It’s been six years today since my mum died. Six long and often painful years. I hate the feelings I get when I think about how she was taken from me.
Yes, that’s right. Me. My mum was one of my best friends, and not a day goes past when I don’t miss her or think about her. And often when I think about her I go through a whole range of emotions. Of course there’s sadness. And there’s anger. There’s that empty or lost feeling.
Occasionally there’s happiness. Sometimes a happy memory pops into my head and I try to hold onto that.
There’s lots of things that remind me of her. Standing in my kid’s messy room last Saturday thinking about how many times I have asked him to clean it up, and then laughing to myself about how many times my mum said the same thing to me.
And sometimes it’s when I hear a song. Nearly every song that I have ever heard, especially those that I really love connect me to memories. And there’s plenty that connect me to my mother.
In 1998, for some some reason on Monday the 10th August I drove my mum to work on the way to my own place of work. Powderfinger’s lead single from their soon-to-be-released third album, Internationalist, the follow up to the hugely successful Double Allergic album, was going to be premiered on Triple J’s breakfast show. Normally when I had my mum in the car I would have the radio turned off and we’d have a conversation, but this day I had the radio on low in anticipation of hearing the song.
I can remember the exact spot on Old Windsor Road, Old Toongabbie when the announcer, who was just as excited as I was, played The Day You Come. I remember turning the radio up and my mum stopping mid-sentence knowing that hearing that song was the most important thing in my life at that point in time. And as soon as the song finished, I turned the radio off and we continued our conversation. Even before she died, whenever I heard that song, I remembered how she was sitting in the passenger seat of my car when I first heard it. Coincidentally, a song called Passenger was the last single released from that album.
I remember back in 1991 after Metallica released their self-titled album, often referred to as The Black Album, I was listening to the album way louder than my neighbours would have liked. We had a large room at the very back of my family home which we “formally” called The Back Room™, and was also known as The Music Room™ thanks to the big stereo system, the upright piano, and half a dozen guitars and amplifiers that lived there from mine and my brother’s guitar collection. From that room you could see out into part of our backyard. To get from the middle section where the laundry room was in our rather long house to the clothesline at the very back of our yard you had to walk past the glass sliding doors of The Back Room™.
On this one occasion I remember my mum carrying a basket of laundry out the back and as she passed the door I got up from the couch I was lounging on and went out to help her hang out the washing. I honestly can’t remember if it was part way through Don’t Tread on Me or the following song, Through The Never, but I know that it wasn’t long before Nothing Else Matters came on. I remember it because as I was standing there my mum spoke to me about this song;
“I do like this song. Whenever you are listening to this album I wait for that song to come on. The other songs are way too loud and too heavy, but this song is nice. Why can’t all their songs be like this?”
“Mum, it’s Metallica and Metallica fans just like the heavy stuff.”
I realised something after she made her comment. My mum often complained that the music that I listened to all sounded the same, but she recognised that album as having that song which she liked. I mean, sure to Metallica fans that album was very different from the previous ones which I also played on the loud stereo, but she acknowledged her approval of a song from a band she’d otherwise not like, and that was pretty cool to the late-teen-years me.
Only two years earlier, a couple of my friends and I went to see Poison at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. I had turned 15 a few months earlier, and another neighbour friend had turned 16 a couple of days before me, but the other two friends were still only 14, and as a result, their parents preferred that we had an adult chaperone us on the train ride to the city and back. Of the eight parents who stood as candidates, it was my mum who put her hand up to be the volunteer.
The support band was Australia’s own Bon Jovi clones Roxus and as I had heard one of their songs on the radio and it was my kind of thing, I suggested we go in a check them out. This left my mum sitting in the foyer of the “Ent Cent” with book in hand, waiting patiently for the whole concert to finish. When Poison had finally hit the stage, the security at the Ent Cent came up to my mum who was quietly reading her book and asked her to leave as only paid patrons of the concert were allowed inside, including in the foyer.
My mother doth protest at this (I know it’s bad grammar in the past tense, but hey, I’m kind of quoting Shakespeare here people), and she told security that there was no way that she’d be getting up from her seat to stand out in the cold (it was the middle of winter) waiting for the show to be over. Besides, as she added, she was responsible for four boys inside that auditorium and should any of them get into any sort of trouble and any of them need to find her in a hurry, she was staying on the seat where she said they would be able to find her.
Her final argument in her protest was her claim that she really wasn’t interested in listening to these long haired, too heavy for her liking rockers. And with that, the security guard left her alone to read her book. The irony of that was, that night, the band played two songs that my mother quiet enjoyed; their most popular ballad, Every Rose Has Its Thorn, and the ballad from their debut album I Won’t Forget You. As we left she told my friends and I that although it’s barely audible from the foyer, she sang along to the Every Rose, but made sure that she didn’t get busted actually enjoying a band she had previously stated that she didn’t care for.
In the early days of playing and writing music myself, my mum was my biggest fan for a long time. Many times I would sit at the breakfast bar in our kitchen, my acoustic guitar in hand, strumming away and singing early ideas or completed songs that I wrote. Of course it was the acoustic ballads and love songs that she loved the most, complaining that, just like the bands I loved and listened to, all of my hard rocking songs just sounded all the same to her.
I was 14 years old when I penned the song called Let’s Just Leave It That Way. Many of my friends and the girls at school that heard our demos and became my garage band’s groupies called this their favourite song of ours. I can remember sitting in the kitchen while my mum was preparing a meal and playing her an early draft of the song. She really loved it and encouraged me to finish it. I wrote that song over the course of that afternoon and evening. I played her the finished song while she made pancakes for the family the next morning.
Over the years, I would sit at that breakfast bar playing her more of my songs. Some she loved. Some she sort of liked. Some she, well, she stayed in the room and tolerated. And some she outright hated. Even if it was one I really loved that she didn’t like herself, I appreciated her honesty.
The Back Room™ was big enough to have my band through my teenage years rehearse there. Our drummer’s dad would drive his drum kit over, the other guitarist and sometimes singer when I wasn’t being the lead singer would walk the whole 200m with his amp and guitar down to my house. The bass player would have his mum drop him off at first, but as he was older than the other three of us, he was soon driving himself around on his provisional plates.
Although once again I’m sure the neighbours hated the noise spewing out of that room, my mum would often tell me that we were sounding better. She would tell me which songs she thought were coming along nicely with the rest of the band playing, and of course, when we played Let’s Just Leave It That Way, it got to the point where she knew the words and could sing along with us with whatever it was she was doing while the band was jamming.
My taste in music, both that which I listened to and that which I liked to play got heavier over the years. Often times I found myself playing in bands with drums that were being bashed way too much, bass lines that thumped way to hard, and guitars that chugged rhythmically like chainsaws and that squealed like pigs, and I knew it was not the sort of music that my mum would have liked at all. The Back Room™ was fast replaced with rehearsal studios tucked away in industrial estates where no one would care about the noise, and I was playing to loud drunken crowds in pubs and club instead of to my mother standing the other side of the kitchen counter.
She came and saw some of my original bands play, but only a handful of times. As I grew older and one I had given up on playing my own stuff to dwindling crowds I joined a band playing cover songs at wedding, parties and anything. She came and saw us play on at least one occasion, and just as she did when I was younger, she told me how proud she was that I got up there on stage and entertained the crowd.
I haven’t written my own songs for a few years, but as I have just started playing in my party band again after an almost three year hiatus, I have found myself sitting at my piano every other day listening to the latest pop hits and working out how to play them. And it has inspired my to start writing again. Each time I come up with a new song I wish that I could send it to my mother to listen to (the music I write now is mellow compared to what I wrote when last I played in an originals band). But I can’t.
I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe in Heaven and Hell. I don’t think that she’s out there looking down on me in the sense that those who believe in the afterlife would. But I feel her presence when I play a piece and think “that’s a beautiful bit of music, right there, if I can say so myself.” And I’m sure she would have loved it. I love the connection that music allows between me and the memory of my mother. And it’s a connection that will never die, as long as the music keeps playing.
Now, although my mum wouldn’t like this song herself, feel free to check out Avenge Sevenfold’s song Almost Easy. I stole one of the lines of the chorus as the title of this piece and listening to it inspired me to write this post. Lyric wise, it’s not about our relationship as mother and son, but I do laugh when I think of the line “I’m not insane, I’m not insane” because as Sheldon from The big Bang Theory always says;
“I’m not insane, my mother had me tested…”
Love you Mum. This one’s for you.