Lottery Winners Die in Southern Motels
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A Memory Tapes Playlist
I have cunningly (read: obliquely) mistitled this piece…
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to give the illusory impression it pertains to anything other than my musical memories and what stands out to me. The title, in fact, is not quite as clever (read: pretentious) as it might appear on the page. One of my more minor dreams is to have a collection of my favourite musical memories – those that have scored influential and nurturing moments – highlighted and exposed to the public. Others have different memory tapes that soundtrack a romance or a special friendship; others choose to represent a particular year in their life through music – the kind of songs, old and new, that held their hand and sticks in the memory. For me, I am a groove monkey whose musical ‘memory tape’ is less about specific events and relationships: my song selections start from my earliest years and come right near to the present. Each song has significance and has either helped me through a hard time or taught me something about myself. Going chronologically; my first-ever memory was, maybe, around 1986 when I would have been three (making myself feel old and decrepit!) and hearing the drum machine-heavy rush of Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World. I have told this story before but, on the off chance there are curious ravens swooping overhead; I will briefly recount it.
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That song counts as the most important in my life because it was the first thing I heard – or remember – and, every time I hear the track; I seem to transport myself back to that early family home when the walls were browner and the hairstyles had a three-foot-minimum height restriction! Moving through my early childhood, and two artists come to mind: The Beatles and Kate Bush. They are heroes of mine but, in the context of my childhood; they both opened my eyes to different sides of music. My family possessed ample stock of Beatles vinyl and had everything from their ‘red’ and ‘blue’ albums – albums that collated their earliest and later work, respectively – and Abbey Road; some Revolver, Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Not only did The Beatles’ albums blow my mind on an artistic front – the iconic covers of Sgt. Pepper’s’ and Abbey Road – but the music, somehow, took me back to the 1960s – when my parents were growing up around them and able to queue outside record shops for their latest gem. Even though Rubber Soul is my favourite Beatles album; it is their debut, Please Please Me, that stands aside. I will not recount its unique recording process – the fact all bar four songs were captured in an all-day recording session – but it seems to be on in the house/car during family trips to my grandparents.
IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
The shivering and scintillating harmonica notes (from John Lennon) of Love Me Do make me think of visiting my grandparents and those Sunday evenings where I was discovering the world and unlocking new scents and sensations. Songs such as Do You Want to Know a Secret (dodgy George Harrison vocal) and I Saw Her Standing There (fantastic Paul McCartney opener) are still in my mind and on my turntable. The fact my grandparents have been gone for over twenty years (or twenty-five) does not matter: hearing those songs bonds me to them and evokes all the perfume, off-kilter language and familial in-jokes many of us take for granted. Moving through ages ten-sixteen and, as mentioned; Kate Bush comes to mind. She is a musical heroine, for sure, and I even have some of her lyrics tattooed on my arms – the number of heads that tilt to the side on the Tube; futile in its attempt to decipher and recognise their origin – and her debut album, The Kick Inside, is my favourite of all time – many argue Hounds of Love is her best work but they, as you’d imagine, are wrong. Like many (including Caitlin Moran); my vivid first memory of Bush is seeing her in the video for Wuthering Heights; wearing a white dress (that looked like a nightgown) and spiralling to the sounds of her number-one smash. It was on a V.H.S. – maybe, The Whole Story?! – and I would sit down and watch videos from a strange, beautiful and hugely alluring musician (she remains my one and only musician crush). Bush is still someone who resounds in me – it was The Kick Inside that, yes, kick-started that passion; revealing a unique and sensual butterfly who went on to influence everyone from Tori Amos, Florence Welch and Nickelback (might have made the last one up!).
PHOTO CREDIT: Sam Liddicott
Primary and middle-school were hard, and so, music was a companion in every crush-addled blitzkrieg and rose-cheeked embarrassment; the cliques of the playground and the tape-swapping mastication of the playground. In fact, backing it up a smidge and Carole King seems to distil all my primary school experiences into one album: the mesmeric and peerless Tapestry. Like Kate Bush; Carole King’s vocals and sublime songwriting touched me deeper and more profoundly than anything. I was bullied through school and was a little slow, academically. Now, at thirty-five; I know a lot more, comparatively, than I did back then and feel I have come this far because of music and its comforting kiss. Songs like It’s Too Late and Will You Love Me Tomorrow? swam in my hippocampus and seemed to offer friendship, counselling and reassurance: a bespoke and multifaceted isotope that gave me somewhere to retreat and cloister my, sometimes, battered soul within. Music started to play a bigger role between 1988-1999. The last years of secondary school were heightened by the awesome club and Dance music that came out around the time. I had a good life at school but, against all the academia and near-scrapes with the headmaster; it was those music-fuelled memories that stand proud and noble.
IN THIS PHOTO: Carole King/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
One such incident saw a classmate take to a wooden chair – like Rommel saddling up and plunging into action! – and pump the kids up in delirium chorus. The song that blared out of the cassette player – it was the 1980s, remember! – was The Shamen’s smash, Ebeneezer Goode. For all its drug references and controversy – ‘Veras’ and ‘salmon’ slang for, well…not what you’d think – it was a banger that got us all pumped and together. Not only was our school fairly liberal; it was permissive of musical indulgence and the curiosity of children. I will talk about the song that, embarrassingly, seemed to define high school but, keeping it around the period; Dance music and popular hits fused and entwined. I was discovering Madonna and, with it, an empowered and bold female artist who taught me more about women and femininity than any textbook and hopeless crush. It was, however, a crush that ends the final memories of middle school. My late grandfather built a go-kart back in, I think, the 1980s and gave it to me as a present. It was black and you could pedal it; it has a stand on the back so we could get someone with a cassette player blaring as I/my friends pedalled. I was a bit smitten with a girl – who shall remain nameless; less she vomits at the mere recollection – and several artists helped me negotiate awkward conversations and innocent playfulness – when we would climb trees, explore woodland…and many other things Tom Sawyer would get up to if Huck Finn was in the mood for motivation.
IN THIS PHOTO: Michael Jackson/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Michael Jackson was a huge influence and, aside from his weird white gloves and his monkey (Bubbles); the wacky King of Pop was our lifeline and voice. Many happy days listening to Bad and Thriller beneath the carapace of a tree; a near-kiss to the strains of Smooth Criminal (musical irony and taunt at its most cruel and teasing); other pick-n-mix visions that made my childhood infinitely pleasurable and buoyant. T.Rex, actually, were those champions of the go-kart cassette player who taught me so much more about music. I remember listening to the anthemic rabble of Bang a Gong (Get It On) – subtlety plagiarised by Oasis on their hit, Cigarettes & Alcohol – and classics like Metal Guru, Children of the Revolution and Hot Love (a song that makes me smile like a child kicking Piers Morgan in the nuts). Britpop and its battles were the older boys that I looked up to and was fascinated by. Being in a state school in the South of England meant there was a healthy mix between those working-class peeps – such as myself – and the wannabe middle-classes who were both balkanised and galvanised by the Blur vs. Oasis rivalry. Songs from the legendary bands helped me through bullying and the first flourishes of depression. I became hooked by these emphatic and observant bands who were speaking for my generation – one finds few likeminded artists today who can truly represent Britain and give us all something to hold on to!
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I appreciated Blur for their clever-clever wit and Essex boyishness but was more drawn to the rugged rebelliousness of the Gallagher brothers and that constant spark. Albums like Definitely Maybe were vital sources of guidance and, as I started to discover Grunge in its late stages – going back to Nirvana and their earliest work – I was growing up around a mix of harder sounds that provided me with the energy and fortitude to withstand the vicissitudes of school life. The other artists – before I summarise the latter days and years – remind me of overcoming hard times and evoking crushes and cute times. In 1997, when a schoolmate died; I was searching music for assistance and a compassionate hug. The fact someone my age (fourteen or so) could leave the planet without warning and rationale was a dam breaking – where I changed from a relatively happy child to someone numbed by shock. The fact my musical icon Jeff Buckley – more on him soon – died that year meant I was scrabbling for reassurance and something uplifting. Odd songs – like Smash Mouth’s Walkin’ on the Sun – and familiar favourites provided the calories and sympathies needed to complete high school and ensure I was able to continue on. My broadloom and routine have been irrevocable shattered: music was the always-willing Muse who stood steadfastly and gave me that hug. I mentioned crushes and how they were scored: the Dance music you’ll see from my playlist were all rattling around my mind as I tried to win the most popular girl in school (without avail) and watched open-mouthed as a girl I was attracted to passionately made out with a friend of mine (what a prick!).
IN THIS PHOTO: The White Stripes/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
That song I mentioned, that defined high-school, was, actually Snow’s Informer. That might not sound too humiliating but, to me, it was the song that made me feel good and tied together the myriad highs, lows and beautiful moments that helped me transition into adulthood. I will skip over a large chunk of time – the playlist covers any gaps – but there are other artists/time periods that need mentioning. The White Stripes came into my life when I started university up in Cambridge and, against the daunting spectacle of spires and centuries-old colleges; the Detroit-formed duo was a satchel I carried and was able to escape in. The memories of The White Stripes are bitter-sweet and complicated. I attended a ‘sister university’ of Cambridge - but was allowed entry to the Footlights. Although I only performed a few times; I attended social events and, being Cambridge University-organised; they weren’t actually relaxed and free-flowing. Black-tie dinners and French brasseries; dinners of fine decorum – where I would hang around with a few mates at the end and scoop wine bottles from the dinner table – would mix alongside summer parties in the gardens of Queen’s College. It was during one such party – where I over-imbibed on Pimm’s; had to cook dinner half-cut and watched the latest Harry Potter film without passing out – I realised, although I was a working-class guy who felt daunted and out of place among privately-educated people; music was that leveller and ice-breaker. This was around the time Elephant was released (2003) and that and The White Stripes – their debut of 1999 – were huge favourites. A mate of mine, Tom, introduced the duo to me and it was him that compelled me to see them play at Alexandra Palace – a gig memory that was a bit of a missed opportunity and regret…
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It was Tom who actually shared my love of Jeff Buckley. The man is my music idol and, as I was acclimatising to life post-university and exploring the possibility of music journalism; I got into Buckley and all his magic. I, like millions, adore Grace (his one and only studio album) but it is the live album, at Sin-é (pronounced shin-aye), that stands out. I have chosen his version of Je N'en Connais Pas La Fin (the spirit of Edith Piaf watching over him...) for my playlist. I actually wanted to select his rendition of Yeh Jo Halka Saroor Hae (a Qawwali song by his idol, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) that truly embodies all Buckley was: that brave and divine spirit; the way he could tackle any language/song and, if you listen to the monologue that proceeds the song; the way he interacted with the audience (a small number of people crammed into a New York café) that made me idolise him – shed tears and feel distraught realising he is no longer with us. His music has taught me more about myself and the world than any other musician; a dedication and relationship that still informs my decisions and makes me feel I am doing the right thing. I have not mentioned why Soundgarden and Nirvana represent great memories; why Björk’s debut is so vital – the artist that turned me on to BBC Radio 6 Music and the album that got me my first appearance on radio…we are pressed for time, so I shall end things...
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Music is a vital cog in my existence and the reason I got into music journalism was through a then-friend, Kate, and how music helped her. She wrote a blog that detailed her life and love experiences and it was a particular band, The National, who we used to bond over. I remember talking to her about albums like High Violet and The Boxer and how she found solace and warmth in the words. That may sound odd – considering the songs were quite emotive – but it brought me to her and, from there, started my music blog. We are no longer in each other’s life – a jealous boyfriend stopped that – but The National’s music reminds me of her (Kate’s) writings and what we used to discuss; how she compelled me to start writing and get into journalism. I have made a decision to dedicate full-time to music (and move to Manchester) and she is partly responsible for that – as are some of the artists I vibe to right now. Between then and now; there is one other artist who has made an impact – one that many might not have heard of. I was one of the first to review Yorkshire-born Billie Marten’s Writing of Blues and Yellows when it arrived in 2016. I gave it a hearty four-star review (when writing for an online music magazine) and, aside from some foolish conclusions – I reasoned, falsely, Emily and Green were minor songs! – the songs within helped me through a difficult time in a dismal job; in a town I hated/hate, around people I felt uneasy and angry around – a situation I am still in (in terms of the job and the town) but am changing in the coming months...
IN THIS PHOTO: Billie Marten/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
It is one song, however, that had a huge emotive effect and helped me make decisions. Heavy Weather is a proudly delicate and passionate song that bellies her teenage years (Marten is, I think, eighteen) and one that fills my soul and makes me determined to make things better and plug on in life. My biggest hope is Marten releases another album this year – I will be one of the first to jump on that! – because Writing of Blues and Yellows was my favourite album of 2016. It was scandalously overlooked by the end-of-year poll-makers and did not even crack anyone’s top-fifty! Maybe that is a result of snobby attitudes towards Folk and young artists; let’s hope those journalists reverse their mistake and get involved with her sophomore record!
IN THIS PHOTO: Sam Liddicott/PHOTO CREDIT: Sam Liddicott
I will end things there – the playlist puts together songs that cover other years and events – but these songs, in their way, have shaped and guided my life from the age of three/four to thirty-four. They are the build-up to crushes and fumbled chat-up; the longing of youth and the discovery of new vistas and lands. (I haven’t even mentioned Steely Dan and how pivotal their album, Can’t Buy a Thrill, was to my childhood and reminds me of my aunt (who died of skin cancer); the way the songs connected and what they mean to me!). They are the fuc*-you to bullies and psychic bandages; the academic slackers and red-lipped temptresses that have shaped, for better or worse, the rest of my life. These are the songs, wonderfully, that will continue to influence my life as I tackle new careers, loves – let’s hope so! – and tragedies. All of the songs in the playlist have their place and short story; they are all crucial and irreplaceable and are memories I hope to hold…
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FOR the rest of my days!