I thought I tasted of too many cigarettes, but you tasted like wine
Welcome to the first edition of All The Songs.
In this monthly newsletter, I will share with you one piece from my memoir-by-playlist project Everyone I’ve Ever Loved & All The Songs That Remind Me Of Them.
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In each issue I will also tell you what I’ve been reading, listening to, watching, cooking and drinking as a way of sharing recommendations and providing an update on daily life.
We all go to work, come home and do chores. That’s how I spend most of my time. I’m always working, or walking to work, or doing the laundry, or doing the dishes. It’s the art we consume along the way, the meals and drinks we enjoy that light us up in small ways as we get through our days. I take great pleasure in food and natural wine, so here I will tell you about that.
I consider each meal an opportunity to celebrate. I am culinary maximalist. I think of food the way the character Jessie in The Baby-Sitters Club series thought about ballet: “Why walk, when you can dance?” Why have a cheese scone, for example, when you could have a paprika chilli onion garlic cheddar scone with chopped parsley and kale mixed through? Grill it, and smear on lightly salted organic butter that will start to melt. I just want to live while I’m alive.
Farewell, Sinéad O’Connor
The Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor died last week, aged 56. She is all I have been listening to. I have been lighting a candle for her. I wrote about the impact of her art on my life for The Spinoff. Here is the link to that piece, and a couple of other quality reflections.
Was she not our girl? Remembering Sinéad O’Connor
by Jazial Crossley for The Spinoff
Jazial Crossley on the lasting impact of Sinéad O’Connor’s breakthrough album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.
“Sinéad O’Connor was in love, grieving and angry all on the same album.” Read more
Sinéad O’Connor remembers things differently
By Amanda Hess for The New York Times
The mainstream narrative is that a pop star ripped up a photo of the pope on “Saturday Night Live” and derailed her life. What if the opposite were true?
“O’Connor is, no matter how hard she tries to fight it, irresistible.” Read more
Sinéad O’Connor was always herself
By Hanif Abdurraqib for The New Yorker
The world owed the Irish musician more than it gave, but her best music turned away from the masses and instead looked inward.
“As the music winds down, O’Connor is still grinning, fantasising about her love taking her on a buggy ride. She was in love once, and who cares if it didn’t work out. She in love once, and oh, how lucky that was.” Read more
‘Lioness’ by Emily Perkins
Middle age and wealth are considered and skewered in the new novel from New Zealand’s own Emily Perkins. The main character Therese - not her real name - is married to a wealthy property developer who gets in trouble with the Serious Fraud Office. Meanwhile, our protagonist is shaken out of her middle age and her perfect self-image by her intoxicating carefree neighbour Claire.
The book made me reflect on the news stories I wrote as a young business journalist about (wealthy, middle aged, white) property developers who hit hard times during the global financial crises - while they were in my spotlight, how were their humiliated wives coping?
The sheen Therese has created for herself drops away bit by bit as she learns to let go. She didn’t come from wealth so she doesn’t take it for granted, but she sure as hell enjoys it. Underneath every woman is a wildness that wants to dance, and we’re all just play-acting at respectability, Perkins suggests.
‘Concerning My Daughter’ by Kim Hye-Jin
This memoir focuses on a period of less than a year in the narrator’s life in South Korea, where she undertakes tough physical labour working in a retirement home while worrying constantly about money and her daughter.
She changes the diapers of an elderly woman with dementia who was once a well-known activist. Prizes and accolades are shoved in her drawer alongside trash and food scraps. When the media comes to interview the iconic old woman, she won’t or can’t speak. Our narrator appears to be the only one advocating for the dignity of the older woman, who does not have any living family, in a rest home that recommends cutting up and reusing diapers to reduce operating costs.
Her daughter causes her great distress. Her daughter is a highly educated queer academic in a society that is sometimes cautious and often outrightly hostile towards her (a 2021 study ranked conservative South Korea 75th in social acceptance of LGBTQ+ people).
While she fights for people to recognise the humanity in her ignored elderly client, can she see the humanity in her own lesbian daughter who she is so ashamed of?
It is film festival season so my viewing lately has been more refined than usual, and in larger volumes. I have greatly enjoyed my little treats of a boysenberry choc-top ice cream or a glass of red wine (never both) while watching films, with two layers of tights on to keep myself warm during this current cold snap. I’ll tell you about my two favourite New Zealand International Film Festival films here, but I also recommend the lighter movies River about an onsen near Kyoto where everyone gets stuck on a two minute time loop and #Manhole where someone is trapped in a disused manhole on the night before his wedding and while he tries to escape, his darkest secrets emerge.
This movie might actually have been a biopic of me, I quipped to my partner as we sipped dirty martinis and snacked on white bean dip and fries at the Salty Pidgin after watching the film Perfect Days.
A toilet cleaner who works in the Tokyo area of Shibuya is shown living his quiet, solitary life in this beautiful film. We do often watch him cleaning toilets without seeing anything truly filthy, but what we’re really looking at is a person taking simple pleasures in his day-to-day. He works diligently then enjoys a sandwich in the park, sitting under a tree. He is an analogue guy. He takes photos on film, reads paperbacks and listens to cassettes. He relies on routine - each day he gets a can of coffee from the vending machine outside his apartment, once a week he develops the photos he has taken and buys a new roll of film, he is a regular at one bar and one restaurant and one bathhouse. He reads Faulkner before bed.
The magic of this movie lies in the light - so many scenes show warm light bathing the leaves of a tree, or an evening glow cast across Tokyo - and in the music. There are two (two!!) scenes where he listens to the Patti Smith song ‘Redondo Beach’ on cassette in his van. There is a scene where he rests in a sunbeam and puts on a Lou Reed song. While he drives to work one day, he plays Nina Simone’s classic ‘Feeling Good’. There is plot and tension, sure, but this movie will leave you feeling very good. Find out more
It is a great joy to sit in a cinema when you are about to watch a new Todd Haynes film for the first time, knowing you’re about to savour something brilliant. I adore his movies, from I’m Not There to Carol. This one stars his regular Julianne Moore alongside Natalie Portman in a story about how a scandal never leaves a family long after it has faded from the news headlines.
Portman’s character plays an actress preparing to play Moore’s character in a film about the time in the mid 1990s when Moore’s character, then in her late 30s, slept with a 13 year old boy. She went to prison and gave birth to their child while behind bars but we see the couple happily married years later, now older but Moore uncomfortably much older than her husband. Their youngest children are graduating high school as the young husband slowly realises that his kids are more worldly than he is, and he starts to question the life stumbled in to when he was just a child.
We see Portman mirror Moore as she studies her movements and way of speaking to prepare for the movie. We are confused by different characters revealing dramatic but conflicting pieces of information about Moore’s character, while Portman’s struggles to understand the ‘real’ her and work out if she’s a villain, a victim, or partly both. Serious themes are considered with the smart lens of Todd Haynes and lightened through his offbeat humour, such as the silly TV-movie style dramatic musical refrain that is repeated between scenes. Find out more
We recently had friends over for dinner and I cooked from Anna Jones’s book One Pot, Pan, Planet: the pan-roasted cauliflower with pine nuts, green herbs and saffron butter, and the pasta salad of orecchiette with sweetcorn, ricotta, silverbeet, green chilli, pine nuts and basil served with grilled salmon fillets. Dessert was the upside-down green apple and fresh mint cake from The Caker’s book Sunday Baking. We drank a bottle Veuve Cliquot between four of us to start as the sun set, then shared Momento Mori’s magnificent Staring At The Sun vermentino blend with the meal.
I had the opportunity to taste wines from New Plymouth winemaker Known Unknown when they held a pop-up in Newtown on a Saturday afternoon. I loved the 2022 Tangerine wine, a blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer grapes grown in Hawkes’ Bay vineyards that have since been destroyed in Cyclone Gabrielle. I took home one of the 750 bottles made. My favourite was the new Syrah and Cabernet Franc blend Red Right Hand that the winemaker describes as “wild, dark and intense with game and funk”. We drank it over the course of a week while watching the second season of The Bear, a glass of this in my hand as my heart swelled when I watched the scenes where one of my favourite R.E.M. songs ‘Strange Currencies’ was played.
One evening in early August at Little Beer Quarter, the bar underneath the apartment I shared with four others when I first moved to Wellington in 2012, I tried Garage Project’s Yuzukoshō - a yuzu, green chilli and salt flavoured sour beer. It was grand.
Everyone I’ve Ever Loved & All The Songs That Remind Me Of Them
For this memoir-by-playlist project, I write 500 words on my memories of a song. These vignettes offer a glimpse in to the rich and varied emotions we all experience in our lifetimes through showing a brief slice of my life at a particular time, in how I relate to a certain song. What the music brings up might be shallow or it could be intense. The memory may be joyful or thick with sorrow, a reflection on pleasure or a heavy exploration of fear. Whatever emotions a song dredges up from the spectrum of human feeling, they are true.
I remember snippets alongside songs. This is the soundtrack to my life. Let me be clear: Everyone I’ve Ever Loved & All The Songs That Remind Me Of Them is not a curated selection of the coolest songs I want to associate myself with. Some of them are my jam, others are trashy and catchy - all manner of music has been part of my life.
This project invites the reader to consider, where does this song take you? What does it remind you of? Where were you in your life when you last listened to this track?
‘Crazy’ by Aerosmith
Sometime in October, 2003
At the wheel of my red 1992 Honda Civic, I am listening to the Aerosmith song ‘Crazy’ and singing along. It is critical I get my vocal timing exactly right with Steven Tyler’s. Eyes downcast with drama as if a crowd watches me, I keep up with the spoken word introduction then launch in to the first verse.
I must pause for precisely the correct moment before belting out the word “Hollywood”. It is the single most satisfying moment of the power ballad, the word held in the mouth long and pensively with the yearning of someone pained by desire for a frustrating lover. Someone you can’t quite pin down. The only person I can’t pin down is myself.
I am in my Devonport driveway, engine off, after a shift of waitressing in Takapuna. It has been two months since I dropped out of university and four months since my mum split up from her partner. I am subsisting on only 1,000 calories a day (I count them). I am skinny. I am starving. I am hollow. Everyone tells me I look incredible.
I sit alone in my car and hit the back button so the song begins again. I need more of this song until my lungs are exhausted. More, more, more. I roll a cigarette while I sing, shaking my head mournfully in time with the music. I’m hamming up the emotional longing the lyrics describe as if I’m at karaoke.
It feels so good releasing the word “honey” before the line “I feel like the colour blue”. The “honey” is thrown out of your mouth like a frisbee, force powering it away from you.
I didn’t tell anyone I had decided to stop going to university until about three weeks after I finished attending classes. I didn’t really want to stop, it was just that I could not continue. My mind was too fuzzy for lectures about literature and a reading list that had me burning through a few novels a week.
When I get inside I’ll have one piece of Vogel’s multigrain bread, the sandwich slice cut because it’s thinner than the toast cut (less calories!), with one 15 gram tablespoon of peanut butter. No butter. Then I’ll rest my back against the cold timber of the living room floor and perform a clean 100 sit-ups. Then I’ll go for a run despite the light rain showering down, a humble and tidy 5km.
The album this song features on is titled Get A Grip. This is a phrase I often think to myself. My days start early because I am one of the staff opening the restaurant each morning. I coax an espresso out of the machine every week day for the guy who sits up at the counter and smokes a thin cigar. Over the lunch service, I work the smoking section.
“Girl,” I intone along with the Aerosmith lead singer, “You got to change your crazy ways”. Get a grip.
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