Monday, 5 May 2014

The tracks of my years

Lately, when I’m reading an article or a feature or an interview, I find myself analysing the writing - measuring my own against it and feeling pangs of envy at a particularly good turn of phrase. I can’t be sure - as I don’t unfortunately count any professional musicians amongst my acquaintance - but I imagine it’s a similar sort of experience for them when listening to good music.

Aside from feeling similar envy over another artist’s lyrical prowess, there must also be an element of technical jealousy – wishing that they’d thought to place those particular chords in that sequence, or could boast the same range in their singing voice. This shouldn't necessarily detract from the enjoyment of listening - or reading, in my case - but it probably does sometimes mean that they can’t quite concentrate on what is surely the most basic response after indulging in any art form – how it makes you feel

I’ve always considered myself a big music fan, but my own technical knowledge amounts to very little. Which is why for me, the experience of listening to music has always been very much a sensory one. I suppose that what I’m really getting at is something of a disclaimer - a music critic I most certainly am not, so please don’t expect any startling musical analysis.

The songs I talk about here are just a few of the ones that to me represent the amazing power music has to transport you back to a moment in time. Hearing them brings about some of my clearest memories, and generates feelings of anything from simple nostalgia to gut-wrenching misery to just plain happiness. 

New York State of Mind – Billy Joel

I count myself very lucky to be able to say that at the tender age of 21, I’ve already completed one of the most important elements of my ever-increasing bucket list. I visited NYC with my school the year that coincidentally, pretty much the entire world was in an Alicia Keys-induced Empire State of Mind.

This was far more than an extravagant field trip, though; this was my chance to actually set foot in the place that as anyone else who has been enchanted by American culture from a young age can attest, I already felt I knew so well. 

The first night of my stay, I sat on the window ledge of our Times Square hotel room and listened to this song, watching tiny yellow cabs shuffling beneath the bright lights below. A raging cliché, of course, but that’s exactly what was so brilliant about it.

People just jogging around Central Park...eating bagels for at Bloomingdales...they turned out to be not only real life occurrences, but ones that were happening right in front of me. Walking around New York City for a film and TV fan is the most surreal of experiences – such familiar sights now have these smells and sounds to match and finally, a fantastically tangible quality.

I went around all week experiencing a strange form of déjà vu - unmatched by any other place I’ve visited either before or since - where new experiences like ‘riding the subway’ felt simultaneously revelatory and completely familiar. Now, whenever I hear New York State of Mind, what I feel is a novel mixture of longing and satisfaction. Good old Billy.

Baby, I Love You – The Ramones

I haven’t included this track in an attempt to distinguish myself as a true fan among the Ramones-T-shirt-wearing masses, I promise. My knowledge of their back catalogue is pretty limited, if I’m honest. But I grew up listening to the odd track here and there, and this one was always one of my favourites. But it’s only recently  that I’ve learnt to love it again, appreciating it as the catchy tune it is, instead of hurriedly reaching for the skip button as the opening bars loomed from the speakers. 

It’s odd how a song you might have listened to countless times can become attached to the memory of just one singular playback. The one that resurfaces when I hear this now is of a train journey. This was a journey that at one point I made all the time, but aside from the one where I listened to this song they all tend to blur in to one.

I suppose that what really left the track and this particular trip with such significance is what I can now look back on as a delicious irony – as I listened to this cheerful love song, I realised an important relationship, though not officially over, was irreparably damaged, and unlikely to ever be salvaged. 

‘Baby, I Love You’ – it’s such an uncomplicated notion, and it was this simple sentiment which I could once have easily related to, in contrast to the messy and unclear present, that made listening to it so horribly sad. Plus, the lovely old man sitting across from me – seeing my sad little sobs and silently handing over a tissue – went a long way in restoring my faith in the kindness of strangers.

Don’t Falter – Mint Royale

One of my most unappealing habits is my propensity for repetition. I go through phases where I hear a song, and keep playing it without fail for the next two weeks, or as long as it takes 'til I’m completely sick of it.

I discovered this early noughties gem with Lauren Laverne making a (for me, anyway) surprise appearance on vocals a few years ago, and for a while it became my repetitive flavour of the month. It was also about this time that one of my friends went on holiday, and I agreed to pet-sit at her flat - situated a cushy stone’s throw away from the Thames. I went for solitary wanders along the river and as the end of my uni experience drew ominously close, ever so wankily contemplated my path in life.

This song is infectiously cheerful and optimistic and the enthusiasm must have rubbed off while I listened. I got back, set up this blog, and decided I’d make it my mission to find a way into the media. So every time I hear this song, as annoying and self-help as it sounds, I get this feeling of fresh starts and optimism and a renewed sense of purpose. Not bad for a little-known cheesy pop tune, eh.

Noah and the whale – L.I.F.E G.O.E.S O.N

My choices so far have been fairly self-indulgent and solitary recollections, which seems silly really, when one of the greatest things about music is quite obviously its capacity to bring people together.

In fact lots of my musical memories are collective ones. When I hear Soul Rebel by Bob Marley, I think of lying in the park on a hot summer's day with my best friend, and when I hear The Thrills’ Big Sur, I think of doing the very same thing, but about ten years previously. Hearing Destiny’s Child or Frank Ocean calls to mind some of the best times of my life, just living and dancing and sharing everything with my housemates at uni.

This song by Noah and the Whale will forever more bring about the memory of hearing it played in a muddy field, slightly woozy from the dehydration and cider, along with the general intoxication of being thrust together with thousands of smelly strangers in a field, all just there to have a good time. It was one of those almost perfect-seeming warm summer evenings, which looked like this:

The feeling that everyone around you is enjoying themselves is so infectious and I remember a feeling of contentment washing over me, in that particular way that only music can do. 

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