The other day, I met up with one of my oldest friends, and she reminded me of something. We used to meet at the end of my street before school so we could walk there together. But I would never let her meet me at my front door. Because in the time it took me to walk down that street, I could listen to around 3-4 songs on my CD walkman. I needed that extra time, I explained – apparently a very serious, neurotic and probably quite annoying 11-year-old. That was when I could listen to music.
Absolutely nothing has changed. Sometimes, I wake up extra early and sneak out the house undisturbed so I can listen to music without anyone joining me. During these times when I'm walking and listening, I often completely disassociate from my body. I go to all sorts of places. When I was 11, for example, I would consistently imagine that I was not a kid in North London, but in fact Karen O, on stage at Glastonbury, singing “Date With the Night” (I know, lol). As an adult, my fantasies are more realistic or abstract (I might imagine moving to LA, or speaking to my 17-year old self) but it's p much the same sort of thing.
I can't be the only person who has this fantasy-based, dissociative relationship to music. In fact, I would even go as far to assume that most people who listen to music often experience it that way? But also, who am I to say? I don't know that for sure. It's not something people talk about much. Fantasies can be embarrassing. And they're also private, hard to pin down and revealing. They say a lot about a person.
With all that in mind, I decided to find some people willing to speak to about the weirdest stuff they think about when they're listening to music. Surprisingly, it wasn't hard.
“I would always imagine being the drummer of Babes in Toyland – specifically the song ‘Sweet 69’, with the cowbell at the beginning – and all my exes being in the audience, thoroughly impressed. Also, miraculously, I’m not sweating, because there’s a fan [by the stage]. I would be the sick drummer chick I always wanted to be. It’s quite a minimal plot, and really only lasts for the intro, but I used to imagine this a lot when I was younger, back when I used to really take my boyfriend’s criticisms to heart. I’ve dated five drummers, so...”
“I would lay in bed with my walkman on – this song on repeat, foam headphones precariously balanced on my ears – and I would imagine screaming the lyrics over this cliff edge, hurling all the anger at my family and friends down below. They were all having a party, holding these little martinis with olives, completely oblivious. I sang it acapella obviously (the echo between the cliff edges was enough of a mic) and there was wind blowing in my hair.”
“I’m cringing admitting this, but I used to wish I was really good at skating. I could do a few basic tricks, but I wanted to be like pro level, spinning in the air and grinding and shit. I would listen to ‘Holy Grail’ when it came out, and I’d imagine that there was a recently erected half pipe on the street and I’d casually just blow onlookers away with my abilities. People would be filming me on their phones, and ‘Holy Grail’ would be on in the background. I think – in my fantasy – I dropped in the moment Jay-Z comes on the track, then I’d do this sick line, like something out of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.”
“Most of my most returned-to music fantasies are romantic. Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly loved up about my boyfriend, I’ll listen to ‘Samson’ by Regina Spektor, or something by Jeff Buckley, and sort of play a collage of our relationship in my head. We’re always doing something sweet, like cutting each other’s hair or chatting in the bath. Sometimes the collage is also a movie that other people are watching, and seeing how close we are, which sounds ridiculous but it's true.”
“I spent a year and a half working in a restaurant which I hated. I hated my boss and the customers, who were all rich and rude. Every time I would go to and from work on the bus, I would listen to ‘Drain the Blood’ by The Distillers and fantasise about walking out. Sometimes in this fantasy I would knock glasses and plates off the tables as I walked out. Also sometimes my colleagues would see me months later in a magazine doing something more fun and interesting. Ha!”
“This is quite an obvious one, but the only time I listen to 'You Oughtta Know' by Alanis Morrisette is when I want to let some rage out on my cheating ex. I imagine that I'm the one who came up with the song, then I'm performing it in different scenarios. In one, he sees me on TV and I'm singing it at the camera. Or sometimes he's accidentally in the audience at a gig. Whichever way he sees me though, he always hears the lyrics and miraculously realises the errors of his ways and comes begging for my forgiveness.”
“I imagine being in ‘the band’ on a daily basis, always while walking, sometimes at festivals (if it’s sunny), but more often at small venues and my friends are in the crowd. It probably means I’m seeking validation. The most embarrassing of these visuals is one where I’m in a Pop Idol situation with an acoustic guitar giving the judges something ‘a little different’ lol. But that’s less frequent. Usually I’m just rocking out.
The songs I pick, pre-walk, are basically selected on the type of things I want to imagine – always set up beforehand, as I try not to go on my phone as I'm walking. I find that if I'm at work, or at home with phones and laptops, I'm still thinking about a million things, but when I'm walking with music, I don't really think about anything else and it clears my head. It's quite therapeutic and a really important part of my day.”