I was in the back of an ambulance on my way from a specialist hospital in London to the children’s ward of my local hospital (where I had been living for almost a year). It was dark. Winter. Very late. I had just been told that afternoon that some of the best doctors in this field in the country (who were in charge of my care at the hospital I had just been rescued from) had no idea how to fix the particular health hiccup that was keeping me in hospital, which meant I would be “in hospital indefinitely” on continuous infusions of IVs. I was 16. I was replaying those words over and over in my head, my heart sinking lower each time I did so, my eyes heavy with tears I refused to let fall. I stared into space in the back of that ambulance. And then we passed a cinema, and outside in a huddle, laughing and shouting, was a group of teenagers my age. My heart lurched then. The ambulance man looked at me,
“Do you like the radio?” He asked. I nodded politely. He called to his colleague who was driving, and told him to put on the radio,
“You like Radio 1?” His colleague called back to me. I nodded again. If I opened my mouth I knew I would cry.
He turned on Radio 1. He turned up the volume so loud the whole ambulance vibrated to the beat. We couldn’t even hear each other when we shouted. Couldn’t hear the sirens. I could feel the sound running through me. And then, almost at midnight I think, on came Pompeii. The chanting at the start of that song instantly calmed the emotions rampaging through my brain. I stopped, distracted from my thoughts, and I listened to every single word of that song. It had me from the first line.
“I was left to my own devices | Many days fell away with nothing to show…
But if you close your eyes | Does it almost feel like nothing changed at all? | And if you close your eyes | Does it almost feel like you’ve been here before? | How am I gonna be an optimist about this? How am I gonna be an optimist about this?” – Bastille, Pompeii
I had never felt such a connection with a song (even though I think it was actually written about the eruption of Vesuvius and the citizens of Pompeii), because in that minute it did feel like nothing had changed at all, and I had been here before, and I didn’t know how to pull any positives from the situation. I was at breaking point, and just as I let go, that song, those words… Caught me. I didn’t feel alone any more. I wanted to listen to that song over and over again. As soon as it had finished, I found it online and listened to it on repeat. In my hospital room that night, I walked around the room with tears streaming down my face, dragging my IVs around with me, listening to that song over and over and over just to make things feel ok. Eventually, I fell asleep to it. It was all I had, my only companion. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t heard that song. I had no hope left, I was going to give it all up.
I listened to Bastille all the time when I was in hospital (I still do, although now other artists join the playlist). I went through some awful times with their music in my ears, eventually an entire album of it. It was my pre-surgery soundtrack, my post-surgery soundtrack, my shhhh it was just a nightmare go back to sleep soundtrack… It gave me hope when I thought all was lost. It picked me up when I was down. A while after my closest friend (who I eventually discovered had been planning on asking me to be his girlfriend, and who I then realised I loved far more than a friend) died following a transplant, Torn Apart was there in my headphones. When I was angry, happy, scared, sad, lonely, bored… It was there. A constant soundtrack in my life, to the point that some songs from their first album now trigger the flashbacks they then save me from. I listened to their songs on repeat as I laid battling septicaemia, when we thought I might die. I have never met these people and yet their music moved me in ways nothing else could. I had heard songs before, but never had one made me sit up and listen like Pompeii did in the back of that ambulance.
A week before my 18th birthday, and I had just beat septicaemia again. I was stunned to be alive and couldn’t really comprehend the fact that I somehow was. I was fragile, my health was scarily deteriorating, I felt forgotten, and PTSD had just started to become a major issue in relation to hospital admissions. Bastille were in concert at Alexandra Palace. I went to see them, with my best friend from childhood (brother friend, remember him?). An ambulance was nearly called for me because my heart (which was by that stage becoming a major issue) had a huge hiccup, but we just pushed into the crowd and got lost. And then there it was. The battle was over, I was free from hospital, I had almost made it to the end of my childhood, and standing in front of me on a stage were the creators of the music that got me through it. I stood there, and once again the music was so loud that it made everything vibrate and I felt it run through me. I listened to the songs that had got me through, and a wave of relief washed over me. I had made it full circle, I’d made it to an age I didn’t think I would see… To the sound of these songs, to the music of these people (which would probably never have meant so much to me without the horrors that it got me through). It was so symbolic, that this horrific, traumatic chapter of my life should end to a live performance of the music that had picked me up right in the middle of the worst of it. I sang along to every word.
Their music was the first to mean so much to me. It introduced me to the power of lyrics, and was the first music to get me through a hell I would not otherwise have made it through. I can’t say anything about these people, I don’t know them, but their music… Their music will always have a place in my heart, because it is part of the reason it is still beating and unbroken enough to function.
“Bad news like a sucker punch, what do you say? | Air knocked out of my lungs want you to stay | When you hear something difficult don’t back away | Some people say nothing, good ones engage
Don’t turn your back on me | Don’t bury your head deep | Just ’cause you don’t know what to say…
It’s true | That it kicks you in the teeth when you are least expecting | Bad news | Oh it beats you black and blue before you see it coming|
Bad news like a sucker punch moving your way | People fill the streets like nothing has changed | … | Planes fly overhead like any old day …
Maybe I just want some words of distraction | I feel like I’m being consumed | Maybe I’m expecting the perfect reaction | To pull me back…” – Bastille, Bad News
(I listen to this song after every bad hospital appointment, or when I’m in hospital and learn the extent of the health hiccup that put me there. In situations such as that it is often the only thing that comforts me as people usually don’t know how to react, aren’t there to support me through such difficult times, let me down, or avoid me because they don’t know what to say)
I totally relax to the sound of this music. This was the band who showed me the true power of a few lines of words. I once bought an albatross necklace and wore it around my neck as a reminder of all the crap I was carrying around. I listened to a track with the lyrics
“There’s an albatross around your neck | All the things you’ve said | And the things you’ve done | Can you carry it with no regret | Can you stand the person you’ve become
Your albatross, let it go, let it go | Your albatross, shoot it down, shoot it down | When you just can’t shake the heavy weight of living…” – Bastille, Weight of Living (Part 1)
And as I did so, the chain on that necklace broke, and my albatross hit the ground (seriously that thing now won’t stay on any chain I attach it to and it isn’t even heavy… I lost it eventually because it fell off somewhere. If you’re wondering about an albatross being worn around a neck, read The Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner).
When I listen to their music, the albatross never matters. It takes off and sends my mood into the sky with it. Without fail. Always. Suddenly I don’t care about the person I’ve become – I am someone else, somewhere else… Always. Such is the power of music.