When my mother passed away on Valentines day I was torn. I guess that’s an obvious statement, of course I was torn, but in this particular instance I mean I was torn about what I should write to let the world know. Because that’s what you do right? As soon as somebody dies you have to think of a quick mini eulogy to share with the rest of the world on your facebook, or twitter, or instagram, or whatever social media is the most current these days. But on the one hand, nothing I thought of seemed right. Even now as I write this, how can I summarise the woman who gave me everything into one post? On the other hand I have become more than aware of how Facebook has trapped us into a web whereby it commodifies our friendships, thoughts and feelings, why should I give Facebook my grief?! But that is what everybody does these days, and I should make it very clear that I am in no way knocking anybody for doing so. Facebook has become an extension of (nearly) every aspect of our life so it seems reasonable that is the first place to share each others deaths. However I’m still very uncomfortable with how much intimacy I will offer it. Perhaps that is just a personal thing and I’m reading too much into it, but I think it’s something we should all be aware of. Still, my general frustration for feeling trapped by Facebook is not what this post is about.
In the end I did post, I simply chose a beautiful quote that my uncle had sent me in a condolence message.
“Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality”.
It’s the first couple of lines from an Emily Dickinson poem. I left no other details. I had been searching for a poem that seemed to fit, and that seemed perfect at the time. Thank goodness for poems and other people’s quotes, I often draw for them when my own words just won’t seem to suffice. It’s funny how often somebody else can summarise your situation much better than you can.
Thankfully when words fail me, as they often do, as well as other people’s words there is other people’s music. I often find that’s what I use to express myself, make sense of situations and connect with people and as it was my mother who first recognised that my interest in music might run deeper than anyone realised and stoked that fire in me which became a passion, then it seems fitting to share some of the music that I associate her with most. In fact I’ve listened to little else since then, once again using music as a way to express myself, connect with somebody and make sense of a situation.
Perhaps ironically I heard this album for the first time in years, exactly a week before mum died. This was one of the first albums I ever had and it was given to me by her. When I said this at the party they renamed an inflatable pink flamingo Petra in her honour. Perhaps not the most fitting tribute considering what followed a week later, but actually I think she might well have been amused by it.
In fact, when my mother first recognised my love for music she recorded 5 albums for me (it should perhaps be noted, that is was probably my stepdad who actually recorded the albums and who also helped choose them, but thankfully for everyone, especially my mother whom he looked after til the end, it is not his time to be lamented yet). Four were compilations Spike Jones & His City Slickers, Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Eddie Cochran and Bob Marley (Legend) and this was the fifth. I still don’t know why she chose these particular artists but looking back the first three seem to have been a big influence on what I do with Big Swing Sound and the second couple laid foundations for a love of Reggae that would culminate with me programming the biggest Reggae stage in the country. Regardless of any of that though, they were all damn good choices.
I tried to find this whole album online to share, it’s from Phil Ochs In Concert but unfortunately I only managed to find a couple of tracks from it. Still if you dig this track hunt it down.
I’m not sure exactly when or why my mum sent this to me, but it was in the midst of a deep depression and it resonated deeply, even before I found out that Ochs took his own life on the year I was born. In fact I’d say this album helped to pull me through, especially the song When I’m Gone which I took to be an example of someone talking themselves out of suicide (as I was rapping and writing poetry during this particularly dark period, I ended up using the same tactic taking the song as inspiration and it helped enormously). Just another example of mum getting it spot on.
I seem to remember my Dad favours the Dick Gaughan version but this is the one I remember most from mum. It’s funny that she once said to me that I “never saw things in black and white, but always saw the grey in-between”. I hadn’t really thought about it until her observation and I wish it was truer than it is (I do try), however this is the perfect example of seeing the other side of a situation, as well as a song about the importance of standing up for people’s rights, something else that mum helped teach me to do.
I’m not sure I would ever have grown an appreciation for classical music if it wasn’t for mum and there are two pieces in particular that stand out from my childhood. The first is David Bowie‘s narration of Prokofiev‘s Peter and the Wolf, undoubtedly the best start to any child’s classical music appreciation. The other was the piece above, Peer Gynt Suite #1 by Grieg, it starts as if it was the dawn of ever single summer’s day and finishes at The Hall Of The Mountain King, what better music for a young boy, full of mischief and adventure. Even after I’d had a bastardised electronic version pumped into me daily by Manic Miner in the early days of computer games, I never lost my love for it and even now it speaks to my inner boy and makes me want to go searching for dragons in the mountain.
I still don’t know how to summarise or sign off this post, but that’s fine because it’s not complete and I’m not going to try and draw a neat little line under everything in order to move on, wherever I move she’ll be right here with me, always.