I rely heavily on Radio 4 in the mornings, both as antidote to early morning Cbeebies and in order to kick start my mental factulties. I’m usually animatedly berating Humph by the time I screech into my parking space of a morning, raring to get to court and exercise my lungs a bit more.
But sometimes something different is called for. Sometimes a case is heavy going and you need a different medicine. On those mornings, the ones where you seriously consider just staying under the duvet, a vocal workout of the musical variety is required to dispel the early morning despond. Oh yeah. Bad singing is excellent therapy. Good job I don’t car pool…
Thank god for my iphone and the bluetooth handsfree whatssit in my car. It must be familiar, tuneful, and somehow either dripping with pathos or just utterly banal. Ladies and Gentlefolk I give you the Country playlist…
I’ve been listening to the Country playlist a lot lately. And you know a case is getting to you when every song is about your case today. Or your case last week. Or that case in your diary that is worrying you. And with Country songs there are a whole lot of echoes for a family lawyer. Although it should be a sort of musical bussmans holiday, for some reason singing it, singing it loud and singing it badly makes the real stuff all much more emotionally manageable. I suppose it is a cheap psychological trick, the reassurance that at least sh*t happens within a narrative framework, with symmetry and rhyme: Order made of chaotic lives- that’s country. And on one level that’s what we are striving to do, to restore some kind of order to chaotic lives. The harmonious telling of the darker side of life suits the black humour of the family lawyer.
Here’s a few that get me singing:
So Much Wine, by The Handsome Family is a big fave but you really have to listen to get the full effect:
“I had nothing to say on Christmas day when you threw all your clothes in the snow,
When you burnt you hair, knocked over chairs I just tried to stay out of our way. But when you fell asleep with blood on your teeth I got in my car and drove away,
Listen to me Butterfly, there’s only so much wine you can drink in one life. But it will never be enough to save you from the bottom of your glass.
Where the State Highway starts I parked my car. I got out and stared up at the stars. As meteors died and shot across the sky I thought about your sad shining eyes,
I came back for my clothes when the sun finally rose but you were still passed out on the floor,
Listen to me Butterfly, there’s only so much wine you can drink in one life. But it will never be enough to save you from the bottom of your glass.”
Generally, The Handsome Family do a great line in beautiful, strange music about messed up lives – its the sort of strangely resonant ironic romanticism that only country can do. (Yeah, I’m not giving up the day job to become a music journalist okay? It’s really hard to describe…) I just love that country can sum up the utter sh*tness, the hopeless lack of a chance in a few, really economic lines. Listen to “Bowling Alley Bar” for an example (“girls in tight red jeans kicking cigarette machines, that old woman on her own dirty dancing by the phone“).
One of the first occasions when I really identified a song with a particular case of mine was years ago now. It was Martha Wainwright’s “Bloody Mother F**cking A**hole”:
“…You have no idea how it feels to be on your own with the fucking phone and the mother of gloom in your bedroom standing over your head with her hand in your head, with her hand in your head. I will not pretend, I will not put on a smile, I will not say I’m alright for you, when all I wanted was to be good…I wish I wish I wish I was born a man so i could learn to stand up for myself…”
I was at the time haunted by the completely flat matter of fact demeanour of a client of mine as she recounted the horrific domestic abuse and control she had suffered from her morbidly jealous ex partner. I sung this quite loud. A lot. For weeks. He had almost stoved her head in. She didn’t weep once.
Old Crow Medicine Show “Cocaine” is fun, but a bit hard on my car’s suspension (“Tell it to me, tell it to me, drink the corn liquor let the cocaine be. Cocaine gonna kill my honey dead. Dood do do be do doo.”). Incidentally, you get some funny looks in Bristol Rush Hour if you play anything involving a banjo with the window down. Especially if you’re trying to sing the harmonies complete with appalachian accent (I’m allowed, my husband’s appalachian).
McAlmont & Butler “Yes” (I know, it’s not country, I’m not very good at organising my playlists). This and Joni Mitchell are quite excellent for high pitched hilarity : “Yes I do feel better, yes I do, I feel alright. I feel well enough to tell you what you can do with what you’ve got…” can help when mentally willing a client to go forth and prosper after terrible terrible things have happened to them. Joni Mitchell is generally a bit melancholy for that, most of her songs seem to involve a combination of a) too much red wine, b) Joni hankering after older men who treat her badly, and c) Joni complaining California is too hot.
From the same album as “Yes” : “What’s the excuse this time?” might be the theme tune for some care clients, you know the ones who never quite remember to bring that killer document that will prove them right and the Local Authority wrong…”You oughta give me something, you said you would, am I impatient are you taking your time? You spoke about it, talked about it but I still can’t see what its supposed to be…Promises are promises so tell me now what’s the excuse this time? …You oughta give me something, you said you would, the century is drawing to a close. I could wait forever, stay forever until you felt inclined I suppose, but when? No one knows…I’m not expecting the moon or stars…this thing has been so close I must declare I still can’t tell how good you are…”
Finally, it’s embarrassing to say, but belting out a bit of Eagles is also quite therapeutic, although I have to mentally blank out the vile lyrics of most of the songs (and it ain’t proper country).
Awww, who am I kidding? The whole country thing is a pretty embarrassing admission. Ha! Like I care. My dog ain’t dead, my baby ain’t left me and my kids are still little enough to think my crooning is good.