Songs that change your life are rare.
They’re often not your favourite song, nor the song that sets you rocking on the dance floor. They might not be a song that you know all the words to nor one you turn to over and over for comfort. You might not even like the song that changed your life.
Because the thing about songs that change lives is that more often than not, we don’t pick them ourselves. They’re a surprise. They’re a gift. They’re funeral songs. They’re birthday songs. They’re songs we didn’t know until they knew us.
But I’m not here to write about how excellent an ice breaker “name the song that’s changed your life” can be (although it’s true, particularly on dating apps – 83% response rate, if you want to try it).
Rather, I want to tell you about One Track Minds, a series of live storytelling events dedicated to exploring our varying relationships with music – and which I recently took part in as a performer.
I’ve attended a fair number of the OTM shows. Each night there’s six “acts”, each with a completely different story and each giving you a totally new perspective on a song. Guests have included Janet Kay, Inua Ellams, Sophie Hagen, Simon Napier-Bell, and Erica Buist. Stories have ranged from the heart-breaking to the hilarious, the insightful to the inane. Songs have spanned every possible genre, culture, and era; sometimes they’ve been familiar, sometimes not and sometimes – like the time Robert Popper played the truly truly truly terrible song ‘Jumping Horses’ – a relief to know you’ll never hear it again.
I love these shows. I love watching them. I love taking people and introducing them. I love discussing it in the bar afterwards, hearing about all the songs people might choose if they were to go on stage or what songs weren’t chosen by those who did.
Most of all I loved wondering what my story would be. I knew the song almost as soon as I heard the question (Brain Damage by Pink Floyd) but all of the performances I’d seen were so candid. Each tale revealed some incredibly personal, sometimes dark, always beautiful, truths.
Yet, of course, as soon as I was asked to perform at OTM’s Hidden Tracks series, every thought or idea or belief I’d ever held regarding Dark Side of the Moon or transformational life moments flew promptly out of the window and fluttered away on a sultry summer breeze.
Nothing has ever happened to me, I panicked. My life is finishing school and going to university and ending up in a 9 to 5 and dating a few men who didn’t turn into wolves and generally being just-above-average. I don’t have a tale worthy of a stage.
Cycling doubts had me wondering whether I should turn down the show I’d so desperately wanted to be part of for years.
I took a breath.
I might not be a performer on a day-to-day basis, but I am a writer. I may not have a terrible tragedy to share but I know loss, my heart has been broken, I’ve desperately chased and chased and chased after a dream. I have a story to tell.
Imposter Syndrome would not undermine this opportunity for me. Nor would the croak in my throat, picked up from too scream-singing my crooked heart out at 2000 Trees.
Instead, when we were offered story workshops with Adam Shakinovsky, a previous OTM performer, I seized the opportunity. When I met Jess and Helen, who’d be joining the Hidden Tracks line up too, I delighted in hearing their stories and learning from them. Kristian shared a selection of the podcasts and I listened and relistened, noting the inflections and pauses. Erica was visiting London and under a beating hot sky, shared her tips on delivery and memorisation (as well as some very exciting updates about both her current book The Deathtivals and a new idea is just so freaking cool but I’ll let her tell you all about that). I wrote up my story, edited, edited some more, practiced it whilst walking to work and listened to voice note recordings of it on the way back.
Confidence for me has never felt natural – I will likely always feel shy and out-of-place even when people tell me otherwise – but having the support of so many people and supporting them in return filled me with a new reassurance.
Stepping onto the stage was terrifying. And then it wasn’t.
Vulnerable and exposed, a warm glow started to bloom beneath my sternum, unfurling as the audience responded with laughter here, a sigh there, a ripple of people nodding along with what I was saying. As I explained, for the first time, my compulsive need to tell stories – my constant seeking of more from myself and from the world – a performative thrill blossomed. Totally antithetical to the quiet satisfaction of publishing a new article or the joy of people writing back – this was fierce and loud and electric.
“I want the world to be full of adventures, sprawling avenues of possibility,” I said. “I want to feel that impossible challenges can be overcome and that monsters can be defeated. And I want to paint the world that I see for others.”
And I knew, for those few minutes at Hidden Tracks, I succeeded in sharing the world in my head.
Here is the full performance.
A song can change your life.
Because a song led me to that moment.
It reminded me of why I keep trying, keep writing, keep dreaming and storytelling.
And it was the same song from all those years ago, that I remember listening to on numerous nights as I scribbled away in secret whilst my parents, having a party in the converted barn below my bedroom, danced and chatted and laughed with their friends. The smell of cigar smoke wafting up to me with their voices.
It’s Brain Damage, the penultimate track on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The song that never fails to remind me of the importance of our stories, however small, and the power of sharing them.
THANK YOU to KRISTIAN BRODIE and ADAM SHAKINOVSKY, who brought us all together for Hidden Tracks, built us up and gave us this awesome opportunity. With permission from the other performers, I’ll be sharing some more stories very soon.