Monday, 23 March 2009

Soundtrack of my life - first 20 albums

I was recently sent the following request: "Think of 20 albums that had such a profound effect on you that they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months, years. These are the albums that you can use to identify time, places, people, emotions. These are the albums that, no matter what they were thought of musically, shaped your world."

As mentioned in a previous posting, music has always been incredibly important to me. I have found, though, that I have listened to it less over recent years. The Artist didn't like television so when we lived in a one-bedroom flat, the tv was relegated to the bedroom and the sitting room became his art studio and where the music was. He constantly listened to music while 'creating' so there was always a tune happening somewhere.

P, the current Husband, values silence more. I found this quite hard to handle at the beginning and more than once found myself making an excuse to go out in my car, on my own, so I could play something raucous extremely loudly, thereby calming that particular craving. I now have a room that I rather grandly call my jewellery workshop and I have a mini hifi system set up on my desk together with a docking station for my iPod and I always have music on while making stuff. I can put headphones on if P starts getting all Dad on me and telling me to turn it down, so now I'm happy!

Music has always been there for me, providing the soundtrack to my life. I find it a powerful emotional trigger, evoking sights, sounds, smells even - a form of time travel, if you will. I have literally thousands of CDs, all of which are now on my iPod so it's easy to track down what I've got and see if the name of album sparks some synaptic connection with the past, but finding only 20 is hard. The following are not in any particular order or preference.

David Bowie - Aladdin Sane

One of the very first albums I bought. There was a market every Thursday in the town I grew up in that had a secondhand record stall. I was at comprehensive school so was about 15 (1978) when I found this, in a gatefold sleeve. Up until this point I had only heard Bowie on the radio but had bought the single 'Changes' and actually preferred the b-side 'Velvet Goldmine', so had decided to start searching out other records of his. It was the first time I'd discovered the appeal of an androgynous man who wore makeup and dyed his hair - a revelation! Some of his old stuff can still move me to tears, such as 'After All' off The Man Who Sold The World.

Siouxsie & the Banshees - The Scream

Ah, Siouxsie Sioux, the great love of my life. A total goddess to me. I don't think 'The Scream' is the best album by the Banshees, that would be 'JuJu' ('Night Shift' is the gothic masterpiece on this album), but it was their first. It was unlike anything else around at the time. I did my best to have hair like hers but sculpting wax hadn't been invented yet, so I spent inordinate amounts of time shoving handfuls of soap into my barnet and hanging upside down to dry it, but it never really worked. I wish straighteners had been around then....

Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti

I was in awe of the elder sister (Jane) of my best friend (Sue) during the 1970s. She had this album and it was the first to introduce me to the joys of guitar-based rawk especially the track 'Kashmir'. But only Led Zep and, possibly, a tiny bit of Deep Purple which she also had. I could have included Led Zep IV as well, actually.

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here
This, to me, is the long, hot summer of 1976. Again, this was one of Jane's records and we taped it onto cassette. I can recall sitting in the shade of the trees one afternoon that summer after school, playing this on a small cassette player, just me and Sue, watching the beautiful boys in white playing cricket on the school pitch, under a blistering sun. I can still smell the frazzled brown grass when I hear 'Shine on you crazy diamond'.

Philip Glass - Akhnaten

Actually listening to this as I type. It's rare that a month goes by that I don't wallow in this. Like many others, The Artist and I came to Philip Glass through his collaboration with David Bowie and Brian Eno, and then through 'Koyaanisqatsi', the wonderful film that makes you think about what we've done to this planet. We got the VHS video in the early 80s and spent many an afternoon with the curtains shut, watching this, getting slowly more and more stoned and mesmerised by the images and repetitive music. So why isn't Koyaanisqatsi on this list? It should be really but choices had to be made. In about 1985 the South Bank Show did a programme about the staging of Philip Glass's (then) new opera 'Akhnaten', based on the life of the 18th dynasty Egyptian pharaoh, which was going to be staged by the English National Opera at the Coliseum in London. We rushed to buy front row tickets the next day. The opera was just astonishing - both The Artist and I cried at the end, it was so moving. A few years later I embarked on my archaeological studies, and the first course I did was on Ancient Egypt and I learnt just what a remarkable character the historical Akhenaten really was - husband of Nefertiti, father of Tutankhamen, he was the first to turn away from the polytheistic religion to become monotheistic, worshipping the sun god, the Aten, above all others. The track 'Window of Appearances' still makes the hair on my neck stand up.

The Cure - Three Imaginary Boys

This album taught us - me and my friends - that we could make our own music and play in a band if we wanted to. Of course The Cure made it sound deceptively simple. Check out 10.15 on a Saturday Night - or Three Imaginary Boys - who wouldn't think they could play songs like that? Certainly we did and, er, we did - if you see what I mean!

Magazine - Real Life

Released in 1978, this album is one of the first genuine post-punk albums. Lyrics that were arty but without being overly pretentious - an album with catchy hooks by a band who treated their audience as being intelligent. This album, on a more personal note though, takes me back to the basement room where The Artist and I first lived together, in 1981. It had black and red walls, with a giant cartoon painted along one wall. It was damp beyond belief though, and you couldn't put clothes in the wardrobe because they'd go mouldy! The band had already split before I discovered them so you can't imagine how excited I was to find out last year that they were reuniting for a short series of gigs in February this year (and, yes, I've already posted about it!). "The Light Pours Out Of Me", "Motorcade", and "Shot By Both Sides".

Birthday Party - Junkyard

This is a visceral, uncompromising album by a band that had just come over from Australia in the early 80s. The Birthday Party was one of the few bands, though, to survive the disappointment so many Australian bands suffered when they realised that, despite what they hoped to be true, London's streets were far from paved with gold and they'd be better off back home. The Artist's band at the time, Space Accident (I think it was), also supported The Birthday Party when they played at the local university in October 1981, just after the, er, release of 'Release the Bats', the biggest selling single off the album. The subsequent music of Nick Cave played a very important role in both my and The Artist's life after that. I love his mix of Old Testament fire and brimstone, and achingly beautiful love songs. A Gothic genius.

Brian Eno - Before and After Science

I love all Brian Eno's albums but this one has the most especially catchy tunes. I was introduced to Eno's work when I first moved in with The Artist to a shared house in Guildford in 1981. Everyone was older than me and, in my eyes, were all exciting and bohemian. There was a girl who dressed exclusively in secondhand 1950s dresses and had a thing about Marilyn Monroe - she also slept with both boys and girls which I found impossibly exotic. There was a guy who was vegan, meditated in the nude in the garden and rode a motorbike every summer across Europe to Greece. Upstairs lived Marilyn Girl's sister and boyfriend - he was quiet and sweet, she was amazingly stern and scary, I don't think I ever saw her smile once. She'd have made a great dominatrix. Upstairs upstairs were two guys known, for some reason in the house, as the Mong Brothers. They had a dog. I never saw them or it. This album = this house. It was damp and cold but it was my first place away from home and I loved it. "Backwater", "King's Lead Hat" (which is an anagram of 'Talking Heads', fact fans), and "By This River" will give you a flavour of this wonderful album.

Capt Beefheart - Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)

One of the most accessible of Don Van Vliet's albums, you can actually whistle along to this entire album. Clever, touching, funny. This is the late 80s for me, when The Artist and I moved into our own flat and our circle of friends expanded to include people who were friendly with both of us as a couple rather than 'my' friends or 'his' friends. It was a very sociable time that I remember fondly. "Bat Chain Puller" is the only thing on YouTube that I can find from this album.

I think this list is too lengthy for a single post and I have stuff to say about each album, whether you want to read it or not, so I'll split it here (it's taken me over a week to write this half already!) and post the second half at some point in the future.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Saturday 19 November 1994 - the day I nearly died

Snappy title for a post, eh? I should explain I am a devoted stalker of Belgian Waffle and her post of 10 March dealt with a ludicrous what-you-should've-done-by-a-certain-age article in The Times. It was agreed that the list was crap and Ms Waffle made her own suggestions and us stalkers added our own. I included a few things that have happened to me (I didn't include the stealing stuff, getting tattooed and busking for money in the streets - my father was shocked and deemed it 'begging'; we called it getting paid to practice) but more information has now been demanded. So I chose the most dramatic of my list - nearly dying.

At the time of the incident I was separated (but not yet divorced) from my first husband (The Artist) and living with my future second husband (P or The Husband) and, for the first time in my life, I kept a diary for a couple of years to document what I knew would be a time of upheaval for me. I'm quite glad I did because now I can just type in the entry without having to remember it - and there's some stuff I'd forgotten.


Sun 20 Nov 94

I owe my life to P today. He literally saved my life yesterday. To explain - yesterday was the first Saturday or Sunday in ages when it wasn't raining. The landlord has to come over before we move out to check it over so we can have the deposit back but the grass really needed a good cut so we got the Flymo out. I pointed out to P the crap arrangement that the landlord had wired up. There was like a 2-pronged half which fitted into a female half. On the male half is actually embossed into the plastic "to be fitted to the appliance" (which, of course, it wasn't), it was attached to the mains. I finished off doing the lawn - although it wasn't raining the ground was soaking wet. I pulled the 2 parts apart & one of the metal prongs touched my hand.

I felt it fizzing and of course by the time I realised what was going on and that I was being electrocuted, I couldn't let go, my hand had cramped up around it. All I could do was shriek. P said he looked up [he was trimming the long grass at the edge with shears at the time] and saw me going over and realised it wasn't a gag. I felt it fizzing in my hand and going up my arm, it passed down the left hand side of my body and into the ground. My body went completely rigid, although I could still cry out, which I did constantly while falling down and lying on the ground. I couldn't stand up any more and was literally just poleaxed, fell rigid, like a plank, down. Landed hard on my bum, bruising my coccyx and cracking the back of my head open on the corner of a low brick wall on the way down.

I was still shrieking while lying on the wet grass, still attached to the mains lead. I remember P running by me and whipping the lead out of my hand which stopped the fizzing and intense cramping. I lay there for a bit, wondering if I was still alive or if anything hurt. P came to me, asking if I was alright, if I was hurt. I didn't lose consciousness, just trying to gather my wits about me really, feeling very, very shaky, aware that I'd cracked my head badly but that I was all in one piece and still alive, a bit stunned and more than a bit shocked but still here.

P asked me if I felt dizzy or sick, which I didn't, but I told him to put me into the recovery position for a moment, which he did. I lay there for a moment, quiet. P said to keep talking to him, I told him I was fine, I was okay.

P gently helped me to sit up and asked if my head was bleeding - I could see something dripping onto my legs, put my hand up to the back of my head and it came away red. P said, "yeah, you're bleeding, we'd better get you to a doctor - can you make it to the car?" I reckoned so. He helped me up and I found I couldn't walk properly, my muscles had cramped up to such an extent that my calf muscles - especially the left one - was completely solid and knotted up, I couldn't bend it in order to walk, I could only hobble. I sat on the chair in the conservatory while I got P to pack me an overnight bag just in case the hospital wanted to keep me in overnight. He got a wet towel to hold against my head to staunch the bleeding. I got into the car rather gingerly, still feeling somewhat blasted and dazed, and P belted down the Hog's Back to get me to A&E at the Royal Surrey. Funny - I wasn't in any kind of pain, the electrocution itself didn't even hurt, it was more of a very strong sensation really. It all took about half an hour - got sparked at about 1.30 and we got to the hospital at around 2.

We registered with the receptionist who took my details. A male nurse came along within a minute or two and took some more details of exactly what happened. Forgot to mention that I got a burn on the palm of my left hand that they confirmed was full thickness. The nurse tapped it with his fingernail and I confirmed I couldn't feel anything - this was because the nerve endings had been cauterised, which was quite good really as far as I was concerned because burns can be very painful. He then took me through to the treatment room, with P, and put me up on a trolley with the curtains pulled round. There was some poor old duck opposite who, I think, must've had Alzheimer's or something because she was bibbling away but she'd done something to her leg and was howling whenever they tried to move her.

The male nurse looked into my eyes to check them out, they were okay. He said they wanted to do an ECG because electric shock can alter the conductivity of the heart. The doctor would then come along, he said, check me out and then they'd look me over, check my head wound, etc. They then left us alone for a bit. My coccyx started to ache now and I felt uncomfortable on the trolley. I told the nurse earlier that my muscles had cramped big-time and he said I'd had the equivalent of four pints of adrenaline pumped through me so it wasn't surprising. Someone came into the cubicle next to us who'd been transferred down from Basingstoke who'd taken a hit in the face and suffered a fracture of the eye socket - nasty! Someone else next to me had cut himself on a brand new Stanley knife blade.

Eventually a machine turned up to do my ECG - unfortunately it didn't go 'ping'. The machine that didn't go 'ping'! I had to take off my top (which was pretty heavily blood-stained) and my bra. Half a dozen sticky pads were attached on various parts and wire with crocodile clips were added. The machine ran for about 15 seconds or so, printing out a trace (of which I have a copy) [lost now, though] and off they went. I put a gown on and got P to put a blanket over my feet 'cos they were so cold. I was pretty uncomfortable and leaving a lot of blood stains all over the pillow.

A doctor turned up, looked at my notes, confirmed the ECG trace was okay, looked at the burn, said she'd get a nurse to clean up my head wound (after looking at it she said it was quite small and wouldn't need stitching or anything but the nurse may want to glue(!) it). A nurse then came along and cleaned it up and looked how deep it was. Said she'd glue it. I found out from The Artist later [who had worked in a hospital in a previous existence] that they actually use Superglue now! Stung a tiny bit when she put it in but, frankly, I've had more painful acupuncture.

The nurse let me have photocopies of my notes and the ECG and we left. Took 2 hours altogether. Hobbled back to the car, came home, phoned my mum to see if she'd 'picked up' anything from me [my mother has always, all my life, somehow, psychically known when something bad has happened to me - it's weird]. She said not specifically but she'd been bombing around unexpectedly on adrenaline all afternoon and just before I rang she'd been wondering why she felt so stff down her left hand side! She was very concerned when I told her what had happened but I said I'd still come over later to see her, as arranged. I wasn't in any pain other than a sore head and quite a lot of immobility due to muscle stiffness. I then rang The Artist and left a message on his ansafone telling him that P had saved my life. I then went upstairs and climbed into bed as the adrenaline was wearing off and I was starting to feel very tired.

[After a kip], we then went off to my mother's and got in through the door just as my brother and his [then] girlfriend had told her that the girlfriend was 4.5 months pregnant! They didn't know about my accident as mum hadn't had the time to tell them yet. Poor mum - 2 big shocks in one day - the near-loss of a daughter and the announcement of a first grandchild!

Then the lottery was announced and both me and my brother had won a tenner each!

I spoke to The Artist from mum's and he was very shaken by what had happened to me. He said to offer his thanks to P for saving my life - I'd have definitely died if he'd not been there if, for instance, he'd been making tea, having a nap or on the loo.

Overall, quite a remarkable day. Obviously it wasn't my time to die. P asked me, when I was in Casualty, whether I was frightened. No, I wasn't at all, at any time. I wasn't frightened in the hospital because I knew it was the right place to be and I was in safe hands, I had a full complement of limbs, everyone said the head wound was small so I knew they weren't going to stitch it, I landed first on the grass so I knew my coccyx was unlikely to be broken, just bruised, and my heart had felt okay even before the ECG, so I knew I was going to be okay.

I didn't feel frightened while I was being zapped, more helpless than anything. It didn't hurt at all. The only way I can describe the sensation was 'familiar' for want of a better word. It was not dissimilar to what I had felt when I fainted [which I had done once before a couple of months previously] - a kind of fizzing that moved along the body and built up - an intense pins and needles sensation. Both P and I were very calm throughout the whole incident, there was absolutely no panic. P said afterwards that it'd worried him and while I was gingerly bending over the bath rinsing my bloodied clothes and the towel in cold water, he came up and give me a big hug from behind and said he was glad I was still here.

I'd by lying to myself if I said it hadn't shaken me at all, because it has, although I don't know how yet. I know I could've died if the situation had been different, but I don't know quite how close to death I was. I'm just glad that someone up there likes me at the moment.


And that, dear hearts, concludes the tale of how I nearly died. Congratulations if you read to the end. I was fortunately left with nothing worse than a small circular scar on my left palm (the white arrow is pointing to it and, yes, there is a large black and white cat in the picture as well, just for added interest) and a tailbone that still aches every now and then.

Now, anyone else want to share their near-death experiences???!????