A Brief History of Music. A personal story.
(Originally a guest post over on Charlie and Caroline's blog)
I am not an obsessional person. Not usually. But if I love something I do tend to love it in a wholehearted manner. Things come and go, new fancies and follies, notions that pique my curiosity, fads, fashions and fascinations. But then there are the things that I am abidingly steadfast about, and here I would like to share with you just one.
Whenever I hear the strains of Madam Butterfly, or The Pearl Fishers, I am transported back to where this all began, to a 70’s kitchen in south county Dublin, grainy and yellowed in my memory now, wallpapered walls and cork tiled floors, and there, look, beside the dining table, in the corner of the room sits a woman, my mother. How strange, she has taken the children’s playpen and made a little place for herself, for her sewing machine and her precious record player, somewhere the children cannot go, and there she sits and sews and this heavenly music seems to take flight into the sunlit air around her, I can see the notes curl around her as her hands fly, making something beautiful for me to wear. And we children have the run of the house, sitting at the big kitchen table to paint, lying on a patch of sunlight on the floor making paper dolls, flying down the stairs on our bellies, and see, there we are in the garden, and she watches us through the window as we climb the apple trees, swinging for hours, making dens.
And forever that music is the soundtrack to my childhood, it has created a need in me to score each chapter of my life since then.
At nine or ten I discovered, hidden amongst Biset and Elgar an album called A Golden Hour of The Kinks, and another called Rubber Soul by The Beatles, and bowled over by songs like Victoria, and Norwegian Wood, I was off on a mission, discovering on further investigation and due grilling of my father, records called 78’s by people like Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, and so I worked my way through every album my parents had, realising that having five children had somehow necessitated them sticking to the calming inspiration of classical music! But here was a treasure trove of things I could never have imagined.
And then, I discovered Elvis Presley... My first crush. And it was as though I suddenly understood, somehow, in my young and tender heart, that music truly was soul food, and once you taste it you cannot do without. So without any further thought or interpretation, I gave myself completely to this compulsion that now consumed me, and my priorities became things like Top of the Pops on a Thursday evening, and magazines like Top, and Look-In, and so followed love affairs with Duran Duran, then Adam and the Ants, my bedroom walls papered with their posters. And best of all I found other friends who felt the same.
And so it went, I became lost in a world that created this extravagant visual film in my head, somewhere to escape to when the unhappiness of school loomed, and especially through out the dark years of my teens. I had allies. Music was my saviour.
I found The Smiths. And this man, Morrissey, held my hand through the darkest of nights, like the dearest of friends. And to this day I cannot listen to The Smiths for the pain in my heart it invokes.
And that, my friends, is something else. My wholehearted loving of the songs of a particular musician means that as someone who suffers from Nostalgia in a painful, heartrending way, I cannot relive a chapter of my life through it’s musical soundtrack. I cannot. Because music is such a powerful thing, and because it seeps into your veins, becomes part of the essence of who you are, your very make-up, I feel the loss of those times gone by, and all that they were.
All that we were.
So the songs we danced to in the kitchen with our first baby boy, the songs we sang along to on our trips to the beach when we had two toddlers, the songs that toddler number three played air guitar to at barely two, all wreak havoc on my heart.
And today, when I rise before dawn to grasp an hour of quiet before the day begins, before I have to become that nagging mother tied to school and car and laundry and cooking and caring, the first thing I do is open my laptop, select the music to begin my day.
And before I know it, I will find that my heart breaks when I hear Bon Iver, or Sufjan Stevens, for I will remember number four, little blond head peeping around the door, his hungry little belly rolling him out of his bed at this ungodly hour, his little arms around my neck, warm body curling into mine as we sit and watch the sun come up, sit and let the day begin.
And I wonder if someday he remembers these moments, when a song takes him by surprise and he inexplicably finds himself in a kitchen in a house by the sea, the sun creeping in the window, and a woman at the table.