A little while ago I wrote for Geeks Vs Loneliness about the playlists of your heart. You know the ones – the mood busters that get you shaking that ass across the kitchen floor.
This article is a little different. Still about what music can do for us when we are in a snit – but not necessarily in an obvious way. I’m talking about torch songs. Traditionally this referred to songs that sang the blues of unrequited love. I’m mangling that meaning a little for my own devices. Let me explain.
I suspect all of us here love the movies. All of us will have that film where that big song hits the montage and you feel it in your gut. Whether it is a fight scene, a moment of clarity or Darth swishing his cloak, there are images that imprint a particular moment, a particular time. Movie wise for me you just cannot beat that fist pumping, larynx twitching chorus of St Elmo’s Fire. That’s what I consider a torch song to be – for the big moments where the perfect accompanying song gives instant emotional clarity.
Let’s pause for a moment. Consider our own big moments, those defining times when something switches in ours lives and we find ourselves on a different and potentially scary path. And for that I have my own personal trio of torch tunes.
It kicks off rather surprisingly with what on the surface is a trite Take That ditty. Yup, The Woman In Black (aka me) admits that Take That became a bright spot in a very bad year. And that song is Shine. The cheesy video, the earnest pleading to take a good look at yourself and clamber out of the proverbial hole.
And in a hole I was. The career I’d worked so hard to build was crashing down in anxiety fuelled tatters and I was on long term sick leave trying to negotiate my way through an HR related minefield. I imploded.
So I was sat listlessly flicking channels when this top hatted little man skips across the screen in full gold and black ringmaster garb and it’s like subliminal messaging to my fractured soul. Yes, I told you it was cheesy. Everywhere I went for the next few weeks Shine was playing. When I felt anxiety crawling snakes up my legs and root me to the pavement I would let that bright gold urchin flash upon my inward eye and take a moment. Go get a coffee. Smile at the absurdity of a natural born goth finding solace in Mark Owen’s cherubic grin.
Fast-forward a year. I’m back behind my desk, nominally coping. The sledgehammer of my dad’s death falls and it is sudden and brutal. There are no words. There are only actions, reactions, paperwork, funeral homes. Meters to be read, a person’s existence in boxes.
But there is a song. A beautiful song that’s been edging it’s way onto my consciousness for a little while. It’s Invincible Girl by Bad Pollyanna. It is beautiful and sad and was written by singer Olivia Hyde following the death of her own father.
I have to approach this one with caution. I know it will provoke the perfect storm of sadness and reflection. But that’s okay – because sometimes that is a place where I need to go. Even a few years down the track I still need to grieve. I listen, I let it out. Then I look in the mirror and re-engage my inner super hero, fix on a (probably grim) echo of Mark Owen’s cherubic grin and face the world. No gold top hat or baton, mind you.
As I was just beginning to walk out the nightmare bureaucracy of death there came another crisis. And I’m not going to lie – I broke. The anxiety, the sorrow – it was overwhelming. The status quo couldn’t be maintained.
Bring on the catchy chorus and upbeat lyrics of One Republic. This is a band that had skated way beyond my terms of reference until I heard Counting Stars. And dear Thor in Asgard above – I love that song. Virtually every line became a mantra. Still is. Four years on I still sing every word as if my life depends on it. Because I did what people told me was the wrong thing and it told me that it was ok. I took that money (well, my savings!) and watched it burn. And for the sake of my emotional wellbeing it was the best decision I’ve ever taken. I’m never going to be rich or commercially successful but I live a quirky, creative existence surrounded by love – and that is priceless.
So, this is my trio of torch songs. The ones whose hooks have wormed into my heart at crisis points in time. The chirpy, the sorrowful and the determinedly left field. Not a bad way to frame the past few years of my life.
I’m wondering about you. Do you have your own tunes that have imprinted their irritatingly catchy chorus into the dark recesses of your mind, only to pop up and soundtrack events at random moments? Is there one tune that hurts but you have a time and a place where it is absolutely ok to play it (into this category I also add Evanescence’s My Immortal, Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt, and Emeli Sande’s version of Abide With Me). It can be sad, it can cheesy, it can be way outside your normal fodder – but it has some emotional resonance that you just can’t shake off. Perhaps I should have called them emotional support songs!
It may even have gold glitter clad boy band urchins in the video. They really can make the world a better place.
Thanks – as always – for reading.