Su­san­nah Con­way col­umn

Re play­ing the sound­track to a re­la­tion­ship break-up in her past, Su­san­nah Con­way re­lives the pain, but also find sit a very heal­ing process.

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When I was a teenager Sun­days were the most an­tic­i­pated day of the week. Af­ter lunch I’d sit in front of the stereo with a blank cas­sette ready to record that week’s Top 40 songs off the ra­dio. There was def­i­nitely an art to press­ing pause be­fore the DJ started talk­ing but those mix­tapes would keep me go­ing for the whole week. Like most teens, I was a pop mu­sic fa­natic. Mak­ing a mix­tape for a new friend was a pow­er­ful way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing how cool I was (spoiler: I wasn’t). Wham, Tears for Fears and Eury­th­mics were all favourites, and I re­mem­ber ask­ing for the Sade al­bum for my 11th birth­day, but it was Madonna I truly idolised. Her mu­sic was the back­drop to un­re­quited crushes and my first dance with a boy. I have poignant mem­o­ries at­tached to her al­bums from the Eight­ies and to this day Lucky Star re­mains one of my favourite songs.

But some­where around 1989 Madonna fell out of favour on my record player. I left school and went to art col­lege, got into my first se­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship and dove into rave cul­ture like a duck to water. It wasn’t un­til 1998 when Ray of Light came out that her mu­sic re­aligned with where I was in my­self. I was build­ing my grown-up life in London and felt a con­nec­tion to Madonna’s new in­car­na­tion as mother and soul- seeker. Mu­sic came along in 2000 and be­came the sound­track to my time as a fledg­ling jour­nal­ist, and then in 2003 Amer­i­can Life hit the shelves just as my 10-year re­la­tion­ship im­ploded.

It’s not an al­bum you’d as­so­ciate with heartache, but it was the only al­bum I bought in the months it took to wind down the re­la­tion­ship. I knew I needed some­thing fresh to lis­ten to, some­thing to give me hope, some­thing to make me feel any­thing other than the sad­ness that was break­ing me apart. I haven’t heard the songs from that al­bum since, so for the pur­poses of this col­umn I searched for the al­bum on Spo­tify and there it was, Pan­dora’s box of pain ready to be re­lived.

The ti­tle song of the al­bum didn’t feel too bad, but ten sec­onds into Hol­ly­wood I had to press pause. Those first few gui­tar notes pulled my mood down to my shoes. I per­se­vered. Love Pro­fu­sion and No­body Knows Me both felt sur­pris­ingly up­lift­ing and I re­mem­bered how the up­beat pace of the songs gave me mo­men­tum as I packed my pos­ses­sions ready to move out of our shared home.

And then Noth­ing Fails, the sixth song of the al­bum, started play­ing. I could feel my younger self sit­ting in her new bed­room, not long af­ter the break up, play­ing that song. I could prac­ti­cally taste the red wine that got me through those first weeks of tran­si­tion. “You could take all this, take it away / I’d still have it all / ‘Cause I’ve climbed the tree of life / And that is why, no longer scared if I fall.” I lis­tened to that song hun­dreds of times, em­bed­ding it into the DNA of my mem­o­ries. The third time I lis­tened to it in 2018 I could feel the tears want­ing to come. It was heal­ing to be able to con­nect to that scared ver­sion of my­self and know she would be okay.

We each have a sound­track that’s ac­com­pa­nied us through life. It’s made up of the mu­sic our par­ents played, the songs we sang with our friends, the first dances and break-up al­bums, the karaoke favourites and per­sonal an­thems that have seen us through the best and worst of times. I don’t know any­one who doesn’t have a mu­si­cal pref­er­ence, be it clas­si­cal, rock or any­thing in- be­tween. Even the birds sing each day.

While I don’t feel an urge to lis­ten to Amer­i­can Life again I’m glad to have a sonic scrap­book of that time. Fif­teen years later my life is un­recog­nis­able and so are my mu­si­cal habits. The ar­rival of dig­i­tal mu­sic has trans­formed how I lis­ten to mu­sic and I some­times miss the gen­uine an­tic­i­pa­tion of a new al­bum com­ing out – do they still play the Top 40 on the ra­dio? I do know my favourite part of the week is now Mon­day morn­ing. That’s when Spo­tify de­liv­ers my Dis­cover Weekly playlist, a “mix­tape of fresh mu­sic… cho­sen just for you.” FUR­THER READ­ING From left: Mu­sic and the Mind by Antony Storr. Mu­si­cophilia: Tales of Mu­sic and the Brain by Oliver Sacks. This is Your Brain on Mu­sic by Daniel Levitin. You Are the Mu­sic Vic­to­ria Wil­liamson

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