Friday, February 27, 2009

Mother's music, radio milk.

Being up into the wee hours of the night is awesome.

No two ways about it. Don't care how you got here, who you fought, who you killed, what pills you took that are lethal if you fall asleep post-ingestion. Fact remains, staying up, without wasting the beauty of all this dark on an assignment or project is... Lovely. Awesome, even. A word which is subtly falling out of favour, if you think about it. Script writers have panned it too frequently, and one senses its demise into the Word Graveyard. A grim place, the WG, containing hoary old timers such as "bodacious", an adjective which went out of fashion in '94, and -strangely- has nothing to do with Queen Boadicea. If it did, it would've probably survived. But I digress.

So yes, late-night/pre-dawn is still a magike time. Tis the only time when both dreams and nostalgia co-exist and correlate in perfect rhythm. And the music! Criminy! 1:19am, at least in this country, is the only time you find yourself capable of opening up the oldest version of Winamp you have stored on your 'puter, and putting together a list that you haven't listened to in a decade and a half.

Admit it-- if you were born in the early 80's, your go-to music still remains late 70's through to the mid-90's, with perhaps a few anachronistic numbers thrown in. This latter bit, of course, is a gesture: you tossing your head, exclaiming "Faugh! I am not yours completely, Good Sir" in the general direction of the powerful yet gentle golem called Memory who sits at your side, in the rocking chair that survives now only in your head.

N.B-- No clue why my present self uses Tudor English while communicating with my past self.

Growing up on FM daytime radio in Muscat, circa '95, all I heard was Foreigner. Roxette. The Stones. Eagles, and after the Eagles, Don Henley. Sting. Springsteen. And then, there was dad's collection he would put on in the evening, just before bed time. Him and I sitting on the couch, me falling asleep, him nursing a night-cap.

Some Glen Miller. Some Billie Holiday. Stairway to Heaven, on Zeppelin 4. Dark Side of the Moon. Roger Whittaker, live in concert. An Andrew Lloyd Webber collection, some Bruce Hornsby; José Feliciano covering 'Light my Fire'. Dionne Warwick, that 1985 production that had her only billboard hit 'That's what friends are for', though dad and I preferred 'whispers in the dark'. Tracy Chapman- Mountains o' things. Joni Mitchell, the 'chalkman in the rain' album.

When we moved to India, and I started staying up later with my own music, the tracks changed. And then came the Great Fall: torn, then badly healed ligaments kept me at home for about 5 months, during which time all I had was my Winamp, my angst, and a valiant pair of Bose speakers.

My mother was raised Catholic. What that means is, she spent those 5 months tuned into my music and my err, pain. Every song I played conveyed a message to her. I suppose playing 'Englishman in New York' on repeat would give away the fact it had become a personal anthem to anyone, but what was interesting was it didn't just stop with just the obvious. When I listened to Travis, she listened to Travis. And Pearl Jam. And Eurythmics. And System of a Down, fighting the need to mutter a prayer on my behalf all the while.

Mum never stopped listening from then on, in fact. Dad would only sit in if it was music he recognized. Can't blame him; after a time, you only want things that are comfortable to surround your senses with.

Hence long lost play lists, on outmoded software, at 1:44am.

My favourite times though, was when mum was left in the company of the music system alone, while I busied myself inside with the computer and dad was out. She would sneak a CD or tape on-- Harry Belafonte, Simon & Garfunkel or Clayderman, even. Mum loves piano music. And when the electricity failed, which was often, she would put a chair out in the balcony, and hum softly. My brother and I would sneak glances at her during these times, listening whether the sound came in digital surround or acapella-- don't think we understood what we were seeing then, just sensed its importance.

See, comfort music, like comfort food, is the music you grew up with. Which is why nothing makes me smile like Peter, Paul & Mary's 'Puff the Magic Dragon'. This is when names and lyrics suddenly turn up like names to faces in old photographs you had begun to believe didn't belong to the same life you lead now. And suddenly, you're right there. Right there. Scrawling down lyrics in the back of note books, forward-winding the tape to just the right spot so that when you flipped it and pressed play, the right song would come on. A-Ha's 'hunting high and low', Boys II Men's cover of 'Yesterday'. It didn't feel like pop music back then. 'I wanna know what love is' had this gosphel-soul sound in its chorus, and when that Norwegian-looking lead singer belted out those impossibly high notes in 'Take on me' you believed in love that linked souls across lifetimes and space-time continuums. Rocking out to 'You give love (a bad name)' with a fat yellow sharpie for a mic was fuckin' real, you put your heart and soul into it, grooving to that great bass line Jhnn-chh-jhn-chh-Jhnn-Jjhnn-jhnnn after the opening chorus. And when the Scorpions came on?


Man, I had my first spiritual revelations to 'Send me an Angel'. 'Winds of Change' reminds me till this day that the most awesome --aw fuck it, bodacious even-- thing to ever happen to me at age 9 was being told that my uncle was one of the artists chosen to paint on what was left of the Berlin Wall. And just like that-- it doesn't matter anymore, what words were exchanged, what silences were left to hang in the air like hungry gulls, whose heartbreak, which loss, who doesn't matter anymore and how redemption will ever be found.

These are the moments that never fit into Twitter, nor a status msg. This is where you come back, to find a years younger version of you, writing their name inside E. Nesbit books, playing at pirates after school (Tej, this thought is for you), getting their best friend to cut and style their hair, holding "dance parties" in their room by creating a disco using a much-maligned desk-lamp, pieces of coloured glaze paper, numerous casettes and a busted up portable tape deck, swearing that life could only get more awesome.

Doesn't matter if it's true now, or not. Because an hour or so later at 2:48am, 'You can't always get what you want' has just got to the funky keys and chorus big finish, and you realize that it is in these memories, kept coal-fire-live by sound bytes, that the best part of you still survives.

I call that a bargain, the best I ever had.