Saturday, 6 February 2010

Soundtrack to the City

Are there any people who have lives where music doesn’t play? Check any high street and there you’ll find scores of shoppers with headphones in their ears. Same with cyclists, dog walkers, people on trains, runners and park bench sitters. Our lives have soundtracks. Several years ago I stopped people on Queen Street in Cardiff to ask them what they were listening to. This caused consternation among some who thought I was from the local authority out to impose a new Health and Safety regulation. But when I told them it was research for a book all was okay. What they were listening to turned out to be dance music mostly. Lots of Michael Jackson. Whitney Houston. Mariah Carey. Rap. Guy on a skateboard playing reggae. No one listening to classical, no spoken word, not one person willing to own up to playing the bachelor boy, Cliff.

Many people can’t work without a soundtrack. Depends on your job but if you can manage it then you’ll have the player going or the radio on. Bankers might not but dentists, surgeons, mechanics, designers, and architects – they all listen. Martin Scorsese’s films display this to perfection – music seeps through the pores of his characters, rock belts through every scene. In New York Stories where Scorsese has Nick Nolte playing one of the Abstract Expressionist painters smashing paint onto giant canvases the soundtrack roars. The painter just can’t function without high decibel rock coming at him out of his speakers. The streaks and swirls of colour he manipulates are done in time to whatever is beating from his boombox. Couldn’t paint in silence. Without the beat there’d only be a canvas of empty white.

The novelist Nick Hornby has taken this idea one stage further and written his life soundtrack up as a book. Everything from Bruce Springsteen to Rufus Wainwright gets a mention with Teenage Fanclub appearing twice. You can download this set onto your mp3 player and listen while you read. Doing anything in silence is now antique.

Cities themselves have soundtracks. What sounds well in Rio doesn’t somehow work in Barry. Samba along the sands, Bossa Nova among the chips at the Codfather of Sole. This is how I think Cardiff sounds – a soundtrack for the city from the past fifty years: Twist and Shout – The Beatles. Cardiff Born – Frank Hennessy. Green Onions – Booker T. Cardiff Rose – Roger McGuinn. Do The Ayatollah – Cardiff City Fans. The Grangetown Whale – The Hennessys. Delilah – Tom Jones. Red Red Wine – Red Beans and Rice. The Brokedown Cardiff Blues – Cripple Hard-Armed Davies. A Design For Life – Manic Street Preachers. Siwgr Siwgr Siwgr – Euros Childs. Cardiff In The Sun – Super Furry Animals. Do you have a better selection? Let me know.

An earlier version of this post appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of Saturday 6th February, 2010

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