New songs, old songs, memories, and crap Dylan lyrics
Sooo like I said last time we’re trying to build a new playlist. We’ve given two Rosanne Cash ones their first outing at open mic nights and we have a Roo Panes and a couple of Karine Polwarts up our sleeves, but we’re hampered by the fact that we’re both going to be spending most of the next two months in different countries. I’m also trying to learn some Joan Baez - partly in the vain hope that I might actually manage to accompany myself on one or two of them one day (if you heard me trying to play guitar you would laugh out loud at this point).
Listening to the Joan Baez songs - Nu Bello Cordillo (yep its in Spanish - no pressure then) and Farewell Angelina (which has some of Dylan’s WORST lyrics) I came across Silver Dagger. I hadn’t listened to it since I was 14 and it took me right back to my parents sitting room, with the ‘Radiogramme’ - my father’s pride and joy, like a sort of polished acoustic blanket box in the corner of the room. My father played classical records, Verdi’s Requiem every Sunday morning at a volume that would not have been out of place in an Emmerson Lake and Palmer gig. His position all the time my sister was a teen was that ‘pop music’ was a danger to his stylus, but by the time I hit adolescence a decade later he’d softened. So I was sometimes allowed to play my Elton John and Wings on the sacred Radiogramme. But the Joan Baez must have been something he liked. I think the record was my sister’s, left behind when she left home and played when she visited, because I remember it drifting through the house, not shut behind a door. Through Silver Dagger on spotify I heard my sister’s voice, singing along, and floating about in a home made cotton maxi frock. I remember how I felt too, oddly disturbed that, although she was bloomingly pregnant, she was singing along to ‘ all men are false, says my mother, they’ll tell you wicked loving lies’. Somehow that line was the foundation of a new kind of thinking for my little teenage brain, a beginning of seeing myself not taking a conventional female route in life (that, and my Mother constantly telling me that independence was the most important thing). I hear it now and it still gives me a shiver, a tremble in an old fault line.
Hillaire Belloc said that to write songs ‘was the best of all trades’. He was right of course, because songs have that power, to lodge in our hearts as catalysts for change, as inspiration or simply to capture a moment and put us right back into it. We could tell our lives highlights in songs. We can also tell different versions of our life-narrative - pick the sad songs and your autobiography is a tragedy, pick the ones you flung yourself about to on the dance floor and you have a life of triumph.
So just for fun, here are five of my life songs and the snapshot memories they bring.
True Love Ways - Buddy Holly. This is my sister again, pre access to the Sacred Radiogramme. She and my brother had to play their music on a reel to reel tape recorder. Tinny and bland but I can hear Buddy singing out now and see my sister in capri pants and a baggy sweater, and enough mascara to plug a major plumbing leak.
Video Killed the Radio Star - The Buggles. There was a cellar bar at my college at Cambridge that was the envy of the other colleges. A hotbed of leftwing radicalism, drugs, sex, boose and dancing. I wasn’t fussed about anything but the dancing, and three nights a week I bopped holes in my shoes. My best mate, Martin was a fave partner cos he didn’t care what he looked like on the dancefloor either - although actually, tall skinny and with an explosion of the reddest hair on the planet, he looked rather cool. I have this song on my shuffle and play it often when I’m running, and it takes me to The Kings Late Night Bar, and Martin (whatever happened to that gorgeous blond boy who always stood near the door I wonder, one of of ‘The Northern Lads’...ah!)
Under African Skies - Paul Simon. Of course everyone played this album TO DEATH. It was the theme tune of BBC parties when I was presenter for about three years. By the time my son was two in 1989 I’d almost stopped playing it, but we must have had it on pretty often, because one day, out of nowhere Joseph stood on the windowsill of our cottage and sang, word and note perfect, the first half. He must have felt that, as the song began with his name, it was his. I can hardly listen to it now without choking up. Even writing this my eyes are prickling. I can see him, little green top and teeny jeans looking through the window and singing.
Eternal Flame - The Bangles. I know it’s a soppy choice, I know. But the memory it carries is important and comes in two layers. It was hit when my daughter was born. And she was the cutest, easiest baby, a gorgeous little bundle and this song makes me think of that precious up-with-the-angels few days after I brought her home. The song came back to me years later too. I was swimming, quite a way off shore, in Greece, and my daughter was walking down to the beach to join me. I watched her walking, strong and well and confident. The song played again in my head and connected up that little bundle with this fabulous young woman, making time and life fold.
Now We Are Free - Lisa Gerard. It’s the closing theme from Gladiator, kind of a weird song as Lisa Gerard (who clearly has an ego the size of a major planetary system) is famous for singing words that she makes up on the spot. Normally lyrics are very important to me, but somehow the meaningless words here carry just what the title suggests. For me this is about freedom. I don’t play it often cos I don’t want to use it up, but I save it for moments when I feel most liberated, most free, when I’m traveling on my own. So it got played in Crete, watching the mountain and the coast whiz by from a bus window; it got played on the valparetto crossing to the Grand Canal, in the back of a jeep in the Garo Hills in N India, on the flight over the Amazon from Bogota and on the deck of a boat in Dominica. When I hear it it makes me think of all the journeys I still want to take.
So those are five of mine - there could be a hundred - but what are yours?