I have been called, from time to time, a music snob. This - unlike wild accusations I am a control freak, a commitment phobe or have a fuse the approximate length of my pinkie nail - is not without cause. I am, of course, a terrible, terrible music snob rarely happier than when playing a game of I Can Name a More Obscure Band Than You or These Are The Reason Why Echo And The Bunnymen Will Always Always Always Be Much Much Better Than Almost Anyone You Can Name. And yet I, like everyone has, have my musical guilty pleasures. Woe betide the poor fool trapped in a confined space with me if Dire Straits’ Romeo and Juliet comes on the radio, let alone the Choirboys’ Run to Paradise or (oh God) Run DMC’s duet with Aeromosmith Walk This Way. And the less said about Guns and Roses the better.
One guilty pleasure I feel particularly guilty about is Ben Lee. I don’t WANT to like Ben Lee. I don’t want to find his music catchy and uplifting and find myself cranking up Catch My Disease when I’m alone in the car, honest I don’t. But I do and I do. Hey, I can’t help it – I even find the fact that he’s about four foot nothing quite charming.
Now the couple of paragraphs up there and what I’m about to say right now might not sound like they have much in common. I might even sound like I’ve gone a bit segue crazy but, trust me, I am going somewhere with this. Because the other day I had a bit of a chat with someone at work. Someone new who I haven’t had a very good chance to chat to at all. I ran into her at the pub and ended up having one of those not-exactly-drunk-but-sort-of-shouting-to-be-heard conversations. And, although I won’t go into the ins and outs of it all here, it was a very bloody welcome chat. I had just been through a truly shit week at work and was feeling about as useful as a life preserver with a leak, while she seemed to be super confident, super capable and super, er, better than me. But, of course, once I’d talked to her it turned out she was feeling just as insecure and lame as me. So I walked out of the pub a bit later feeling definitely happier. Then I got into my car, turned on the radio and Mr Lee’s We’re All in This Together came on the radio. A schmalzy song, for sure. But because I was feeling happy and sort of loving towards my fellow man I cranked it up and felt wildly happy to hear it. Yes, I thought stupidly and incorrectly to myself, we really ARE all in this together, aren’t we.
It was a nice thought and the next time I heard the song I had exactly the same reaction. Like a welcome echo.
My point is not that Ben Lee is great or that We’re All in This Together is great but that music is great. I’m sorry to be so kumbaya about it all but music is actually one of the best things around. Being an athiest I wouldn’t go so far as Dr Johnson (I think it was he) who called it all of heaven that we mortals know below but bloody hell it’s pretty close. And this idea of musical memory is one of the best parts.
I have access to hundreds of little pockets of emotion every time I pick up my ipod or turn on the radio. Every time I put on Ben Lee I can remember how happy I felt to hear that song in the car and this is not just a one off. Every time I listen to old favourites I’m swamped by a wealth of memories, whether it’s memories of someone who was very sweet to me once and made me blush (Belle and Sebastian’s Piazza New York Catcher), the thrill of remembering the first time I heard The Smiths and thought I might have found My Band (Please, please, please let me get what I want), a very clear memory of one day when I was just walking home from work feeling about as happy as I’ve ever felt in my life (Wire’s Outdoor Miner) or the awkward sadness of having to give someone a lift home when you’ve just broken up with them at a party (Richard Ashcroft’s The Drugs Don’t Work).
Then are certain songs I know will pick me up (Phoenix’s If I Ever Feel Better) because I’ve listened to them when I’ve been going through a bad time and managed to muddle through. Others (most of Nick Drake for a start) contrarily make me melancholy because I associate them with those bad times.
If I had to make a choice between books and music I would always choose books. For a bibliophile like me that’s a pretty easy choice, but it would still be a painful one. For even though books provide entertainment and almost endless pleasure it’s only the best of them that offer the same visceral reaction music does: that wrench in your gut at a perfect hook or the blanket of calm at the first few familiar bars of an old favourite. With music you don’t have to think and you don’t have to summon the energy to move your eyes across a page after a hard day’s work. That’s hard to beat.