Posts Tagged ‘music


My Life in Hallelujahs

Three singers. Three versions. One song: Hallelujah. One life: mine. I am Tom, and this is my life in Hallelujahs.

Hallelujah One: The Fourth, the Fifth.

It was 2002 and I was fifteen when it started. I was an awkward kid; clever enough to succeed but lazy enough not to try, funny enough to get along with most everyone, shy enough to not get very close to anyone. If you asked me now how I looked then I’d be far kinder than if you’d have asked me at the time. That’s a battle I’ve since won; as the infamous warbler Gloria Gaynor once wrote, I am who I am.

The summer was unremarkable in reality, but I remember it being long and hot, a shimmering heat haze hanging over the days and nights of my school holidays. Year 10 was over, in September I would be in Year 11. The shit was going to get real: my GCSEs would be upon me, the culmination of those long years in schooling. What would I receive in GCSE Food Technology? This question and more bubbled in my febrile adolescent mind. Oh, and I was pretty sure I was gay.

I mean, I had resolved already that I must be bi. Boys were rather too attractive for me to pretend to myself that I was straight. A couple of childhood crushes on girls I’d known were the last bastion of what I thought would be a normal life, and I clung to them. The memories of the crushes that is, I didn’t cling to the girls — not least of all for legal reasons.

One morning during that summer, that last bastion was overwhelmed and swept away for ever. There was a boy in one of my classes, one of my friends, and I had a dream about him. I don’t even remember what the dream was — nothing sexy — but when I woke up on that humid summer’s morning I knew two things clearly. Firstly, I was gay. It was just that simple. The clarity was uplifting. The second was, I was in love with my friend. My straight friend. Ah, shit.

Rufus Wainwright’s Hallelujah was the soundtrack to my teenaged angst. And as the years passed, and I lost contact with the boy I had loved, it came to signify that pain that nobody forgets, ever — their first lost love.

She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah Two: The Minor Fall

I drifted. I dropped out of sixth form college, graduating with such impressive grades as an E in AS level psychology. I was unemployed for a long time, then I got a job I hated. And I was so, so unhappy.

I was a failure. That kid in those school photos, when did he die and what was this shell he’d left behind? Nothing mattered to me. I went to sleep at 7am and woke up at 4pm, I spent my time floating around on the internet in a state of perpetual angry boredom. I stopped seeing my friends, didn’t care about myself.

I resented everything I was missing out on, blamed myself for the lack of experiences and fed that back into even more introverted sadness and alienation. As my life went from bad to worse so any solution seemed to slide further beyond my grasp.

I felt bad, still feel bad, for the people I worked with. I wish I hadn’t been such an unpleasant person to be with back then. I was missing not just my love, but love itself. Was this what life was? I briefly tried a course of anti-depressants but they achieved nothing so I never got the prescription refilled. My life was broken and I hated not just living it but myself too, with a passion I’ve rarely felt for anything else since.

I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah Three: The Major Lift

I had to escape from the jaws of the steel trap which held me fast. I left my job, took better care of myself. It was… easy. Why did it take that long? I got back into my writing, found new ways to express myself, new things to do and see.

I’m not fixed. I never will be: I have bipolar disorder, I’ll always be prone to depression. And love, love is still my eternal tormentor. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt it truly. Was it real love, that tearing, soaring, terrible, beautiful thing I felt when I was young? Probably not, I’d say now, probably some adolescent approximation of an emotion which I feel continues to elude me. But that’s ok.

See, I haven’t overcome all my neuroses. I’ve just accepted them, accepted myself. I’m far from perfect, but really, what’s it to ya?

And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah


Beat This Mixtape

If you have a better playlist than this, let me know in the comments.

1. The Jesus & Mary Chain – Just Like Honey

2. Tom Waits – Thirteen Shells From a Thirty-Ought Six

3. Sonic Youth – Teenage Riot

4. New Order – Temptation

5. Wolf Parade – I’ll Believe in Anything

6. The Blasters – Dark Knight

7. Cocteau Twins – Lorelei

8. Beastie Boys – Brass Monkey

9. De La Soul – Me Myself and I

10. Orange Juice – Felicity

11. The Flaming Lips – The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song

12. RUN-DMC – It’s Tricky

13. Echo & the Bunnymen – Dancing Horses

14. Squeeze – Pulling Mussels From a Shell

15. The Replacements – Can’t Hardly Wait

16. Eric B & Rakim – I Ain’t No Joke

17. Pixies – Wave of Mutilation

18. Berhaus – She’s in Parties

19. Jane’s Addiction – Jane Says

20. Wire – Kidney Bingos

21. English Beat – Save It For Later

22. Mikkey Ekko – Who Are You Really

23. Mission of Burma – That’s When I Reach For My Revolver

24. Berlin – The Metro

25. Violent Femmes – Gone Daddy Gone

26. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Deanna

27. The Romantics – What I Like About You

28. Modern English – I Melt with You

29. Afrika Bambaataa – Planet Rock

30. The Fall – Totally Wired

31. Atom and his Package – I’m Downright Amazed At What I Can Destroy With Just A Hammer


30DSC: a song nobody would expect me to like

Day 14 of the 30 day song challenge. Today, a song which people might be surprised I enjoy.

The Geto Boys – Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta

Being a slightly snobbish plonker, I have quite a strong dislike for all gangster rap. It seems to me unironically materialistic and hollow. I like music with soul — or at least, something which doesn’t wear its lack of soul on its sleeve.

Damn it Feels Good feels like rap music with a soul, and it’s clever. The bait-and-switch of having the president suddenly talk in those terms about his life and activities allows the song to make a genuine point about the way we find different behaviour acceptable.

Drug dealers and gangsters might be making deals for their own benefit at the cost of others, but politicians do this all the time. I’m not convinced there’s a fair comparison in there, but it’s food for thought certainly.

It’s really not my genre, but just this once, it really does feel good to be a gangsta.


30DSC: A guilty pleasure

Day 13 of the 30 day song challenge. Today, a guilty pleasure.

Les Miserables – I Dreamed a Dream

I don’t have much to add to this one actually. It’s just a beautiful song, but usually if you asked me whether I liked it, I wouldn’t dream of saying so.


30DSC: My favourite film song

Day 14 of the 30 day song challenge. Today, a song which people might be surprised I enjoy.

Howard Shore ft. Annie Lennox – Into The West

I initially resisted the temptation to write about this song. It’s quite heavy, and I feel as though I’ve maybe covered that territory already. In fact I went so far as to write a post about another bit of music: Goldberg Variations & Aria, The Silence of the Lambs. I had all this stuff set out about how it was commissioned for an insomniac Count who wanted something to dull the maddening expanse of his sleepless nights, and the sheer beauty of the resulting composition. But as I read it back I knew that it was a lie. My favourite film song could only ever be one thing.

I love fantasy novels, and I most of all love the world J. R. R. Tolkien created in Middle Earth. Though the Lord of the Rings as a series of books is rather stuffy and perhaps not a fantastic read, they nonetheless set out a mythos which has dominated mainstream fantasy ever since. The films to me are a masterclass in how to successfully adapt a novel to the cinema, taking liberties with Tolkien’s plot whilst still retaining the refined essence of his messages and themes.

Into the West sits at the end of the trilogy, providing the punctuation at the end of a succession of lesser endings. Yet it’s not so much the context of the song as it is the song itself which makes me feel as I do about it. It’s just remarkable enough that it means something very real, just generic enough that it means something special to everyone for different reasons.

It’s a goodbye, written for budding New Zealand filmmaker Cameron Duncan who died, tragically young, from cancer. In memory of him, I curtail this blog post before it’s really begun.


30dsc: a song from a favourite band

Day 11 of the 30 Day Song Challenge. Today, a song from one of my favourite bands.

Arctic Monkeys – Mardy Bum

I really hate accent rock. I want artists who’re about their music or about their lyrics; I can’t for a moment even feign interest in artists who’re about their accent. The Kooks can sod off with their stupid accents. But if I asked you to name a current British band famous for their accents, you’d probably say the Arctic Monkeys — and if you thought that meant I didn’t like them, you’d be dead wrong.

They’re the best band of the noughties for me, and easily some of the best lyricists of all time. Alex Turner’s lyrics are poetry as song. They couldn’t be more evocative, and the historian in me appreciates how in thirty years time university students doing history are going to be able to reference the Arctic Monkeys.


30DSC: Favourite Music Video

Day 10 0f the 30 day song challenge. Today, the best music video.

Smashing Pumpkins – Tonight, Tonight

Music videos are ten a penny, and by now there are very few innovations possible in shooting them. The current trend seems to be staged performances with backing dancers and pyrotechnics. Thanks, R&B, for taking us back to the worst parts of the 1980s.

Still, that’s not to say that all music videos are bad. There are some great ones. I Am Kloot’s video for their song Proof — a steady close-up of the actor Christopher Ecclestone’s face as he slowly begins to smile — is one example of a recent one which I think is just a great concept.

It’s not my favourite ever though. That honour instead goes to Tonight, Tonight by the Smashing Pumpkins. Inspired by the aesthetics and sense of wonderment in early silent films, particularly George Melieres’ 1902 film A Trip to the Moon, the Pumpkins’ video is visually stunning and has just a magical and otherworldly air.

It feels like a waste to talk too much about the video, so I won’t. If the other entries in this series are about sound, this one is about vision. So just watch it.

July 2018
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