“I could do any job as long as I hear music.” Trevor Nelson
This year two of my favourite singers died, Bowie and Cohen. When Bowie died I was stricken. Tears flowed freely, frequently and for days. I was unable to sing to along to any Bowie song – my throat closed with grief. As Starman was given voice by a swaying crowd on a dank, drizzly night in Brixton I felt myself there, connected to a group of strangers by the love of music.
My throat constricted again as I tried to explain to my children my feeling of utter loss. I’m sure I didn’t manage it. They are too young to feel the way music wraps itself around the roots of your life. Too young to explain exactly how sexy Bowie was. Yet I know they will be fused to certain songs as they grow up and that those songs will have the power to transport, revive and fuel them throughout their lives.
Oh, and by the way, I fully expect to still be listening to my life’s songs into my 80s and beyond. I hope to be grooving along and growing old loudly and disgracefully, still wearing an essential black leather jacket.
Yesterday, that wonderful sway of a lovesong Dance Me to the End of Love played on repeat, looping and swirling around me, wrapping me in the growly tenderness of Cohen’s voice. “Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in.” – I could drown in the beauty of his lyrics.
Music and emotion are, to me, inextricably linked. It is freedom and it defies age. It captures your heart at a certain age and stays with you. My love extends from the hymns of my childhood (I was a church choir girl) to my early adventures in classical (Mahler’s Fifth and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet were my favourites).
My memories of my father are filled with echoes of him practising the base lines of hymns around the house – he loved to sing. Christmas carols reboot my memories of him – strong, powerful and welcome.
As I grew up I wanted to be Debbie Harry with her glorious green lace up boots on the back cover of Parallel Lines. I remember with absolute clarity spinning around in acres of space to the Smiths, drunk on cheap beer and joy.
A single song can take me back to an event or a place that I haven’t thought of for years to the sensation of club floors sticky with beer and jumping with abandonment. To a windy beach or a broken-hearted evening curled up on the floor devastated by the loss of love. I forget who I am now and remember who I was then and that’s fantastic.
I love ‘mum and dad’ dancing because mum and dad are no longer mum and dad, they’re 20-somethings in their early rampaging years (even if they do twist an ankle and fall over).
I still have a box of ravaged mix tapes with hand drawn covers and painstakingly thoughtful selections from friends and lovers - instant reminders of the days when a mix tape was the best present you could ever give or receive.
I love the beautiful poetry and rage of Nick Cave and the throaty, dime store tragedy of Tom Waites.
Equally I adore sharing a Wayne’s World moment with my own children belting out Bohemian Rhapsody in the car. When I got married, 150 much-the-worse-for-wear guests surrounded my husband and I and serenaded us with the same song. Hilarious and unforgettable.
I sing loud and proud in my car. I dance in my kitchen (in my apron, of course). Lily Allen’s “F*@k You” is a breathy, precise and delirious pleasure.
As I re-read this I realise the songs I’ve written about tend towards the darker side – it must be my mood today. But songs and god-given voices that make the hairs on your arms stand up, of course also bring unsurpassed joy and lightness of spirit.
Whatever your taste, whatever your age, a love of music should never be apologised for. It should be celebrated whether its AC/DC, opera, rap, Gregorian chants or jumping up and down to the Pixies much to your children’s horror.
Music is memory and emotion and creativity at its best and that is what life is all about. So get out the vinyl, resurrect the mix tapes and put it all on random shuffle. Above all, watch this video.
Written November 7th, 2016
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