I was walking home from work the other day thinking about the ways that I am enjoying being surrounded by music and how it has been a major factor in the recent mood shift, increased hope and joy in my life, and possibly even affected my energy levels and fitness, and decided to write a post about it. Then my new (shiny!) MP3 player randomly played some Cat Empire and I realised that I could do this subject no better justice than to repeat the lyrics to one-Four-Five:
“Cos these three chords make people
Feeling better all the time ah
They keep repeating
Like a scratch on a cd
But it’s quality cos these three harmonies
Protecting against insanity
Of modern insecurities
Believe me when I tell you
All you need is to be hearing all that
One four five
To make you high to make you high”
The whole song suited exactly what I was trying to say, with a bouncy catchy beat, and a horn section. What better way to exemplify it?
But there is more to be said than simply “music makes us all feel better”. Let me take you on a journey…
If you’ve listened to my radio show then you may have heard some of this before, if so I apologise, and you should stop reading and continue listening to the show! (aside: the fact that there is a Cat Empire song to describe my mood fits the “there’s a Cat Empire song for every show, no matter the theme” rule).
I have an odd music background. My mother was an infants school teacher, who had a love for singing and musicals, especially Andrew Lloyd Webber. So I grew up surrounded by music that you can sing to. Nursery rhymes, Rolf Harris, lots of Play School in the early years and then Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Beatles and Elton John in my later childhood. Not very hip music, I know. The only saving grace was my father’s love for obscure early Moody Blues. Then in early High School came the Top 40 obsession as a way of not being quite so much of a social outcast. This meant I missed the early grunge music, BUT I did develop an appreciation for old skool hip hop, which is not so bad.
Then Thailand. Thai pop music is an interesting music genre, which really doesn’t change. I find it amusing that I can go into a Thai restaurant, have never heard the song and can still sing along to it. A theory I tested on my Cathay Pacific flight recently where the Thai Pop music channel was the only one worth listening to.
My real education in music started in 1996, with the people I spent most of my time with post-exchange. I was introduced to Beck, Weezer, Ween, Custard, the Whitlams, Esquivel, Radiohead, REM, and triplej in general. Happy music time, also happy life time, as if the two were interconnected.
Then around 2000 this stopped. My absorbtion of, and time spent listening to, music reduced to what I heard while while driving. And as triplej seemed to be playing more hip hop than I was willing to listen to at this time I switched to other generic stations, including AM (poor little Datsun, it didn’t have an FM radio). I was also too poor to buy CDs, so that avenue closed. Oddly this is the point that I started the downhill slide into a mild depression and the point at which I started to lose a sense of myself.
This continued until 2005, when I was introduced to a game that incidentally had a streaming radio station attached, which I started to listen to for the 7 hours a day that I was at work. All of a sudden I was discovering new music again: ska, irish punk, nerdcore, acapella, electronica, obscure tracks from well-known bands. Essentially non-mainstream music. I remember feeling a sense of happiness and excitement while listening to this music, but also, at a deeper level a sense of it being a bit of a life-line from a couple of stressful, depressing situations. The happy bouncy music was talking to a part of my personality that hadn’t seen the light of day for many years.
It then propelled me to start listening to a broader range of music again. triplej became my regular radio station, along with FBi. I started going to live music gigs. Then I was hired as a DJ and I happily spend a couple of hours each week sharing the music I’ve found with a wider audience, but also planning out what I am going to play them in my downtimes and paying attention to the music around me and working out what I’d want to play for others and what I wouldn’t.
Music was the salve for my soul late last year and early this year. Angry music with a bouncy beat sung very loudly while doing the washing up in my house by myself was perfectly cathartic and a great emotional release. Reel Big Fish‘s “Everything sucks” and Lily Allen‘s “Everything’s Just Wonderful” were the two most played songs during that time, and I think they contributed to the calm exterior that most of the world saw the rest of the time. Over time I stopped needing that sort of music and moved on to other happier stuff like Darren Hanlon, Old Man River and Regina Spektor. Although RBF still has a special place for housework related activities.
I bought an MP3 player while I was in London, which then got loaded with a bunch of music at a friend’s house. Many, many people have commented on how much happier and settled I appear to be since the holiday, and while a break from life, and the time spent with good, fun friends while overseas did help I think that this “soundtrack” to the holiday was also a factor. It gave a sense of imporatance to the time there, so that I paid more attention to the magic of walking beside wheatfields in Derbyshire, or of walking around Camden Town like a local, but not, or of travelling over the Firth of Forth. There was a bouncy purpose to my step and a smile on my face.
This has continued since, albeit reduced a bit, and I think that being surrounded by music again has a strong part to play. It’s hard to be sad when you are bouncing down the stairs of Parramatta station to the Fratellis, or dancing to the Cat Empire on Croydon station, or tapping your feet in time to Regina Spektor, or being uplifted by the Levellers, or giggling at Tom Lehrer. It all reminds me of how lucky I am and how much there is to appreciate in the small moments of life, as well as the opportunities that exist in the large parts of life. Hooray for the Cat Empire and their lyrics that explain this state, “cos these three harmonies breed positivity”.
So true, so very true, and let’s keep it that way.
Now, if only I could get this Morrissey song out of my head…