21st May 2018
“She was married when we first met,” Herself wanders by, muttering. “What’s that song, love?” I say, imagining all sorts of inappropriate gangster rap. And then I recognise the tune. It’s Bob Dylan’s Tangled up in Blue. “No, Tame My Lovin’ Blues, Mommy,” she informs me.
She knows what the real song title is but has decided to rename it. Questioning Bob Dylan is tantamount to sacrilege in our family, but I think even he would be on board with this one.
There was a time, as my marriage fell apart, that I stopped listening to music. Too much pulling on the heart strings. Too emotionally exhausting to be ambushed and brought from nought to tears by the simple fact of a Coldplay song appearing on the radio.
So I stuck to talk radio and discovered podcasts.
A friend who has suffered a terrible bereavement tells me she is finding it hard to get back to her daily walks; listening to music, which always distracted her from exercise boredom, makes her feel too emotional.
Currently there is a whole decade of my life the musical touchstones of which I find it tricky to hear. It makes it difficult when I listen to Kirsty and fantasise over what my Desert Island Discs would be. I will get there though.
Some of my work involves spending time in clothes stores, and it took me a while to realise why I was finding this quite so exhausting. Then it hit me; shops tend to play a sort of undemanding but wistful somewhere-in-the-key-of-plaintive love song as their background music. Tiring stuff to be around if you’re emotionally under the weather.
Of late, Adele has become something of a personal litmus test. I am quietly triumphant that I can just listen to her cover of that Bob Dylan song, no tears.
“You want her to have a normal childhood,” a friend said sympathetically recently. When I had calmed down from wanting to scratch their eyes out, I told myself that there is no such thing as normal, and that this person is also separated, so was musing from the inside on the things you feel, rather than judging from the outside.
As it happens, I had a childhood that was as two-point-four normal as these things get. Mother, working part-time from home. Father, office, grey suit, briefcase, sailing at the weekends. Younger sibling. Semi-detached house. The non-religious multi-denominational education was a little out there in Eighties Ireland, but all my friends were doing it so it wasn’t that much of a big deal.
And I can still pull up snippets of it instantly by dint of certain music. Nirvana or the Beach boys are family holidays in Kerry where the journey was parsed out in musical choices. Everyone was allowed a democratic one side of their cassette tape of choice.
Early Van Morrison is still my happy place, rendering up as it does visions of Sunday afternoons at home, the Father in the kitchen cooking, the Mother reading the papers, me studying at the kitchen table and the Brother pottering.
Herself has always ben a music lover; given that both grandmothers are piano teachers, and both uncles musicians it is hardly surprising. She has been belting out Elsa’s big number Let It Go in the manner of a tiny opera singer, con brio, since she could talk, complete with a stamp of the foot and defiant (imaginary) plait flick anyone who has been forced to sit through endless replays of Frozen will recognise.
So she’s constantly singing. The Mother has hot housed her into a love of Abba, the two of them can be heard a mile off as the car approaches, belting it out. Watching a three and three quarter year old earnestly crooning about being young and sweet and only seventeen is one of life’s great treats.
Herself and Daddy will often work through the morning routine of getting ready for playschool by communicating through songs made up on the spot off the top of their heads. He has sung her made-up ditties since she was a newborn, in the car they sing along to the Beatles, Queen.
She has her own made up language which she will bellow out with my future sister-in-law, another musician, making up endless songs. Her and her beloved former childminder Po do a mean Do You Want to Build a Snowman, and if she finds herself on the outside of a door with a keyhole she is quite likely to serenade you a line from Aw-nah’s big moment.
She and I dance often around the living room to Tom Petty’s Free Falling; she is continuingly, unfailingly baffled when Petty sneers ‘I’m a bad boy’. “Why would he say that?” She will ask.
The hashtag #makingmemories might be the worst thing the internet has come up with, suggesting as it does a sort of consciously forced creating of good times, which are instantly snapped and posted online.
But I want my girl to have the same well of good memories I do, instantly recalled by a song.
“Where did you get that one,” I ask of Tangled Up in Blue/Tame My Lovin’ Blues?
“Wrote it myself” she says with the twinkly gleam she gets when she is “playing a trick” on you. In fact, she has been listening to Bob Dylan in the car with Grandad, it transpires. They also duet on Mr Tambourine Man.
These are my touchstones too. The memories may be slightly different, but the point is the same. This is a child surrounded by love.
The soundtrack of her life will be the same.
Photo Credit Alex Blajan, Unsplash
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