had been the hub of a lot of other friend groups in his time, but I didn’t have much overlap with many of those other people. I hadn’t seen all that much of Roger since the 1980s, and time has moved on of course. Perhaps that is less true for me than for others. Yesterday there were only a few of my old crew there, surprisingly few. It was a weekday of course, and people have to work, also funerals are never fun, but Roger was such a huge figure in my personal story, that I couldn’t help but be surprised at who was not there as much as I was delighted to see those who were. Perhaps I am the one who is malfunctioning here, but if I haven’t seen someone I care about in a long time, I make a point of telling them how good it is to see them, despite the awful tragic circumstances.
I don’t know what I expected really. Too much I suppose. There was a sense of disconnection, the main thing that we had in common was Roger, and he was not there. I’m not great at social situations at the best of times, but for all my love for Roger, I felt like I perhaps should not have gone after all.
If Roger had been there he would have brought a guitar, he would have got wild and crazy, he would have mocked the stiff, awkward formality of this disparate bunch of socially awkward people and everyone would have had an amazing time instead of feeling, as I did, rather like a fish out of water. Funerals are not the best place to reconnect with people. Roger was not there
Roger was the net that held the many and various social balloons together. Those of us who had not seen him too recently perhaps felt his absence on a very different level from his family and more current social circle. I was not there to witness him in his illness, although I did try to reach out to him. I sent someone over to his place with a message for him to call me whenever he wanted to. But it was too little and much too late of course. He didn’t need me, why would he? I was part of the past, long past when he was that crazy golden college boy with dreams of playing in a band. I lost Roger a long time ago.
Roger was not really a cliquey person, he was alright with you if you were alright with him, whoever you were. He was incapable of being any other way. That sense of being a part of his tribe was something I brought with me, part of my insecurities, wishful thinking on my part to have the sense of belonging to a group, having friends. That was something that was important to me.
I think I learned something about myself at Roger’s funeral. I think he had just one more lesson for me.
Since the 1990s I have always missed him being in my daily life, but now is the time to let go.