I have had my share of low-level angst and everyday heartbreak, like everyone else. At the age of 31, so far, I have had two Very Bad things happen to me. I mean the death and destruction bad things – the stuff that puts your life on hold for a while and leaves you a different person by the end of it; the oncoming meteor that comes from outside and you cannot control. Not that it’s a competition, but I think that puts me somewhere in the middle: I have been lucky in some ways and unlucky in others. I know there will be better and worse to come. But I am a completely different person to the one I was two years ago. I have glued myself back together.
One thing I’ve noticed – just for myself, but I have heard others say the same – is that music is only good for the small stuff. When it comes to romantic heartbreak, internal depression, the really bad days that need a glass of wine at the end – music is the best medicine. Music that is comforting and familiar, that reminds you that other people have been through the same and worse. Music that makes you either smile or cry or sing along.
This isn’t to be belittled. The time I listlessly listened to PJ Harvey’s Angelene on repeat for hours on end was important. Lover, You Should Have Come Over by Jeff Buckley remains in the marrow of my bones. So Far Away by Carol King makes me cry uncontrollably no matter where I am or what is going on, but in a good way, I promise.
But when the big stuff hits, music is out of the question for me. I can’t do it; I actively avoid it. On hearing reports of some awful family news, my best friend asked me, comfortingly, ‘have you been listening to a lot of Joni?’ (we both always love her whatever the situation) and I shuddered in horror. I just couldn’t even think about it. One evening my boyfriend put Neil Young on and I went (even more) mental.
On both occasions, it has been weeks verging on months before I have been able to commit the physical act of putting a record on. And only then after an experimental toe in the water of talk radio and then maybe graduating to a little bit of some generic drive-time commercial station. When I find something I can stomach – something that begins to make me feel better – I listen to it obsessively, clinging to this progress. All Your Gold by Bat for Lashes, this time, and then the whole of Cat Power’s Sun album. I scrawled a list in my notebook, alongside many others, entitled ‘Songs that could stop a person from killing herself’ and it began and ended on Sun. A big step next: The Future by Leonard Cohen and Darkness on the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen.
Eventually listening tastes begin to go back to normal. By this point, there are songs that I will never be able to listen to again, but that's OK. Eventually it will be time for Joni. I’m sure music always helps in the end.