'Ghost Town' was the first thing I reached for on YouTube when, earlier this evening, I learned of Terry Hall's death. When the song came out, I was eight years old, and although I never became a dedicated fan of The Specials there was something about that song that made its way deep into my consciousness as a child. I couldn't tell you with any precision the titles of a huge number of records released that year, but I can tell you how that one felt. At eight, I didn't have a clue about the way Thatcher was affecting Britain, but somehow, Hall and The Specials made you experience it. I remember being scared by the video, being completely unable to forget it. Something about the sound of the record, something about Hall's demeanour, too, made a big impression. I didn't know what that super-straight face meant, but the more I look at it now, the more it has a steadiness and a clear-seeing to it. Someone who was seriously, seriously, taking the piss. Out of everything. Who saw into everything. Earlier, I was watching Richard Herring's interview with Hall, recorded pre-pandemic, where Hall talks about the origins of his profound sense of defiance. I don't envy Hall's childhood trauma, but I do envy that deep sense of defiance and courage. It might have made him difficult to work with (if Hall's assessment of himself is to be believed) but it also gave him a real beauty. Most of us, myself included, vacillate, we lack courage, we stay in jobs or relationships out of fear. Hall, however, seems to have feared very little, to have known with a kind of bottomless sense of certainty, of who he was. Not that this sense of purpose was without cost. But that it gave him a kind of punk radiance: self-made in the best sense, in the way that Keats understands when he talks about the 'vale of soul-making.' Ska poet, one of my earliest teachers (as musicians can be, at their very best)--I salute you. Thanks, Terry Hall.
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