Tell me, is your love in vain?

‘Are you willing to risk it all?
Or is your love in vain?’

It’s day thirty-five in lockdown, or maybe it’s day thirty-four. At this point that count doesn’t seem to matter anymore; I stopped counting after the second week, more or less. It doesn’t matter what day it is when the end is an as-yet indefinite number. Linear time feels less and less relevant to me, especially now that these lockdown emotions feel so cyclical.

I feel like a broken record, and it’s not just my inability to hold any conversation without any mention of Coronavirus that irks me. Some days I feel warped, unable to move past a feeling or a thought that plays over and over in my head; too heavy to lift the needle. It drags. Then there are those days when I do manage to get by, sometimes with a little surface noise—a snap, a crackle, or a pop—and other times with perfect clarity (thinking of something the late John Peel once said in response to the frustrating CDs vs. vinyl debate: “listen mate, life has surface noise”). I recognise that some of these feelings may be more personal and some of them will be shared. I guess the overwhelming feeling for me is that of uncertainty, though I can say with some certainty that I will not be alone in this.

There are many things that I feel grateful for. Right now, I turn to my family, my garden, and Bob Dylan—both literally and figuratively speaking. My love for Bob Dylan aside (I have been known to go on), I’m speaking more broadly of a gratitude for music. At this time especially, I think of how music has uplifted me. Have you ever taken it literally when Paul McCartney tells us to ‘sing a sad song and make it better’? Perhaps wailing incoherently over the top of “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” didn’t fix anything, but it sure-as-hell did feel cathartic at the time.

Music offers more than an individual emotional release, though: there is a communal catharsis to be found in music. Turning to live music, I think of the times I’ve peeled through layers of closely-knit crowds dancing together on sticky, beer-stained floors. I think of those evenings I’ve spent huddled together with friends and strangers in small basement gigs, peering over shoulders on tiptoes to catch a glimpse of a band. I think of the times I’ve struck up conversation with strangers in the smoking area over a mutual appreciation for the music. These are some of the moments I hold dear. And whilst you wouldn’t expect a sticky, sweaty basement gig to bring about the fondest recollections, they always do somehow. I’ve forged many a friendship through these experiences.

Music has the ability to transcend language and reach back into the deepest caverns of our senses, to communicate beyond words. That’s what makes it so difficult for me to express in writing the value that it holds for me, except that it enriches my life and my experience of life. It is deeply personal, but it can also bring us all closer together.

I feel a great sadness at the thought of losing any one of the small venues that nurture musicians and gives them the space to hone their sound. The sticky floor and the roof dog at The Windmill; the tiny basement and cut square tiles at Sister Midnight; the fake grass in the garden and the strange flowers on the ceiling of the Shacklewell, to name but a few. I would miss them all.

‘Will I be able to count on you?
Or is your love in vain?’

These lines from a Dylan song (which appears on Street Legal—the album that seems to feature in every record shop’s bargain bin, don’t ask me why) stuck with me all day today. I know it’s hardly a jewel in his songwriting crown, but it seemed appropriate for the sentiment. In these gloomy times, I want to express my appreciation for these places. They are beacons of light in my life, certainly, as I hope they are for others, too. I risk a lot of non-existent street credibility by pouring my heart out onto the page but my love is not in vain now, nor will it ever be. I will do what I can to support them. I do hope that if you love them too, you might consider showing them that love as well.

One thing is for sure: I will never complain about the price of Amstel again.

Tell me, is your love in vain?

Hiver, Shiver

I just wanted to say that, after some time spent away from this blog, I’m back! I’ve missed writing and I look forward to going on many more record hunts for Girls Who Wax in the new year. I’m still searching for that amp…

Sometimes, it takes only the simplest of actions to jolt your brain into recollecting memories that you had long-since filed to the back of your mind; well-loved scenes that play involuntarily and when you least expect them to. And so it goes that, while stirring cocoa with a wooden spoon, I no longer found myself in the kitchen of my London home; I was in Montréal, stirring cocoa in the pink floral mug that my flatmate and I would bicker over incessantly, all the while wearing two jumpers because of an icy cold draught that was invading our space through the small gap where my window refused to close for a brief while.

Reminiscing on these times, I sat on my kitchen chair sipping cocoa, being lulled by each recurrent motion: sip, dream, sip, sigh, sip. In Montréal, it wasn’t always the warm drinks that soothed me from the winter, but the sounds that I associated with home. In spite of the harsh cold and endless snowfall, I was warmed by evenings spent creating musical soundscapes that would bring me the feeling of home when I needed it most. Like putting butter on a cat’s paws, I readjusted to my new surroundings by playing these soundscapes. Over time, this quirky, small flat on rue St-Hubert became my quirky, small flat on rue St-Hubert, at least for a little while. Of all these artists that I would listen to in search of home comforts, Kevin Ayers remains the one that I return to time and time again. His sonorous voice, a distant lullaby, melted through the layers of hazy guitars and sung me to sleep on many a cold night. What will you dream of tonight, Lady Rachel? 

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As I found my feet in my adoptive city, its musical doors opened to me. Montréal quickly became a place full of thrilling adventures, musical discoveries and many, many records. And as I sit here thinking about Montréal, I think about the soundscapes I would create to bring back some of those warm memories. Especially on this bitterly cold evening. I’m looking for an antidote to these winter blues, but all I have is this playlist. Cue ‘Hiver, Shiver’:

 

Waxing Lyrical about ‘Horses’

 

I’ve thought long and hard about this, which album to write about here. Really though, I can’t say that I have had to think too deeply about it; I’ve known all along which disc I would wax lyrical about first. The one that I return to again and again; the one that I seek out for inspiration; first and foremost the one that I want to share with others.

Recorded by Patti Smith in 1975, Horses is a seminal album for anyone needing the inspiration to pursue their creative talents and to find their own voice. If you’ve never listened to this album- in full or in part- I would urge you to make a coffee, pull up a comfy chair and drop the needle.

I bought this album with my first bona fide pay slip when I was sixteen; I wanted to buy something that would be symbolic of my burgeoning independence. A few years before, walking down a hill on the way to a Chemistry lesson, a classmate had asked me in passing if I knew of Patti Smith. I hadn’t. At that time, I was still in the midst of listening to Bob Dylan’s entire back catalogue, hanging on every breath he drew and revelling in his lyricism. I had yet to reach the seventies and punk on this musical voyage. I spent the entire lesson passing metals through flames, watching them burn lilac, green and brick red, whilst pondering over this woman whose name I had heard before but never actually heard before. I ran home to try to find out more about Patti Smith- and discovered Horses. Whatever I had learned that day, it had nothing to do with metals.

Horses is the realisation of Patti Smith’s desire ‘to make a record that would make a certain type of person not feel alone.’ Listening intently, allowing yourself to be drawn in by the frenetic energy of the record, it does fill a void. Is it loneliness, or is it something else? Perhaps it is in knowing that there is an alternative to the status quo, another way of speaking, of writing, of creating, that defies the pre-existing rules that hold us back in our minds. Patti calls for us to break it up! and suddenly we don’t feel so alone in our rebellion. Unapologetically, she breaks down language and reconstructs it for her own means; creates a rhythm that harmonises with that of her own body.

What I should have learned that day involved flame tests and metal ions; what I actually learned that day involved realising the power of language to defy convention. I learned to listen to the rhythms of my own body, which were far from straight 4/4 time.