When I was 16 a CD changed my life.
The cover was a picture that had been ripped out of a magazine, you could see where it had been torn, and the tracklisting was written on the back in biro, artist then song, 1 to 23. Two words were written on the CD itself. You’ve Changed, this time in sharpie, underlined.
This handcrafted mix had a profound impact on me. It was given to me by my supervisor at HMV where I worked at weekends. My music tastes were sophisticated enough at this point (I would probably have said my favourite band was Interpol) informed mostly by television and magazines, or by friends who I played in a band with, or my teenage girlfriend. I had, and still have, an appreciation for radio friendly soft rock that comes from long car journeys with my parents. I love Crowded House, The Eagles, Ordinary World by Duran Duran even. Music like that puts me in the backseat of a maroon Ford Escort, staring out the window at the Perthshire backroads, whenever I hear it.
This was different though, it was like the older brother I never had passing me down some previously inaccessible wisdom. Scanning the tracklisting there were a few names I recognised from CDs I already had. I knew Belle and Sebastian, Lou Reed, Badly Drawn Boy, MGMT. I knew Bowie too, but I hadn’t heard Queen Bitch, so I was only really getting started with him. There were names I’d seen but never heard any music by, The Lemonheads, King Creosote, Brian Jonestone Massacre. Then there were the total mysteries. Flying Burrito Brothers, Elvis Perkins, 13th Floor Elevators. I couldn’t wait to get home and put it on.
A total sugar crush
When I say it changed my life I mean it. Not in a Natalie Portman playing New Slang in Garden State kind of way, in a manner both instantaneous and sustained. I’ve never been so electrified by a piece of music as I was upon hearing Big Star’s September Gurls for the first time, track one on You’ve Changed. The yearning, the sadness, the hopelessness, the possibility of redemption, all packaged in a total sugar rush of a pop song, with a guitar solo that coursed through my veins. I was a fairly passive consumer of music up until then, I’d get into things, get enthusiastic and deeper into it than most of my peers, but this particular mix at this particular moment opened up a whole new world to me and turned me into a full scale obsessive.
I’ve been thinking about this recently as we consider re-entering society after a year of mostly being housebound. One of the things that’s got me through this hell in one (admittedly damaged) piece, has got all of us through it, is art. The music we’ve listened to, the TV we’ve binged, the literature we’ve read. All of that. The songs you want to play again as soon as they’re over. The shows you spend all day thinking about watching the next episode. The book that you physically can’t seem to put down. All of that. These are some of the most important relationships we have, whether we actively create or whether we just consume.
Some of the best things come with personal touches. We all know how sophisticated the various algorithms are at this point, recommending us content based on things we’ve previously enjoyed or ‘liked’. That works for me as much as the next person. What I love, still, more than anything, is a message from a friend saying ‘hey – you might like this’. Because usually I do, sometimes very much. And quite often I find that bonding over music, or film and TV, or literature, in such a way brings me closer to people. And this last year has done the opposite of that, has created a distance, sometimes just a perceived distance, but often a real one, a gap between loved ones that grows and grows. So having those shared experiences can be a real tonic. These are unexpected gifts we can all give and receive.
Just let it happen
I’m having one of those weeks where I can’t really face doing much, for the second consecutive week. I don’t feel creative, don’t have any energy to exercise, don’t feel particularly good about the work I have been doing for the last year, and as much as you can try to fight the negative stuff sometimes it’s better just to let it happen and not dwell on it.
I think I need an extended social media break (a proper one), to stay in bed when I’m not working, just to ride it out and wait. But I’m taking joy from a few things, re-watching The Sopranos, reading books, and listening to music my friends are recommending, or in some cases making – Ed Dowie’s new album The Obvious I has been on my turntable for days now and is incredible. And I’m teaching guitar to my cousin on zoom. He’ll be 16 soon. Maybe I’ll make him a playlist for his birthday. If it has a tenth of the impact that You’ve Changed on me it’ll be a great present.
Preserved on Spotify
I’ve preserved You’ve Changed HERE, in playlist form. I tried it from memory first and was remarkably close to recreating the real thing considering it’s been over 13 years. I don’t love it all (I won’t name names, though), and I’d imagine we’d all go for a bit more diversity in the current climate, but the songs all have a special pull for me and some I adore. Hot Burrito #2, Moon Woman II, and September Gurls which I think is one of the most perfect songs ever committed to tape. I’m sure you all have a similar thing, or moment, that puts you in that place.