When celebrating their new year, ancient Romans honoured Janus, their god of doors, doorways, gateways, beginnings and endings. Janus had two faces looking in opposite directions, one to the past and one to the future. This seems an appropriate image for New Year’s Eve in the twenty-first century too, when we look back over the year that has passed by and look forward to the new year that we are entering.
I had my own very particular Janus-faced moment as I celebrated the end of 2010 and the dawn of 2011 last night. I went to the kind of event that seems to becoming increasingly popular on New Year’s Eve (or maybe it just seems to be getting more popular as my age increases): the non-party. The non-party is largely defined by the host clearly stating that it is not a party, but instead a small gathering of people who wish to commemorate New Year’s Eve in some manner but don’t want to go out to a over-crowded and over-priced venue. In all other respects, a New Year’s Eve non-party seems to resemble a small party: drinks; snacks; people; good humour; possibly some kind of entertainment/games. Last night, we had the double whammy of both Singstar and Guitar Hero. It was fab and the hours leading up to the chimes of midnight were happily passed in a mix of singing and pretend strumming. In the hours after midnight, the mood shifted as a few drifted off to bed. The plastic guitar with buttons instead of strings was traded in for the real thing, a genuine guitar. And so a good old-fashioned jam began: strumming; straggling lines of tunes we remember but lyrics we can’t; blasting out the choruses and verses of old favourites; lots of ‘Do you know…?’ and frustrated grimaces as people try to recall the right riff or the particular chords that seem to suit the mood as it ebbs and flows.
And in that moment, that moment that reflects millions of scenes that have been played out in numerous settings over thousands of years, the Janus-face of New Year really struck me. My mind went racing back to other similar moments in the dying hours of a good party; other similar moments in the small hours when you’ve stayed up all night talking and singing along to a guitar; other similar moments when you’re so exhausted that you really should be asleep but you don’t want to leave the comfort and shared bond of that experience. At the same time, my mind looked forward to similar moments that may (hopefully) lie ahead: similar moments with friends that you can’t imagine ever living without; similar moments with people you barely know but you don’t need to in order to feel something special; similar moments where people simply share words and songs and time together.
In my mind’s eye, I too was holding a guitar in those moments. I used to play & in my Janus moment, I stood in a doorway looking backwards and forwards realising how lost – how bereft – I felt that I did not have that skill within my grasp right there and then. I have simply forgotten how to play, and in doing so, I had forgotten how deeply such times of simple, authentic, genuine music-making moved me. And so in that New Year’s Eve time warp of honouring the past and the future, I found a task to occupy me in the present: re-learn the guitar. This is my main aim for 2011, the quest I set myself for the new year ahead. It shouldn’t be too difficult. The guitar is sat next to my wardrobe and I’ve played it in the past. And now I plan to be playing it in the future as well.