There's a man sitting next to me on the plane right now, wearing a thick, flannel shirt - the kind that means that you don't need anything else for layering, in most modest conditions. It's the all-purpose jacket, non-jacket. His ears are burnt to a crisp from being out in the sun for what I'd suspect to be every daylight hour for the last 60 years of his life. He doesn't seem to be paying for it at all. While slightly overweight, he appears fit and if there's cancer in him, he doesn't know it yet. The revelation will come soon enough. We're guessing that it will be in the ears, but it could be in the guts - a surprise to all of us who knew him so well. The man has hands that are as splotched with pink areas and parts of the skin that have been tanned so many times that they've just given up.
There are strawberry blond folics across the tops of his hands, down his fingers and his nails are farmer-long, with plenty of dirt from the fields or from machines that have been acting up lately - always at the worst times imaginable. He's a man whom you wonder, "How much does he have left in him? How strong are his hands still? Can he still do most of what he used to be able to do when he was a younger man or is he beginning to get discouraged by the deterioration of his body?" He looks like a man who worries about droughts, how much rainfall we've gotten this month and how his kids and grandkids are getting along. He looks like the type of guy who worries a lot and who would think that the best night imaginable would be the one where he's got a belly that's been well-fed and sleep comes early to him.
The part about the sleep is the only connection that this man and Louis Oliver Jones, the 21-year-old songwriter from Leeds - who writes under the name Spectrals - might have. The reason for this is because Jones seems to be on a bike ride that never ends, on his debut album. His is an existence that's rooted in a stoner's never-dilemma, in his feeling that everything's easier and lighter than everyone else said it would be. We float through his songs, likely the same way he floated through them when he was writing them. It's ideal entrance music for a man in his early 20s who's got nothing but cereal to eat in his flat, one pair of holey shoes and sunglasses that he never removes, as he enters the opening scene of a television sitcom, shot in the 1980s.
It's doubtful that Jones will ever have as tight and thick of hands as this guy beside me - hands hardened tough days and the manual labor that breaks a back apart. His hands will hold the strings of kites, flying through stormy skies. They are hands that gesture away offending words and block ugly glares from the sun. They will lollygag and they will dawdle. They will choose to write about fading days that are still so young to him.
*Essay originally published May, 2012