To all the albums I have loved before pt.2

I’ve been thinking about albums since my last post. Taylor Swift’s encompass a certain energy, they occupy a certain frame of reference for me. But there are others which sit in my psyche, which need unravelling, acknowledging and understanding: the albums which have a doubleness in their memories, the ones that I use to my advantage when I need a push, the ones I didn’t realise I’d avoided for years, and some which I’ve actively refrained from listening to.

I remember seeing Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and instantly playing the soundtrack afterwards in the car ride home. Now I listen to it though, and yes I see the film at a superficial level, the absurdity of the battle of the baguettes (if you don’t get the reference watch it again!) – I also remember that car ride home. The way that the album played as I desperately tried to prolong the silence between us. As I tried to drown out the unhappiness with humour, with noise. As I tried to halt the unsettling feeling of danger, as I tried to grasp onto that little bit of happiness, and forget what would happen once the car pulled up on the drive, or if not then, when I went through the front door. It was futile. Once the car ride was over that little snippet of happiness would be gone, and there’d be something I’d not done, or something that would cause annoyance, and I would be screamed at. So I tried desperately to bask in that little slither of sunshine before the darkness crept in. Now sometimes when I listen to the Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Soundtrack I remember that feeling of being suspended in superficial joy above pitiful sadness.

Sometimes the memories can be rewritten, or there can be a few that co-exist and depending on when you relisten a certain memory comes to the forefront. I sat one day exceptionally hungover eating pizza and chicken wings in my pants with my best friend and a colleague who was a sort of friend but had stayed awkwardly long once everyone else had left. So we ate pizza and watched Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Sometimes when I’m feeling happy I see that memory too, and I laugh at the image of myself, and the absurdity of the set up. Or I remember the times that my best friend and I would shout “ALEXA PLAY WHEN I KISSED THE TEACHER” in one of the lockdowns last year followed by “ALEXA FULL VOLUME” when we were finding things particularly difficult and just needed to smile.

When I go to the gym and I need motivation I listen to Tame Impala’s Currents. It transports me to a time when I would walk my dog as fast as I could around the woods near my old home. I would look at my Apple Watch with expectation waiting for the pace per mile figures to decrease, and the calories burned to go up. As the sun shone and Spring broke into Summer I would use my feet as a means to reclaim my identity. Walking and thinking, and listening. Taking control over my body as the weight of someone incredibly unhappy, incredibly lost, dropped off, as I walked faster and longer and felt stronger. As I walked and wrote snippets of poems, or a novel on the notes app, or replied excitedly to the man from Keith on my phone. As the feeling of my feet treading on grass, through mud, and soggy puddles made me feel like home. On the occasions – rare occasions – that I felt compelled to run it would be those opening bars of Let It Happen that would set my pace and The Less I Know the Better the one that would urge me on when I thought I’d fail and remind me of the sparkling friendships I had made as the world sunk into lockdown, and I broke free.

My boyfriend and I have talked about long lists of bands we’ve seen, and the big ones we’ve not made it to yet. For me, Coldplay is the biggest. A band I’ve loved since adolescence. When I scrolled on social media a few months ago and came across the announcement of their 2022 Tour I was ecstatic. I hastily screenshot the announcement and sent it to my boyfriend. That was it, we were going. I scoured the internet for presale codes and more information. I sat that Wednesday morning as the album presale opened hitting refresh on my browser window(s) waiting for the tickets to appear. Then there they were – YOU’RE GOING TO SEE COLDPLAY the confirmation said. Ritualistically I started to listen to their back catalogue like revision. These were the albums I would listen to over and over again in those few years between being a teenager and an adult. Albums I would list in my top 10 favourites of all time. Albums that, now I hear them in my 27-borderline-28-year-old ears, I realise it’s been over 5 years since I’ve heard them in their entirety outside of the occasional track appearing on a playlist on shuffle. I started with A Rush of Blood to the Head and as Politik started to play over my headphones I was unconscious of why it had been so long and then as it hit the chorus – open up your eyesand I remember.

I’m 16 and we’re driving to school, my brother and sister’s first, and then mine. I was sitting in the front seat of our, probably not road worthy, white rover 414. The interior was out of the early 90s, sometimes it would unreliably stall or shake or stop altogether, my Dad would look at me and laugh while Life in Technicolour ii played in one of my ears. He’d laugh even when the car rattled to a stall and the petrol gage sat at zero. As we pushed it together as far as we could and then began the half an hour walk to the nearest petrol station. I didn’t mind telling my teachers I was late, it was all an adventure. These car rides now, as Coldplay played along to my Dad’s voice as he shared snippets of his life before I was born, told me anecdotes of being a troublesome teenager, and pointed out the fish and chip shop he used to go to after school, are sacred. And until I started revisiting the albums of my youth, they had been unconsciously filed away in amongst a myriad of grief which focused more on remembering the big moments, and not the 20 minutes I spent every weekday alone with my Dad.

There are some albums that I more actively avoid. Albums from my early teenage years, My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade and Paramore’s Riot that bring me back to times of angst and misconstrued anger which fell upon two people that aren’t here anymore. I’ve listened to The Black Parade recently and I hear it now with a new perspective, that of loss and longing and a feeling of stupidity of wasting precious years being a fucking moody teenager and sitting with two earphones crammed in and ignoring everything else. It also brings back something more, an era of what seemed like insignificant moments which passed me by at the time, but now I can go back to that place as I sit with my headphones on, My Chemical Romance blaring, I lift up the thick black fringe which hung across my face like a curtain, blocking out the sunlight of the world and see and relive them all; the smiles, and jokes and trips out and all the things that were unsaid but were there in the gestures, and I hold onto them.

To all the albums I have loved before (Taylor’s Version)

“Pushed from the precipice,

climbed right back up the cliff,

long story short, I survived.”

long story short – evermore, Taylor Swift

How can Taylor Swift continually create albums that not only perfectly reflect how I feel, but come at the time when I need them? Red (Taylor’s Version) came out on Friday (12th November) just when I need a new album to soothe me as I navigate this new world and grapple with my past. I need an album I know that, in a few months, or a year, I’ll listen to again and I’ll be transported back. The knowledge that this will happen implies that I’ll get through it, and that’s what I need more than anything. This is a power that only an album has, with all the nuances between tracks, the hopeful, the sad, the all encompassing, only such variety can reflect a period of life.

There have been two times in my life where I have driven around places carelessly – recklessly – in an utter state of despair, contemplating a relationship I knew was not serving me well. Reputation came out in the first instance – it was empowering and female driven (Bad Blood music video anyone?) and made me feel like fuck it! I can do this! So I did on a sort of whim. I walked down the seafront of my hometown; the garish arcade lights blinking to my left, the sea an inky blackness on my right, the horizon perforated by the minuscule lights of what lay on the other side. In the air was Christmas which was a few weeks away and all that that meant; unprocessed grief, sadness, accusations, discomfort. I chose to find out what that alternative looked like, away from the garishness, the fakeness. I found out quickly that without the falsity there was nothing, and I didn’t have the strength to face up to all the obstacles that stood in my way, all the pain that I had to work through to conjure up my identity, work that I’d have to do alone, as I had no one. So I fell backward with little decision making. A few years passed uncomfortably, enter Lover. This fantastic moving image of happiness; of love; of laughter and friendship that I didn’t have. So I started to drive around again aimlessly losing myself in the songs wishing I could feel what she felt, starting to understand that what I had, I didn’t want. I didn’t really know what I wanted. Now when I listen to Lover I’m reminded of how that longing, that absence, is now filled: that I know what I want and I have it. I listen to Reputation and that courage, although short lived, it was that little spark that eventually saved me.

Then came Folklore like a beacon in the darkest of nights which I listen to when I want to be reminded of the process of falling in love. Not just a romantic love or a platonic love but a falling in love with myself, a finding out of who I am that enabled romantic and platonic love to grow. It came out in maybe the second worst period of my life when I had gone from someone suffocated, to someone completely unstuck and, now I realise, free. I first listened to it with my best friend as I drove us back from Manchester; our first trip away together in our new budding friendship and my first trip away as a single woman in years. My tears ricochet felt like my fight song, like the “I can do this!” anthem that I needed. Only a month or so later I would find myself listening to folklore with the man I met online, the man I had texted back and forth for months while we sat in lockdown unable to meet. He would then text me as he drove along the North East coast of Scotland delivering baked goods, as the sun cast the sky in an orangey hued pink as it rose, to say he’d heard one of the songs on the radio, and thought of me. That album encapsulates that transitionary period of my life so well, from so completely and utterly lost, to found.

Evermore came out at a junction in my life. Where I could decide to move onwards, embrace a new future, let in new people. I’d listen to Evermore as I showered at my partner’s parents house where we stayed for 4 months over the winter lockdown. I’d sit and soak in a bath three times my width as snow fell outside and all I could see for miles was white. I’d listen to Taylor’s words like poetry which held me while I contemplated whether I deserved this. How I deserved this. How I’d come to find a functioning family unit which I could let myself get into, I could open up too, when I’d thought all possibility of this for me was dead. For the first time in 4 years I had a good Christmas. When I listen to Evermore I’m reminded of that happiness that I let in, and that I should continue to open up to it. That I deserve it.

I guess the magic of Taylor Swift really lives in Taylor’s Versions and the ability to experience an album with a doubleness not only in the action of re-listening, but in the fact that it has been re-recorded and, the most powerful part, reclaimed.

I first listened to Fearless when I had my first boyfriend, I did an art project for GCSE inspired by Love Story in that weird sort of era when the Twilight films were out too and love was more obsession than the healthy supportive love I know now. I listen to Fearless (Taylor’s Version) as a woman who has a complicated relationship with love. It came out when I was alone for the final few weeks in my old house and I needed to be reminded of the love I had found while I was waiting for you to come and move in with me, while we waited to move into our new home together. A reminder of that romantic love that grows from something platonic and real, based on friendship and mutuality not power. When I listen to it now I remember that short period of time of solitude where I acknowledged the strength of what I had found, said goodbye to my old life and came to a place where I am safe.

Now enters Red (Taylor’s Version) when I have the strength, the foundation, and the support to work through everything. To decide what and who I take with me into this new chapter, and what I can leave behind. If Taylor Swift can sift through her work, revise, revisit and reclaim, then so can I.

Grief

I know myself that the third anniversary of my Dad’s death is not the best time to write this piece, it feels self sabotaging – self flagellation. Let’s pop open those old wounds, dig and poke around a bit until we get to a meaningful article, let’s use my own pain to write, and with every stroke (press of the keyboard but doesn’t sound great for literary effect) the wound gets a little deeper.

So why write this now? Why write something that I know is going to cause hurt, to cause pain, to bring up emotions on a day, when really, they can be done without. I’ll tell you why: because grief is an open wound – present tense. There’s no action of reopening, it is there, constant, present.
Grief is not a dull aching pain but sharp shooting moments of agony, of realisation, of longing, of not understanding. There’s an angry knot in the pit of my stomach, there’s vomit that creeps up my throat at the thought that death happened to you, that I will never see you again (sorry I can’t envisage some heavenly rainbow place in the sky), that all those memories, that life is gone. These thoughts creep out of the recesses of my mind, out of an inky void of blackness, in which there is nothing to fill – empty, gone.

Gone. What does it even mean?

I’ve seen it but I still do not know what it means. For 6 months I watched life wane away, from full moon, to gibbous, to quarter to crescent. But there was no new moon birthed in its place – just eclipse. Blackness. Nothing. That last phase was the hardest, watching you slip like a shadow around the moon out of sight, I could still imagine the sun being able to light up your eyes.

It’s been four years now. For a year this piece has sat, in the cloud, untouched. I knew it was there, sitting and waiting to be finished. For some sort of epic conclusion. Some hallelujah, some eureka moment of realisation – I am healed, the grief is gone! But it doesn’t exist. Another year has gone by, and I still feel the same. If not worse. As life goes on there are more opportunities, more situations that you should have been there for. More times I have needed you, in this last year more than ever. As the time passes, I change with it, the waves and tides wash over me, corroding and reforming anew in its place. It makes me wonder, would you really know me anymore? Has there been too much change? As the winding river of my life that you knew takes forks and splits into tributaries everything feels so different to what it was meant to be. This last year has been the most tumultuous, the most life changing. Maybe that’s why year 4 seems the most difficult of all. As I sat in an Edinburgh café with a coffee and an Eggs Benedict writing the opening to this piece, knowing full well that I wouldn’t be able to finish it, that it would be left discarded, did I think that when I next picked it up that my life would be like this?

No – but it’s also better than feeling like this:

“The worst part is when everyone else starts to forget, the first year, you get nice (unsure of the sincerity) messages “thinking of you” but as the years pass the day returns back to normality for the majority, it slips past without a blink of an eye. Here I am raw with the same emotions that hit me like a wave 3 years ago. It doesn’t go away.”

It doesn’t feel like that anymore. I’m not smothered into self-deprecating silence. I’m not isolated and ridiculed for my grief. I’m not made to think I need to “get over it.” I don’t feel like one of my goals for the year needs to be “stop being a cunt” because I’m made to feel like one constantly. Year four might be the hardest, but I’m not alone.