The music of my life

THIS morning, when I switched on the radio, I was greeted by a familiar Johnny Cash song, A Boy Named Sue. Immediately, I was transported back to my childhood in rural Scotland. For it was there that I first heard that song, way back in 1969.

I can still remember the day my mother received a parcel in the post containing four long-playing gramophone records (or LPs as they were more commonly known). When she opened the package and laid out the contents on the kitchen table, I was confronted by names I’d never heard of before. 

In 1969, everyone was raving about the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival and the like. I doubt if many other Scottish 11-year-olds had heard of singers like Johnny Cash, Slim Whitman, Guy Mitchell and Patsy Cline. 

When my mother put the Johnny Cash LP on the record player, I listened as a deep, gravelly voice sang A Boy Named Sue. I was intrigued, both by the distinctive bass-baritone voice, and the lyrics, which painted a vivid picture of an angry young man bent on revenge. 

Long after the record player had been turned off for the day, I lay in bed and wondered why the man named Sue didn’t just tell a fib whenever anyone asked him his name. Instead of getting angry because of the inflammatory comments about his feminine name, he could easily have introduced himself as Billy or John. I guess he wasn’t someone who was willing to lie to escape humiliation.

That song exposed me to a whole new world, as did many of the other songs on those four LPs. I heard about the heartache of rejection, was exposed to the inadequacies of the US penal system, and discovered a native girl who wears red feathers and a hooly-hooly skirt. 

In those Internet-less days, I had no idea that a hooly-hooly skirt was Guy Mitchell’s name for a hula skirt. Heck, living on a Scottish farm, as I did, I hadn’t even heard of a hula skirt. 

Later that year, I heard another of my mother’s favourite songs, a Neil Diamond number that was to have a long-lasting impact on me. I was so moved by the song Sweet Caroline that I even named my daughter after the title.

When I was 13, I bought my first single record: Donny Osmond’s version of Puppy Love. As I lay on my bed and listened to that song over and over again, I tried to imagine what it would be like to fall in love. I wanted to feel the highs that everyone was singing about. 

When I was 15, I did finally fall in love, with the boy next door, and Stevie Wonder provided a suitable backdrop with You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.

Unfortunately, the young man I’d been idolising from across the garden fence proved himself to be cocky and self-centred. So when the romance came to an end a few weeks later, it seemed appropriate to draw some comfort from Carly Simon’s song You’re So Vain

After that huge failure, I became a little more rebellious, and this was reflected in my choice of music, starting with Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting. I then went on to embrace my brother’s music: Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, The Who, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Dire Straits and the like. 

When I left Scotland to work in Switzerland at the age of 20, Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell, which matched my restless mood at the time, was one of the many LPs I left behind.

For a year, I worked as an au pair for a Swiss family living on the Lake of Zurich. It was during this time that I was exposed to classical music, which was constantly being played around the house. Almost osmosis-like, I absorbed Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Pachelbel, Strauss and the like. The eldest daughter in this family was an accomplished pianist, and I’ll never forget the first time I heard her play Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca from Sonata No.11.” It was magical.

My taste in music is now too eclectic to list in any sort of detail, but it’s heartening to note that my two children, who are both in their twenties, have AC/DC, Deep Purple and a few of my other favourites on their playlists.

I’m still exposing myself to new musicians and enjoying the journey. Indeed, whenever my partner and I chat with his 14-year-old daughter, we often discuss her taste in music – One Direction and Taylor Swift. Some of her favourite songs will always be part of our collective memory. 

Music still has the capacity to transport me to another time and place and to evoke the emotions that I was experiencing at the time. It also has the ability to lift my spirits, make me cry, make me ask questions, give me courage, relax me, make me feel patriotic, and connect me with my loved ones.

Who can live without it?

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The music of my life


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