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Cadence: Changing The Rhythm

“It doesn’t feel like coincidence, you know. It’s more like the meshing of some weird gears,” says Jayne, gloomily. “Everything’s apocalyptic at the moment, like it’s all stuck in the wrong gear.” We’re sitting in the Rutland Arms, indulging in a mid-afternoon pint. I haven’t seen Jayne for a year, but she’s ranting like she’s never left off from last time. “My mum and dad are marooned by floods, the country’s getting all right-wing, my Facebook’s full of casual bigots. We’re bombing half the bloody world and then trying to stop refugees. What the hell’s going on?” Jayne’s mention of gears gets me thinking about cadence - cycles of rhythms. Cadence is why you know when the verse is ready to shift to the chorus, or when it’s time to change gear, even if you can’t hear the engine. Every situation has its own rhythm, and if you change the rhythm you change the situation to one that fits the new rhythm. In a roundabout way, it’s a law of nature. It’s why the climate is adjusting to our abuses, finding a new cadence, instead of just booting us out unceremoniously. We venture out of the pub and up towards Charter Square. Instinctively we link arms and fall in step with each other, reassuring ourselves that this simple, timeless act of human contact can protect us. We talk about our families, our loved ones. Heading along Wellington Street towards The Washington, we lengthen our stride slightly, pick up pace, and everything around us seems to change. It’s as though the infinitesimal reaction of the city to our treading on it differently is somehow amplified. A bit of energy and optimism starts to seep back into our weary blood. We’ve changed the cadence. I tell Jayne about Patti Smith’s memoir, M Train, which my wife bought me for Christmas. I read it during the Grim Reaper’s January sale, which claimed Lemmy, Bowie, Rickman, Frey, Wogan. It’s a wonderful window into a brilliant mind, but the insight comes from her day-to-day rhythms: seeking out decent coffee, taking polaroids, planning journeys, learning to live with the dreams and ghosts of her husband and her brother. “Talk about meshing gears,” I say to Jayne. Maybe it’s the beer that’s thinking for me now, but I’m on a roll. “Patti Smith and David Bowie have New York in common, and while she’s writing this book she goes to Tokyo and she’s reading the same Murakami novel that I read recently. Those three people, they’re each doing exactly what I was talking about – changing the rhythm. Introducing an alter ego, or a surreal parallel world, or living with the dead, just to stir things up and see what happens. And what happens is that they actually do change the world.” New York, London, Tokyo. People who want to change the world move to where the action is. Cities big enough to absorb a million stories, mashing up truth and imagination, spinning at many different speeds at the same time, synchronising with each other on stock markets, airport clocks and on the Internet. But what of smaller cities? People around the world still use Sheffield knives, so our city is part of their daily rhythm, but for how long? My generation will always dance to songs by Pulp and Human League, but they’re growing old with us. What comes next? New technologies are now called ‘disruptive’, and art is too. It’s the rhythms they disrupt. How long does it take the interrelated things, the meshing gears, to find a new cadence? If all the creativity in Sheffield can produce disruptions, do we get the credit – or the blame – for how things turn out? As afternoon turns to night, we wander back towards the railway station for a parting snifter among the transient crowd in the Tap. “We should do this more often,” says Jayne. I nod my head, but actually I’m thinking once a year is about the right rhythm for our friendship. )

Next article in issue 96

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