As far back as I can remember, I loved to read and loved to write. Words have always felt like such an important part of my life, that it surprises me how little care I had for lyrics when I was younger. I was prepared to overlook terrible lyrics if I liked other elements of a song. Or perhaps I just didn’t realise the lyrics were terrible because I was an angsty teenage with questionable taste.
I was certainly incapable of detecting any irony in a song’s lyrics, almost always taking them literally (cases in point Kenicke – Punka, Garbage – I’m Only Happy When It Rains). I often got lyrics comically wrong (why, for example, did I think Deborah from Disco 2000 had lichen, rather than woodchip, on her wall, and why was I so reluctant to admit I was wrong when corrected). Even when lyrics were heard and understood, they rarely remained in my brain for long, no matter how many times I heard a song.
Looking back, I understand that words, to me, were merely functional, a tool to advance the plot as I raced through a novel, to make me laugh, to make the right sound at the right time in a song. I didn’t appreciate the beauty of the words themselves (which may be why I was dismissive of poetry)
As I’ve grown older, this has changed somewhat. I can enjoy poetry and poetic prose as well as narrative and action, and I appreciate a great lyricist (and abhor a bad one) more than ever. And whilst there may have been albums I loved as much in 2018, there were none whose words meant more to me than ‘I Need to Start a Garden’ by Haley Heynderickx. There are some lyricists whose work takes time to appreciate, but Heynderickx had me with the first two lines of the first song of hers that I heard.
“The milk is sour
I’ve barely been to college”
To me, these two lines perfectly the capture all the things to be done, the chores incomplete and major life choices yet to make, that sometimes overwhelming feeling that the days are too short, go by too fast, and the to do list will never end. It takes real skill to capture such a feeling with such economy, in just two lines and only nine words. I love the use of “barely” when “I’ve never been to college” would have been the more obvious line.
Side note – This song was written stream of consciousness style on a songwriting retreat, so the always present feeling that the intent of the songwriter may not match my interpretation of the song is especially strong on this occasion.
The ‘I Need to Start a Garden’ album is full of wonderful lyrics, but I’m not going to start listing them here. Lyrics are meant to be heard in the context of their song, not read cold from the page, so I can only recommend you give the album a listen to appreciate how excellent they are.
Those two lines I picked out struck because they chime with how I feel about my life right now. There is so much I want to do. Blogs to start and books to write. I want to learn more history, more science, to play an instrument. I want to start a record label, do more for charity, recycle better. I want to visit California, Mexico, Japan and so many other parts of the world. There is so much I want to do, including, ironically, starting a garden.
But yet, I have two small children, the youngest not yet two. And I am almost always busy, and when I’m not, I’m almost always tired, and so little beyond the basic chores get done.
Is this a reason to regret having children? Are they preventing me from doing the things I want to do? Not at all. I can be frustrated at times but I know in my heart that none of those other things I want do could bring me as much joy as the simple family weekend I have just had, playing in the park, splashing in the paddling pool and teaching my daughter to play chess.
Most importantly, before I had a family, I didn’t have this long to do list. I didn’t really have ambitions, or things I wanted to achieve. Whilst friends did creative things, traveled to exciting places and pursued fascinating careers, I worked an unexciting job and spend my free time reading, listening to music, going to gigs and the occasional music festival. It was a purgatory of sorts, albeit a not unpleasant one. I could have done any of the things I now wish I had time to do, but I did not do any of them.
Meeting my wife and starting a family has triggered something in me. I finally have a belief that I can achieve the things I want to, and enough self-worth to think they are worth achieving. I may not achieve them all, I may not achieve any of them, but if not I hope the reasons why not will continue to be happy ones.