‘Let this be our annual reminder that we can all be something bigger’ – The Hold Steady
This time last week you were at Glastonbury. You were beautiful and invincible, smeared in facepaint and glitter, oblivious to dirt. Chances are you were (a) dancing, (b) having an amazing conversation, or (c) hugging someone. You were part of something.
That was just a week ago, but already it doesn’t feel real. You don’t want to forget the feeling, but everything’s back to normal now. Even the cold comfort of the comedown has come and gone. When you glimpse a glittery Glastonbury wristband on the tube your heart does a little jig, you try to make eye contact, you want to yell ‘me too!’ and hug them and make everything like it was, but you can’t. Not in the cold, cruel light of the city. Not on the Piccadilly Line.
It starts before you even leave the farm. The sight of tents being packed up on Sunday is accompanied by the sound of 175,000 tiny bubbles slowly bursting. For four days you’ve been under the sway of this incredible magic spell, transfigured and bursting with life. It hasn’t even occurred to you that you might like to have a shower or sneak a quick peek at your newsfeed, your reflection or your fantasy team. You’ve been subject to an almost inhuman intensification of experience, feeling compassion and camaraderie for every single person you’ve interacted with. You’ve seen a lot of sequins. You probably haven’t had a callous or self-serving thought since Wednesday.
But on Sunday, as the first deserters unpegged their guy ropes, thoughts turned to practical matters for the first time: train times, traffic jams, teeming inboxes… The deserters have eaten from the tree of knowledge. They remember what reality tastes like, and it isn’t Brothers cider and Goan fish curry. Already their souls are back on power saver mode. By the time they leave the site on Monday morning, the compassion and camaraderie are all but gone. Yesterday they signed up for Greenpeace; now they don’t even give enough of a shit to pack up their tent. Maybe they’re just bitter because they missed The Outhere Brothers’ secret set at the Underground Piano Bar. It’s impossible to say for certain.
What is clear is that, like everything beautiful, Glastonbury’s magic spell doesn’t last long. Perhaps that’s part of why it’s so perfect. The Japanese have a term for this – mono no aware, the beauty in the transience of things. It’s one of my favourite things we don’t have a word for in English.
Guy Garvey pretty much nailed it a few years back, during his introduction to some tedious new Elbow song that actually, in spite of being a tedious new Elbow song, felt kind of momentous when you listened to it on the Pyramid Stage, bathed in a golden Glastonbury sunset. ‘Let’s do these festival things together, while we’re all together,’ Garvey effused. ‘Top up your good faith in your fellow man for another year.’ It all sounds like so much vacuous Glastonbury cliché, but it’s true. Glastonbury isn’t just a party. It’s one of those things you do once a year to reaffirm your values. Like watching The Muppet Christmas Carol.
Every year I leave inspired, with a resolution in my heart: to be more compassionate, to be more creative, to give something back. For the first couple of days back in the real world I feel like I don’t belong, like I’m out of place. I make small talk with strangers and give change to homeless people (us Londoners don’t usually go in for that kind of thing.) It doesn’t last long – before I know it I’m the same old billion-year-old carbon caught in the devil’s bargain – but it’s reassuring to know that it doesn’t happen instantaneously. Some of us take a while to leave Glastonbury behind.
With any luck, some of us never will.
Not completely, anyway.