“I’ve an idea,” MadFather said. We were staying with friends in Cornwall in a house so enormous I got lost in it twice; a far cry from the littered, shabby streets of my hometown.
We went for a walk along the cliffs, heading inland. There was heather all around us. It was neither warm nor cold, the summer sky fading to a hazy lavender colour in the dusk.
I heard strumming, suddenly; whipped around to see where it was coming from.
MadFather sat next to me on a wide, flat rock. “It’s a band called James,” he whispered. I looked down onto the field below where all the paying customers were sitting and let out a giggle.
They played a song called Sit Down, which I had never heard before, but I knew that the thrum of the guitars, the beat of the drums, made me feel alive, even then, at my first concert. Next, they played a song called Laid, which I didn’t understand for another fifteen years.
“Listen to this,” MadFather said, flicking a tape my way as we, together, deconstructed a motherboard in his little office/computer room.
Eventually, I got around to it. It was Neil Young, Cortez the Killer. He’s got a funny voice, I thought.
“I don’t like rap,” I said to MadFather as we bounced a ball outside on the uneven drive.
“You don’t like all rap?” he said, looking up to the window where our French student was staying.
“Nope. It’s stupid. All about guns.”
“Hang on,” MadFather said, opening the back door and disappearing.
After a few minutes sitting on the step, the warm summer-evening air kissing my knees, I went inside too.
“Listen to this,” MadFather said, putting a tape into a player.
I heard the beat, so distinctive, knew it was The Police immediately. Except it wasn’t. It was different.
Puff Daddy rapped: “Seems like yesterday we used to rock the show / I laced the track, you locked the flow.”
I listened to the whole thing in shocked silence.
“It’s poetry, see,” MadFather said. “It’s just poetry.”
“Everyone should have a copy of The Bends,” I said, in my grunge phase (though it’s still a sentiment I stand by).
“Nope. Everyone should have a copy of Automatic,” MadFather said.
“Automatic?” I said; a clueless tween.
The CD appeared downstairs days later. I grabbed it, taking it up to my room and fell in love like I never had before. Drive, Nightswimming, Everybody Hurts.
“God that’s good,” I said to MadFather the next day. “Nightswimming is the best piece of music I have ever heard.”
“I saw The Cardigans at V Festival,” I said to MadFather as I walked in from a ballet class, pointe shoes clunking on the kitchen work surface as I put my bag down.
“They were on in the day time.”
“I don’t really rate them.”
“Neither did I. I don’t like Gran Turismo, and all that guitar stuff. But they played this new album called Long Gone Before Daylight,” I said, handing the CD to MadFather. “It’ll change your fucking life.”
“I love it,” MadFather said to me a few days later, as he handed me back my CD and slipped a copy of it into his car. “I absolutely love it.”
“Everyone at uni is listening to this,” I said, as The Black Eyed Peas’ Where Is The Love? came on the radio.
“This song’s great,” MadFather said.
He turned the volume up. “Listen to the production on it,” he said. “Listen to the strings.”
The song swells, and I understand. It’s not a guilty pleasure if it’s good.
MadFather was driving me back to University in the autumn. Maximo Park were playing.
“I don’t get this song,” I said. It’s mostly spoken, with a Joy-Division-like synth to it.
“This room gets so cold in the winter / What will it take to heat this house?”
“Why is he talking about his heating bills?” I said.
“He’s not,” MadFather said. “It’s a metaphor. His relationship. It’s cold.”
“Aaaah,” I said. “I get it.”
I have a long drive ahead of me, and I flick aimlessly through my iPhone, trying to find music that will keep me awake and won’t offend my ears at such an early hour, and eventually decide to just shuffle my entire music collection (which runs to some 15Gb).
I listen to Pharrel ft Kanye West as I zip up the motorway, mellow out to David Gray, to Alanis Morisette, to Flo Rida, to Noah & The Whale, to Mozart, to Cosby, Stills & Nash.
When people ask me what music I’m into, I find it very difficult to respond. “Artists who are good at what they do,” is what I usually say, worrying that I sound like somebody who “likes all music” (a sentiment that I used to think really meant they liked no music).
I like everything. And I’m also the pickiest person I know.
And I have MadFather to thank.