It’s been seven days now since Time Out, like so much of London, began to go into isolation. And amidst the tumult, the blistering sadness and the staggering WTF-ness of this past week, one song won’t stop echoing in my head. It’s Johnny Cash’s version of ‘We’ll Meet Again’, which he recorded in 2002 as the last track on his ‘American IV: The Man Comes Around’ album.
The song is, of course, best known as a stirring anthem from World War II. Penned in 1939, it was at once triumphant (subtext: we definitely, absolutely, totally will meet again, okay!). Yet it is also impossibly vulnerable, too – evoking the painful foreboding of soldiers leaving Blighty to fight overseas. People leaving a comfortable life for an uncertain future. People getting used to the idea of seeing their loved ones... soon... don’t know where, don’t know when. Vera Lynn is miraculously still alive, as it goes. It’s actually her birthday today and I’m sure that as a 103-year-old, she must be delighted that the world is quite so messed up, AGAIN.
Stating the obvious, though, but Johnny Cash was not Vera Lynn.
Johnny Cash led many lives, including being a drunk, a drug addict and a hard-partying wildcat dressed entirely in black. He was a big gruff American dude, and that's why his version works so well in modern times. It strips all the WWII jingoism and all that 'Blitz spirit' guff right out of it. What you're left with is a man who’s clearly lived a life, who’s clearly our kinda guy, singing an impossibly sweet and moving song. When he sings ‘And will you please say hello/To the folks that I know', you can easily believe that Cash and those ‘folks’ have really torn it up in the past.
For the last repeat of the chorus, Cash is joined by a roomful of voices singing along with him. It’s an unnerving switcheroo. We’re made aware, quite starkly, that this absence we’ve been hearing about, this situation that requires us to ‘keep smiling through’ is bigger than just one man’s plight. It’s a song about a shared experience. A mass feeling of uncertainty. A collective fear.
Amidst the hugely important and socially conscious act of staying home and not spreading Covid-19, we’re all really missing our friends terribly in the process. Young Londoners are about to feel that absence once school's begin to close this afternoon. It's clear there will be some tough times ahead for us in London, and all over the world. And if you’re anything like me, you could really use some close friends around to help weather this storm. But try and remember one thing this weekend, if you can: we’ll meet again, some sunny day.