Music has always been there for me in my life. Music has guided and shaped my years on this Earth. Music has seen me through the highs, the very lows and back up again.
Music to me means safety, escape, imagination gone into overdrive. I spent my teenage years crashed on my bed, joss sticks burning. In a state of musical exploration and mental grace. I was terrifying my jazz loving parents with Captain Beefheart, Syd Barrett. Throwing into the mix a bit of Chopin. They got their revenge on a Sunday morning however with an 8 am James Last alarm clock.
Once I met my equally musically wonderful wife. We soon went weird together with festivals, concerts, seedy pub bands and more. We saw The Who’s “last ever, we really mean it, this is it, all finished” tour (before the next one). We watched Roger Waters rule Glastonbury through a rainy Sunday mist together. Bliss.
I cannot remember a particular favourite track of ours, indeed, not even a favourite joint album. (I could only play Trout Mask Replica by Beefheart when I was on my own, or impressing inebriated friends.) All this music taste inequality soon dispersed and we were unified on one album. An album you wouldn’t expect a rock loving, indie freak couple to listen to. But listen and love we did because it become a soundtrack to pregnancy.
I remember lambasting people of a certain age who spoke highly of Neil Diamond. The gold jacket wearing, middle of the road, garish auntie stimulating semi-actor. But all that changed when I heard a track on the radio one afternoon. The song was “Oh Mary” and I loved it. Stripped down, acoustic and very Leonard Cohen. However my work colleague nearly wore my coffee when Ken Bruce told me it was the Diamond. The song was beautiful and soon the album Twelve Songs was endlessly playing in the house as we sat together looking out the patio doors at the dusk. This album, not only destroyed my musical snobbery, but was THE only album we listened too as we waited expectant, for baby belly (as I called bump) to arrive.
The album took on a greater significance however when we were first made aware that our baby, safe in a flesh overcoat, was going to be disabled.
Music, especially that album, became a therapy, a place to escape into, something to hang on to and something that was reassuring. We only found out our little human was disabled three days before birth and Neil Diamonds words and music became a constant background noise, a source of comfort to two people whose lives had taken the most unexpected of turns. The album became a source of strength, somewhere where memories and an unexpected, unthought future could be played out. In fact the calming melodies became ear worms, louder and more powerful than the voice of fear that was lingering.
When my wife went into hospital, we played that CD on a continual loop for the whole period of labour. 24 hours of Neil Diamond sounds like a sort of Guantanamo Bay torture. Though it acted like a reassuring visiting relative and a lyrical anaesthetic. From “Oh Mary” to final track “We”, we went into the unknown with an old, new friend singing us to the future.
Emily was born and was perfect. She has Spina Bifida and a soundtrack album all of her own. She is now twelve and somewhere in her trace memory, Neil is still there, bringing her into the world. Her music taste is a bit like her wheelchair driving, erratic to say the least. From Black Sabbath to Ed Sheeran, Emily is certainly our child.
It’s odd however, that since Emily first told the world that she wasn’t going to follow the supposed rules of disability, Neil hasn’t been heard. Twelve Songs sits in the “can’t sell because they mean a great deal” pile, but the disc remains silent and we have no idea why. Perhaps his only mission was fated to be our companion purely for those strange, borderline panic days of pre-birth and the early days after. Perhaps his job is done, who knows? Maybe he is musically unemployed because it may be raw to listen too, or because Emily will accuse me of being an old man (which I am.)
The three of us now live in a house of constant music, soundtracks and memories being made around notes and rhythms. I hope Emily has that special song, that special album that she will reach for when times become intolerable or unknown. I also hope as my musical taste becomes more safe, that I can soon rise her from her pit on a Sunday morning with a James Last alarm clock.