The lessons from music

Why is it that we can listen to songs from 10 years ago and still remember the lyrics? They are ingrained on our minds so that when we hear that familiar tune we start singing uncontrollably, despite our music taste changing. It shows that once, within us, there was a different person. The only sign of that person today is this automated language which starts up – it’s like a jewellery box. You wind up the tune and open the lid. As long as you leave the lid open you can sing along to the tune but as soon as it’s shut the lyrics go, almost as quickly as they came. If you open the lid and close it the lyrics stop and start. Stop/start/stop/start. Automatically. Without warning. You cannot control your mouth and you have no idea what is in your mind, or better still, who is controlling that. It’s living without warning.

I can just about count on my fingers how many years it has been since my first kiss. Sat in the boys bedroom, on a Friday evening, he asked me to choose a number between 1 and 5. I chose 5. From nowhere, he pulled out a remote, pressed 5 and aimed it towards this massive stereo player. He said I had chosen disc 5, and it was a good choice. Green Day. The title album track, Warning, played and the boy sang to me. At 13 years old, it was romantic despite the lyrics predicting nuclear genocide but I didn’t care because he kissed me through the rest of the album and even walked me home.

Though the kissing didn’t last, I bought Warning and subsequent Green Day albums. From there, a journey into the Clash, Pixies and Sonic Youth began but it started accidentally with Green Day – just, I recently realised, as it does today for young people. I discovered this on the last day of work.

I was sat with my tutor group and another teacher from my department in a final assembly in which students were performing to the school. I was excited because a group of students that I teach were performing in their band. I was stunned that the young students began playing Green Day – Warning. I hadn’t heard this song for almost 8 years. When music taste changes everything before that which isn’t as worthy gets left behind. I joked with the teacher sat with me that a lot of music journeys in high school start with Green Day and he agreed. He laughed because he said he hadn’t heard this song in a while either. I joked, ‘yeah, you start with these and you go to the Clash and then something from New York like Sonic Youth.’ I expected a joke reply but instead he looked like I had resurrected a private memory. He looked at me and nodded, murmuring ‘yes, that’s me.’ I just sat and watched the band, singing to Warning because from nowhere I still knew the lyrics and I couldn’t stop, and it seemed nor could the teacher next to me. Not even when of the tutor group kids started laughing and pointing at us.

To my surprise, this band decided to play another song. These are kids that are 12-13 years old. Not only did this make me feel big in my shoes but I felt as though I had reached a full circle – it’s something that I can’t describe at the moment because I’m still discovering what it means. They said, ‘this is a new one we like’ and from the guitars that were a size too big for them outpoured Gigantic – Pixies. Stunned. I smiled. It’s a journey kids go through and there will be someone in that audience who is in their class who heard that guitar roar and will want more from it. They will go to HMV or home to iTunes and will download them songs and begin a beautiful musical journey. I can’t wait to ask this bunch of kids what they’re listening to next.

I know that not everyone starts out with Green Day or Sonic Youth or The Clash. But there are two lessons from this. The lyrics we hear will never leave us. You will never enjoy the privilege of listening to any music in public without singing – so make sure you enjoy nothing embarrassing. The second lesson is that everyone starts out with one band, and it doesn’t matter what band it is. It happens by accident and you’re 12/13/14 years of age.

And when it does, well, that’s when the real lesson begins.


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Je suis natalie

I am a history teaching, melancholic and I think about life as much as I live it. I spend time between records and books. There have always been ideas worth fighting for.

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