This blog tends to centre on cycling and MS. But there is more in my life, honestly! That’s where the ‘Everything Else’ section of this blog comes in. A sort of a catchall for all of the other activities and subjects that get me excited, get me out of bed. So what sort of things will go in to ‘Everything Else’? Some subjects will come up more often so it will be good to introduce these, starting with music. Nothing scientific, just what it means to me, perhaps a foundation for the odd post in the future.
A little background.
For me, like many people, hearing a specific tune or melody can really bring back memories. Joyful ones, melancholy ones, they are all there and can come right back in focus, clear as day. Personally, the impressionable age of seventeen marked the start of this.
At that age came a kind of freedom. Suede, PJ Harvey, sixth form college, drink, local concerts. A Sony Walkman. Tapes that I could listen to whenever I wanted. Teenage freedom, though, so home before midnight, still lessons at college to attend and not that much money from my part time job. It felt free, though. Sitting around in the sunshine, watching the clouds, thinking you were stressed because there was some homework that had to be done on time. Still, despite the urgent homework, there I was. Looking at the clouds and listening to music. Teenage freedom.
Age increased and so did the musical influence. Nineteen, the same walkman, university in France, life-changing. Suede were still there, and still are. I have to be honest and admit that Suede are my favourite band, absolutely nothing to be ashamed of! Elastica, The Breeders and others were making an appearance on my horizon as well. Twenty-three and I moved to Holland. Of course, Suede were still there. Radiohead were newer on my horizon. On my own in a flat in Amsterdam, trying to find my way, the beginnings of a social life in a different country. Feeling isolated sometimes, far from home. Yes, Radiohead suited that mood.
Nothing analytical in this. Just feelings, memories. Times associated with certain bands, certain songs. Sometimes these can narrow down to a brief but memorable moment associated with a specific tune.
There could be many such moments but I will take one where music almost created the memory just through being in the background at a point in time. Standing on the deck of a ferry heading to France to start a year of study at the University of Tours, I was listening to music on that Walkman. It was a tape I had recently bought, one of three I treated myself to to mark the occasion of moving abroad. Grant Lee Buffalo, ‘Mighty Joe Moon’. Think I had read about it in a borrowed copy of a music magazine. The second track came on and there occurred one of those moments that just seem to pass by but stick forever in the mind. A track called ‘Mockingbirds’.
A sad song, one about devastation and loss. To be honest, I wasn’t listening to the lyrics! Apprehension, a feeling of ‘What the hell am I doing?’, was dominating my mind on the deck of that ferry, moving slowly away from familiarity to something that was going to be quite different. Realising I was taking a risk and it would be difficult to run home. The mournful, sad tone of the song struck a chord with those feelings. Indeed, it struck a chord with the first two months in France. They were hard for me. Perhaps I should have listened more to the jollier music I had with me, lighten the mood. Logic doesn’t always work, though.
As with everything, there comes an upturn. The first experience of you stay long enough, things can look up. I started having fun. Some pretty life-changing encounters led to a move to Holland to be with someone who is still a part of my life, now as my wife. That song of loss, of sadness. It actually came to mean something else for me. What was a moment of fear was actually the gateway to a bigger place, a bigger world. One that I am happy that I found.
Individual tunes mark moments but they build together in to that soundtrack I mentioned above. The wonder of the modern world is that it is easy to make and curate a series of songs and tunes that mean something personally. This post is not about cycling and MS but they come in here. Cycling more so. I keep a playlist called ‘Rides’. I like to name the cycling trips after songs. Really not sure why. Not always and not scientifically. It does lead to a nice playlist though! Sometimes quite hard music, up tempo. Other times slow, relaxed, easy. Sometimes reflecting my mood on the ride. Other times just what is on the radio as I leave the house. A long playlist, twenty-four hours long! Something to jump around in.
From those it is hard to pick highlights but one time I had to. In a moment of slight craziness, I sent in five songs from the list to a radio programme on BBC Radio 6. Chris Hawkins on the early morning show. Five tunes at five to six in the morning with a bit of a story why, a section called ‘Five Before Six’. I sent mine in and, insanely, it was played with the full stories, very nicely read by Mr. Hawkins himself. I would love to post a recording of that here but long since expired and to explain each of the tunes and the reason why would need another post. Suffice to say, they each reflected something, from the need to push yourself hard to a feeling of fear about the possibility that my ability to ride will not last forever.
The tunes are listed at the end of this entry, for interest. A soundtrack that is ongoing and current. Just one of my ever growing collection playlists. Some with a reason or purpose. Others because I simply like the tunes, nothing more.
Music to Me Now
Not the most logical journey but we are getting up to date.
Living near Amsterdam and Utrecht and now with the money that I did not have as a teenager means that concerts play a big part in my life. There are limits, of course. MS hampers my ability to stay on my feet and sensory overload means that I frequently need to duck out, take a quick break. I love to be submerged in music but it can come at a cost. And the fact that my filters are cr*p means that, amongst the deafening row, I can be really irritated by someone talking at the bar!
I like to clutch at positive straws, though, and there are good things about my sensory filters being somewhat limited. Effectively, more gets in. Just listening to a tune is something completely submersive, there is always so much to pick up. ‘Only Shallow’ by My Bloody Valentine exists on so many levels, almost like five songs crammed in to one. And I pick them all up, eat them all. I am trying, in a haphazard and uneducated way, to learn more about classical music. I dread to think what an opera will do to my senses.
It is important to remain open to new experiences and make the best of what I have, take advantage of the limited benefits of MS. Now I have more time I intend to explore music more. Although I am not perfectly open-minded! Thrash metal? No thanks! Funnily, though, it has taken writing this messy post to remind me of the importance music has to me. Perhaps everyone feels the same. But this is mine. Definitely seeds for some other posts here…. Concerts, what a song means to me, discovering something new…..
I did not even mention that I was in a band as a teenager. But perhaps some things are best left untold.