Thursday, May 19, 2011

Songs that live in moments

Ever find a song encapsulates a moment or period so perfectly that it becomes permanently attached to, and defined by, that experience?

So much so that any time the tune reverberates around your head your internal sensory wiring transcends the present moment and connects to thoughts and feelings familiar and intense, yet distant.

In some ways it’s unfortunate for a song's meaning and enjoyment to be narrowed to a particular connection, but it is a magical way to experience music.

There are a few songs that seem to perpetually reside in certain moments of my past, continually inviting me back when I hear them. They are not necessarily my favourite songs - some I never play - but they all have their place for better or worse, and most of them involve women in my life. That's probably no great surprise.

Self-indulgent as this is, these are a few such songs that have that affect for yours truly:

Reckoner (Radiohead)
In Rainbows came out just before I jetted off overseas by myself for the first time. Sure, I was meeting a range of friends in different places, but I was getting around by myself and, for the first time in a long time, had no-one but myself to worry about.

New albums rarely grab me and establish their own place in my psyche so quickly. I listened to In Rainbows every day for five weeks, in small Canadian towns, large American cities, airport departure lounges and everywhere in between.

It may have just been the right time for something to tap in to my mood at the time – newly single for the first time in six years (and the first time in my adult life), and travelling alone outside of my home country. Compounded with variations of unfamiliarity, new-found freedoms and exploring a new world, this created a unique atmosphere. It wasn’t all good times, but I was experiencing life and beating out a new path. In Rainbows was my soundtrack.

'Reckoner’ was the track that stood up and floored me every time.

Four years on, listening to this song still gives me an abstract sense of the mental and geographical space I was in at the time, a wandering lamb, uncertain but unafraid, exploring with new eyes.

Heavy Heart (You Am I)
So let’s step back six months - the night the girlfriend and I called it quits on what had been a pretty solid relationship of more than six years.

It was as mutual and amicable a break-up as you're likely to find. I walked out of her apartment relieved that we’d finally done what had been coming for a while, but still it was the end of something comfortable, familiar and, overall, fairly positive.

Suddenly I was alone

I got in my car, put on The Cream and the Crock - The Best of You Am I - an album I'd been thrilled to find a few months earlier as I searched hopelessly for something worth using a Sanity gift card on - and skipped straight to 'Heavy Heart'. I cried. And I then I set off, skipped back to the start of the song and cried again.

A classic case of dangerous driving.

Jezebel (The Drones)
… And then a few months later I was a bitter, bitter man. This girl who’d been my emotional support for six years – and had asked me to stay friends – was gone when I most needed someone close.

I was - largely unfairly - angry. This newly acquired album, in particular 'Jezebel’ which got lots of play-time, tapped into my dark mood and helped me explore what was going on in my head.

We never resumed a friendship in any form, I’ve left behind the bitterness and I still quite like the song. But I don’t listen to it very often.

Just Try (The Dandy Warhols)
September 2008: travelling alone with a broken heart and no music. Is there a worse predicament?!

I should have known better than to a) let myself fall for a friend from another country and b) entrust m music-reliant sanity to a cheap iRiver. Seriously, I spent four days at work filling the fucking thing with music and it freezes on the way to the airport! I couldn’t even turn it off. Eighteen months later I realised the battery must have eventually died and I could charge it and turn it back on (it’s worked fine ever since, not that I give it much attention), but I was so pissed off at the time I left it in Australia.

As for the girl - a Canadian friend who had joined me in visiting a mutual friend from England - a week or so of outrageous fun in London and Southampton was just enough to (again) reignite feelings for her I thought had passed, just as she headed back to Canada.

The prospect of another 20 days tripping around Britain, but now on my own, had lost its lustre. I told her of my feelings and for better or worse, they were unrequited.

I was lonely and miserable. And if I had no-one to talk to or drink with, I damn well needed music

‘Just Try’ must have been floating around my head; in London, in York, in Edinburgh I sought out internet access just to jump on YouTube and listen to it, slumped forward with my elbows on the desks, an expressionless face fallen into my hands so that my limp cheeks pushed up into my eyes while I stared forlornly at the computer screen. And then I'd hit play again.

It was utterly self-pitying and self-indulgent. She was unbelievably cool about the whole thing. In fact it was nowhere near as awkward as it should have been, we're still friends and met up in Canada a year later. I just wanted some answers from someone about all the shit going on in my life.

Still love the song, and it does remind me of her and how I used to feel, but it offers some reflection rather than a sense of sadness.

More Than You Wanted To Know (The Panics)

Moving on.

My job at Dan Murphy’s was the most fun I’ve ever been paid to have by a long way. I left to embark on a professional career at the end of 2005, with unexpected feelings of sadness about a moment I’d been anticipating for 18 months!

I have no idea what this song is really about, but the lyrics just seemed to resonate with my sentimental melancholy of the time: ‘We’re all in line to go sometime / Only lives to tell it like it is / Always more than you wanted to know’, ‘Let go of some you’ve saved / Leave but don’t be no stranger / If you look in the eye of the one you’re beside / Ain’t gonna stop us aging / Are you lonelier?’

I seem to struggle with change, but have learnt it’s never as big or bad as you fear. Five years on I’ve remained friends with a few people I worked with there, and have some sensational, hilarious memories to keep in my bag as I walk on.

The three-parter
So a girl I went out with for six years gets two songs, but one I was friends with for just a few months gets three. That’s life, love and music.

Part One – Read My Mind (The Killers)
I don’t even own Sam’s Town and never really liked any of the songs from it… until one had meaning for me.

Sitting in the Carlton Club with sorting out a messed up situation of mixed messages, mutual feelings and incompatibility she offered me an earphone, explaining ‘This song sums up how I feel’. I still don’t know entirely what she meant by that.

She has exceptional taste in music, so I was a little surprised / disappointed to hear this initially. Lyrically there are a couple of absurdly relevant references, yet the song overall assumed a new character and sound for me. I listened to it a lot in the following days and weeks while spending far too much time contemplating this star-crossed infatuation.

Hearing it now (very rare), depending on my mood it either reminds me of the beauty of those unique connections between two people, or the pain of losing someone for reasons beyond either person’s control.

Part Two – Love Letter (Lisa Mitchell)
‘Take it from me, I’m a disorderly and you’d be off better writing someone else your love letter.’

The sound of the final nail in the heart. So beautifully sad. The reality that, sometimes, life trumps love.

I’d had a burnt copy of Lisa Mitchell’s Wonder for a few months, in preparation for seeing her at Splendour in the Grass, and enjoyed it well enough; but again, it took a real-life situation that aligned closely with this song for me to fully appreciate it. After a few months of back-and-forth, being pushed away and pulled closer, it was determined for the second or third time that it wasn't working.

'Love Letter' has been one of my most-listened-to songs of the last six months. On the morning after she told me she had to walk away because I was her 'weakness' (another message I never fully comprehended) I sat at the kitchen table before work, listened to it twice, and cried. I cried for what could have been, what was lost, with someone who’d inspired me like no-one else, cemented in me the self-confidence to take steps like starting this blog, and reaffirmed my place in the world.

Deride my manhood, but this is a tragically beautiful piece of music and lyricism.

It also now represents for me a time in my life that hurt like hell, but I never wish to forget, so I think I’ll always be fond of it.

Although, someone later informed me that Lisa Mitchell had been a contestant on Australian Idol. This almost ruined her music for me.

Part Three - Home (Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros)
This is a band she got me into. ‘Moats and boats and waterfalls’ was a favourite phrase of hers when referring to her small circle of close friends (her ‘family’).

Love the song, but can’t shake the connection to the girl. Not such a bad thing. At a broader level it stirs up some of those wonderful, promising feelings of security and comfort you find in a person every once in a while, and I had for a fleeting moment with her.

In recent weeks my reaction to this song has been ‘Get it off that damned ad for that stupid TV show!

Beautiful Day (U2)
All That You Can’t Leave Behind must have been released towards the end of my final year at school. I loved the album for a while and it got a lot of spin-time in my CD player while I studied for exams, as well as being all over commercial FM radio. ‘Beautiful Day’ was my anthem for the time, as I looked forward to a new, exciting, terrifying, beautiful life ahead.

I’ve hardly listened to the album in ten years. I recently rediscovered a couple of gems on it that I adore (‘When I Look At The World’ and ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’), but the rest of the album can stay in my past – we shared some good (and stressful!) times, but we no longer talk. And that’s okay.

Still, you can’t avoid hearing ‘Beautiful Day’ every now and then, and I guess that’s cool too.

Cotton Eye Joe (Rednex)
Let's finish with something upbeat then, shall we?

Definitely not one of my favourite songs, and I’m quite happy not to hear this one too often but we sure did play it loud and proud and incessantly for five days in Rye while celebrating the end of school back in 2000.

It was a bit of a party anthem for a bunch of 18 year olds for a while, but the novelty wore off pretty quick. It still gets a spin at a house party once every couple of years, and if a cover band play it in some shitty pub we’ll get into it jumping around singing along loudly like we did in November 2000, but that’s plenty enough.

One song I’m quite happy to enjoy purely for the memories I associate with it.

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