you gotta get it while you can

What’s the point of keeping a diary without sticking CD playlists between the pages? How could I possibly know in future what was going on in my head when I was a young woman without my life’s soundtrack, so inextricably bound up with my experiences, self-esteem, self-image and connections to others?

A silent movie of my life would make very little sense recently, because against all better judgment, I’ve been taking not only solace but advice from songs. Last week, Janis Joplin said to me:

In this world, if you read the papers, darling,
you know everybody’s fighting with each other.
You got no one you can count on babe –
not even your own brother.
So if someone comes along
who’s gonna give you some love and affection,
I’d say get it while you can, yeah.
Honey, get it while you can, yeah.
Hey hey, get it while you can.
Don’t you turn your back on love, no, no.

– ‘Get It While You Can’, Janis Joplin

Janis is from the hippy period, and you could get away with a lot more then. Since the 70s, we’ve rowed back from the excesses of the free love era. But how I wish we hadn’t! Imagine if you could sleep with whoever and then just say, “free love, man”, and people saw that as a legit excuse? No, I know, I suspect it never really worked that way, and from what I’ve heard, it worked a lot better for men than it ever did for women.

Nevertheless, ‘Get It While You Can’ is bluesy and ballsy and big-band. It has the tempo and the mood of a slightly sad waltz – Janis sings the opening lines as a croon, soundtracked by that mournful 60s harmonium. But when the chorus breaks in, it’s affirming, triumphant: “Who cares, baby? Cause we may not be here tomorrow!” She advocates hedonism of the thought-through variety – not just Rihanna “na na na come on” party spirit (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but hedonism that prizes romance and passion over all material concerns. The song acts like alcohol or a line of coke – “fuck it,” I thought, “I’m gonna get it while I can”.

And so I got it while I could. And it was really good. I won’t go into detail but it was probably a bad idea – think “sex with your ex” bad, or “confront the person you hate at a party, to delicious effect” bad. Afterwards, weirdly, it was Prokofiev that managed to carry me through the following few days of doubt. I put on ’10 Pieces, Op. 12: No.7 Prelude’, a delicate piano piece that could carry me above the dark emotions, lightly skipping across the white notes – a piece for a bright, fresh morning. It has some variety to remind me of what I was thinking about: the cadence which finishes the opening few bars is haunting, almost Elliott Smith-level angsty, and there’s a section in the middle where it gets suitably fraught.

As doubt made way for sadness, I put my trust in Aqualung. The TV programme Skins actually put me onto Aqualung and their mid-rate 00s indie hit ‘Good Times Gonna Come’, which sounds a bit like Radiohead and a bit like Athlete and has now been forgotten by almost everyone. I really enjoyed it in Skins soundtracking a ‘problem’ part of the plot, but foreshadowing a change in the characters’ luck. It works so well because it sounds like a sad song, another waltz in a minor key, but if you let it, it delivers you lyrically to its reassuring closing promise that “it’s alright”. I felt like I needed a change in my luck, and I felt the words of ‘Good Times Gonna Come’ like a cuddle from a friend:

Round the bend
the sun is in the sky.
It’s starting to look like
it’s gonna be, yeah, it’s gonna be
a bright, beautiful day.
Yeah, the good times gonna come, oh no,
the good times gonna come, yeah, yeah.
This is just one of those lonely nights.
The good times gonna come.

– ‘Good Times Gonna Come’, Aqualung

Though the band Daughter are arguably more original and interesting musically, ‘Good Times Gonna Come’ was like a better version of Daughter’s ‘No Care’ for the same purpose. I listened to both on repeat, but it’s impossible to believe the lead singer of Daughter as she says, “I don’t care, I don’t care anymore” – it’s like she’s saying it while walking away from an argument, indicating she does indeed care quite a lot. I think that’s the point of the song. By contrast, the guy in Aqualung really does think that the good times are gonna come, and I believe him.

At least in my life, he was right. The following days fallout really weren’t so bad. Would I have got through the intervening period without musicians reaching out to me, pushing me on, distracting me, comforting me afterwards? Music lets you know: you’re not the only one who has felt this, or thought this. You’re not alone, and importantly, someone else has got through it, processed it into art and lived on.

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