So this playlist deserves a little explanation. I made it for a friend of mine who was going through a particularly bad patch in regards to his negotiation of the fairer sex. In fact, he’d spent many days spitting fury about our capability for duplicity, self-deception and inconsistency, not to mention personality disorders, sexual dysfunction and psychotic episodes. So I made him a soundtrack to remind him that if nothing else, women are strong and sexy and complex and patterned with all manner of stripes and shades. And that some of us can imagine entirely fulfilling lives completely without men…. and some of us can’t.
Track one: Glorybox – Portishead
Funny how tracks like this come back to bite you. Aged 20, Glorybox was all about surrendering to the inevitable gin-and-pot soaked conclusion of an evening spent in testosterone-driven male company. Aged 40, it has become a simmering shiver of rage at the utter absence of sexuality from long-term relationships. My friend was grieving the loss of a long-term partnership, precipitated by his girlfriend’s total frustration at his debilitating and infantalising periods of severe depression. And you know what – I entirely get where she was coming from.
Track two: Surrendering – Alanis Morrisette
To which position this track has to be the antidote, I think. Because it acknowledges that adult relationships are bloody scary, and dangerous to pursue, and made vital by bravery and faith and risk-taking. It points out that when you jump, sometimes you fly.
Track three: Just Like Heaven -The Watson Twins
Proof that for some women men are entirely surplus to romantic requirements, this has to be one of the most beautiful lesbian love songs in the world. My friend has a curious degree of attraction (some might suggest addiction) to bisexual women, and partly I included this to remind him that when he’s competing on that particular playing field, he might not be entirely aware of all the rules, never mind the correct ball shape. Anyone who can drip vocal honey all over the lyric “I took the only girl I loved, and drowned her deep inside of me” is probably more advanced in the dark art of lady-love than any mere male mortal is ever gonna get to. Though I love the idea that there are still guys out there game enough to try.
Track four: Stay Awhile – Edie Brickell
Love this track, if for no other reason that it includes the gorgeous lyrical pun “loosen your laces, let your soles (souls) be free”….. Plus of course it calls up hot sun-soaked evenings and pitchers of mint julep and (somehow) cool linen sheets made warm by naked bodies. Don’t ask me why, my mind just works that way.
Track five: La Vent Nous Portera – Sophie Hunger
I owe the excellent jazz DJ Gilles Peterson for introducing me to Sophie Hunger, a fabulous Belgian devastation who sings fluently in four languages and sounds like sex in all of them. Quite honestly, the closest I can get to describing the sound is that it’s like the aural equivalent of being licked all over by a lioness. If I could, I would do almost everything in life to this tune, cook, bathe, walk, breathe, sleep, eat. As it is I generally have to lie down in a dark room for a while just to recover myself after hearing it, so I wouldn’t get much done.
Track six: Turn Me On – Nora Jones
Nora Jones produces a beautiful sound in this track, but the lyrics make me feel very ambivalent. “Come home” she says, “and turn me on”. In effect “I am incomplete without you”, and also “you’re the one who turns me off, you’re the only one who can turn me back on”. Dunno what she’s doing hanging about for a bloke who turns her off…. but I guess it takes all sorts. But I included it because the point of the playlist was to give all sorts of views of a female perspective, and clearly Nora’s re-interpretation of the Ibsen classic is apt, given her namesake.
Track seven: He Won’t Go – Adele
I think, at this point, the playlist took a bit of a turn towards the darkness. A bit of a step into the rawness and pain that some female vocalists can access in the same way that James Brown just is hip-slipping funkiness. Because this track somehow manages to channel Romeo and Juliet, except with an even more tragic outcome – one where our star-crossed lovers have no possibility of eternal union because they are perpetually trapped in webs of their own weaving.
Track eight: A Case Of You – Joni Mitchell
I could not imagine making a sound-track of powerful female singers without including the incomparable Joni. And this track was a sitter, mostly because I love the visceral combination of gut-wrenching impact and sheer defiance. “You are in my blood, like holy wine”, she says, to the man whose love got lost, “but I can drink a case of you, and still be on my feet”. You might have devastated me, you might have left a sting of regret that will literally never leave my system, but I’m still standing. I can take everything you’ve got to give out and more. Your effect is undoubted, permanently scarring, and survivable. No surprise, this track comes with a personal narrative all of its own.
Track nine: Protection – Massive Attack
This song means a huge amount, coming, as it did, from a damaged and enthralling female friend of mine at University who went on to spectacularly take herself, and nearly several of the rest of us right off the rails during finals. But to me, it stands for all the extraordinary, brave and courageous women in the world – who in small or large ways – protect the people they care for. Who stand in front of the defenceless and face down bullies, who help to put the broken back together again even when they know they are only patch-fixing.
Track ten: Bright White Jackets – April Smith and the Great Picture Show
And so to April Smith, who manages to sing powerfully and touchingly about electro-convulsive therapy, and the terror of letting go of madness, as much as of getting well. Which sounds a bit deep and all, but the circumstances of the time, and the incomparable lunacy of the individuals in question, warranted it. Plus it’s beautiful.
Track eleven: Cloudbusting – Kate Bush
So, while we are talking about the dark and unmentionables, let’s bring up the Daddy question. Because much as I find many of the writings of Freud utterly intolerable (this being the man who determined that women had no definable sexuality of their own, simply being described as penis-less men whose eventual realisation that they couldn’t grow male genitalia would lead to a reproductive urge to bear male children so that they could effectively grow one by proxy), he did recognise that just as little boys fall in love with their mothers, little girls fall in love with their fathers. A characteristic that Kate Bush calls to life beautifully – “I’m cloudbusting, Daddy”. I don’t think I know what the lesson of this tale is, except that maybe rather than looking at women’s mothers (a la Oscar Wilde’s recommendation), men should be taking a look at their fathers instead.
Track twelve: Sun Comes Up, it’s Tuesday Morning – The Cowboy Junkies
Love this tune. Love the unambiguous lyrics “in many ways I’d rather listen to Coltrane than go through all that shit again”. Love the way it so absolutely captures the langour of a bad breakup, when you have nothing to fill your days with and no energy to drive your head above the water-line. But also love that it still leaves the listener on a up-beat “I kind of like these extra few feet in my bed”….
Track thirteen: No Need To Argue – The Cranberries
I was trying to say, in the end, just let go. Just hold on to the truth and stop brow beating people with your version of it. Just show some mercy, and some kindness. Because in the end, if you firestorm your way through all the bridges, then you are left lonely and hemmed in, with no possible method of escape.
He didn’t, or couldn’t, listen.