I have tried and tried and tried again to write about music.
It’s funny, but I don’t feel like someone for whom music should be special. I am not musical myself, and I have never ever managed to find a genre with which I truly resonate. I am, perhaps, a musical butterfly. Maybe I don’t feel that I deserve the music.
At school, I didn’t really know anything about it. We did a Desert Island Discs project when I was in Year 9, and I remember asking if mine could be about books, not music, because I just didn’t really listen to any.
I wish I had.
The soundtrack to that part of my life has no music; only shouting and jeering and my own racing thoughts. When I am at my most distressed, I find it impossible to listen to anything, perhaps because my mind automatically reverts to that time when the only sound was of my own despair.
Music can be the most provocative, emotional, safe, scary, powerful, gentle experience. Listening to music – for me – is collecting memories. iTunes is wonderful in so many ways but I love it particularly because you can listen to the songs you bought in the order that you purchased them. If I need to think about a particular time in my life, I know that it is stored on my battered green iPod. I know that parts of my life will always be found there.
Music is special for so, so many people. We (used to) make mix-tapes for people we fancied (I imagine it’s been replaced with playlists now?); we plan music that we want at our weddings; when we give birth to our children and the music we want to be played at our funerals. Music makes us dance; makes us cry; creates bonds between people. Teachers use songs to help children remember things. Music is used to reconnect people with dementia with their families and themselves. We use music as a central tenet of religious practice, or ban it because its power is feared too great.
Just before my Dad’s fortieth birthday, Cher’s Believe was at number one. It was on Top of the Pops every Friday evening for weeks, and we used to dance round the Living Room with each other. My friend Rosie and I used to talk each other through supper to the sounds of power ballads. I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but my only real memory of my first month in hospital is Jess Glynne’s Hold My Hand. Listening to the songs that played constantly on the radio when I was first admitted to hospital more recently have helped me to come to terms with what happened. The more I listen, the more it feels OK; the less raw the memories seem.
When my Grandad was dying, listening to Fix You, Anything Could Happen and Candy on repeat helped make the endless, freezing bus journeys, which seemed to take up so much of my life at that time, bearable. My Grandad didn’t know those songs, but they remain a connection between us and somehow that feels very special.
In the same way, those songs are evocative of that time with my Grandad. Just by listening, I can remind myself of the roughness of his skin and the sound of his voice. The music conjures him back into reality in my mind in a way that nothing else can.
Music can be a connection between people. I share this with my class at primary school, and I wonder whether the same memories of our last days of Year Six are the same as mine, far flung as we are almost twenty years later. Superheroes ties my University cohort to the emotions of our final teaching placement, and we all share Candle in the Wind with Princess Diana and a nation’s grief. When I am lonely, I remember two things: first, that we are all looking at the same sky; secondly, that there is a pretty huge chance that someone else in the world is listening to the same song as I am, and thus I am not alone.
It’s like magic.
Music can take you anywhere and can rescue you from anywhere.
Don’t forget its power.