There are, actually, many things that give me joy, despite the rather unfortunate state the world is in at the moment. My wife, my friends, my cats, reading and writing science fiction and fantasy… the list just goes on and on. However, another of the most prominent and important ones is music.
As a child, I learned to play the recorder (because that was what one did in primary school), the piano (briefly, badly) and the cornet (allowing me to claim with technical accuracy that I am a “classically-trained musician”, which is mildly hilarious). However, I never had much time for music on the radio. It wasn’t until I was about thirteen and heard The Offspring’s “Self Esteem” when Jamie Dreher snuck a battery-operated tape player along to Scouts summer camp that I realised that songs could actually have a point to them. I didn’t look back.
There is something curious about the fusion of words and music. Words on their own can be incredibly evocative and moving, of course. Music on its own can be the same. But when the two are combined well, it really can turn into something greater than the sum of its parts. Equally, of course, one side that is poorly done can drag down the other: I’ve heard many songs where I love the music but the lyrics have been insipid, or the lyrics have been great but the music has been decidedly underwhelming. But when someone gets it right, the result can be enough to actually cause a physiological change in you. Take, for example, hardcore band Comeback Kid’s song “GM Vincent & I”. The song itself is simply about once again driving past the site of a car crash you were involved in, but it hits something that means even having just listened to it again as I write this, there’s a slight lump in my throat:
And that seems an odd thing to bring up when talking about joy, but to me “joy” doesn’t necessarily equate to “happy”. It can mean a fierce joy, a delight that you’re alive, that you’re experiencing stuff. A lot of the music I listen to is punk music, and that’s often not happy music. It’s often angry music, angry about social injustice, but there’s a joy from hearing other people’s words and music expressing sentiments that you believe in:
It’s no real coincidence that I’m writing this the day after I went out to a clubnight and danced around like a maniac to music for a couple of hours. That’s one of my favourite leisure activities, and can provide a real endorphin-laced catharsis to blow away any hint of a low mood that might be bothering me (and if I do it often enough it means I can keep up my proud tradition of never having set foot inside a gym…)
It’s also fun to play music for other people. I’ve been DJing on and off for well over a decade now, from when I used to co-run my own clubnight to guesting at other people’s, as I still do today. One of my favourite experiences in the last couple of years has been DJing at the Bifrost Disco at the Nine Worlds convention in London in August. Last year in particular was amazing: great equipment, a powerful sound system, fancy lights, and a hall full of geeks quite happy to dance to whatever I was playing (including an MC Hammer/Captain Hammer mashup, which you can find at the bottom of this blogpost).
And no, that wasn’t posed. Steve just caught me as I was singing along to one of my favourite songs.
I’ve also enjoyed making my own music for years. I’m currently in a punk band called Interplanetary Trash Talk, which is nothing more than a hobby for all of us involved in it, but quite a fun one. Getting up on a stage to play music and sing words that you wrote is a fantastic experience. I don’t tend to be the nervous type, but I think I’d hesitate to read my writing aloud: I’ve never done a public reading from my published novels, and I don’t relish the thought of it. However, I’ll happily yell-sing words I’ve penned into a microphone in front of a bunch of strangers if I’ve got a guitar in my hands. It doesn’t really matter if there’s much of an audience, or if they’re hugely receptive to what we’re doing: so long as we haven’t majorly messed up, just playing live is incredibly fun.
Sadly, I’m partially deaf. This first started when I was about eight, although it’s got a bit worse since then: possibly due to clubnights and gigs, but equally possibly just because my ears are stupid. Thankfully it seems to have levelled out somewhat since my mid-twenties, and so now although I struggle to hear people (especially in noisy environments) and I need my hearing aids for work, or for watching any TV that contains important dialogue, and audiobooks and podcasts require far too much concentration, I’m still largely functional in this regard. Functional enough, at any rate, to listen to music that I love, and play it at other people. And without that, I think a lot of joy would be missing from my life.
Mike Brooks has very prominent hair which he is frequently asked questions about, is the author of the Keiko series of ‘grimy space-opera’ novels, and has recently started writing for Games Workshop’s Black Library. When not working at his day job for a homelessness charity, he enjoys playing guitar and singing in a punk band, walking in areas of outstanding natural scenery, watching soccer, MMA and science or nature documentaries, and DJing wherever anyone will tolerate him.