The soundtrack to my life

I followed an exchange on recently and listened to the podcast that followed. It was on music from the 1980s, the time when I was a teenager, from O-levels right through my university days. The people discussing the music were significantly younger than me and it made me think about the appreciation of music. I wondered if their opinions were based on how they felt about the music at the time, or how they felt about it now. Their ages meant they were likely in the same situation as I was in respect to music in the 1970s. It was there, I heard it, but it probably didn’t carry a lot of meaning to me at the time. Whereas, the music of the 1980s marks signifcant milestones in my life - ones that I remember and that I associate with certain music.

I started to revisit my LP, singles and CD collections to see what I still had from that era and potentially compile a list of my favourites. While I was doing this, it became apparent that there was music I actually bought and listened to in the ’80s, but also music from the ’80s which I have come to appreciate since. If you had asked me in the ’70s what I thought of The Bay City Rollers, my response wouldn’t have been favourable. Similarly there was music of the ’80s which I actively disliked at the time, but have since come to appreciate. Groups like Marillion and, most particularly, The Smiths. Back then, when my brother and his friends were wandering along the high street with foliage sticking out of the back of their trousers, I avoided The Smiths: I found their music quite simply depressing. Now? Now I love The Smiths. I guess my brother knew better than I did. Likewise he loved Kate Bush. I thought “Wuthering Heights” was screechy, though I did like some of her music. More recently I have purchased a lot of her output, having grown to appreciate it.

I think that understanding music and having it mean something to you has to be a very personal experience and is often informed by life events. It took me a long time to grow to like Wagner - I don’t think I really appreciated it until I went through a particularly dark period of my life, thanks to illness. At that time, Wagner hit a nerve and I started to enjoy long periods of listening (is there any other way to listen to Wagner?). Let’s face it, when looking at so-called classical music, a lot of composers were not appreciated during their lifetimes, only becoming popular after varying lengths of time. I don’t really feel too bad about changing my opinion on music after only a few decades.

So yes, I have changed my opinion of some 1980s music, having looked back on it, but there are some bands that I loved then and still listen to today: Dire Straits, Prince, ELO, Queen and Pink Floyd. There were songs that I danced to, songs that I smooched to, songs I cried to and songs that I played over and over on my trusty cassette player. I had (possibly still have) a tape that alternated Bizet’s duet from The Pearl Fishers with David Bowie’s Life On Mars. Over and over. Why? Because, just because. I also had a tape which had Saint-Saēns’ Third Symphony on one side, with César Franck’s Symphony in Dm on the other side. I listened to those every day of a three-year music degree. I still listen to them now, albeit less frequently.

I will no doubt continue to evaluate and re-evaluate music - after all it’s what I’m trained to do, but I also think it’s part of the human condition. Music speaks to people in the most basic of ways. Music can trigger memories in quite remarkable way and the human race is so very lucky to have that. My tastes will change and I will adopt and discard music along the way. Some music that I absolutely loved has been discarded because the memories attached are too painful. Maybe I will get back to it in the future, once the associations have faded, who knows. As it stands I have a lot of Oysterband CDs that rarely get played…