Podcast Episode 3 - Jonathan Margolis on 'This Old Heart of Mine'

I often say that OneTrackMinds is about the songs we love, and why we love them. But this week on our podcast we feature a story from Financial Times journalist Jonathan Margolis about a song that he actively hates - and for good reason...

Here's a transcript of his story:

"The song which moves me, not exactly to tears, but to a kind of hollow feeling in the chest - a nostalgic pang so intense I can taste it. A temporary, but complete oneness with an evening a long time ago is 'This Old Heart of Mine' by The Isley Brothers. 

For me music is equal only to smell as a catalyst for nostalgia. If this could be an evening of smell sharing, I'd fill the theatre with the odour of Amber Solaire sun oil and try, stumblingly, to give you a sense of how that oily, musky odour conjures up the skin of my first girlfriend, a blonde - slightly underage, goddess from the West Country. We were on holiday in Torremolinos - we were both 15, so we were both underage... If Sally Newton - she's not here is she? No that would be something wouldn't it - if Sally Newton had an accompanying soundtrack, it would efficiently do the trick of taking me back, bag and baggage, to that hotel room heaven. But our time was 10 years before even the Sony Walkman had been invented. Back then your music stayed at home the you were on holiday. 

But one particular evening just three years later, very much does have a theme tune. And it's 'This Old Heart of Mine'. And it sends me unfailingly down a wormhole to Monday April 9th 1973. You think that's when I lost my virginity, don't you?

'This Old Heart of Mine' is a piece of music I particularly dislike. I loathe it. From a genre - Motown - which I despise. Which is fine because this was a very very bad monday. Even today, if I'm procrastinating by my computer, which I do quite a lot, I'll play a snatch of it on Spotify, just to get in touch with the weirdness of April 9th 1973. It's like that thing people  do - do other people do it? -  turning the headlights off on a dark country road just to see what it's like?

Why my brother Laurie played it on our Tripletone Valve Hi-Fi, I don't know. He had really good taste. He was a student at the Chelsea College on the Kings Road - he liked Van Morrison and The Stones. Why was he playing 'This Old Heart of Mine' by The Isley Fucking Brothers?

 Why the family was altogether on this Monday night, I've got no idea. Memory is very strange isn't it? I know my Dad - he was fifty then - was in the Middlesex Hospital for some tests. Nothing dramatic. 

Why my brother was drinking sherry at 6.20pm on Monday night, I don't know. It sounds like we were in Chatsworth House doesn't it? We were actually in a terraced house in Gants Hill, which is just a few miles from here. I doubt if anybody here has ever even been there. 

There was a phone call. But just before the phone call, something really weird happened. My brother knocked over his glass of sherry. It was an old - I don't know, my mother probably thought it was an antique, but it was just a shitty old glass. And he knocked it over, being an oaf. And the sherry went everywhere. And the glass broke in a way I'd never seen a glass break before - it was a complete circle, around the top. It was just like a ring came off the top of the glass. 

And then the phone call came. And here's another funny thing - I didn't take the phone call. My brother took the phone call. But I can remember the sound in the old GPO telephone. And it was saying, 'Mr. Margolis has had a heart attack. It would be best if you could come to the hospital really quickly'. 

We all drove in my grandfather's white Hillman Avenger, five of us. KLF 617K. Funny how you remember these things. 

There was complete silence in the car. Apart from that stupid, ugly, overly jolly song in my head. I made no connection with the fact that the song was about a heart, and my Dad had had a heart attack. It just didn't occur to me. 

We parked in Berners Street - it's still a parking bay. I went there the other day, just to check this out. We Financial Times journalists like to be very good on detail. Still a parking bay, just opposite the hospital, which isn't there - it's just a big yuppie development of some kind now. We went up to the ward.  I think I'd been to visit him a few days before. And a young nurse came out and said, almost as if, it was like almost a script really, and said 'Unfortunately Mr. Margolis has died. We did all we could.' She actually said, 'we did all we could'. I suppose they did. 'Would we like to see him?'. 

Now I don't remember my Mum going to see him, but I went behind the curtain with my brother. It was actually our second dead body. The summer before we'd found a very large, and extremely dead German tourist on the beach in Mas Palomas on the south of Grand Canary Island. So I'd seen a dead body before. But not my Dad.

I kind of had time to take it in. He was a big guy. He'd been a boxer in his youth. Not a particularly successful boxer, but he was a tough guy. But he looked kind of shrunken and yellow and cold, and his mouth had gone into this kind of shark like position which I... nobody sees dead bodies on a regular occasion, but something seems to happen with the jaw, it just recedes, and it kind of looks like a shark or a cat. 

I kissed his face and it was stubbly. And I remember thinking, I don't suppose he had a chance to have a shave, to prepare himself for dying. And my brother said something really weird, he said... It's funny how cliches are kind of coiled up somewhere in your brain, to come out at the appropriate moment.  And my brother looked at him, being five years older than me - I was 17 and he was 22 - and he said -

'Giant of a man'. 

And I was wondering where the hell that came from. He wasn't a 'giant of a man'. He was quite big, he was quite fat. But he hadn't really done very well, to be honest. He wasn't a giant of a man in any way, and even if he was listening now, I think he'd understand me for saying that. He just didn't quite come off. 

I don't know where my brother got that from. I asked him about it last week, and he has no memory of it whatsoever. He has no memory of anything... 

We were silent in the car going home. I remember thinking of all the things that would be different now. So many things. At about midnight I went to bed, and at about one o'clock in the morning, I heard a familiar sound from my mother's room, bedroom - or my parents' bedroom, next to mine. It was a little house. And it was of her turning on her electric typewriter. She was a journalist, she worked from home, and she had one of those golfball typewriters which none of you have ever heard of. And she was typing out a letter to a builder called Mr. O'Maloney or O'Mahoney. Just before he went into hospital for these tests - which didn't really go very well - my Dad had opened a new business, a cafe, which hadn't done very well. And there was an argument over the bill. Mr. O'Maloney wanted £6,000 for a job which he'd quoted £2,000 for, and had sent a bill for £6,000. And my Mum typed out this letter, and I heard her typing it, ripping pieces of paper out of the typewriter, and screwing it up. It was kind of displacement activity, I think her husband had just died unexpectedly, at fifty... 

And the next morning she showed me the letter and it was:

"Dear Mr. O'Maloney,

Thank you very much for your bill which arrived yesterday. Unfortunately my husband died yesterday evening. I like to think he died laughing at your bill."

The fabulous thing about this was that we did owe him £2,000. But we never heard from him again. Not a word was ever heard from the builder. Not a single word. 

I went to sleep eventually. And it was the only night I can remember of actual monsters coming at me in the night - green, cartoon monsters coming at me. Just waking up and thinking that it's all changed, everything is different. 

It was about 4 am when I made the connection, between that horrible awful song - which is probably a fair enough pop song, I don't know. I don't like it, but for obvious reasons. But I just thought - 'this old heart of mine, been broke a thousand times' - it's not the greatest connection ever, but when I put it together with the weird glass breaking, and my brother playing the song which just wasn't his type of thing. Why did it all happen? 

I don't know. It was just a very weird evening. April the 9th 1973. Avoid it if you can... "