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.
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.
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.
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.