I haven’t thought about Sam for years. We knew each other a little at school, but in 1998, when we were about 17, we went on a school trip to Belgium and ended up sitting together on the coach journey there because we’d been assigned a room to share. So we started talking and became good friends for a short period of time – it was one of those teenage friendships where you’re inseparable for a few weeks and then you gradually fade out of each other’s lives and you end up never speaking again. That school trip was only a week long, during which time we were best friends, and although we hung out at school for a little while afterwards, we were doomed – we were in different classes studying different subjects and that bond just disappeared. I think maybe we’ve seen each other once since we left school, and that was longer ago than I care to think about.
Back then, though, Sam had recently bought the new Hole album on CD and asked if I wanted to listen to it on the five or so hour bus journey to Belgium. I said sure, so we took one earphone each. I hadn’t heard the album, but he was already obsessed with it, and one song in particular: Northern Star. So instead of playing the album from beginning to end, he started with track eight. I can still feel the shivers that slid down my spine as this beautiful, doom-laden, sparse but dramatic track full of sorrow and anguish and pain and fragility and despair that I couldn’t even begin to imagine consumed the very core of my being. It’s a song as big as the universe, as quiet as death, as haunting as love you never know – and even today it hits me just as hard – the gentle acoustic guitar, Courtney Love’s ravaged, heart-torn vocals, the dramatic timpani that crashes like a million hearts breaking, the tense build-up of the string-laden crescendo and then, just like our friendship, that abrupt fade to emptiness that ends it.