Paint Sounds: Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe

The first encounter I had with Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe was nearly five years ago. I was going through an intense stage of reading every music-related memoir I could get my hands on, and that meant spending a lot of time wandering the aisles of the entertainment section in any given bookstore. I’d gone through How Music Works by David Byrne and Love Goes to Buildings on Fire by Will Hermes and 1963: The Year of the Revolution by Ariel Leve and Robin Morgan, but it was Patti and Robert’s shining faces on the cover of Just Kids that changed it all. I felt their eyes pierce my soul from their place on a shelf above my head, and I grasped the book and bought it without giving it a second thought. Something about them spoke to me, and it only took a few pages for my life to become intertwined with theirs. I’ve spent the subsequent years allowing their legacies and words and works to guide me, and they’ve never led me astray.

When I think of Patti and Robert, I see the two of them in their Brooklyn apartment, spending their nights listening to record after record, sharing their art supplies and their hearts and their work. I see them worming their way into the back room of Max’s Kansas City, fueled only by Robert’s intense desire to be accepted into Andy Warhol’s circle. I see them taking photographs with Sandy Daley in the Chelsea Hotel. I see them threading skull-shaped beads onto leather cord and exchanging the jewelry as if the necklaces were a physical representation of their connection – ‘til death do us part. I see their bodies connected by millions of thin red threads that could never be cut in two, the pair of them destined to stay with one another in life and in whatever they believed would come after. I see their desire to bare their souls to each other and to the world. I see the safe haven they created out of creativity and passion and emotion. I see their dreams as vividly as I see my own.

In many ways, it’s through Patti and Robert that I see my past and present and future. Their need to create eclipsed everything that hurt or threatened to tear them away from what mattered. They were persistent and determined. They followed their deepest urges and they spoke their own truths. They pushed through what held them back, and they released the chains on their ankles so they could dance with the visions they saw behind their eyes. They were messy and angry but they were also full of love and adoration for one another and for themselves and for the world. It is because of them that I feel like I can do the same, no matter how small my steps are or how quiet my voice is or how many steps there are left to take.

These are two people that I carry with me wherever I go. They are the background on my phone and the voices in my head and they often feel like my breath and my blood and my bones. I am always searching for ways to bring them closer to me, and the easiest way to do that is through their art. They documented their relationship and their lives in a way that allows me to sink closer to the core of their existence and to pull out the things I need to fill my soul. I’m in the midst of an intense period of revisiting their works and incorporating their whispers into my life, and I can’t help but want to share them with everyone around me. This time I’m doing it with music, too.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait, 1985 and ‘Seven Devils’ by Florence + the Machine  

robert devil self portrait

I think Robert’s self-portraits are the most direct route to his mind. They evolved immensely over his artistic career, moving from shy and bashful to full-on and unrelenting. This one references his Catholic upbringing and obsession with religious imagery, and the black and white only heightens the sense of darkness that brims beneath the surface. His stare is defiant and challenging, but you can’t help but want to know what his world is like. Florence + the Machine’s ‘Seven Devils’ is a direct line to Mapplethorpe’s own offering. Rather than rejecting hidden desires and heavy thoughts, the lyrics embraces their power and turns them to something beautiful. I often think that Robert did the same.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Tulips, 1986 and ‘Muzzle Blast’ by The Darcys

robert-mapplethorpe-tulips-photographs-silver-print

The floral portraits stand in stark contrast to Robert’s more brutal work, but they exhibit a mastery that could only come from his hands. They are delicate and balanced, but they speak volumes. The tulips seem to be holding themselves back, waiting for the perfect moment to fall apart, and yet they remain poised and beautiful. I chose ‘Muzzle Blast’ by The Darcys for the very first lyric – We were in bloom – as well as the fact that it exhibits a lot of the same qualities as Robert’s photo. It’s subtle yet weighty, it’s quietly powerful, and it moves perfectly within the realm of Robert’s artistic vision.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Polaroid of Patti Smith, 1973 and ‘Lightning Bolt’ by Jake Bugg  

patti lightning bolt

Two years ago I took this photo into a tattoo parlour and got the same lightning bolt tattooed on my own knee. It was a way to make physical my connection to Patti, and to intensify my connection to Robert through her. The picture is beautiful, a split-second representation of their love and their art and the life they created together. Patti holds herself still, but her eyes give away the need she has to act and to set herself free. Jake Bugg’s ‘Lightning Bolt’ is an obvious choice, but I also like that the lyrics explore the idea of allowing things to fall together, of taking chances, of trying your luck. Both Patti and Robert played with fate, and and this track embodies that.

Patti Smith, Frida Kahlo’s Bed, 2012 and ‘Asleep’ by The Smiths

patti smith frida

Patti’s affinity for Frida Kahlo is just another reason why I feel so drawn to her. I’ve been dying to visit Kahlo’s house in Mexico City for ages, and I like that I’ll be following in Patti’s footsteps when I finally end up there. Her photographs celebrate the mundane and the everyday, highlighting the magic of a place where an artist spends most of her time or the monumentality of being in a space that was once occupied by someone you admire. ‘Asleep’ by The Smiths is haunting and sad, but I think that embodies Frida’s ethos as well as Patti’s life. There is beauty even in the darkest feelings, and I like the artists that attempt to chase that.

Patti Smith, Hermann Hesse’s Typewriter, 2003 and ‘Oxford Comma’ by Vampire Weekend

patti smith typewriter

Not long ago I was deeply moved after reading Hesse’s Siddhartha, and finding this image felt like another tiny way to intertwine myself with Patti. I like knowing that we read and see and chase the same things, and this only added another thing to the list. I am also desperately missing my own typewriter, which is sitting in Canada while I attempt to get the same magic out of a laptop in Leeds. Stumbling upon this photo instantly made my hands ache for the clack of the keys and the act of throwing all my digital technology to the side just to focus on the act of writing, and I am relishing in the feeling of being filled with desire, even if it’s a simple craving. ‘Oxford Comma’ is not necessarily an ode to the act of writing, but instead an unpacking of the English language, and I like that it holds the same curiosity as Patti does.

Patti Smith, Robert’s Slippers, 2002, and ‘Terrible Love’ by The National  

patti smith robert's slippers

This photo moves me in ways that I can’t always wrap my head around. Taken thirteen years after Robert’s death, the image fossilizes a love that endures even past the physical realm of existence. The slippers make me thing of the journeys they took together, of the discussions they had about the future, of the tensions between the two of them that still left room for love. In ‘Terrible Love,’ The National encapsulates the difficulties of love and devotion, while also reinforcing the need for partnership. Much of the song is punctuated by the lyric It’s a terrible love and I’m walking with spiders, and that single line perfectly describes how difficult it must be for Patti to continue living on without her partner in crime and the man who helped her believe she could be an artist.

Patti and Robert gave the world to themselves instead of asking politely for it. They created their own reality instead of allowing their narratives to be inserted into a story they didn’t like. They found the best in each other, and they acknowledged that their best also included their struggles and fears and doubts. I like that I wear them across my heart. I like that I hold them up like a torch in the darkness. I like that I can’t shake their presence. They’re in my orbit and I’m in theirs, and the least I can do is honour them in every way possible.

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Thirteen Steps to Finding the Right Words

There are certain things that define me as a writer. The inspiration, which I find in the colour of the sunset or a sentence picked out of a conversation or the face of a stranger I’ve passed on the street, but also comes from art and artists and the people who have done all of this before I was even brave enough to try. The motive, because writing is how I heal and how I make sense of the things in my head and how I slow my heart after something sets it racing. The writing itself, finding my voice and the right words and making something physical and inky and present out of feelings and observations that are ephemeral and often just out of reach.

The act of writing is what I wake up for and what I stand for and what I will choose over and over again, but it takes a certain form of synergy to make all the elements of my creative practice come together and form something useful. There are certain days when my body is set alight and I could scrawl something on every surface available, and there are others when it feels like death will come before I can manage to write a single string of words that makes any sort of sense.

When writing’s hard, I go back to all the things that remind me why I love it so much. I stop and think about why I spend so much time with a pen in my hand and my heart caught in my throat. I open Just Kids and I find my favourite passages, or I watch the monologue from Call Me By Your Name, or I read Bukowski or Rimbaud and I work on getting to the core of my feelings, on bringing them out in their rawest form.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized that music is one of the things that makes me want to keep writing. I pick up on melodies that help me focus and chord progressions that draw the best words out of my skin. I listen to tracks on repeat because they carry some inexplicable trait that I want to find in my own art. Most importantly, though, I absorb every single word, and it’s the words that make me want to plow forward.

The most recent example of this happened a few days ago, when I put on Antisocialites by Alvvays as I was going through my nightly ritual of journaling and writing poetry and filling up my gratitude notebook. As I neared the end of the album, ‘Forget About Life’ turned into a magnetic force that drew me into its orbit, and I proceeded to listen to it on repeat for the next hour. It’s not a song that I always pay the most attention to, but it stood out at that particular moment because of its lyrics. The lines are simple, but their honesty shines through in a flash of blinding light. From When the failures of the past, they multiply to Do you want to forget about life with me tonight, inhaling this undrinkable wine, the words feel like real life and play out in a spectacular narrative, and that’s often what I’m trying to get at when it comes to my own writing.

There are lots of songs that make me feel like this. Songs with words that refuse to be shrouded by metaphors, finding beauty in being direct and truthful. Songs with lyrics that tell the most mundane of stories and yet still manage to make them sound like a fairy tale. Songs that capture emotion in physical form, turning love or sadness or defiance into neat sentences that fit inside a maze of notes and chords. These are the tracks that stick inside my heart, and the ones that I play over and over again when I need to get back to my own voice.

The songs I’ve gathered here are ones that make me believe in my writing all over again. The ones that make me strive to tell stories exactly as they happened. The ones that push me to take a feeling and lift it off my shoulders and quantify it so I can see it and unpack it and work through it. These are songs that make me feel deeply, that use words as weapons that scathe or as doves that soothe the wounds, that make me want to drown myself in poetry until I am unable to let in anything else. They weave words into electricity and passion, and they instil the same things in me.

I adore all of these tracks, and there is a long, extensive catalogue that I haven’t managed to list, but there are always certain ones that stick out. Florence Welch’s pleading, insistent voice on ‘Third Eye’ as she repeats over and over again: I’m the same I’m the same, I’m trying to change. Patti Smith interrupting a live set to spew real, raw poetry, yelling fiercely: I am an American artist and I have no guilt. The National singing about the safety and protection of love, and the comfort that comes with the words We’ll stay inside our rosy-minded fuzz for days.

There’s ‘Thirteen’ by Big Star, its simplicity making it feel like a real life conversation. There’s ‘Happy When It Rains’ by The Jesus and Mary Chain, the heart-wrenching admission of I would shed my skin for you. There’s ‘Lonely World’ by The Vaccines with its quiet, hesitant words of love. Every track is wildly different from the next, but they all put the words at the forefront, and they all remind me to do the same. That’s what I feel like I’m here for.

I don’t set out to write just like Patti Smith does, or to be as angst-ridden as The Vaccines or as wounded as MUNA. I want to write like me, even if that means gushing or spelling the same emotion out over and over until I get it write or stumbling over a single sentence until it’s perfect. These artists are models for me, a well of inspiration that I sometimes need to dive straight into. They’re not there so I can set my own feet inside their every footstep. They’re there to remind me why I do this, to heighten my feelings and mark certain moments with their sounds and highlight things that I might not be noticing. These artists are lighthouses, not guardrails. They illuminate what surrounds me, but they don’t force me to stay in a prescribed lane. I am forever grateful for their presence, and I will continue holding my body under their light whenever I feel the need to.

The One Where I Realized That Fear Is A Catalyst for Art

I am a fearful person. It’s not something I hide, but it’s also something I hesitate to talk about. I exist in a world and a creative realm where confidence and boldness and risk-taking are valued, and sometimes it feels like too much to admit that I feel unsure or scared. I have always taken my own fear as something I need to free myself from, but as I work through my artistic pursuits, I’m learning that the case is often the opposite. Fear, when used properly, can become a breeding ground for fantastic art, and that’s what I’m attempting to harness it for.

My fear exhibits itself in a multitude of ways. I’m scared of being disliked or unaccepted, and that often leads to hiding my voice or shrinking the amount of space I allow my body to take up or withholding my thoughts during a discussion. My mind is constantly racing with ideas, but I sometimes come across as quiet and reserved before I let myself warm up to the people around me. I’m scared of messing things up or saying the wrong thing or making one wrong movement that leads to a multitude of missteps, and this particular fear tends to hold me back from even trying something new. I’m scared of seeming too eager or too emotional or too involved, and that means I don’t really say what’s on my mind or on my heart unless it’s in writing or the heat of the moment.

Creatively, my fear runs in a similar vein. It took me months to start this blog, mostly because I was terrified of what the response would be. I didn’t want to fail, and that withheld me from putting myself out there in the first place. It’s the same with posting my poetry on Instagram, which still scares me every time I do it. It’s easy to talk myself into thinking that I’ll look like a Rupi Kaur impersonator or an inauthentic writer, and that’s what stopped me from doing it for so long. Fear can feel like a brick wall or a barbed wire fence in front of all the things I really want, but in reality, I think it’s also a gateway to something much bigger.

While fear is what holds me back, I’m learning that it’s also what drives me forward. I create constantly and feverishly because I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t. If I stop and sit on an idea instead of writing it down or fleshing it out, will it hang around or will it dissipate? If I don’t get up in the middle of the night to write a meaningful yet undecipherable note on my phone, will that thought be lost forever? If I refuse to take the time to document the life I’m leading, will I lose my opportunity to leave a legacy behind? There’s a thread of fearfulness that runs through all those thoughts, and what scares me the most is allowing fear to hold me back until I have nothing to prove that I lived this difficult, beautiful, unfathomable life.

Because of all this, art has become my way to deal with fear. I write out my fears. I paint them in hues of black and blue. I say them out loud in the quiet of my own bedroom when I’m trying to perfect a verse of a new poem. Art is my way to face my worries, to bring them out of my chest rather than allowing them to settle in my stomach like bricks. Art is a step forward, a vision of the future, an attempt to transfigure the things that plague me into the things that aid me. It’s an indescribable process, but in no way is it linear. It’s not something I remember to do every time I feel scared. It slips my mind and loses prominence in my day to day life, but it always comes back to me, and I think that counts for something.

Some of my best work was born out of fear. Poetry hastily written in unconventional spaces, the goal being to capture a moment or emotion exactly as it was. Film photos taken with snap-happy fingers, longing to document life in an authentic way. Words spoken boldly, too caught up in emotion to wait to say what was lying on my heart. Fear forces me to find ways to be creative, because art is the best way I know how to hold onto life and express the beauty of every sunny day or thoughtful act or perfect morning.

When I think about the people I admire, they are all individuals who turned fear into something that mattered in a big way. Basquiat experimented with every medium and thought and technique because he knew his time was limited. Patti Smith was riddled with self-consciousness and plagued by doubt, but she used art as a way to step into courage. Edvard Munch lived an intensely emotional life, but he turned those heavy feelings into masterpieces that have been viewed and adored by millions. These artists aren’t inspiring because they were fearless, but because they acknowledged their fear and moved forward regardless.

Things changed for me when I started using art as a way of facing my fears. Fear became something to sink into, to unpack and understand. When I use it as a creative force, it is no longer a feeling that I want to rid myself of or erase from my vocabulary. It is a reason for doing what I do. A reason to share my thoughts, even if they’re not yet coherent. A reason to write the first couple lines of a short story, even if the idea never flourishes into anything bigger than that. A reason to open my sketchbook and paint what I see in my head, even if it comes out as something completely different. When I view fear as a constructive feeling, it’s not something to shy away from, but to relish in.

Fear is a contradictory thing. For some, it is a safety blanket. It pins feet in place and roots bodies into the ground. It’s a good excuse for holding yourself back from the electricity that exists under your skin, an easy word to slip off your tongue in order to explain a multitude of reasons for staying where things feel comfortable and riskless. But fear is also the opposite. It pushes you forward and away from what’s familiar. It pulls you out of the everyday and forces you to think about what you really want. Fear can hold you back or it can pave the way into the future, but it’s up to us to decide which one wins. And I’m always going to choose the latter.

 

 

 

 

 

Gig Review: The Vaccines at Alexandra Palace

I have sat down to write this post one million times. I wanted it to sound swishy and read like poetry. I wanted it to perfectly describe how it feels to see your favourite band live, encapsulating every nuanced feeling in only a few words. I was hoping it would write itself, uncurling onto my document fully-formed and perfect. Despite the countless attempts and the breaks and the dancing around to The Vaccines’ best tracks, none of that has happened, and I still feel like my heart is about to cave in on itself whenever I think about last Saturday night. The point is that I finally saw The Vaccines, and although it’s cliché and overdone, the show was ninety minutes of perfection and I never want to go back to the life I lived before it occurred.

The Vaccines have been my favourite band for over six years, and I’ve waited just as long to see them play a headline show. In 2013 I was graced by their presence when they opened for Mumford & Sons at a Toronto gig, but a constant stream of missed connections and age restrictions and festivals that were close but not close enough resulted in half a decade without them. It was a very, very happy coincidence that I ended up studying in England while they were in the midst of touring a new album, and the serendipitous nature of it all is not lost on me.

I’ll admit that there was a lot riding on the show at Alexandra Palace. I arrived at nine-thirty in the morning and proceeded to spend the next nine hours waiting for a coveted space right at the barrier. The time passed quickly and it felt like seconds before I was standing in the massive venue, my skin prickling with excitement and my heart pounding louder than usual. Opening acts whenyoung and Dream Wife were entertaining and well-versed, but it wasn’t until The Vaccines waltzed on stage – to ‘Waterloo’ by ABBA, no less – that the night truly reached its peak.

There isn’t a feeling that comes close to the electric rush of being graced with the presence of a band you adore. I made every attempt to wrap my head around each singular moment, but thirty seconds of their show was enough for me to become consumed by the monumentality of what was happening right in front of me. They pummelled straight into ‘Nightclub’ before I even had the chance to process their physicality, and it didn’t take long for my body to respond to the melody, my mouth opening around the words as if it was second nature. After that they went straight into ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra),’ and ‘Teenage Icon’ completed the trifecta of hard-hitting opening tracks.

Once The Vaccines got started, they didn’t really seem to stop. There are moments that stand out and moments that made me forget my own body and moments that took my breath away, but for the most part everything blurred together in a dance that resulted in a near-constant state of pure, unadulterated joy. The band played as if it was a life or death situation, and the audience responded in a similar way, raising themselves up on the arms of others and hoisting friends onto shoulders and singing and dancing until it felt like that was all we had left. I was pushed against the barrier and I woke up the next day with legs littered with bruises, but none of that seemed to matter when my favourite band was right in front of my playing all my favourite songs.

While I was caught up in the unfathomability of it all, The Vaccines went ahead with full force. Justin took his rightful place as a bona fide frontman, falling to his knees and sending his arms out in wide swoops and making eyes at every member of the crowd. Freddie played his heart out and Arni held us all steady with perfect basslines and Timothy and Yoann made making music look like freedom. The band shared glances and smiles, five faces plastered with genuine looks of disbelief that I’m sure matched the expressions staring back at them.

The set went on in a perfect progression of tracks, an artful mix of fan favourites and new songs that are already working their way into a boundless number of hearts. ‘Wetsuit’ and ‘All In White’ turned the venue into a ten-thousand-strong choir, enthusiastic voices mingling in the atmosphere of Alexandra Palace while the band stood back in awe. ‘20/20’ and ‘Out On the Street’ and ‘Norgaard’ were bright bursts of energy that brought out the best in all of us. ‘A Lack of Understanding’ had me belting out my favourite lyrics – Is this everything you always hoped that it would be? – and answering the question with an unwavering, wholehearted yes. ‘I Always Knew,’ AKA my favourite song in the history of the universe, left me teary-eyed and breathless and hopeful. It was a lot all at once, but the feelings seemed to flow through the crowd as a whole, all of us experiencing a communal release in the form of words screamed at the top of our lungs and limbs flailed around in a flurry of awkward dance moves.

My opinion on The Vaccines is not unbiased. It’s based on years of admiration and of hanging onto their every word. It’s wrapped up in the emotions that bubble up under my skin when I play their songs. It’s attached to the fact that they’ve been part of the very fabric of my being for years. They help me understand who I am, they bring me the purest form of joy, and they are a band I’ll hang onto for the rest of my life. They show me the kind of art I want to make and they demonstrate the kind of ruthless determination that I want to exhibit at all times. Combine all of that with the magic that was their performance, and it would be hard for me to say that it wasn’t perfect.

Time was suspended on Saturday night at Alexandra Palace. The world stopped moving, my heart stopped beating, and the lungs beneath my ribs held their breath. Every second felt like a massive weight across my shoulders, and yet the entire thing felt like absolute, undiluted freedom. It was simultaneously the most monumental and most ephemeral thing I’ve ever experienced, and that somehow made it matter more than anything.

Even four days after the show, I am still waking up with stars in my eyes. Still listening to the songs on repeat, still pulling new thoughts and feelings and words out of my veins. I’m spending my days soaking myself in the afterglow of the gig, attempting to hold it under my skin so that I’ll be lit up forever. I’m talking about it all as if it pulled the Earth out of orbit, walking through life feeling as if I’m floating. I’m deeply inspired and I feel an intense renewal of passion burning through my heart and I want nothing more than to feel like this forever. It is not an everyday feeling, not a normal sensation, and definitely not something I want to rid myself of. It is effervescent and palpable, and I want to relish in it for as long as I can.

It takes a special kind of band to make their fans light up like glow sticks. To pinpoint exact emotions that are felt by everyone and to build up the courage to say them aloud. To speak directly into the hearts of thousands and thousands of outsiders and dreamers and wanderers. The Vaccines don’t do that for everyone, but they do it for me, and for that I will always be grateful. I’ll hold their flag proudly above my head until the day I die.

3/12: A March Playlist

Aside from the out of season snow storms and miserable weather, March was a good month. I saw a lot of movies, I drank a lot of coffee, I tried group meditation for the first time. I went out for brunch almost every weekend, I saw a spectacular exhibit at the Hepworth Wakefield, and I went to Berlin for three days. Leeds got sunny a couple times, and I spent those days wandering the city and soaking up every ray of light I possibly could. I feel like I’m stepping into a new skin, and these tracks have been the soundtrack to that glorious dance.

Most importantly, The Vaccines graced the world with three new singles over the course of the month.  My favourite is ‘Your Love is My Favourite Band,’ a shiny, eighties-influenced pop song. It’s glittery and danceable and I’ve taken to putting it on every morning and flouncing around my room while I get ready to face the day. ‘Surfing in the Sky’ is fast-paced and annoyed, with lyrics like How many lightbulbs does it take to change the mood? that feel like a punch to the gut. ‘Put It On a T-Shirt’ is lilting and smooth, the kind of song made for rain and fog. The trio is spectacular, and has only served to heighten my excitement for the release of Combat Sports, which is out on March 30th.

March’s new discovery comes in the form of Liza Anne, a witty and honest lyricist producing raw tracks that call out to the listener’s heart. Her latest album, Fine But Dying, feels like a tell-all or a confessional. ‘Closest to Me’ is my favourite track, and I adore its steady beat and sense of self-awareness. I’ve also been loving ‘Take Care’ by The Magic Gang, a band that should have been on my radar for the past three years but have only just made themselves known. This track in particular reminds me of Whitney, a band whose live show was so odd that I had to stop listening to them. The Magic Gang are filling that gap, and I love how this song promises support and adoration while also pushing the subject to look after themselves on their own.

Other new additions include ‘Pink Lemonade’ by James Bay and ‘Only A Moment’ by Sunflower Bean. The former is the kind of jam that sneaks up on you, one with a pounding beat and addictive chorus. The latter is one of the spectacular tracks from Sunflower Bean’s just-released second album, a reassuring song with a repetitive bridge of You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be that could instantly settle any soul. I’ve also loved Blaenavon’s cover of ‘Sign of the Times’ by Harry Styles, a rendition that makes it moody and tender.

I’ve spent a lot of the month rediscovering old favourites, from ‘Slow Show’ by The National to ‘Unzip Your Harrington’ by Drowners. ‘Slow Show’ is a glorious profession of love, a story told through heartfelt lyrics like You know I dreamed about you for twenty-nine years before I saw you. ‘Unzip Your Harrington’ is a track I listened to obsessively in high school, especially after my pre-ordered vinyl came weeks late but in a package that included a Polaroid and a handwritten note from Matt Hitt that made me weak in the knees. I love how romantic and indulgent it feels, and it’s the kind of track that rolls seamlessly into itself the longer you play it on repeat.

This month’s playlist is long and random and I’m in love with it. I listened to it on my flight to Berlin, and I’m planning on listening to it on my way to Barcelona and Paris and London. There’s something wonderful about the continuous discovery of new music, and finding new tracks to adore is a process I indulge in regularly. I like knowing that these songs will forever remind me of snowstorms and sunny days and flights and walks through parks. I make these playlists because they feel like time capsules, and I share them so I can put into words exactly how I felt at the time. It’s good to speak about our lives and the things we love and I’m going to keep doing it until it gets old, which I hope never happens.

Three Days in Music No. 2

I have an ongoing note in my phone of songs I hear when I’m out and about in the world. Sometimes they’re the result of standing in the middle of Topshop to Shazam the track they’re playing over the speakers, and sometimes it’s a song I know and love and I want to remember the fact that someone decided it was worthy enough to be played for members of the general public. These moments happen often in and around Leeds, and the list is getting long, so I’m doing something about it and sharing even more of the most notable instances.

I’ll admit that I’m breaking my own rules with this post. There are three days of music, but those three days aren’t exactly consecutive. Saturday involved lying in my bed for the first four hours of the morning and only getting up to go get Wagamama, and my minimal contact with the outside world meant that I didn’t actually hear any notable music while in public. I also snuck in a song that I chose in the comfort of my own room, but that’s only because I love it and I think some of you will too. Bending rules is okay sometimes.   

March 16th, 11:05AM. Mrs. Atha’s. ‘Friday I’m In Love’ by The Cure

I find myself sitting in moody corners of Mrs. Atha’s quite often, mostly because their flat white is strong and their baked goods are spectacular. I’ve also never heard them play a bad song, and that’s enough to make me come back over and over again. When I walked in on Friday, planning hunkering down and spending three straight hours doing schoolwork, they were blasting Oasis and The Smiths and The Cure. Hearing ‘Friday I’m In Love’ when it really is Friday should be cheesy and weird, but I adored it, and finding joy in something as simple as that is a good feeling. 

March 18th, 11:00AM. LS6 Café. ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ by Tears for Fears.  

I trudged through snowy Hyde Park on Sunday to meet Emma and Laura and Brianna for brunch, our last official outing before the four of us spend a month in different corners of Europe and the UK. We ordered a lot of food and consumed a lot of caffeine, all while laying out our plans for the next four weeks apart. The three of them have become staples in my daily life, and the thought of being without my little group for such an extended period of time is more emotional than I’d like to admit. We waited until the end of the meal to say our goodbyes, and the fact that the café was playing ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ helped lighten the mood a little.

March 18th, 8PM. My dorm room. ‘Untitled in D’ by Spector.  

I spent the rest of the day with my fingers glued to my keyboard, attempting to work on an essay and write out backup blogposts for when I’m away. I listened to a mix of Spector and The Vaccines and Palma Violets, and when ‘Untitled in D’ came on, I spent the duration of the song dramatically lip-syncing the lyrics and swinging my arms around to emphasize the best parts. Sometimes it’s the little things that make me the happiest, and this was one of them.

March 19th, 11:35AM. The Light. ‘Drumming Song’ by Florence + the Machine.  

Emma and I decided that it was reasonable to go to a spectacularly early movie, because we’re on Easter break and that means that we can pretty much do whatever we want. As I stood in the lobby of the theatre waiting for her to arrive, ‘Drumming Song’ by Florence + the Machine came on. It’s a track I haven’t heard in ages, and it’s definitely not a popular single, so I was pleasantly surprised when it came wafting through the speakers. Hearing my favourite songs in public places will never get old, and I know it won’t happen as frequently once I get back to Canada, so I’m soaking up every single instance of it while I’m in Leeds.

March 19th, 1:30PM. Vue, Theatre Five. ‘The Chain’ by Fleetwood Mac.

Apart from being a very good film, I, Tonya had an incredible soundtrack. I could pick out half a dozen of the best songs, from ‘The Passenger’ by Siouxsie and the Banshees to ‘Dream a Little Dream’ by Doris Day to ‘Spirit in the Sky’ by Norman Greenbaum, but the best musical moment was courtesy of Fleetwood Mac, who I’m convinced make everything better. The scenes were cut into a montage and the track stitched everything together into a perfect package, the mood of it heightened by the music and lyrics. I’ve had it stuck in my head ever since, but I’m not going to complain about a voice in my brain that sounds like Stevie Nicks.   

March 19th, 3:00PM. Hepworth’s Deli. ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ by The Buggles.

After the movie, we wandered through the arcades to a tiny restaurant for lunch. Apparently everyone had got the eighties memo, and the shop played ‘99 Luftballons’ by Nena before moving swiftly into ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ by The Buggles. I have loved that song for what feels like my whole life, and an extra bit of excitement courses through my veins whenever I hear it. Emma and I were the only ones left in the space, and I danced and sang in my seat before we finally decided it was time to pay the bill.

March 19th, 3:20PM. Village. ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ by New Order.

Village is quickly becoming one of my favourite shops in Leeds, and I spend quite a bit of time in there, flicking my way through interesting magazines and marvelling at their eclectic curation of books. I brought Emma in with me after we finished lunch, and while I spent the better part of twenty minutes deciding which magazine to finally buy, New Order filled the air of the store. ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ will never get old, and it was the perfect ending to a day that made me feel like I’d been transported thirty years back in time.

I like to think that I’ll look back on all these moments and hear the songs playing in the background as my mind sorts through them, creating a movie montage of the best days I can remember. Even if that doesn’t happen, though, I’m glad that I have the tracks to remind me of how I felt and what I did and how the world around me looked. For me, collecting music means collecting memories, and I’m going to keep doing it for as long as I possibly can.

Art is Where We Open Up (Or: There is Connection in Art and I Am Determined to Find All of It)

Real, deep, true connection is something I avoided for a long time. I wanted to be untouchable, unattached. Independent and stable and fine on my own. I didn’t want to put all my faith in a few people, because I didn’t want to see them leave and watch all that faith follow them out the door. I stayed away from any relationship that felt like it could be more than surface deep, because that felt like the only way to make sure I’d never get hurt, never have to go through all the things I was so afraid of. Rejection and grief and loneliness.

And then I did go through that. Someone who really mattered left, and I felt the pain and the loss, but my faith stuck around, and it’s been with me ever since. I learned, rather quickly, that connection isn’t just something we crave, but something we need, and that life seems hollow if we choose to go without it. If we continually choose comfort over vulnerability, if we continually choose solid ground over taking risks, we lose that potential for connection. And sometimes, even though it’s an attempt to protect ourselves, sticking to what we know hurts more than letting the familiar go for a few seconds just to see what could happen if we let others see us for who we truly are.

In a lot of ways, moving to Leeds for five months has been an exercise in opening myself up all over again. Walking into every situation with my chest pried a little wider than usual, a bit more of my heart on show for everyone to see. It’s terrifying, doing this over and over again every time I’m greeted by someone or something new. But it’s necessary, and it’s been beautiful spending the past eight weeks finding people who reflect parts of myself back to me. I keep reminding myself how wonderful it is to connect with the world around me, and I also keep remembering all the moments when I felt that kind of connection in a really, deep way.

Concerts always feel like connection. Three years ago I watched Broken Social Scene play a surprise set at WayHome. It was dusk, and the sky was turning purple around the crowd, and the band started playing ‘Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl.’ Everyone began singing along, as if it was second nature, and the entire world seemed to thrum from the force of our voices. There were friends’ arms around my shoulders and a smile on my face and unknown bodies too close to my own, but the moment was perfect, and it’s something I’ll never forget.

There’s The National, who I have seen twice, and who end their sets with ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.’ They play it so slow and soft that you can barely hear the band, but the audience fills in, and everything outside of that moment quiets down, and all that exists is what’s right in front of you. There’s the dance parties I’ve had when members of Local Natives jumped in the crowd. There’s holding onto Florence Welch’s hand, dozens of people swarming her slight figure, all of us singing ‘Raise it Up’ at the top of our lungs. There’s Abby and I spending drives together belting out MUNA and Dua Lipa and Taylor Swift. There’s walking back to my apartment after seeing Wolf Alice, Charlotte and I still in a daze, our voices filling the quiet city as we yelled the lyrics to ‘Beautifully Unconventional.’ Music is a thread that connects so many of my most important experiences.

Then, there are the times when visual art – painting and drawing and sculpting – have been the basis for connection. When I wandered through MoMA and found Frida Kahlo’s Fulang-Chang and I, a portrait of the artist with a pet monkey, a mirror hung next to it, both pieces featuring the same frame. I remember walking up to it, staring at myself in the mirror and at Frida beside me, marvelling at how close I felt to her presence. Part of her being in me, and part of my being in her. When Laura and I saw Anthony McCall’s Solid Light Works last week, the two of us standing in beams of light and contemplating our place in the world and looking at each other in awe. When I saw Basquiat’s notebooks at the Brooklyn Museum, pages and pages of his internal thoughts spread across gallery walls, taking in his words and wondering if mine will ever be displayed like that, too.

There’s connection in novels and film and clothing. Connection in how I spent most of high school superglued into a pair of black skinny jeans and a band shirt and a flannel and a denim jacket, creating a uniform that would bring me closer to the people I admired and further from the people I didn’t want to be around. Connection in passing around my copy of Just Kids, loaning it to Charlotte and Katie and my mum and wondering what each one of them found in the pages I hold so close to my heart. Connection in Amy and I seeing Call Me By Your Name together three times, sneaking cupcakes into the movie theatre when she and Katie and I celebrated my twenty-first birthday.

 When I stop to think about it, art was the first form of connection I ever truly understood, the first thing I ever revealed my true self for. I’ve formed connections with songs and books and paintings themselves, and all those things have also been in the background when I’ve made real, physical, human connections. Art is the soundtrack to my form of connection, and it’s what I remember when I think about past relationships and stand-out moments and transformative years.

Art feels like the basis for everything. It’s my favourite way to open up to someone, my favourite way to speak to someone’s soul and have them speak to mine. To have someone you admire or care about put on a song they know you love, or play a band they think you’ll like. To drag someone to an art exhibit, even if they’re reluctant, because you know they’ll get something out of it. To swap books and share articles and copy and paste poems and photos and quotes, using all those forms of expression to communicate secrets and meaning. All of that feels special.

I like forming connections with art and over art because it means you’re talking about or contemplating or experiencing something meaningful. You’re not feeding energy into the bad, venting about awful days or tiny annoyances. The connection is based on things you adore or appreciate, and you can tell by the way eyes light up and voices move faster and bodies seem to spring into action, ready to gesticulate and add emphasis when needed.  I want to hear about what people love, what makes them tick, what they’ll take to the grave, and so often art fits itself into all of those boxes.

I’m writing this because I want to push myself to form connections like this more often than I already do. I want to compliment someone’s band tee or comment on the book they’re carrying around. I want to get wrapped up in conversations about what my friends and acquaintances are inspired by. I want to recognize the art that exists in their bones, whether they’re the one making it or simply appreciating it. I don’t want to subsist on conversations that barely skim the surface of what our lives are about. Art is where the walls come down, where the mind opens up, where the heart starts speaking instead of being stopped by the brain. And it’s at that intersection that I want to get to know all the people who I want to keep close to me for a long time.