Lost in Music

This morning, as I sat semi-conscious over my breakfast, the radio started playing a song. It was by a band called Ash, with whom I was once obsessed; the song was ‘Girl From Mars’. The song is still very enjoyable, and I would still class myself as a fan of the band, but for some reason, this morning, as I listened, the song threw me right back to the summer of 1996. And it was a little weird.

This is the album sleeve. For those of you who know what 'album' and, indeed, 'sleeve' means. Image: coverdude.com

This is the album sleeve. For those of you who know what ‘album’ and, indeed, ‘sleeve’ means.
Image: coverdude.com

I mean, it’s not like I haven’t heard the song at any point between 1996 and now; I must have heard it hundreds of times, and it’s never had any unexpected effects. So, I can’t really explain it.

Listening to the song made me feel – just for a minute – that the years between 1996 and the present had dissolved, and I was living in a strange bubble somewhere between the two timelines.

As freaky as this undoubtedly was, it got me thinking about music. Music is a huge part of my life, and I always have music playing as I write. Sometimes it’s the radio, although if I’m really trying to concentrate I have to put on a CD instead, because the talking on the radio can be distracting. But no matter what, there’s always something going on in the background. Is this weird? Do you, gentle reader, do this too?

It also got me thinking about albums that I’ve loved, and music that has meant a lot to me at various points in my life. Perhaps, actually, it’s not so weird that music I was listening to at a particularly emotional point in my history should throw me back to that state when I listen to the music again. As it happens, at the time in my life when I was first listening to ‘1977’, the album on which you’ll find the track ‘Girl From Mars’ (over and over and over again, because that’s how I roll when I like an album), I was having a hard time. So, the music is encoded with deep pain and loneliness, and perhaps this morning my mental guards were down a little, so my brain got sucked right back to that difficult time as I listened to the familiar melody.

I was working in a very full-on summer job, back in the summer of 1996. It was hard, and the hours were long, and the work was dirty and heavy. My parents booked a holiday – they wanted to visit my mother’s sister and her family in the United Kingdom, and my brother and I were excited about going with them. My aunt and uncle, and their exotic, grown-up, tall and fabulous daughters, our amazing cousins, were lots of fun. We hadn’t seen them in years. So, I asked at work for that week off.

I was told ‘no.’ I was told ‘If you ignore this, and go anyway, you won’t have a job when you come back.’ I was heartbroken.

So, my parents and my brother had to go on the holiday without me, and I was left alone at home for the first time ever. To some people in their late teens, this would’ve been the best thing imaginable; to me, it was horrible. I was so lonely, and I felt a little afraid at home by myself (I still really don’t like being at home by myself!) The only thing which kept me from feeling completely abandoned was the soothing sound of my then-favourite band, Ash, whose album ‘1977’ was on constant repeat for the entire week my family was away. This morning, listening to the song, I was that lonely teenager again. I was afraid in the dark. I was abandoned.

So, yeah. Heavy stuff to be going through before you’ve even had a mouthful of Bran Flakes.

Another favourite album of mine is ‘Five Leaves Left’, by Nick Drake.

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Even though I first heard this album in my teens, the memories it holds for me are all tied up with the hardest days of my first ‘real’ job, which was in an office by the sea. It was a very difficult job, and I was deeply depressed at the time. I was, probably, at the most unhappy point in my life at the time when this album started to mean everything to me. I had a portable CD player (does anyone remember the Discman? Anyone?) and the first notes of ‘Time Has Told Me,’ Track One on this album, bring me right back to the first deep breath I’d take as soon as the office door was closed behind me. I listened to it every lunchtime as I walked by the sea, trying to calm down and get back to myself, and I listened to it every evening as I made my way home.

Then, there’s ‘Grace’, by Jeff Buckley.

Image: jeffbuckley.com

Image: jeffbuckley.com

This album was played, at least once a day, for the entirety of my final year in college. I couldn’t study without it; I couldn’t concentrate unless I had the soaring beauty of Jeff Buckley’s voice somewhere close by. I still feel the claustrophobia of the old bedroom in my rented flat every time I hear a song from this album, particularly ‘Last Goodbye’. I’m not sure why that song affects me more than the others, but there you have it. For whatever reason, despite the fact that I was very stressed at the time I first loved this album, I still listen to it with huge pleasure. It’s amazing.

It’s a funny thing that in the modern world people don’t listen to ‘albums’ any more. They listen to random tracks, downloaded from here and there, little snippets of music which weren’t, perhaps, designed to be heard in isolation. People record albums as a whole, to create a feeling or a mood, to fit together as a work of art. So, they should be listened to like that, I think. I’m not sure whether teenagers nowadays would have the same emotional connection to an album, the way I did as a youngster. To music, yes; to particular tracks, definitely. But to an album as a whole? I’m not so sure.

What do y’all think? Is music important to you? Can you work with music playing in the background, or do you prefer silence? Does music get tangled up with memory for you, too?

Happy Friday, everyone. Hope it’s going well for you so far.

21 thoughts on “Lost in Music

  1. Kate Curtis

    Why isn’t there a ‘loved’ button? I love this post! Music and albums and memories! Yes to all of them. It’s a very rare moment when my home is music-less. I love music and it strongly affects my mood and the mood of my writing – I’m essentially creating a soundtrack. And I love how it resonates with people so differently. Like you, I tend to over-play music when I first get it, so I strongly associate some music with positive and negatives moments of my life. I can barely tolerate Dido’s ‘No Angel’ now because I listened to it during a really stressful time. I’m not that familiar with Nick Drake or Ash, but certainly Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’ is a beautiful album.

    Yes to music!

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thanks, Kate! I’m so glad you loved the post. 🙂

      I can’t tolerate that Dido album either, because of where I was living when I listened to it. It was played on repeat, too, not because I loved it so much, but because it was the only CD we had in the entire flat; we had no TV, and about three books (!) so there wasn’t a lot else to do but listen to Dido warbling. I can’t hear her voice now without being back in that stifling, filthy, overcrowded, rat-infested, horrendous place! Agh!

      I’m not sure how strongly I’d recommend Ash to a person who didn’t grow up in Ireland, but I definitely recommend Nick Drake. ‘Five Leaves Left’ is just gorgeous stuff. If you try it, let me know what you think!

      Reply
  2. anna3101

    I love music although I mostly listen to it like the modern teenagers, ie random tracks rather than albums 🙂 I have many songs that I associate with particular feelings and periods of my life and they are very precious to me. However, I cannot write (or do anything else) with the music in the background. My attention is where the words are, and when the words are in the song, I cannot concentrate on the words in my head. However, I enjoy the background music when I draw. It gives my left half of the brain something to do while my right part is at work 🙂

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      It’s funny – even when I was at school, I always liked music playing when I was studying. My parents used to worry that it would mean the information wouldn’t go into my head, but I managed to muddle through! Sometimes, if I need to concentrate, I find listening to music that I know really well works; if I’m listening to the radio, or an album that I’m not completely familiar with, I’ll find myself distracted by the music. But normally, I have to have something on in the background. Funny how people work differently. 🙂

      Reply
      1. Kate Curtis

        Sorry to cut in. Everyone really is different. I listen to music all the time. When I studied, it had to be more ‘background’ music. When I’m doing the housework, you can usually dance to it. And when I’m writing, it really does depend upon the mood of the piece. I cannot listen to radio because I don’t like talking unless I’ve intentionally tuned in to listen to an interview or something. Interestingly, no matter how serene, I cannot fall asleep to music.

      2. SJ O'Hart Post author

        I love falling asleep to music. Sadly, I’m married to a man who requires absolute silence! Them’s the breaks, I guess… When I was a single gal, I’d fall asleep at night listening to Led Zeppelin. True story. 🙂

      3. Kate Curtis

        No way! You couldn’t fall asleep while the levee was breaking, it’s the sexiest drum beat in the world!

        Any attempt I have made to sleep to music has been a disaster, I just find myself listening to it. Even when it’s as serene as Enya.

      4. SJ O'Hart Post author

        You’re right! I just love rock and roll. I’ve fallen asleep to AC/DC, Metallica, heavy Neil Young… the whole lot. It soothes my soul.

        Enya? Irritating, I’d say. If you want serene, I’d try Sigur Ros. 🙂

    2. Kate Curtis

      I find Enya mindless rather than irritating. Actually there isn’t much music I don’t listen to. Sigur Ros is strangely beautiful and cannot be in the same sentence as that person I mentioned in the previous sentence. 😉

      Reply
      1. SJ O'Hart Post author

        A-men. I’ve actually met Enya. She’s a nice lady, and I was a big fan of hers as an early teen. But not now. *runs a mile*

      2. Kate Curtis

        Laughed out loud. If it is not too cringy for you to hear, I still listen to Enya sometimes, when mindless is what I’m searching for. I still listen to and like (although, perhaps differently now) most of the music I listened to growing up. Except maybe Roxette.

      3. SJ O'Hart Post author

        Ah, I love a bit of Roxette, me. Brings me right back to my angst-raddled youth. ‘Listen to your hea-aart/When he’s callin’ for youuu…’ Except he never called. *weeps*

      4. Kate Curtis

        OMG stop it! That’s probably why I can’t listen to it – angst-raddled youth! Memories… Do I want to go back there!? 🙂 Nananana, she’s got the look… (and we both know there are a hellofalot more ‘nananana’s than that).

  3. anna3101

    Oh I love Roxette too! And I even have a couple of Enya’s songs I listen to 🙂 Whooo can say where the day gooooes? Oooonly tiiiime! 😀

    Reply
      1. anna3101

        It’s too bad you’re not here in Poland with me. My sister and I have invented a fabulous game some years ago. You’d be perfect to play it.

        It goes like this. First person sings a line or several from any song. For example:
        Ania: Listen to your heart, when he’s calling for you, listen to your heart, there’s nothing else you can do…
        The second person then should sing several lines from another song that includes one of the words that Ani sang. For example, the word “heart”
        SJ O’Hart: I’m walking down the street and my heart goes BOOM, in a minute we will meet and my heart goes BOOOOOM!
        Then it’s Kate’s turn. She picks up the word “Street”:
        Kate: I have often walked down this street before but the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before! All at once am I several storeys high knowing I’m on the street where you live!

        etc etc

        It’s such great fun 🙂

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