Longreads / Music

Music turned the key – moments from the memory vault

It’s what Oprah has coined a lightbulb moment. I had one causing me to fully awake from restless sleep in the wee hours of a random Thursday morning. My mind was racing; I was constructing the ending to a short story I have been working on. My mind was going so fast I had to voice record my thoughts. I was haemorrhaging words really.

But lightbulb moments don’t appear out of the blue, these moments, at least for me, start off as subtle messages working their way to hitting me in the face if it comes to it because this late bloomer sometimes takes a while to get it.

I was happy to see the back of 2013. It was a crappy year – derailed weight loss efforts was the very least of it. But while I was busy worrying about what a crappy year I was having, music was healing me.

It all started with Beyoncé, practically a member of my family since Destiny’s Child, we dance to her music at every family event (though I’m on the fence with some of her new stuff).

Her I Am World Tour dvd would change me, it began as a reward system if I made it to gym and kicked ass. I’d come home to dance to her music with the volume as loud as my neighbours could stand it. In my defence living around the corner from a wedding venue in Gaza meant loud music was a regular thing so I never heard a complaint (not that I’d know with my level of Arabic), it was usually a humid 40 degrees C so on went the aircon, all curtains closed (to avoid the glares of my already curious neighbours about this tall black woman with her white husband – ‘how did this happen?’ many would ask). I’d put on my swimsuit or just have on my underwear pretending to be a sexy back up dancer.

I didn’t care if I looked like Miley out of whack twerking because in those moments all that mattered was that I felt good. I wasn’t the struggling-to-find-work-immigrant-wife reminded daily by outsiders how smart and amazing my husband was (though both are true) in a perfect Norwegian society where once he and I were headed home after a movie when a guy walked up to us and asked if we were ‘planning to fuck’ of course in Norway at the time I was warned that a black woman is usually seen as a sex worker (but I digress, promise to tell you more another time).

Sadly those harrowing years in Norway saw me literally eat my heart out and it showed but dancing to Beyoncé I was Bree again; capable, confident, beautiful and free.

My second eldest sister Nancy and her daughter, Dj, my now 18-year-old niece and I survived the build up to her concert which included finding a last-minute replacement sitter for the younger kids when the one booked weeks in advance cancelled just one hour before we were set to leave!

With virtually no voice and a massive blister under the ball of my right foot Dj and I wandered the streets of London the next day reliving the night before and singing I’m a grown woman  which we’d heard for the first time then. My niece was a few months shy of her 18th birthday and said ‘well I can’t sing that yet.’

I went from Beyoncé to Bon Jovi in Cape Town, South Africa reminding me that it was my life I just wanna live while I’m alive. Energised I thought to myself I was tired of being scared to do what my heart so desired but as I’d become accustomed I pushed that thought back.

A few months later on a muggy summer’s day in Paris, my very elegant friend Sarah whom I’d not seen in nearly a decade would host my husband and I for a truly beautiful weekend and take us out to Festival FNAC Liv where I’d discover the Irish band Villagers who’d move me with their The Waves song an indictment of sorts on our relationship to the environment. Hours later I’d be weeping at Place de la Republique on what would be Nelson Mandela’s last birthday – he was sick, we all knew it was the end. South African legend Yvonne Chaka Chaka sang the great Miriam Makeba’s songs and other South African classics beautifully supported by Clermont Community Choir from Durban & the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra who played all night including a moving solo performance describing how Winnie Mandela was shunned – Winnie’s Opera I like to think of it.

All the time at these performances, one thought recurred, these artists made something of their thoughts, feelings, hurt and hopes. Why couldn’t I do that? I asked myself, eventually the question turned into how can I do that? A colossal shift in thinking for someone like me who can simply fixate on a problem.

At the end of the year my sis Sam & I would see Dave Matthews Band and amid the violin, drums, bass guitar, sax and Dave Matthew’s voice making magic, Broken Things would remind me of what we’ve survived so far me and my husband:

‘…And we’re picking though this broken glass
Well how could we know that our lives
Would be so full of beautifully broken things’

I’ve been in a funk for a few days now and to stamp it out, all I needed to do was surrender to my headphones and playlist of old tracks that have carried me through life so far providing refuge and inspiration.

I thought of the time when as teens, Sam and I sharing a room, would discuss song lyrics in the dark. It was she who brought me her Matchbox 20 album Mad Season (no whatsapp then to send as an audio file) when I’d broken up with a boy I was seeing and needed to cry myself to sleep listening alternately to Rest Stop:
‘while you were sleeping
I was listening to the radio
And wondering what you’re dreaming when
It came to mind that I didn’t care
So I thought – hell if it’s over
I had better end it quick
Or I could lose my nerve’

and Leave:
‘I’m not saying there wasn’t nothing wrong
I just didn’t think you’d ever get tired of me
But if that’s how it’s gonna leave
Straight out from underneath
Then we’ll see who’s sorry now
If that’s how it’s gonna stand, when
You know you’ve been depending on
The one you’re leaving now
The one you’re leaving out’

Years before that it was Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours we listened to when quarantined with chickenpox.

And she never complained when I had 3 Doors Down’s Here without you on repeat to comfort me all those days and nights that turned into years away from my husband – thank you Norwegian immigration.

‘But all the miles that separate
Disappear now when I’m dreaming of your face’

And all the times I’ve packed a suitcase to live in another country Bono would sing Walk On in my living room

‘And love is not the easy thing
The only baggage you can bring…
Is all that you can’t leave behind…
You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been…
Leave it behind
You’ve got to leave it behind’

When that visa did arrive and it was time to leave, at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town,
Just Jinger would break my heart as they played Shallow Waters I’m leaving shallow waters… during their first concert back home just when I was leaving my home for the deep end that was Norway, for a second time to show the man I love that I can try this again.

But it would be the very first concert of Bruce Springsteen with the E Street band guest starring
guitarist Tom Morello in Cape Town, South Africa that’d turn the key to unlock the final door. Until then it felt as if I was opening the lock to a door that only led to another locked door as I tried to run from self-doubt and chase the moment when ideas become words and words become sentences that someone would want to read.

All those years of literally dancing in the dark to Springsteen or simply sitting in the dark allowing the ache of his raspy voice to sooth my hollow pain.

Often on the road in the car’s cd player I’d hit number 4 on the greatest hits album – The River,
‘no wedding day smile, no walk down the aisle, no flowers, no  wedding dress…
Now I just act like I don’t remember
Mary acts like she don’t care ‘

I don’t  know why but I can never control the tears with this one.

And then I’d hit number 7 Dancing in the Dark

‘You can’t start a fire
Sitting ’round crying over a broken heart…
You can’t start a fire
Worrying about your little world falling apart’

After all these years those lyrics jumped out at me. What I want to be can’t be if I am too scared to take a risk and it would begin with healing those broken things and living life inspite of them. And my goodness it wasn’t going to happen in a tidy little convenient package. I couldn’t fear that anymore.

I don’t know if anything is going to come of these haemorrhaging words but I’ve got high hopes that you can meet me in the land of hopes and dreams:

‘Well this train
Carries saints and sinners
This train
Carries losers and winners
This train
Carries whores and gamblers
This train
Carries lost souls
This train
Carries brokenhearted
This train
These are sweet souls departed…
This train
Dreams will not be thwarted
This train
Faith will be rewarded
This train
Hear the steel wheels singing
This train
Bells of freedom ringing…
People get ready there’s a train coming
You don’t need no ticket
All you gotta do is
Get on board’

(This is how it was sung 26 Jan 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa)

The music currently on repeat in my house

The music currently on repeat in my house

Beyonce in London at the 02 Arena © LifeofBree. Do not reproduce this photo without express permission from the owner.

Beyonce in London at the 02 Arena
© LifeofBree. Do not reproduce this photo without express permission from the owner.

Bon Jovi in Cape Town © LifeofBree. Do not reproduce this photo without express permission from the owner.

Bon Jovi in Cape Town
© LifeofBree. Do not reproduce this photo without express permission from the owner.

Place de la republique - Paris © LifeofBree. Do not reproduce this photo without express permission from the owner.

Place de la republique – Paris © LifeofBree. Do not reproduce this photo without express permission from the owner.

Parisians enjoy the Nelson Mandela concert  © LifeofBree. Do not reproduce this photo without express permission from the owner.

Parisians enjoy the Nelson Mandela concert
© LifeofBree. Do not reproduce this photo without express permission from the owner.

Dave Matthews band in Cape Town © LifeofBree. Do not reproduce this photo without express permission from the owner.

Dave Matthews band in Cape Town
© LifeofBree. Do not reproduce this photo without express permission from the owner.

springsteen with e street band and tom morello

Springsteen with the E Street band and Tom Morello © LifeofBree. Do not reproduce this photo without express permission from the owner.

© LifeofBree. Do not reproduce this photo without express permission from the owner.

© LifeofBree. Do not reproduce this photo without express permission from the owner.

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