OK, so it IS a list but it's not exactly a list. And I'm not just talking songs that bring a little tear - I am, after all, one of the world's great blubberbuses, so that'd be a pretty long list. No, these are the gushers!
So why such an unseasonal list? And why sixteen? Well, the latter question is easy, and it has to do neither with Harry Christophers nor John Hughes, but simply the sonorousness of the words (mwah, dahling). Why? Well, I love lists, and this is the list time of year, but most of all beacuse of my next novel. I've always liked the idea of writing a novel that genuinely makes people cry. Songs from the Other Side of the Wall does it to me, the ending has me blubbing like a blubby thing but I get the impression it leaves most people a little confused.
Why do I want to write a novel that makes people cry? Well, for me that's the point of connection we were talking about in the "pain" debate - the moment when a writer's words and my life intersect, when she speaks to me and only me, when she unlocks me with her words, and the tears are what she releases as the door opens. It's an intimate, beautiful, very special moment between reader and writer. I would love to speak in that way - even if only once, to one reader.
So why songs instead of books? Two reasons - first, I came up with the idea whilst listening to music - so it seemed obvious. Second, thinking it over, I actually found it easier to put my finger on what it was about songs that drove me to gushing than I did books - so it's more instructional to me as a writer.
Finally, for info - Life Drawn Freehand will go into production over the next few days, with a summer 2010 release date. It's the story of 50-something art teacher Ella, who realises, when her son dies on a gap year, that she has had her life on hold for 30 years. In order to win an audience for her art, she decides to give everything she does for a whole year away free. EVERYTHING. She gets recognition, but it brings more than she bargained for, in the shape of two intense affairs, with alcoholic ex-model and musician Sabrina, and her 16 year-old pupil Matthew. As the year draws to a close, Matthew takes Ella and Sabrina on a journey to the place where Ella's son died. It's a journey from which all know only one of them will return. It's a love story that examines every single connotation we put on the word "free".
OK, so here's The Sixteen, the songs most likely to flood the room with sentimental saline. As an authorial aide, I've put them into categories, according to why they make me cry. With apologies to Polly Harvey and Janis Joplin - I have no reason why you aren't on this list. Possibly because just the mention of your names can make me gush.
All the songs on this list are, musically, constructed a certain way. I'm not enough of a musician to put my finger on it but it's something to do with rise and fall, a soaring, fragile voice slightlyu at odds with a melody that does a certain somethnig. BUT some songs have words that just pile on that effect.
Black Balloon - The Kills - OK, I'm gonna try really hard to avoid the copyright police. A line like "I've starred in a thousand street scenes just around the corner form you, on the edge of your dreams" - if that were a poem with no muisc it would have me in tears - it's a situation we all know - looking on but not being able to touch. Knowing we will come so close but no closer.
E-Bow the Letter R.E.M. "These corrosives work their magic slowly" and above all else "dreaming of Maria Callas, whoever she is" - it's blankness - teh kind of blank despair that's beyond despair Daisy Anne Gree writes. Oh, and the deep, deep sliding melody, and the howling Patti Smith solo doesn't make it less tearjerking.
Nothing Compares 2 U - Sinnead O'Connor Yes, I know it's kitsch and uncool, but it's my age. And if it needs to be explained why the words make you cry, you're probably a cyborg.
Very hard for me to say what it is about these, although I intend to analyse them at length. The first two are, in my non-musical opinion, the most perfectly-crafted rock songs ever written. I should also note that I limited myself to one song a band. When I drew up an original top 10, 6 were Radiohead. Thom Yorke has a LOT to do with it - his voice, and his stage persona, are in themselves enough to reduce me to tears. If I'd chosen High & Dry or Fake Plastic Trees I may have put the song in the "delivery" category for that reason. lucky could, after a magical set at Reading, belong in the personal association category. Oh, and it's one of my tests of character whether people prefer Jealous Guy or Imagine; up there with the great Notting Hill v Four Weddings/ Unbearable Lightness of Being v Book fo Laughter and Forgetting debates
Lucky - Radiohead
Jealous Guy - John Lennon
Don't Look Back into the Sun - Libertines - I CAN say what it is about this - it's in the guitar sound - the way the tone of the sound somehow makes you feel as though something beautiful has been lost forever
These are songs that make me cry largely because of the persona/unique voice of the singer (if I'd picked a different Skunk Anansie song it would have gone here)
End of the Century - Blur - Damon sounds like he's about to cry at any moment throughout - and especially when he says "there's ants on the carpet" - and it works by sympathy. He also sounds like a man who's realising for the first time that everything he loved has turned out to be crap.
She's a Star - James - because the voice seems to hit resonance with something in my brain and they enter this feedback loop of melancholy
Saturday Night - Suede - no one does fragile and broken but with a lilting beauty that keeps its dignity (that's the real thing - the defiance you know is futile - think the guy in Tiannenmen) like Brett Anderson.
Not a lot I can do with this. There are some songs that, whilst they would always pull the heartstrings, bring out the monsoon because we know what happened next. Because we are actually crying for the artist. With apologies to anyone who ever thought I had any taste. Yes, that IS Karen Carpenter. But, com eon - it's Karen Carpenter! Piaff is part because it's her, part the dignity in teh voice - the defiance (that's something, like the Suede above, I CAN learn from)
Where Did You Sleep Last Night - Nirvana Unplugged version
Somewhere Over the Rainbow - Karen Carpenter version
La Vie en Rose - Edith Piaff
Interestingly, I think it is nostalgia rather than heartbreak that does it here - a perfect moment never to be recaptured. That would be true of Lucky.
Secretly - Skunk Anansie - has to do with a rather unpleasant ex, and most of it is actually about the song itself - it's about as manipulative as you can get with it's quiet-loud-quiet. Not nearly so good a song as Smells Like Teen Spirit or anything by the Pixies that uses the form better, but definitely the queintessence of heartbreaking. It's all to do with the sudden changes and the fact that you never quite, even in the moments of exhilaration, escape the underlying melancholy.
Songs that make you cry because of what went with them - most often with me a film. Something one can learn from by remembering taht we need to engage the whole reader, and not just the bit of the brain that takes in the words on the page - why a live performance will always work better.
California Dreaming - Mamas and Papas -because I saw Chungking Express at an impressionable age
Anthem from Three Colours: Blue - Zbigniew Priesner - because it's the saddest film ever made (the defiance, fragility and everything to do with the tragedy of Kieslowski's early death and the fact it's got Juliette Binoche in doing that kind of "thousand emotions with one movement of the eyebrow" thing), and this tune is an integral part of that.
OK, so now you know my 2010 playlist. What I hope more than anythnig is that in some way, however small, I can make Life Drawn Freehand speak to one of you enough to draw a tear. Just one would do!