April 11, 2010

Hannah Smart's Eternal Mixtape

When I entered into this project, I had no idea just how much work would have to go into it to make it perfect. This mixtape does not work when listened to in this order, but I decided to go with chronological ordering to show you just how much I have changed, my music has changed and how the two really are interlinked constantly. I have so much music that means so much to me that this really was difficult to write in places. Some of the memories here were painful to recall, but all of this made me stronger and I’ve tried to see this as some sort of healing exercise. I hope you find something here to relate to. Here is my eternal mixtape – for better or worse.

The Stone Roses – Made Of Stone / She Bangs The Drums (Summer 1989)

The very first one. This was the record that changed everything for me. I was 18 months old and we were on holiday in Yorkshire, Northern England. My Dad has a cassette of The Roses eponymous debut record and had played it to my Aunt’s boyfriend, Colin, while we were away. I became obsessed with it instantly. I had never heard anything like it before: the guitars, the hazy vocals, the big choruses. I was hooked on it and it became the only cassette that I let Colin and Dad play the entire time we were there.

I have returned to it constantly over the past 20 years. At 7, when I was meant to be all about the Spice Girls and Britpop, I had stolen that old cassette and played it to death (literally). At 15, when I was going through a particularly rough patch in my life, I returned to it to find comfort in those songs. I still get goosebumps when Ian Brown sings “the past was yours but the future’s mine” on ‘She Bangs The Drums’, but ‘Made Of Stone’ was the song that I played constantly for 20 years. It was the one that I declared my favourite at the age of 18 months old, and it still holds a great power over me to this day. It started it all.

The Rolling Stones – Bitch (1991-1993)

My Dad’s favourite Stones song, which would later become my own favourite Stones song. I remember hearing this from a very early age. I wasn’t at school yet and dancing to my Dad’s records was always one of my favourite things to do. The riff on this one, the horns!, was what grabbed me. It was something that I could dance to and that was all that mattered at the age of 3, but it planted a seed in my rock ‘n’ roll education. I had discovered The Rolling Stones and I was 3 years old. Every last second of this song reminds me of my childhood and how much fun Dad and I had when he put those records on. My sister was born the same year as I first heard this song and I distinctly remember hearing this not long after she came home to live with us for good. There were huge changes happening in my life and I wasn’t even aware of it.

Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run (1992)

What does one say about Bruce Springsteen? I was 4 years old when I heard this song for the first time and I remember the day. Dad has always been a fan of Springsteen, but he didn’t play him a lot when I was very little. It would be later when I went to school that he’d play me the masterpiece that this song is the title track from. I remember feeling euphoric when the chorus kicked in and being completely blown away by the wall-of-sound guitars that was blasting from the speakers. When the E Street band hit “the highway’s jammed with broken heroes” that first time, I had some sort of epiphany. I became inconsolable with joy. Springsteen had arrived. I’d only just started school. I never looked back.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Learning To Fly (1992)

One of those songs that my Dad played a lot when I was very young. The whole ‘Into The Great Wide Open’ record was a soundtrack to those early school years. I fell in love with this song and, for a very long time, wouldn’t let my poor father listen to anything else when he opened the doors on his stereo cupboard. It was always “the flying song!” first. Times were simpler then, and I distinctly remember having a lot of fun to the sound of this song. Singing all the words at the top of my voice and telling my Dad that I wanted to be in a band when I was all growned up. Rock music was becoming part of the fabric of my life now, not just something to dance to.

The Smiths – What Difference Does It Make? (1994)

Just listen to the riff on this one and you’ll see why the 6 year old Hannah fell in love with this song. I knew about The Smiths from the beginning of school, but this is the first song I remember hearing and falling completely, head over heals in love with. Morrissey’s voice was alien to me and the sounds that Johnny Marr was getting out of that guitar was nothing like anything I’d heard before. I’d asked about The Smiths because of Oasis citing them as an influence and Dad gladly educated me on their existence and their music. This was the song that made the biggest impact and I did an awful lot of dancing, singing and playing air guitar to this one. It’s still my favourite Smiths song and it never fails to raise a smile.

Alanis Morissette – You Learn (1995)

“You live, you learn.” Those words hit me like a cricket bat across the face. I may only have been very young when this record came out, but my Pa played this one a lot to me and my younger sister. We loved ‘Ironic’ but it was this song that would go on to become the new ‘Made Of Stone’. I have revisited this song more times that I care to mention. I loved it when I was 7, I went back to it again when I was 10, then again at 13 and 15 and I still put it on after a bad day even now. The words held a lot of meaning at all stages in my life and it’s one of the few constants of my teenage years. When you’re young, it’s the dancing that matters, but when I was young it was the words that mattered and they mean even more now. I’ve grown up with and to this song. It still has the power to make me feel better about everything.

The Lightning Seeds – Imaginary Friends (1996-7)

I cannot ignore the fact that The Lightning Seeds were my favourite band for so long. They were a classic British pop band. They made proper pop music – beautiful, tuneful, catchy as hell. Ian Broudie was my hero when I was 8 years old and I’m not joking when I say that I literally wanted to be him. It was this band that I wanted to be in. It was Ian Broudie that I loved the most. He was incredible to me. The whole of the ‘Dizzy Heights’ record changed everything for me. I fell hard and fast for it and it’s still one of my all-time favourite records. This song – a song about not having any friends and being branded ‘odd’ – became my anthem from a very young age. I wasn’t like other kids and I didn’t want to be like the other girls; I liked rock music, guitars, singing and daydreaming about being able to be in a band. They liked synchronised dancing and platform shoes. I never fitted in like I should’ve and this was the song that made that feel okay. It became even more relevant when I hit secondary (high) school and got me through a lot of bullying. It became my go-to record when someone had made me feel like I wasn’t good enough.

Pulp – Disco 2000 (1996)

Pulp were the best of the ‘Britpop’ bands. In fact, grouping this band with that tag feels wrong somehow – they were better than that. They were outsiders, oddballs and eccentrics. They had Jarvis Cocker at the helm. They made records that I could relate to AND dance to. This was the one I remember seeing on Top Of The Pops and being completely taken in by. The way Jarvis looked, the way he sang, the way that Pulp didn’t look like any other band on the circuit – they were weird and I liked that. That sense of the alien was something that I really hooked onto and this song is still one of my anthems of the 90s because it was such a great epiphany. Thank you Jarv, you gave me hope of being uncool and yet, still deemed extraordinary.

Robbie Williams – Old Before I Die (April 1997)

This was the first single I ever bought. On cassette. And I still have it somewhere. Robbie Williams was in a boy band. A boy band that I was too young to understand. I didn’t think he was particularly attractive, I was 8 years old! But this song, this song was great. The riff, the massive “screw you!”, the fact he was clearly stealing from Oasis was something I really enjoyed. It was the beginning of a wonderful love affair with Robbie’s music. I own a lot of records by the man and I know it’s not “cool” or whatever, but his honesty astounded me then as it does now. He was cheeky and charismatic – he could hold your attention when he got on stage. And although I didn’t know what that was, I was fascinated by him and I would later be fascinated with how he dealt with all the pressure and his drug abuse. This was the first song that I loved by the Robster, but his record ‘Sing When You’re Winning’ would be a milestone in my life. A huge one. His lyrics about everything from alienation, broken relationships, depression and suicide really struck a chord with me, but it was this one that started it all. Pure pop from start to finish via stolen Oasis riffs and big choruses living your life long enough to see a few things.

Feeder – Sweet 16 (March 1998)

Anyone remember Gran Tourismo? For the PlayStation? Oh hells yes. This was one of the songs on the soundtrack and it was the one song that I’d play over and over and over. It was my introduction to the slightly harder rockin’ side of rock ‘n’ roll and it grabbed me in a way I can’t describe. There was something so dark and dangerous about it. Something fast and exciting. That guitar sound sounded like hell on earth, but louder. It was to begin a short period of heavier rock and roll in my life and my long lasting affection for Feeder as a band; it would be Feeder that would later be cited as a favourite band, but it was ‘Sweet 16’ that started my fascination with the heavier rock and roll that would become so dominant in my early teens.

Elvis Costello – Alison (1998)

My Mum loves Elvis Costello. My Dad loves Elvis Costello. My Aunt loves Elvis Costello. I come from a family where it is compulsory to enjoy the sounds of this man on and off for, well, ever. I heard this one late in life when my Dad went out and replaced his vinyl on CD. This was the song that made me sit up and listen. His voice, the laid back guitar sound, that fact he was singing about my Mum (well, in my head he was. My Ma’s name happens to be Alyson). I was completely taken in and not even because my parents adored him so much. I made the connection myself and since then I’ve been playing him loud and proud for everyone to hear. I have been told off for playing ‘My Aim Is True’ too loud everywhere I stay for more than a week. It’s one of those albums that never ages and ‘Alison’ remains one of the high benchmarks from it; reminding me of my parents, my house, my Dad’s old headphones and being a kid in general. It reminds me of simpler times.

Derek & The Dominoes – Layla (1999)

My Dad informs me that this song was played to death just before I left Junior school. It was one of those songs that should be played to all budding rock and roll fans from a very early age. It’s like a rite of passage into the realm of guitar solos and big choruses. I remember being enthralled by the fact that I could sing-along from the second listen and the fact that, when you listen to the words, it’s actually quite sad but it sounds so uplifting on the surface. I was fascinated by the power it held and I loved that my Dad clearly adored it so much – gushing has occurred countless times. It reminds me mostly of my little sister and he first brush with guitar solos. I’ll never forget that look of complete wonder on her face when she heard Clapton play. It was the first time I remember being really excited to see someone else’s reaction to music. It didn’t disappoint.

The Clash – London Calling (1999-2001)

Joe Strummer changed my life. The Clash changed the way I listened to music, the way I thought about music and how I felt about punk rock. This record and song was one of the few genuinely easy choices from my list, because it was such a massive impact album. It’s perfect even now. This is the song that changed it all for me. I was not enjoying school – I hated every single second I was in that place and I hated the people I was there with even more. I resented the fact that they’d branded me as a loser before I’d even opened my mouth and they’d judged me on the way I looked. I resented the fact that they’d decided who was going to be in the cool crowd and who’d be subjected to misery for the rest of their school life. I fell neatly into the second category and they made my life hell. I rarely spoke. I got a lot of abuse if I did dare to defend myself. I was called names and no one talked to me if they could help it. I became a very solitary little thing and took to taking comfort from my records. The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ helped me through a lot of that. It was a record that taught me to take the abuse and the high ground. It taught me to tell people to get fucked when they treated me like crap. It helped me to realise that I was not the one in the wrong – that I was better than that. Although, it took it some considerable time to break through my already very thick exterior shell, it made an impact on my life and the way I thought about myself. It just took a lot of time for it to penetrate that shield.

Led Zeppelin – Rock ‘n’ Roll (2001)

Here lies another rite of passage for all budding rock fans. If you’re a parent and you want to educated your young’un early, put this song on and leave them to it. This was like being shown the gateway to heaven (not Stairway, a pun!) in my eyes. I was completely thrown by it. It was big, bold, brash, exciting. I remember the adrenaline rush the first time I heard Dad play it. I may have been late to the party, but it still managed to rock the hardest when I got there. I’d never heard anyone sing like Robert Plant before and the guitar sound sent the blood pumping through my veins at such a rate that I got a rush of blood to the head. It was like nothing in my (then quite modest) record collection at the time. And it would be start of a beautiful relationship with the Led. That riff still gives me a rush even now.

Elbow – Red (June 2001)

Some days, I have no words for what this song means to me. Other days, it’s hard to articulate exactly what I felt the first time I heard it. An old friend of mine but ‘Red’ on a mix CD for me. I was going through a lot with the kids at school and I didn’t really have a lot of people to talk to about that. This friend handed me the mix and said “track 4, listen to the lyrics”. Track 4 was this song and I remember exactly how I felt when I heard it that first time. How this song made me feel less alone in the world – like someone, somewhere understood the loneliness, the heartache, the isolation. That was just the lyrics. Hearing Guy Garvey’s voice for the first time was a beautiful moment. That purr in my headphones would become one of my favourite comforting sounds; like an old sweater or a blanket. The beauty that radiated through my headphones – such as they were – would be the start of a love so deep that I would fall for this band and still be raving about them nearly 10 years later. They are my favourite British band and no one comes close. This song gave me hope for a brighter future somewhere else i.e. not school. And restored a little bit of faith in my own abilities to carry on.

Coldplay – Amsterdam (September onwards 2002)

I was excited for the second Coldplay album when it came out. I’d liked ‘Parachutes’, but once I’d heard the first single to come from ‘A Rush Of Blood To The Head’, I knew that it was going to be something special. It came out in the August and, in the September, I was back at school for another year of name-calling and isolation. That year was rough from the start. I remember feeling like I had no one in the world and spending an awful lot of time sitting in the dark with my headphones on. When I heard this song after a particularly hard week at school and one of those days where I shut down completely and isolated myself further – a habit I never really grew out of. This song came on and the words, although spectacularly depressing, gave me an enormous amount of hope. When Chris Martin sang “I know I’m dead on the surface, but I am screaming underneath” it was like someone understood what I was feeling. This dark cloud of depression that had consumed me so readily when I went back to school was understood by someone and that was both terrifying and liberating to the 14 year old me. I wasn’t on my own, even if my only real friends were records.

The Verve – The Drugs Don’t Work (February 2004)

I’ve done some stupid things in my time. My teenage years were questionable at best. Especially the early ones. I did a lot of searching for something more than what I was getting at school and I hung out with the wrong crowd for a while. I did some things that I was not proud of and things that, really, weren’t advisable behaviour for someone so young. This song, although it had been in my life for some considerable time previous to the moment it made the big impact, came along at a time when I needed someone to stop me. I needed to be given that gentle nudge away from what I was up to and shown that I had other things to live for. This had to stop and when I heard this after a particularly heavy session and a lot of life changes going on around me, I knew it was time to make a change.

Pink Floyd – take your pick from ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ (July 2004)

This band, and this record, had been in my life from a very, very early age. Pink Floyd is one of the few bands that my parents agree on and this album is one that every home should have. This record made an impact much earlier than I have listed here, but it was July 2004 that it would really start to make waves. That Summer was the one between my GCSEs and the beginning of my A-levels. It was an incredibly long one, too. We spent a lot of time wandering around, going to shows, hanging around my friends’ houses, stealing shopping trollies and having house parties. It was the Summer that my best friend, Hannah, and I became incredibly close. We spent a lot of time in my friend Tash’s garden, listening to punk and ska in the sunshine. This was the record that reminds me of coming home from the parties, going straight to my bedroom and locating my headphones. It was the comedown, it was the blissful moment just before the inevitable sleep that would eat into the morning (and the afternoon) after. It was the soundtrack to the memories that were made.

Brand New – Okay I Believe You But My Tommy Gun Don’t (Summer/Autumn 2005)

In the haze of Summer 2005, many events occurred. The band we were good friends with played some fantastic gigs, we got completely wasted in Tash’s garden, I went to countless rock shows, Hannah had passed her driving test and we spent a lot of time driving around to great music. This song was one of them. It played wherever we went and whoever we went with. Hannah’s boyfriend, Rob, played it to me the first time and since then, it’s been an anthem for that part of my life. When we all had to go back to school and give up the fantastic Summer we’d had, this song still played and it sound tracked my entire first term of my final year of school. I was just coming out of my most emo of phases and starting a brand new one – without many of the friends I’d had in the Summer previously. It was the beginning of a new era. ‘Okay I Believe You…’ was the sound of one chapter ending and a brand new one beginning. After that Summer, with all the fun and parties and questionable activity, we’d go our separate ways and finish school, make new friends – some of whom would become lifelong friends – and grow up a little bit. Things changed, but this song new fails to remind me of all the great times we had that year.

The Hold Steady – Stuck Between Stations (December 2006)

I’m not entirely comfortable with putting this story here, but I will share what I feel I can. 2006 was, without question, the worst year of my life. Nothing comes close to how horrific that year was for me. It was my final year of school and there’s never more pressure on a kid than when they’ve got A-levels to pass. You’re entering the last chapter of what you’ve always known (school) and what could be the next chapter of that education (university) or you could be facing unemployment. I fell ill in the April of 2006, with suspected glandular fever; they were never really sure. I was tired and I was desperately trying to get all my coursework and revision done for the impending important exams. I was exhausted, but I was still standing. I managed to do the exams and then it was Summer. A Summer where I would spend as much time with my friends as possible before we all headed off around the country to various universities. The Summer was hard; everyone was incredibly worried about the results of those important exams. We didn’t see as much of one another as we’d planned. In the August, I got my results. I got an A and three Bs – an incredible feat considering just how ill I was. Everyone got into their university. I decided that I’d reapply to a better one and have a year off – get away from school for a year and do something with my life. September came and I waved goodbye to my best friends in the entire world. They were off to start the adventure and I was off to try and find a job.

I found one. It was a miserable experience. I’ve never felt so low and I suffered from a huge wave of depression. A really dark, deep depression. I shut myself off from the world and I stopped talking. To anyone. I hated my job, my life, myself and I was stressed out enough to make myself ill. I quit my job and felt like I’d let everyone down. I was not in a good place mentally at all. I ended up doing something stupid that I’ll never, ever forgive myself for. The next day I heard ‘Stuck Between Stations’ by The Hold Steady on the internet. I’d never heard the band before. I had nothing to lose. Those 4:10 seconds of rock and roll spoke to me on a level that I didn’t even know existed. It was like someone had sat me down and told me that whatever happened, it was going to be okay – you just have to look at it differently. Whatever it did, I promised myself never to go back to that dark place and I sorted my life out. I became a stronger, more determined person and I looked at the world with a slightly more positive slant. It changed how I viewed the world and myself. I start something huge.

David Bowie – “Heroes” (January 2007)

For my 19th birthday I had requested only two things: The Hold Steady’s ‘Boys And Girls In America’ and some – any – David Bowie. My Aunt had always been a massive fan of Bowie’s stuff but in the Smart household, he was scarce at best. My Dad didn’t own any, my Mum doesn’t even like most of his stuff. I lived in a Bowie-less universe and that, my friends, is no fun. So my Aunt got me ‘Changesbowie’ and “Heroes” for my birthday. Her advice to me? “If you don’t like any of the stuff on the former, then don’t bother with the latter.” I fell head over heals in love with the best of and putting “Heroes” on for that first time, I was excited to hear what all the fuss was about. I’d always liked ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Changes’, but it would be “Heroes” that blew my mind. Over 6 minutes of perfect song writing. So full of hope and wonder, it left me with tears in my eyes on the first listen and it still holds the power to bring to inconsolable tears or ecstatic joy on any given day. It marked a big moment in my life: I’d discovered Bowie properly. I now own more music by this man than anyone else. I fell hard and fast.

The Hold Steady – How A Resurrection Really Feels (April 2007)

Whatever ‘Stuck Between Stations’ started, ‘How A Resurrection Really Feels’ finished. When I heard this for the first time in April 2007, I was completely blown away by it. The closing track on an album that would later become a) my most played record of all-time and b) one of the few records in my collection that I can honestly say changed everything; this song intensified whatever love was started by that first Hold Steady track. When I heard it for the first time, I sat completely speechless for about ten minutes. I had nothing to say. I couldn’t put what the song made me feel into words. It was like someone had just come along and put everything I couldn’t articulate into a song and it was a beautiful moment, but one that I cannot fully explain to the outside world. It was this song that made me fall so deeply in love, travel all over the country (and the world), brought so many wonderful people into my life and changed what was a sad little world into something much, much more vibrant and exciting. My life would be so very different if it wasn’t for this track.

It would be later, in October 2008, that this song would come back to change everything yet again – for very different reasons. Having been incredibly ill for a while, I was finally given my diagnosis and this song came up on shuffle. The line “she’s been disappeared for years, today she finally came back” hit me like a bolt of lightning through the heart. Yeah, I was going to get fixed and I think ‘… Resurrection…’ went someway to helping that along.

Whiskeytown – Not Home Anymore (January 2010)

This is the sound of me realising that there is much, much more to life than my degree. After working so hard on something for so long, it all caught up with me during the Christmas “break”, December 2009. Heading back to uni for the second semester of my final year, I wasn’t filled with a great amount of hope, but I’ve always been a determined little soul. In the middle of my exams, my friend Dave died in a tragic accident. I was – and still am – devastated by the news. I was so upset that I didn’t know what to do with myself for a few weeks. This song, a song that hasn’t been in my life for all that long at all, came up on shuffle and its timing struck me as something that could only really happen in movies. It was then that I realised that I’d put my life on hold for what was basically a piece of paper. I’d worked so hard and made myself ill for this piece of paper. I’d neglected friends and relationships that meant a lot to me. Losing Dave kicked me into a different gear, but it was this song that made me realise that there is much, much more to life than a degree or a job or a helluva lot of things. Since then, I’ve taken more time to be who I am and do the things I love instead of getting buried in that piece of paper and losing sight of what matters to me; the people in my life that matter to me.