I started listening to music again, properly, in the last year, and it makes me feel I got a piece of my soul back.

I’m not musical, but songs mean a lot to me.

Everyone’s musical, some people insist – usually kind musicians. That’s what she said at first; but then she heard me try to sing. I used to think it was because I wasn’t singing loudly enough; so I sang louder in Sunday School. The girl behind me – her name was Tasha – she said, Please stop singing. It was the first time she’d spoken to me. An early humiliation. I aced all the tests at school, but not the Instrumental Music Program. To my great horror but little surprise, it was two others from my year who went off to learn the trumpet.

I had an early crush on Amy Grant and her adult contemporary pop songs – some upbeat, others melancholy. This was 1991, I was ten, and I was weird, because adult contemporary was my thing – Amy Grant, Bryan Adams, Jimmy Barnes. (Strangely, I also spent hard-earned $21 – three months savings – on a MC Hammer tape which I never came to like. What was I thinking? I liked the Addams Family Groove at just the wrong moment. I’d heard he was a Christian, and thought my parents would be pleased; then I started singing a line I did not understand about a ‘glass dildo’. MC Hammer’s Christianity did not completely infuse his lyrics. I think I only recently, in this last move, got rid of that tape.)

I got back into music in year nine. Perhaps I was partly conforming, but I was also genuinely attracted to the anger of Metallica. It had little swearing, and so my parents were remarkably tolerant. Is it possible, at fourteen, to not regard lines like TIME AND SPACE NEVER ENDING /DISTURBING THOUGHTS, QUESTIONS PENDING /LIMITATIONS OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING as being equally profound as the great poets?

My taste evolved, growing to the Smashing Pumpkins and then Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, The Cure and Joy Division. I spent my childhood savings on a great five disc CD player when I moved out of home at eighteen. What a glorious machine it was! What deliberation deciding what soundtrack to my life to create before the days of itunes!

The CD player broke just before I got married, which is maybe just as well, because she’s a violist with a perfect ear who prefers silence and tells me L. Cohen is out of tune. It seemed to me Triple J stopped playing anything decent, too, that it had become overwhelmed by urban music, beats and gimmicks, and lost most of the alternative rock I liked. What’s more, I’d exhausted the eighties.

So there were lean years. But this last year, I’ve had a laptop which plays music quite well and been better connected to the internet, meaning I have bought too many songs on itunes. I have discovered new music on Radio National’s Inside Sleeve and occasionally Triple J. There’s this group of women singer-songwriters whose work my wife and I have come to like together – Holly Throsby, Regina Spektor, Sarah Blasko and recently Ane Brun and Lisa Mitchell.

The two albums I have had playing on relentless rotation (wait, this is an inept metaphor when I mean on itunes) as I write my novel are both by Mazzy Star. Their gently sad music makes me feel I’m underwater, or falling into a lull. It has a beautiful ache which never quite resolves. “Fade Into You” is representative – but then every song is. This sums them up well:

 Their fuzzy guitar workouts and plaintive folky compositions are often suffused in a dissociative ennui that is very much of the 1990s, however much their textures may recall the drug-induced states of vintage psychedelia.

Music for writing really, or perhaps a certain kind of dinner party.


In that first flush of music mania as a ten year old, I used to create a weekly (sometimes daily) top twenty – the songs I thought should be in there. Amy Grant’s “Every Heartbeat” broke every record by staying number one for twelve charts, even as it sank in the real chart. Now I have real, annual charts, the most played songs of the year that’s been. Yet it is distorted by background music on repeat. No chart is perfect. Here are the songs I played the most in 2012, one per album:

Song Artist Year Plays
1 Fade Into You Mazzy Star 1993 39
2 Warm Jet Holly Throsby 2008 29
3 Flowers in December Mazzy Star 1996 28
4 Hey Love Winterpark 2011 26
5 Undertow Ane Brun 2012 24
6 Silk Giselle 2012 23
7 The Last Party The Hampdens 2008 22
8 I Awake Sarah Blasko 2012 21
9 Get Free Major Lazer 2012 20
10 Youth in Trouble The Presets 2012 20