When you get to a certain age, you get used to seeing your heroes dropping off. I heard about Barry White snuffing it at a sex show in Amsterdam, when Never Gonna Give You Up came on while some couple were going at it hammer and tong on a revolving stage, and all the English punters around me started clucking and saying "Eeh, in't it a shame about Barry?" and at the end, the bloke withdrew, stood up and saluted the air in tribute, which was nice. He would have liked that.
But anyway, I don't mind telling you that I'm taking the death of Isaac Hayes a bit more personally than usual. Yes, he was a genius songwriter (check this, this and especially this), and one of the greatest bandleaders and score-writers ever (say no more), but he also bookended the only proper, I-want-to-stay-with-you-forever, come-and-meet-my-Mam, when-are-we-getting-married relationship.
It's December 1991, and - for reasons I still can't work out even today - the most beautiful girl I've ever met in my life is telling me that she loves me, and she's been watching me from a distance for ages. Problem is, she's still with her boyfriend, even though he's a creepy-looking bastard who treats her like shit. We're breaking up for the Xmas holidays, and we're going to be at opposite ends of the country for a fortnight. I'm gonna have to do summat spectacular to pull this one out of the bag. So I do what everyone who's fallen in love does.
I make a compilation tape.
Although the technology has changed, and it's a fuck's sight easier to put them together than it was back in the day, you can't whack a tape for starting a proper relationship - especially if you're a dippy lad terrified of saying the wrong thing - and there are hundreds of trained professionals who can do it properly (even though some of them got shot by prostitutes, murdered by their cross-dressing mentalist dads, or couldn't keep their tea down). I couldn't sit her down and tell her that she only had to hand me a contract to be her bloke forever and I'd happily sign it in my own blood, but it would be a piece of piss to leg it to my already hefty record collection and spend a night with my finger hovering over the pause button. And I already know what's going to be the first track, because it's a tune I've been waiting to play to the right girl for years;
And I just know that when she hears that, driving down to her parents in a battered Skoda, on a fucked-up tape deck with speakers that fizz and rattle like a bastard, that she'd be mine. While she was on the M25, I knew that a huge black American man in a gold chain waistcoat was sat in the passenger seat, putting in a severe word for me - and keeping his hands to himself, mind - and then saying "Can you pull in at this Little Chef, please, love? Curtis Mayfield wants to say summat. And then Chairmen Of The Board, and a few others."
But then again, I could have filled the rest of the tape with traffic reports off the radio and recordings of my mates on the bog, and it wouldn't have mattered a jot. I'm sorry, Dionne Warwick, I love you to bits, but that version is the most perfect love song ever. By Boxing Day, she's driven across the country to see me.
Fast forward six years. The relationship has slowly and inexorably turned to shit. We're still living together, but she's threatening to leave on a daily basis. She sees her mates, I see mine, we meet up at the end of the night, in bed, not even touching each other. I'd say we were living separate lives, but that would imply that I was actually having one at the time. The last time we go out together, it's with some of my mates (who don't know that I'm in absolute bits, because we're all male and rubbish), at the Royal Albert Hall, to see - yep, you've guessed it; Black Moses himself.
He doesn't play The Look Of Love (and just as well - I would have to have been carried out on a gurney like Hannibal Lecter), but he goes into one of his trademark long introductions to a standard, harking back to the days when he was in black clubs, daring to attempt the whitest songs ever. And he talks about the One Who Got Away. The girl who he got involved with, and let go, and regrets forever. And he describes her. She's exactly the same as my girlfriend. And, as he goes into My Funny Valentine, I just lose it completely. Every bit of salty liquid in my body squirts out of my eyes. My mates look at me, in shock, and I grip her hand so tight I almost break it.
When we get home, I tell her everything. How much I love her. How I know I'm losing her. How I'll never get over it when it finally happens. And we have our last proper night together. I meet other girls, and I do them tapes, but I just cannot bring myself to use that song again. It'd feel like I was cheating on her, because if there was ever a song that absolutely nailed everything I wanted to say at one particular person at one particular time, it was that one.
And then two years later, a flatmate comes over and tells me about a girl at work he's besotted with, and he's promised her a a tape, and he asks me to help. And I peg it to the shelf, pull out Live at the Sahara Tahoe, and say "Side B, track one". They end up having two kids. I'm sure my mate did the bulk of the work on that, but I'm still claiming a tiny bit of responsibility. But not as much as Isaac.
I can play that song - fuck it, I'm actually playing it now - and can deal with it. Because after all, you love the song long before you love the woman, don't you? All I know is that, if there's any consolation to be had from this monumentally depressing bit of news, it's that I know for a stone-cold fact that wherever she is, and whoever she's with, she'll be thinking about me when she hears about it.
And I will always love Isaac Hayes for that.