"All the people I was kissing some are here and some are missing": a book review.
Updated: Oct 3, 2020
Reflections on the music of sorrow, celebration, and change...
As many of you, Gentle Reader, are already aware, I am an unabashed pop culture fan; in fact music is so important to me that I run funeral planning workshops* that focus on the playlist first and foremost, with other details coming after the music is sorted. So when my copy of One Hundred Lyrics and a Poem by Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys (PSB) arrived today I thought it was a good time to combine a book review with some thoughts on sadness during the pinnacle of Western consumer spending and commercialism, namely Christmas.
Holidays, especially Christmas, with the accompanying overload of clumsily-orchestrated ads featuring impossibly ecstatic families make for difficult times when we are in sorrow for a dead friend, spouse, sibling, parent, lover, or pet. Christmas is sold as a 'family' concept - and for those of us are thinking of how much we would like to have a someone, or several someones, here with us so that we feel advert-happy too, the Christmas period is a particularly challenging time. If you can, be gentle and careful when talking to anyone who has a death anniversary at this time of year, or who had an emotional connection to the holiday which is linked to a person who has died.
Music can move us, help us process change, identify with others to feel more connected and less lonely, and offer solace whether through sombre, quiet compositions, or brash and over the top extravagant posturings which permit release through performance when we are listening. Think singing along or lip synching to Queen and Freddie Mercury, weeping and thinking with James Blunt, or screaming along to Rammstein, etc. However, I also enjoy reading lyrics and so Tennant's book is a personal joy for me. I, eternal writer that I am, love the opportunity to look at the aspect of music that moves me far more than the music itself often does - I cannot write or read music, nor do I play any instruments, so my love and interest in lyrics is not altogether surprising. I also don't particularly like looking at lyrics online... I am a devoted and determined booklover. Bringing both music and lyrics together in One Hundred Lyrics and a Poem is, therefore, a true treat for me.
Tennant's book is an understated joy - the layout is easy to follow and the pages are not overcrowded, while the overall quiet design underpins the strength and power of the lyrics themselves. Arranged alphabetically by song name, there is an explanatory endnote for each song that offers a glimpse into Tennant's inspiration, context, and/or personal experience. There is a restraint to the endnotes that reflects the songwriting style that the PSBs are known for, and I am quite satisfied with these glimpses - I remain unconvinced that art is ever enhanced by over-sharing. Tennant is thoughtful, erudite, concise, and literate. Both endnotes and lyrics are worthwhile and bear repeated reading. I highly recommend this book.
On a personal seasonal note, I have been listening to the PSBs since the 1980s, and I have spent a good deal of time singing along or saying aloud some of the lyrics that I consider personally quite poignant. Being Boring (listening on a loop as I write this blog post) is a personal favourite, and has stood the test of time as I still listen - and cry - to this song, which was inspired (amongst a few others - if you are curious to know which, buy the book and discover for yourself, as the lyric notes are cross-indexed) by the death of a friend of Tennant's from AIDS. I had friends die in the plague years, and have friends and clients alike who also still live with the echoes of these losses. I, too, become nostalgic at times of heightened advertising campaigns for 'family' and 'togetherness', and am sometimes caught unawares by waves of nostalgia and longing for those who are no longer in my life.
Therefore, this holiday season I invite us all to take a page from Tennant's book, and to be quiet in our compassion and understanding for both ourselves, and those around us who may be singing along with their dead. "...I thought in spite of dreams you'd be sitting somewhere here with me..."
If you are struggling with grief, loss, and sorrow during the holiday period, or wondering what a suitable playlist for this time of year might sound like, please do not hesitate to get in touch. I am an End of Life Consultant and Doula with a phenomenal capacity for listening and empathy, and I am an artist and writer who specialises in both creative solutions, and sensitive interpretations of personal stories.
Jingle Bells. Let's talk - firstname.lastname@example.org
*These workshops are fun, and I recommend that you attend one if possible!