The End of the Song by Edmund Leighton(1902) illustrates the story of Tristan and Iseult, a tragedy about the adulterous love between the Cornish knight Tristan (Tristram) and the Irish princess Iseult (Isolde, Yseult).
There are so many secret nerves in the body, that it is impossible to keep track. There is a nerve which leads from the nipple to the clitoris: I find that when a nipple is licked, this directly causes sensations around the clitoral area. There also seems to be a nerve which leads from the ear, through the area of the brain which governs desire*, also to the area of the genital region where pleasure is felt, a physical response, similar to the intensity of hot breath forming naughty words directly in ones ear. And so it is that lovers have been seducing each other for years with sound, with song. (*The brain having areas which control different things apparently is a myth but work with me anyway.)
Back in the 80s we had mix tapes, carefully compiled, which we gave to the objects of our affection, or just kept for ourselves, admiring the transition from the mood of one song to the next, or getting irritated when it is not quite right, but do we dare go back over the song on the cassette tape? No, the whole thing would be ruined unless the song is the exact same length. Calculating all of this is excellent maths practice for those of us so inclined. Or maybe when playing back the recording, there is a click of the record button, only noticeable to us, but enough to ruin the whole experience; fuck, why does perfection have to be so hard to achieve on home recording equipment, namely, the older sibling’s cassette recorder which is only accessible during the limited hours that they are at their part-time job, as they would never in a million years let us touch it when they are at home (in case we break it).
When we were poor pre-teens with minimal pocket money which didn’t stretch to the cost of albums (LPs were $4.99 or $7.99 for a double album which seems quite a lot, although you could get knock-off, sound-alikes for $2.99 from Woolworths), we carried out the (I believe, illegal) practice of recording from the radio. This was problematic as radio DJs tended to talk over both the beginning and the end of the best tracks to thwart the efforts of little shits like me and my friends. We didn’t care about sound quality, although it was annoying if ones parents noisily opened the bedroom door to tell us there was a phone call for us when we were trying to record high art here. That could totally blow it and God knows when the DJ would get around to playing our favourite song again.
We all had our favourite sources for our compilation tapes on the radio. On Sunday mornings there was Casey Casem’s American Top 40. Can you believe, my best friend wrote down the complete list in a special notebook every week, and Wayne Mowat had a Sunday night request show, which I and all the other captives at New Zealand boarding schools would send requests in for, by post, so it might take a few weeks to hear them on the radio. You had to be careful with the number of people you wanted the song for. A nice number and he would read each one: “this goes out to Nicola and her friends Rosemary, Libby, Sarah and Belinda – it’s Sarah’s 16th birthday today. Happy birthday, Sarah!” It is always a thrill to hear your name read out on the radio but if you got too greedy with names, not wanting to leave out anyone in your friends’ circle, he would just say “this is for Charlotte and all her friends in the 5th form at Such and Such School.”
LPs were worth every penny if you could afford them – packed with inserts, usually with the lyrics and song writing credits, the covers themselves were works of art. My older cousin, who had a part-time job and spent all her wages on her record collection, carefully stored her LPs in only the plastic or paper inner-sleeves, by genre, then within that, alphabetically by artist’s surname or band name (without the the) and the actual album covers neatly covered her bedroom wall, dressmakers pins each placed on an angle to support the cover, not through the cardboard, in a pleasing grid which wouldn’t be out of place on any modern instagram or pinterest account worth its salt.
The first LP I ever owned was Lou Reed’s Street Hassle, which I won in a competition and was a little too, er, sophisticated for my early teenage tastes, then after that something by Olivia Newton-John when she was still wholesome and much more appropriate, which was a Christmas gift from a family member. When I became a sex worker in my late teens and money was easy to get but difficult to do anything with due to the fact that sex work was illegal, I could happily blow $200 at a time on records at my local record shop. It was fun lugging home a huge stash of LPs or EPs, and maybe a few 45s as well, if we were still waiting for the LP release. My record collection was extreme. Siouxie and the Banshees, The The, Scritti Politti, earlier albums from Bowie, Malcolm McLaren, (and Neneh Cherry) Marvin Gaye, (and Robert Palmer), Bryan Ferry, Nina Simone, The Cocteau Twins, Ricky Lee Jones … whatever I wanted, I got.
We listened to both sides of LPs several times over, before we came to a verdict about whether we would give the whole thing any more future listens, which is a great way to discover obscure little tracks which are more for music connoisseurs than hit-lovers. Music connoisseurs are people who appreciate music as art, who don’t always agree with popular opinion about whether something is great. Catchy hits are good, but so is some of the deeper music, or extended tracks – things that are too long to play on air. Yes, the long Bohemian Rhapsody got some airplay, but this was an exception. Admittedly, sometimes we don’t want to listen to a whole album or don’t have time, so we put the needle down carefully in the groove before our favourite track, although this risks ruining the end of a song before it, if we make a scratch there due to careless placement, or at the beginning of the album’s favourite which happened to me once, what a disaster.
I still have a CD mix tape which melted my heart, it was given to me by a boyfriend. The mix-tape begins with Jeff Buckley’s Everybody here wants you, the voice of an angel. Also, I keep a small, red suitcase which has what remains of my cassettes including some favourite, self-made mix-tapes. Nowadays, I don’t even have a cassette player (except for a small, journalist’s tape player for recording interviews which uses batteries only). Through several house-moving events, this battered suitcase stays with me. Who would’ve thought tears would come to my eyes to listen again to those imperfect recordings? Wait – is that an interruption by my late uncle’s French wife, knocking on my bedroom door to say, “à table”? (How wonderful to hear her beautiful voice again). That awful recording takes me back to my 11 year old self, diligently yet sloppily recording my favourite music in my pretty, childhood bedroom, decorated with love, in various shades of pink by my mum and my DIY-expert dad (all dads were DIY experts in those days). Happy times, music takes you back.
Home recording equipment improved, you could get double cassette/radio/record players, which would record directly from cassette onto another cassette and if the phone rings or your family members tell you dinner is on the table, it would not pick up these outside sounds. This means you could make your own back up of every tape you own, which you may wish to do for your very favourites because cassette tapes can be damaged easily as Murray and Jermaine find out on an episode of FOTC, plus the sound deteriorates due to damage to the tape the more you play them. Recording mix tapes was now a breeze.
We all had jobs and no longer needed to record anything from the radio for financial reasons but we made mix-tapes for various other purposes. Back when dinner parties were fashionable, the choice of music playing in the background sets the mood – it takes real skill to create the perfect mix-tape. I compiled collections of favourite New Zealand songs, many from my collection of kiwi compilations produced by Wellington record company, Jayrem. I sent them to New Zealanders still overseas, whom I knew would appreciate them, as only a small percentage of New Zealand music makes it to the airwaves in the UK and USA. We exchanged mix tapes when relationships began. When a man casually gives a lady he has started seeing a mix-tape, this takes things to a new level.
Now we have Apple Music, Spotify and other music subscription services. I have music on my phones, on an ipod in my boudoir and on an ipod which stays in my car. I recently switched from Apple Music back to Spotify, where playlists I compiled years ago have been waiting like loyal, old friends. After discovering the joys of collaborating, I have taken a couple of my playlists off ‘private’ and opened them up for collaboration. One is called Seduce Me with Song which I invite readers to add anything to. The other is a 10 hour set of old and new faves which will remain a work in progress. It will be great for long car trips or just for the surprise factor that you get when you hear music you have forgotten, then you remember that you love it.
You can enhance playlists with Spotify recommendations which brings old and new faves up to 16 hours, but I’m just as likely to not like Spotify’s choice and withdraw the recommendation. Anything that I feel the urge to skip immediately gets deleted, whoever has chosen it. Life is too short to listen to music which does not spark joy. Or spark anything.
I have playlists of various lengths and moods which I play in my boudoir, sometimes I choose a particular playlist for a client’s booking based on my impression of what he might be, I take a guess when I hear his voice on the phone. I also have a playlist made specifically for one client, from a list of songs he emailed to me which he thought I might like. I included almost all of them and added some of the same genre. There is enough on that list to easily cover a three hour booking, and for shorter bookings, listening to the playlist in random order means there is always music to ensure our listening pleasure without leaving a stale taste in our ears, the stale taste being that feeling you get when you hear a song too many times and the magic has evaporated.
Once an obscure track on my playlist which happened to be my work phone ringtone at the time was actually recognised by a client – imagine my surprise! It turns out he had seen the band live at some festival overseas and he was delighted to hear it again. Music really is so many things to so many people, it reaches out and grabs us by every cell in our bodies if we let it.
I included the Edmund Leighton image above because of the impact of the legend on art and music, for example, Richard Wagner wrote an opera about the lovers, Tristan and Isolde. “Tristan und Isolde, which had its world premiere on June 10, 1865, might be the greatest opera of all time.
Or it might simply be the most revolutionary. Its entire musical philosophy was so unique that it revolutionized classical music forever.” Apparently, Wagner was also involved in an extramarital affair at the time with the wife of one of his patrons, making the work one of his most autobiographical. [Operawire.com]
In the Christies listing for this image, the Lot Essay says “The picture shows a young woman, evidently a princess, listening to amorous overtures from a good-looking and equally youthful harpist; he has no doubt just been singing a song on the same theme, while she has been busy with her embroidery.”
Further down in the Lot Essay, there is a widely held interpretation of the painting: “The story is part of the Arthurian cycle, but enjoyed a vigorous life in European medieval literature long before Malory appropriated it for the Morte d’Arthur. Iseult was the daughter of King Anguish of Ireland and the wife of King Mark of Cornwall, Tristram’s treacherous and mean-spirited uncle. The love between her and Tristram, conceived in Ireland when he went to ask for her hand in marriage on Mark’s behalf, was confirmed when, by a fatal mistake, they drank the love-potion intended for Mark during their sea voyage back to Cornwall.” [Christies.com]