Updated: May 5
Are you actually going to write a book or just talk about it?
I'm reading a book called "Are you actually going to write a book or just talk about it?"
This is assignment number one. Start a blog. So here we go… I'm writing about the first thing that comes into my head.
Why do I love the ritual of creating playlists so much? It's the one thing that came out of me battling against my irrational fear of being judged as a yoga teacher that was so purely positive and joyous for me.
Music has always been a huge part of my life. From early mistakes when I thought taking up the cello, aged seven, was a good idea, to my home full of random instruments that come out on supper club nights when my friends declare their hidden (exceptionally hidden) musical talents. As a 5'2" adult, I'm considered a tiny human - even more tiny back in 1988 - so why I thought playing one of the largest, most cumbersome instruments in the orchestra was for me, I'll never know.
I used to shyly lug that heavy, wooden cello on and off the school bus, satchel slung over one shoulder, straw hat falling off the back of my head with its frayed elastic biting into my neck. Every time I climbed up those steep steps, lugging my wares, the bus driver would loudly sing, "Tell Laura I love her", enflaming the same baby cheeks the older girls would pinch, exclaiming my cuteness. Not one of them helped me carry that thing.
I took piano lessons with ratchety old Ms Hill in the cold, tiny loft room of my primary school - she was an absolute nazi of a teacher, drilling me on scales and slapping my hands for not holding my little fingers high enough off the keys. The woman didn't exactly inspire musical genius.
You know when you look back on your life and think what you should have, or could have been... I always imagined I'd be around musical types. Maybe part of a band; an essential, much-loved character behind the scenes, full of creative vision. If only I’d been born two decades earlier, I could have been a doe-eyed groupie for Led Zep; or even better, a music journalist for Rolling Stone magazine, flown around in private jets, drinking champagne out of the bottle. These would be my people - the misfits, the rebels, the bright ones. I imagine myself in an atmospheric New York bar, reclining on a soft, leather Chesterfield, moulding into the depressions of creative bottoms gone before. Smoking elegant, thin, black cigarettes and sipping on Espresso Martinis; lost in deep, philosophical conversations about life, art, music and politics. Ahhh.
At age twelve, I switched my cello for an easier-to-carry clarinet, which my musically gifted Grandma Elsie bought for me because she loved ‘Stranger on the Shore’ by Acker Bilk. Before I realised I wasn’t a nerd, I joined the senior school orchestra and attended Band Camp in the summer (yes, band camp, I still have the t-shirt), where I mostly perved at a young drummer called Dillon. Sadly, my crackpot, tea-leaf-reading, piano-playing (by ear) granny Elsie died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage during my final attendance at band camp and left me with a tainted memory of that magical, innocent time.
At home, I’d drum along to Jon Bon Jovi CD’s on the arm of the living room sofa, playing out my rockstar fantasies to a captive audience of one - my hairy best friend - Misty the Alsatian. As an introverted, only child, I spent a lot of time reading, feeding my big imagination with words. Books and music were safe places I could get lost and found. The promise of freedom and adventure at my fingertips. A life away from the disapproving, critical tongue of a Mother who resented my existence and a (short-lived) step father who barely registered it.
I would retreat to the room at the back of the house, overlooking the garden and blast out Gloria Estefan, Michael Jackson and Phil Collins on the HiFi. Adults, thankfully, no where to be found. Eyes closed, bass cranked up, beats vibrating though my bones. Feeling so alone and misunderstood, I was (and still am) an acutely sensitive soul. But I found a sense of connection in the rise and fall of the notes, the perfect, other-worldly flow of sound within the discipline of its melody. Lyrics I was too young to fully comprehend. The music enveloped me and made me feel that, one day, I'd be ok. I'd know who I was meant to be.
(Set this next bit to a sad song, something by Adele). As I was writing this last paragraph, I felt a tightening in my throat as a vivid memory clawed it way up from the carefully crafted cages of my broken heart. Around age ten, arriving home from school just in time to watch my beloved Misty dog being led away from my house and down the street by a total stranger. My (temporary) step-father had apparently had enough of her digging holes in his precious garden and demanded she be re-homed. Without even a mention to me, it was done. My tears and distress were dismissed and I can still to this day, 30 years later, feel the heartbreak in my body at that loss and betrayal. Misty escaped her new home once and came back to me, she burst through the dog flap and into our kitchen. We rolled on the floor in a mess of tears and German Shepherd fur, before she was cruelly taken away once again. That was the last time I saw her, and the beginning of my passion for rescuing unwanted dogs - but that’s a tail for another time.
When I hit mid to late teenage years, my introversion was replaced by false bravado, spurred into rebellion against the harsh way I’d been brought up. I got heavily into the dance club scene, which, during the late 90’s came along with mind-opening drugs. I was broken open and broken down all at once. From the hallways of a stuffy private girls school that smelled of chalk and expectations to the spiritual experience of a room full of sweaty strangers all dancing in collective euphoria, I was transformed.
This new obsession continued into my early twenties, where I found myself with a new group of friends to go with my new self-confidence. Wherever I lived, became the party house, YouTube DJ-ing till the early hours, my favourite line to shout out across the room, “Ooh I’ve got one!” as I kicked off whoever was trying to play their song to play my own choice. I surrounded myself with with DJ's, working in clubs. I spent two hazy summers in Ibiza, where I could be found leaping around in the back of DJ boxes of infamous Super Clubs totally immersed in this magical world of mayhem - marvelling at the musical maestros who could orchestrate such incredible energy with the flick of a switch. One song could elevate the mood to such heights it felt like we were flying. Smoke canons exploding to the drop of a beat, confetti bombs raining down on crowds of people with their hands in the air, ecstatic smiles etched on faces. I was still too self-conscious to try my hand at becoming a DJ, I wish I had.
Later, in my thirties and forties, I would use music and poetry as a tool to help people heal from a lifetime of traumas during my carefully crafted yoga classes, but I still struggled to shake the lack of self esteem I’d embodied as a young person and eventually I quit teaching due to the intense anxiety I felt over not being good enough at it.
Then came the festivals and wowzer, that sheer, collective joy - thousands of people bouncing, smiling from ear to ear. I get butterflies just thinking about it. Elbow played V Festival and got everyone to go low down to the ground during One Day Like This, leading an enormous Mexican wave when the chorus kicked in. Chase and Status at Glastonbury is almost impossible to put into words.. the utter elation and freedom you feel as the strobe lights illuminate the darkness of the tent to the beat of the bass. Turning to face your friend as you share a moment that can barely be described. Once in Cream night-club, I did actually fly. I had an out of body experience and watched myself from above pushing my way through the packed crowd in the courtyard - it was 20 years ago and I still remember it vividly.
I don't know that everyone feels this way about music. But to me, its as important as breathing. I could live without TV, but never without music.
I want to play piano beautifully, I want to be able to sit down and just bash out a tune from the heart without reading the notes. My Grandma could do that and I wish she'd lived long enough to really teach and encourage me. I spent hours as a teenager while Mum was at work, on my grandma’s little brown piano trying to figure out how to play my favourite tunes. Sometimes I did ok, but as my usual perfectionism crept in and I would eventually give up.
I know now that this kind of genius comes straight from the heart, it comes from less thinking, not more thinking. I learned that from teaching yoga. As much as it's important to be prepared and to care, if you overthink something instead of being guided by your intuition, it's never as fluid or as magical. The best musicians don't follow the rules. Tash Sultana, Led Zeppelin, Bon Iver... their music is transcendental. The divine doesn't come from following rules and reading sheet music. It just doesn't.
Music is healing, it allows us to draw together the broken parts of ourselves. The abandonment, rejection, loss, confusion and pain of life. Weaving together the pieces creates something beautiful. It creates common ground, connection and release and I’m so, so thankful for that.
So this is my first blog post assignment, I've waxed lyrical about something I feel strongly about, with no intention other than to start creating good writing habits.
So, tell me friend, what does music mean to you?