Saturday, 20 September 2008

If your life had a soundtrack, what would be on it?

1. "Dance with My Father Again" - Luther Vandross

I discovered this song later on in life even though I had always loved Luther Vandross tunes. Or maybe I had heard it before but never really much cared until after my father's death in 2001. The most poignant part of the lyrics for me is towards the end of the song,

"I know I'm praying for much too much
But could You send back the only man she loved
I know You don't do it usually
But Lord, she's dying to dance with my father again"

For me, this song is also associated with a photo I have of my mum and dad dancing to their own singing on their return from a dinner party one Saturday. That photo still takes me back to that very night. I was around fourteen or fifteen. Studying for my mid-term exams on a Saturday; I was at my wit's end, going over the same dates and the same names I had been going over for the best part of the evening when I heard the key turn in the lock. In waltz my mum and dad, more than a little tipsy, I must add, singing a tune from the 60s as they dance in the middle of the room. It was joy, it was fun, it was growing up in a home blessed with love.

My dad passed away two days before my master's graduation. Unexpectedly for me as the fact that he was having a high risk surgery was kept from me until the final hours of his life. Going home, finding the strength to cope with the sudden death of my own father, as well as the strength to support my mother, as an only child, was difficult. For once the woman I turned to for comfort and strength, needed me to give her those very things I was in need of. Seeing her cry for her husband of almost twenty five years (My dad passed away eight days before their silver anniversary) and knowing there was nothing I could do to ease the pain broke my heart. For me, Luther Vandross' timeless lyrics sums up that very desperation at the darkest hour of grievance for one's dad.

2. "Like a Prayer" - Madonna

"Life is a mystery... Everyone must stand alone..."

As soon as I hear the first notes and the lyrics of this song, I unconsciously find myself singing alone, wherever I may be; in the car, at a party, in the comfort of my house. One of the few songs I know the lyrics to by heart, ingrained in my mind from the winter of 1989.

Not only is Madonna's "Like a Prayer" album the first ever casette tape (Yes I am that old, people!), alongside Michael Jackson's "Bad" I bought with my very own pocket money as a little eleven year old girl who assumed herself real "cool", long before the word "cool" came along to define the idea, for investing her very own savings on to American pop, but it also symbolised a new era, new beginnings, new friendships.

I had just started high school as a starry-eyed youngster, full of dreams and fears, fears of going somewhere new, where I didn't know anyone but three primary school classmates, fears of sticking out, not fitting in, looking a fool. Within the first few days of school, as I quickly established friendships with the some of the girls in my class, I realised how unfounded and futile those fears were. Then came along "Like a Prayer" in the winter of 1989 and you could find us four girls singing along every break and lunch time.

'89 was a year of new beginning and "Like a Prayer" became my byword for finding that comfort zone in a new place where I could run to and have friends to call my own and sing with, endlessly, the lyrics we knew by heart.

3. "Don't Speak" - No Doubt

This is the song of getting stuck, letting go and moving on. This song is of heartache, endless hurt, solid friendship.

"Don't Speak" was released in 1006 but was still hot on the airwaves the following year my first serious relationship was fast dwindling away. What was for me the beginning of something so wonderful was for him the end of his freedom.

We had met in a German class in my sophomore year, on April Fools, of all days. It was love at first sight, or infatuation more like. My heart skipped a beat every time I laid eyes on him and he laid eyes on me quite frequently. Within two weeks we were dating. Within two months we were inseparable - until he went home to Cyprus for the summer and all of a sudden stopped calling. On his return I could sense that something was just not the same but like any woman in love, I was being a foolish girl, refusing to see what was right before my eyes. It took some tough love from a concerned girlfriend, a few words of wisdom from my mum and a lot of courage on my part to finally face him on a bleak December morning. Never the one to settle down for grey areas in life, I had to have my answers in black or white. And finally, a definite answer he did give me: it was over, he felt I was getting to clingy.

It took me a week to stop crying over him, a month to start smiling again, another three to hold my head high when I bumped into him on campus. Yet anytime "Don't Speak" would play on the radio, my heart would break into a thousand pieces. My best friend at the time, Mehtap, recently snubbed by a guy she had fallen for, shared the same sentiments. Any time the song came on, we would either change the station or turn off the radio. Until one day in the early hours of Saturday, driving around town - as we often used to after parties - we parked the car by the Bosphorus, put on the 'No Doubt' tape we had discarded to the back of her car boot and braced ourselves.

We had to do it. We had to let go and move on. Hand in hand, with clasped teeth, fighting back the tears, we made to the end of the song... and exhaled.

That night, that song stopped being the song of despair and became to song of survival. It stopped being the song of a broken relationship with a man, became the song of a strong friendship with a soul sister. That night, as women often do, we walked through the pain, hand in hand, and came out smiling at the other end.

4. "My Getaway" - T-Boz

It was the spring of 2001... It was a Saturday... And we were on our way to Chessington, Suby and I. We had only met a week ago after a number of e-mails and four hour long chats when he had come down to London to take me out to lunch. That very weekend he had said. "You know I am gonna marry you one day," and I had retorted, "You are not my type." Yet, drawn to the sense of ease and comfort he exuded, I went to see him a week later, wondering why such a wonderful person failed to ignite the chemistry I felt was needed for me to consider getting into a relationship with him. I spent the night at his place in Swindon, for most part of the night we talked, for the rest of it I lost sleep trying to fight his hands off me while he lost sleep over trying to cuddle me.

In the morning we were off to Chessington where I had made plans to meet up with my friends. On the way there, on the tape he later pinched off me was T Boz's "My Getaway" playing.

"When you don't
Know what to do
Wanna play
And have some fun
Gotta find a place to go
Just you and me alone."

Just Suby and I, finding a place to go and have some fun, on a glorious Saturday. Just two friends on a journey, on an escapade.

"Let's go on a escapade
Just follow me and
I'll lead the way."

Seven years, many tears, many laughters, many fights, a wedding later... Just Suby and I, husband and wife, lovers, friends, on a journey to last till the end of time. And for that very reason, every time I hear this song, I think of how we started out as friends, just how comfortable I felt in his presence from the very first day, and how we grew up and grew stronger together.

5. "Black Coffee" - All Saints

This song simply reminds of London, more specifically Camden. Camden. My first stop in London in this journey of life. Having lived in the urbanscape of Istanbul for twenty years, London felt like second skin from the moment I arrived, my second hometown. It still is after so many years.

When I first moved to London, All Saints were on the charts with "Black Coffee" and every single day as I walked past the quirky shops and little greasy-spoons of Camden on my way to the tube station to catch my train to work, I would hear this song slowly fill up the street as the shopkeepers sweeped, dusted and cleaned for yet another day. And every single day, through the sunshine or the rain, the joy or the pain my new life in my new hometown brought along, I would sing along to the four girls belting out:

"Wouldn't wanna be anywhere else but here... Wouldn't wanna change anything at all."

For me "Black Coffee" is "Black Coffee Mornings of Camden", of London, my hometown. (

6. "No More Pain" - Mary J Blige

After all these years, this song still has the power to make me cry. The first time I heard this song was the summer of 2002 when the single was released in the UK and aired on Radio 1 for the first time.

On a gloomy summer evening on Green Lanes, coming back home in Suby's car, as soon as I heard the lyrics, tears started flowing, quietly at first, then accompanied with sobs. As Mary J Blige sang, she spoke to my heart, she sang the story of the last two years of my life. I had lived with a few shady flatmates, dated a few bad boys, got played, got burnt, got hurt... Suby and I were in a limbo - I had fallen for him, yet he would not commit... In two years' time, I felt like I had been through ten years' lot and I was at the end of my tether. When Mary sang, "No more pain" I felt the pain, when she sang "No more games" I sang with her, when she sang "I don't wanna cry no more", I cried all the harder and when there were no more tears to cry, I promised myself the very same promise, "No one's gonna make me hurt again".

And to this day, whenever I suffer emotional pain, I go out for a drive, put Mary on full blast and make myself the same promise because as she says,

It's up to us to choose
Whether we win or lose
And I choose to win."

7. "Who Knew?" - Pink

This song reminds me simply of F, my golden girl.

"If someone said three years from now, you'd be long gone
I'd stand up and punch them out cause they're all wrong"

It was the winter of 2000, I met F; possibly the craziest, kookiest, most fun person I have ever met. F was everything I wasn't: she was the bubbly to my gloomy, the bold to my shy, the soul of the party to my wall flower. We were a friendship made in heaven.

We bonded over late night chats comfort eating breadsticks dipped in Nutella, Friday nights dancing away to cheesy pop at the student union, day trips to London suffering rail works and dodgy fast food and gloomy days after heartbreaks.

We got drunk, we got foolish, we kissed a few too many frogs, fell a little too hard too soon for boys, had our hearts broken, broke a few hearts, lead parallel lives; in the end, we went through it all, hand in hand. We did years' worth of growing up all rolled into a few years. We grabbed life by the throat. We were the 'terrible twosome', the 'soul sisters', the 'kindred spirits'. If someone said back then, she'd be long gone, I would have really stood up and punched them out.

"I wish I could still call you a friend
I'd give anything"

Then we moved away, got back together, drifted apart. Through the years we accumulated sisterly scars in unspoken quarrels we had never aired, until that day in 2006. Two whole years ago, my best friend, my kindred spirit, my soul sister had the mother of all fights two women can ever have and parted ways. I just felt I had to walk away from it all in order to start again, like I had done before. But I left it too late to walk back and say sorry. By the time I was ready to put our fight behind and walk back across that bridge, I found it was well and truly burnt.

"I keep you locked in my head until we meet again
I won't forget you, my friend."

God only knows if F and I will ever meet again. Since we parted ways she has got married and recently had a baby. It breaks my heart to know I was not there to share those moments in her life and will probably never get to share many more still in store for her. Maybe we will meet again, maybe we won't. Maybe we'll sit in a Starbucks like in the good old days and start again from where we left off, maybe we won't. All I know is I will never forget my once soul sister.

8. "Stay Down" - Mary J Blige

Who says one can't have two songs by the same artist on a soundtrack? It's my soundtrack and I do what I wanna...

If I have learned anything through two years of marriage is to expect the unexpected. We take relationships for granted, we take love for granted, we take life for granted. There comes a time when the Universe presents you with a test when you smugly think you've got all the answer; you hit that one unexpected hurdle that makes you fall just when you think you're on the final stretch ready to cross the finish line, with your head high.

For me, "Stay Down" is the very expression of love, stripped bare from all pretence, rose-tinted shades and butterflies. It is the most real love song about intimacy, commitment and passing those tests the Universe throws at you just when you think you've been through it all and you can't ever fail.

So when Mary says, "One day we'll look back on this, we'll be like remember this? And it's gonna make us smile 'cause in the end, we stayed down" I remember all the tests and the failures and the obstacles and hope from the bottom of my heart, one day he and I will look back and be like "Remember this?" and it's going to make us smile.

9. Bonus Track: "Golden" - Jill Scott

Simply because... Is there any other way to live life?