Ten Songs by Gill Hoffs

Seven Seas of Rye, Queen – between the ages of about nine to fifteen, my home-life was fairly grim. One of the very few upsides to the horror was that the man I was forced to live with was a Queen fan. For the few minutes that the piano rang out and Freddie’s voice soared, my mind could follow the notes and flee. This was one of my favourites and I still love it but that love is tempered with memories of a shit who talked a bit like Billy Connelly. Worth it? Probably, yes.

The Only Living Boy in New York, Simon & Garfunkel – the first time I met my dad properly (post-babyhood) I was about 11, and he gave me a cassette of Bridge Over Troubled Water. This track made me cry. I have uncomfortably strong memories of hiding my face against the car window so nobody would notice the tears and snot dribbling down my face and ask what was up – if they asked, I couldn’t possibly explain. I still have the cassette (though nothing to play it on) and feel a bit funny when caught off guard by it on the radio.

Birdhouse in Your Soul, They Might Be Giants – this eccentric, chirpy little song was on a LOT one summer when I was a kid. The school holidays took forever and when I hear it I think of pink skies, still sea, and my eyes smarting from the sand and salt-air that came with living on the coast. I’d stay out all day with books in my pockets and wander the shore, picking out agates and pretty shells, and avoiding people if I could, though one day I went to the tough kid’s house and she had this song as a cassette single in a big plastic jar in her room. She stripped all her singles of their cases and dumped them in. It horrified me.

She Is Suffering, Manic Street Preachers – someone I admired at school (and had a bit of a crush on, to be honest) lent me their tape of The Holy Bible and that was it. I was hooked. Every song on it is perfection and works in solitude or with the other pieces as a coherent whole, but this is the track that most reminds me of hidden razorblades and an awful stash of suicide notes I built up. Most of the songs in this list are to do with bad times, but it’s like looking back at the shitty town at the foot of the mountain from the layby with a chip van near the top. Much improved with a different view.

Creep, Radiohead – this masterpiece summed up everything I felt (and still sometimes do, I think my mind stalled at 19 and refused to grow up any further). In Biology I would sit and write out the lyrics in black ink at the back of my folder. At home I would draw Thom Yorke with eye pencil. The words are simple and beautifully accurate, the vocals exquisitely painful, the guitar clear and elegant agony in music, the drums present but not intrusively so. I think this was the first song I heard that had the word ‘fucking’ in it, and I delighted in singing along LOUDLY.

Torn, Natalie Imbruglia – when I was 18 I met my best friend and future husband, and this track was on the radio ALL THE BLOODY TIME. It became a kind of joke between us, and when we hear it I get the giggles and remember the late 90s, staying up all night watching horror movies and being scared shitless by his cat (she’d jump on my leg during tense bits and I’d eeep with fright). It definitely helps that Natalie Imbruglia is a bit Audrey Hepburn in the video.

I Saw Her Again, Mamas & Papas – I was very ill with depression throughout my teens and early 20s, and ended up in hospital several times. Puking charcoal is NOT a pleasant memory, but I’m glad to be here to remember it. One stay was for a weekend, and my now-husband brought me a Walkman and Best Of… collection of Mamas & Papas songs. I listened to it until the batteries ran out. The melodies and cheeriness retuned my head to the point where I wasn’t gagging for paracetamol and a razor, and gave me enough breathing space to endure what was going on in my brain until the anti-depressants kicked in.

Alone Again, Naturally, Gilbert O’Sullivan – before having my son almost six years ago, I had four miscarriages. The first was undoubtedly the worst, both physically and emotionally. For a couple of weeks I lay on the sofa eating Viennese truffles from Thornton’s (I couldn’t stand anything else, and they were my favourites), watching Buffy and Star Trek TNG and Voyager repeats, and listening to this track over and over. The memories I have of this time are horribly vivid and colourful, but brief considering the weeks it took to get back to normal and lose the tissue designed to protect my baby from harm.

Dream a Little Dream, Mama Cass – when my son was born, these are the first lyrics I sang to him. It’s a song my husband and I both love, and I’ve always loved sycamore trees (especially climbing them) so it was the perfect fit. It’s still something we sing to him late at night or when he’s poorly and fretful or lying horribly still on the couch. I do wonder how it must feel to lose a parent but still be able to hear recordings of them singing (or talking or laughing), especially if your parent’s recordings are popular enough that you could be ambushed with your loved one’s voice at any moment.

The Boxer, Simon & Garfunkel – my son always has one of us at his side as he falls asleep, and when he was very little, I would sing to him to reassure him and keep him lying there. I have a shocking memory, and although I can sing along to quite a few tunes (especially from the 90s) on the radio I find it hard to recall full sets of lyrics especially when I’m trying not to fall asleep myself. The Boxer is one of the songs I particularly liked to sing along to on the cassette my dad gave me, and for some reason the lyrics stuck in my head enough for me to repeat them to my son over 15 years later. Instead of nursery rhymes, he tends to request “pocketful of mongrels”.

So there you go. A couple of wrist-slitters, some happy-smiley choons, and nostalgia. A fair mix, I reckon.

hoffsGill Hoffs lives with her family and Coraline Cat in a horribly messy house in Warrington. Find her on facebook or as @gillhoffs on twitter, email her a dirty joke at gillhoffs@hotmail.co.uk, or leave a clean comment at http://gillhoffs.wordpress.com/ ‘Wild: a collection’, her word-mixture of sea creatures, regret, and murder, is out now from Pure Slush. Get it here.
Gill’s often-sad sometimes-grisly nonfiction book about the Victorian Titanic will be published in January 2014 by Pen & Sword. Feel free to send her chocolate.

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