Top Ten Songs – February 2018

I spent this month on trains going to places I’d been before and seeing people I’d met before but going mostly to places I’d never seen to see people I’d never met. It’s all a bit intimidating, isn’t it? The art of meeting new people. Within the space of a few days I’d heard my name said roughly one hundred times – “This is Ronnie.” or “I’d like to introduce you to Ronnie.” or “You must be Ronnie!” always said in a genial way that made me feel terribly grown up – I am being introduced to people!

And it’s not because someone said something incendiary about Brexit down the pub my friends want to see me fight or because someone has decided in their infinite wisdom that because a man has a beard he’s definitely the one for me. But it takes it’s toll – the constant uprightedness that you have to stand with, the persistent cool, calm and collected facade that starts to crack after the first twenty or so introductions and then the quiet storm that starts rumbling behind your eyes the moment you’re left alone and you realise that with that introduction you just met ANOTHER person who will have ANOTHER set of expectations from you, mostly separate from the last.

It starts to crush you. It makes your chest tight and your heart hyperventilates – have we got this, are we alright, what the fuck is going on? All questions that go through your head in these moments. Then I find myself, sitting on the train on the way home, cold and tired and sharply optimistic about the future and I have to remind myself that everything is going to be okay. And it’s a active act, the making myself forget things. I have a memory that many find impressive but to me it’s always been slightly more oppressive and constantly reminds me in moments of weakness of each and every single time I lost my nerve or my temper or the plot entirely.

So I take out those worries and hold them ever so gently in my hands, headphones on with these ten songs the top of the playlist this month, and I remind myself that I am not the same person now as I was then and all that watery self loathing I have for myself now, may very well be gone this time next year. I hold those worries in my hands, close my eyes and listen to the music that made this month manageable and, luckily, each and every time I’ve done this so far, when I open my eyes my hands are empty.

I need to take all the skeletons in my closet (cue for one of the songs on the list) and lead them out into the light where they can be absolved into the atmosphere. I need to keep the pangs of heartbreak, of sadness, of bitter remorse and injustice from boiling over and ruining my day. I need to remember to forget the things people have said to me that creep into my head when I’m feeling less than incredible and I need to actively remind myself that yes, my memory does sabotage me more often than not, and yes, it does drag the carcasses of my chaotic past to the forefront of my mind when I need it to do the opposite, but like all the other things that make me who I am – I am in 100% control of those memories and I can choose to ignore them, like I ignore so many other notions or habits that used to dictate who I could and could not be.

So, one phrase to describe February?

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I’m going to tell you a secret. Do you want to know my secret? Of course you do! It’s a doozy too – I haven’t sex in quite a long time. And it’s not that moments haven’t occurred during that time when sex could have happened, it’s all a little darker and more intricate than that. The truth is – I just don’t feel all that…sexy *cringe* at the moment. Standard knocks that come from reconciling a horrible break up, sure but also because when I look in the mirror at the moment I don’t really know who it is looking back at me and therefore I find myself awkward and frightened in situations that used to be my forte. Evolution? Perhaps. Certainly not using sexual encounters as validation is helping me function on a more honest and responsible plain but there’s an awful lot of fire that used to come from those encounters that I now seem to be missing.

But when this song comes on, with it’s strong, drawn out chords and rock hard pain, I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I feel passionate by association. I listen to this song on my way home when I’m feeling anything but sexually aware and I close my eyes, lean my head against the window of the train and imagine someones mouth trailing my neck, someones teeth biting my bottom lip and someones heart tearing itself apart at the thought of not being able to have me and it makes that fire flicker in the most important parts of my body and reminds me that when I’m ready – I’ll be ready.

The song builds up to a roar that, though sad, pulls my mouth into a swollen smile and reminds me that I don’t have to be everything all at once all of the time, and that sometimes, taking a step back from the things that bring you joy to return to them when you’re ready only heightens the ecstasy. I look forward to maybe, one day, being able to listen to this song on the other side of the fence and remember when it kept that fire burning way down deep inside me.

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“My blood will curdle but stir like cream
You’re my undoing and my sweetest dream
So come on, treat me mean
My words will gutter like bowling balls
One word from you my world falls
So come on, treat me mean.”

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However different we think we all are, something we all have in common is our desire to set the world on fire. We measure our successes and our failures against their aftermath, whether positive or negative, and we measure ourselves by those ramifications whether we want to or not. And we’ve all been guilty of doing this in the pursuit of love. Hanging round with someone, hoping that they’ll see you the way you see them or that one day the penny will drop and that they’ll realize that what they’ve wanted was there all along.

When I listen to this song, safe in the knowledge that I have the capacity for tremendous love, I think about all those failed endeavors – not just romantically – where I stood, matches in hand, waiting patiently for something, anything, to catch fire. I’ve been obsessed with this album since it came out three or four years ago and it remains my all time favorite Chuck Ragan installment. The album is called Till Midnight and this song, along with Non Typical and Vagabond, have been played over and over again this month, a steady, gravelly voiced reminder than within me I have the same power that Chuck smothers his lyrics with.

The song should be about destruction, right? But I never heard it that way. I always heard the potential in this song to literally throw yourself into something, or at someone, with such force that something catches fire. It’s about giving it, whatever ever “it” is, all that you’ve got and knowing that if you spark hard enough for something – it’ll catch fire. It’s energy and it’s endurance and it’s encouragement and it’s everything I needed this month.

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“We can do some damage, ‘fore the hour’s handed
Over to us baby, shake it up and maybe
Something may, something may catch fire.”

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Boredom. It’s the enemy, right? I crave boredom lately. I’m busier now than I’ve ever been between raising an eight year old with all the beautiful complications that co-parenting brings, working full time to turn a restaurant around and make my mark in the management world, balancing my bank balance against gig season, mainlining coffee to stay awake, going to meetings, making new friends, making time for old friends, housework, laundry, bills, writing the next great Non-American novel, remembering to eat, telling my brain to shut up and inspire me at the same time – I’m exhausted. Too exhausted to be bored.

But I find myself on my days off craving that feeling of having nothing to do. Then I realize that I’m doing it without even noticing – I’m living. This song, by the exceptional Gaz Brookfield (another singer/songwriter than I’m disappointed you’ve never heard of but simultaneously don’t want to share with you) is a jaunty little song about what a rockstar does on his day off and surprisingly – it’s an awful lot like what we all do on our days off.

Anyone that’s ever been part of the Triangle of Debauchery – otherwise known as sex, drugs and rock and roll – knows the gnaw in their gut when they realize how painfully normal their lives have become and seriously consider getting a gram of coke and fucking someone in the toilets of their local ‘Spoons in an attempt to feel alive again. Listening to this song reaffirms that everything is fine just as it is, in fact, your plain old, monotonous life is pretty rock and roll. So Gaz tells me, anyway. And I trust Gaz. You should too.

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“The nights spent in front of TV, I love all this monotony, these routines purify the soul, it’s all so very rock and roll.”

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I started off this blog with the subject matter of forcing myself to forget things that cause me a significant amount of pain or stop me from being able to progress through life in a positive way. Like with all bands that were ubiquitous in my youth, The Fratellis back catalog is the soundtrack to more than one bad memory – and one or two fucking fantastic memories that turned sour with time. So when they kicked a few singles off of their new album (set to come out in April *girlish scream*) I took a deep breath and steadied myself for the new music I’d been waiting for ever since Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied (without a doubt my favorite Fratellis album and also their most recent) fell pray to the shit tinted glasses that give bad visions of good times.

The first time I heard this song I was sitting in my bedroom folding laundry whilst my daughter asked me what she thought Dumbledore’s patronus was. It was, in short – a normal day at home with my best friend. This song shuffled onto the speaker and my daughter started tapping her foot on the floor whilst she practiced her spellings and then she started humming along with the hook and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. I asked her if she liked the song and she asked me if it was the same man “that sang the dagger song” and I smiled, but more inexplicably – I started to cry.

She stood up and kissed me then she asked me if we could dance to the song. So I skipped it back and turned it up as loud as it would go and as the room shook with this untainted anthem, I felt like my kid had given me back one of my favorite bands by making this song the soundtrack to a memory that can never spoil. Within a few replays we had the chorus down and sang it over and over to each other until all my tears turned to dust and we’d worked out a bodacious harmony that we’ll sing together, forever.

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“Romeo, Romeo tell me where you’ve been
I would be complete if you would let me in
I’m here, right here
He said Juliet I told you I was only passing through
If I had a moment I would spend it just with you
I’m here, right here.”

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I think that it’s safe to say that Brian Fallon is my favorite singer/songwriter of all time – and yes, I think he has even managed to pry Bob Dylan (the fourteen year old inside me is screaming and throwing things around her bedroom at the thought) off of the pedestal because the older I get, the less shits I give about what people think about my musical taste. And let’s face it, I’m still more than likely the biggest twenty seven year old Bob Dylan fan you’re ever likely to meet so it’s not really that big of a travesty to ask the old man to move over and let Brian have a turn.

I went to see the Brian Fallon on the 19th of the month and it was my first gig of the year to kick off a very busy couple of months that I spend the long, gigless winters craving. And he was fucking spectacular. I took three people, all of whom had no idea who Brian Fallon was and wandered off half way through his set. It was at this gig, whilst this song played, that I realized just how much this man and his music means to me. It was also the first time in a long time that I’d stood alone in a crowd and sang every word to every song from beginning to end with perfect strangers. And it was liberating.

To not have to pretend to like someone else’s music or watch how loud I was singing or how much I was sweating. I let go completely (with the help of a healthy dose of lager) and screamed my fucking heart out. I bounced out of that gig knowing that music was still as important as it had ever been to me but after spending the night with my arms around people I’d never met before as we cracked our hearts like glow sticks and soaked in each others energy, that love isn’t about singing together – it’s about singing the same song. And the next time I trip, I’m going to make damn sure I stumble into the arms of someone that understands why this song is just so goddamn good because the right person won’t need me to explain.

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“And all I want is to let you know but my words get lost and haunt the back of my throat,
Wild horses couldn’t drag me away (from you baby)
And she says, “I just wanna live, and if we get the chance I would wanna live again”
But I get this nightmare where you leave me on my own.”

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I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever really been a wallflower in the traditional sense of the word and most people that know me well would say that I’m confident. It’s usually a moniker that people lead with when trying to assess my personality. In actual fact – I’m a nervous wreck almost 100% of the time. I’ve just got really good at hiding it because I genuinely believe in faking it until you make it and it’s worked for most of my life.

But when it comes to reading other people, especially when you’ve started a new job and suddenly find yourself surrounded by people who all may not be who they seem, the initial reaction is to put your walls up and guard your heart. This song, however, has always been the perfect remedy to my nerves and it’s a tonic I’ve used for many years. I’ve been listening to it on my way to work in the morning to remind me that making the first move – whether in work, love or life in general – is usually the best move to make.

It’s funky and upbeat and dripping with all the sounds of my teenage years when confidence was something that was simultaneously skyrocketing and plummeting. It always makes me walk a little faster and smile a little wider and forces me to have my own back, reminding me that any decision, regardless of what happens, is better than no decision at all.

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“So much pain may come our way
There may come a day when we have nothing left to say
When the conversation stops, and we’re facing our defeat
I’ll be next to you and you’ll be right there next to me.” 

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If bass lines were crack cocaine – I’d be fucked. Another one from my youth, this song is best played at ridiculous volumes during the inevitable dead zones that usually appear in my day between the hours of eleven in the morning and three in the afternoon when there’s nothing to do other than put on a saucy little tune and do the washing up and this song (along with The Day We Caught the Train by Ocean Colour Scene and Chelsea Dagger by the Fratellis) is always up first when it comes to hoovering and cleaning the bathroom.

There are some songs, even by bands that get marred by loss or sadness, that will just always make you feel better and a little more, well – you, I guess. It seems like I can’t remember a time that this song wasn’t on a playlist, even before playlists existed and I was spamming my desktop with dodgy eMule and Limewire MP3’s to load onto my 125MB MP3 player that I carried around like a defibrillator. Some things change, but the way certain songs make you feel lasts a literal life time.

This song also comes with a line or two that after the last week of this month now make more sense than they ever did before. It’s the idea of pining for someone and needing them but realizing that you don’t actually want them – at least the way you had them. I have spoken candidly to three or four close friends this month about how I feel like I’m ready to move on from my last relationship, and not necessarily into another. There will be another blog about that but for now, I’ll just drop these lyrics here and let you mull it over.

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“Up in my lonely room
When I’m dreaming of you 
Oh what can I do?
I still need you, but
I don’t want you now.”

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And funnily enough (and entirely unplanned) the title of the blog that will contain the feelings of the last post in this blog. Alkaline Trio were a massive influence on me when I was younger with their angst and anguish and (remarkable unlike their name) acidic imagery, I’ve been waiting for the “young” people to find them and make them their own like they have with My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco, but alas all the kids wearing Asking Alexandria tees and growing out their fringes still don’t seem to know that this band exists – which is a blessing and a curse.

To me this song is about the people that floor you. The people that take your sense of self and rip it shreds and throw it in the mud and whilst you’re sitting there clawing at the pieces, trying to make sense of just what the fuck it is that they want from you – they’re smiling. Sometimes it’s because they think they’re helping you – making you better, making you more functional, selling very convincing lies that become very attractive ideas that seed in your brain and grow twisted roots through the very essence of you.

It’s about missing that person even though you know that that person wasn’t good for you. It’s about the INSANITY of that sentence. It’s also about all the secrets you give away to people and how desperately you want those secrets back and when those first few notes climb to the ragged drop into acoustic anarchy I feel a surge inside me that promises me that laying all your shit bare to someone comes at a cost and that not all transactions can be refunded. And it’s about living with that hole in your chest whilst your skeletons shoot tequila and laugh at your stupidity, happy to have new and ruinous friends to party with at your expense. You win some, you lose some, right?

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“Now the time has come I just wish I could erase
All the damage done to your name and your keepsakes
It’s only just begun, it’s been fun, we were blind, deaf and dumb
There’s a party in my closet calling all skeletons.”

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Anyone who’s lived a day with a mental illness will mirror the sentiment I took from this song. In a month where I’ve been too rushed off of my feet to concentrate on the parts of me that hurt when the lights go out at night, sometimes it’s best just to feel your fear, even if only for a moment. It’s Gonna Rain All Day is exactly how I feel when I find myself opening my eyes to a day of overwhelming panic and anxiety.

And it doesn’t matter what happens during the course of that day, your day could go immensely well, it still feels like there’s a rain cloud in the sky and something is waiting inside of it ready to rain down fury should you forget that it’s there. There’s a confusion in this song too that mirrors the listless “wandering” that people with mental illnesses often describe to others. Some days, it doesn’t matter what is happening around you – you just can’t focus. Sometimes you can’t keep your eyes open and no matter how much sleep you get or how much coffee you drink, you’re doomed to be exhausted all day long. Other times you go back read the same email six or seven times still to forget it’s contents the moment you go to write a reply. You forget to eat, where you put your keys and there was a famous incident when due to my hyper sensitivity one Tuesday morning, I cried for a good hour because I broke my shoelace.

Inexplicable but sadly not uncommon. I’ve laid in bed like the lyrics describe, sometimes in silence, mostly with music, knowing that I’m wasting my only day off and not really having any inclination or indeed, ability, to rectify that situation. It’s a song that sounds like it’s words – grey and sad and sweet and raw. And it’s been a song this month, surrounded by strangers in strange lands, that reminds me that I am not alone in my confusion or in my feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness. And that feeling, well – that’s a pretty powerful feeling on the days when it feels like it’s going to rain.

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“I woke up with no one to tell, 
About the stains upon the ceiling, in my hotel. 
So I laid here for hours,
Just trying to spell out your name.”

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And finally, possibly my favorite song of the month and undoubtedly the newest song to find it’s way onto my playlist – this song has been on repeat since I first heard it on Saturday. And I’m sure it would have featured more heavily in the March rundown because I only discovered it four days until the end of February, but for the marked impact it had on me and how it tied up a lot of loose ends I carried into the year with me – Terry and June was most definitely an important song in February.

I went to see Gaz Brookfield play The Borderline on Saturday 24th February after a drunken conversation down the pub with my ex-boyfriends brother-in-law. He said he was going by himself and I was welcome to join so as I was in London that day anyway I grabbed a ticket and met him there. The doors opened at 7:00pm but I was running late, a million and one errands to run on my way to the gig. I shuffled in an hour or so into the set and was met with a very drunk ex-boyfriends brother-in-law with a massive smile on his face (usually how you always find him in such circumstances) and a man on stage wearing a plaid shirt singing a song with German words written on cards.

I had no idea who this guy was (separate from the other bands he is in) and my friend said just before Nick Parker started to play Terry and June that he loved this song. So I buckled down, took off my outer layers, cleaned my glasses and tanked half my pint of Guinness and listened to possibly the most endearing and truthful love song I’d ever heard. Instantly relatable and set to a tune that no one can really “not like” Terry and June was the perfect way to end off a month that redefined a lot of emotions inside me and allowed me to let a hell of a lot of shit go. I feel ready now for it to all start again.

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” I’ll be your Terry if you’ll be my June, the book you curl up with on a grey afternoon I’ll be your Wilma if you’ll be my Fred, I’ll be your soldier if you’ll be my egg, and I’ll be the snowflake you catch on your tongue, I’ll be the couch when your day’s work is done, I’ll be the pencil if you’ll be the ruler, I’ll be your Fat Sam if you’ll be my Tallulah.”

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So there you go, future Ronnie. February kept you on your toes but it reminded you how good it feels to care about something again. You still haven’t cut your hair but you’ve been dying it grey because on some level it makes you look as old as you feel. You’ve made some new friends, let go of some old resentments and you’ve even been on a couple of dates with people reasonably close to your age and successfully not managed to run out of things to talk about.

You’ve now finished watching all of the Harry Potter films with your kid and I hope that in the years to come you’ll cherish the tears she shed when she thought Buckbeak was dead and the way she shouted at Voldemort, fearless and breathtaking in her bravery and in her beauty. You’ve strengthened old ties, been to see some amazing live music and you’re getting better at getting better.

And you’re going into March with the knowledge that one day you’ll find the Shrek to your Fiona and that’s getting you through. The lightness that comes from having that epiphany that allows you to get over someone (in your case it was waking up next to them and feeling absolutely no desire to kiss them, which was, a profoundly positive moment this month) and now you’re ready to have your blood stirred again.

P.S. Here’s a photograph of what you looked like this month. Why you ever stopped wearing plaid I’ll never know but I hope you keep it up. Looks good on you, kid. 

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