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Listen to the SAGE Soundtrack, curated by John Simmons

Listen to the SAGE Soundtrack, curated by John Simmons

As a brand that loves words, scientific and poetic, ARgENTUM was thrilled to have John Simmons curate the SAGE soundtrack, for alongside being a novelist and a poet, John is often hailed as being the father of Verbal Brand Identity. ARgENTUM would only be half itself without its beautiful language, John would argue. And we’d agree. A modest, self-deprecating North Londoner, we had to do a fair bit of arm-twisting to get John to accept the mantle of SAGE. But he’s never been a man to turn down a brief (one of his books is titled 26 Ways to Look at a Blackberry) and his soundtrack has duly been selected to reflect inner wisdom, knowledge and awareness and the enlightened path to healing ~ all energies associated with the SAGE archetype.

John prefaced his sleeve notes with an apologia for melancholy, a quality that touches his song choices. ”People often dismiss melancholy as a bad thing, a state of gloom, but there’s such a pleasure in melancholy – the deep joy of reflection and accepting life for what it is.”

So over to The Sage of Kings Cross to talk us through his selection.

Love minus zero/no limit: Bob Dylan

Dylan changed everything. He had a different way of approaching music. The words were so intelligent. It wasn’t about a beautiful voice but delivery and using voice to convey all kinds of emphasis. This song was a revelation to me. A beautiful but unconventional love song. It introduced me to the pleasure of ambiguous language. Every phrase is enigmatic, yet we were convinced each had deep meaning. Reading English Lit. at Oxford in the 60s, every essay had a Dylan reference.

Who knows where the time goes: Sandy Denny

And here’s a voice that’s achingly beautiful. I went to school with Richard Thompson, who I think is the world’s greatest living guitarist, and first saw Sandy Denny with Fairport Convention at Wadham College Ball in 1968. It’s a song about time and when you reach a certain age it’s inevitable you ask yourself that question. It’s not so much about nostalgia as having the knowledge of the passing of time, a positive attitude to which contributes enormously to well-being.

In my life: The Beatles

Less melancholy but simple, powerful poetry. The Beatles are not often recognised for that. John Lennon, in particular, had an edge. {There are places I’ll remember, all my life though some have changed} This song is about remembering people and places. As you go through life these are what matter most. The Beatles were very important to me. Like many people, I vividly remember the morning John Lennon was shot. I was in tears for days.

Haunts of ancient peace: Van Morrison

Van’s Celtic Soul period was absolutely terrific and this song, about finding inner peace, is so calming. This, like many of his songs, epitomises the enlightened path to healing. A bit of a Buddhist, a bit of a SAGE himself, Van has been known to be a bit grumpy at some of his gigs (stage-fright apparently). But, he’s an incomparable composer and musician. And prolific.

Anthem: Leonard Cohen

So many of Cohen’s songs stick because of the amazing choruses. Applies here. {There is a crack, a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in} is such a brilliant line, so wise. We have to accept imperfection – it’s the way to knowledge. Running a writing workshop in Switzerland 7 or 8 years ago and setting the Haiku form as an exercise, and having talked about this song, one of the participants pointed out that these lines were made up of 17 syllables – a hidden haiku. Not necessarily intended – but beautiful.

Dimming of the day: Richard and Linda Thompson

My wife and I went to many of Richard and Linda’s concerts – absolutely beautiful music. It’s that reflective time of day when there’s a glow about the conversation that puts one in a particular mood. It’s best if it's shared, over a glass of wine, sharing thoughts and feelings – not quite ready for the night yet, relishing the embers of the day: awareness.

Chinese café: Joni Mitchell

I first heard Joni Mitchell played by Fairport in Oxford. They were quite instrumental in introducing her to the UK. I’ve got all her albums – she’s amazing and, after a severe illness, she’s up on stage again performing. This song is from her middle period - I chose it because it’s a double reflection, remembering her childhood days listening to Unchained Melody by Conway Twitty on the jukebox in the Chinese Café – two songs in one, seamlessly integrated.

I just don’t think I’ll ever get over you: Colin Hay

{If I live to be 102, I don’t think I’ll ever get over you.} This song is not just about romantic love, it’s about all kinds of love. I lost my mother when I was 19/20 and I’ve never got over that loss. You will always remember those people who have helped to shape the life you have lived. Life after death for me is the memories you leave behind that are held in the hearts of others – that, for me, is the continuum and part of the ongoing strangeness of life.

I’m a bird girl: Antony & the Johnsons

This song is about a large man transitioning into a large woman. It’s universal - we’re all going through changes, great and small, all the time. The line ‘bird girls can fly’ brings tears to my eyes. It’s about self-belief, being able to express your truth, coming to terms with whoever you are: an enlightenment. It’s something that resonates deeply with me – as finding such truth, or ‘finding your voice’ has been core to Dark Angels, the creative writing for business courses which I co-founded in 2004.

This must be the place (Naïve melody): Talking Heads

“Home is where I want to be/But I’m guessing I’m already there.” This is not necessarily about bricks and mortar. You can find home anywhere – most importantly your inner world. It’s particularly pertinent to me right now as we’re moving from our home of 30 years to a new home. There’s a touch of sadness but also excitement. A new chapter, rather than the closing of the book.

Sister Tilly: Natalie Merchant

I’ve been a fan of Natalie Merchant for the last 30 years. I could have chosen any track but this one, ‘a love song to badass feminists’ from her most recent album is so evocative. She’s paying homage to a composite woman who represents all those strong women who stood up and fought for women’s emancipation – something fundamentally important. A beautiful story about what such women did for the world. Check out the video. It's very emotional.

The Alcott: The National

My kids introduced me to the National. I like them a lot and have seen them live. Matt Berninger has a very low-key voice – almost speaking – and this is a wonderful song about a hotel (probably in LA) and meeting someone from the past and rekindling that relationship. Taylor Swift provides the to-and-fro of the ‘dialogue’ – beautifully done. A healing song, ‘talking therapy’ – falling out of and back into love.

Acts of Man: Midlake

Midlake create such mesmeric music. I end on this one because it’s about saving the planet. Acts of man got to us where we are now and equally it’s acts of man that can – and must – save the planet. There is positivity and optimism. Hope is so important. The ones who have been winning – politically – are the ones who drive away hope. We can turn the tide.

Listen to John’s soundtrack channelling Sage.