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‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’: The Role of Music During Lockdown

Written by Imogen Bebb 10/2020

Hi everyone! Welcome back, after a bit of a hiatus, to Manoeuvres’ blog (still written by me, Imogen).

With the entire music industry essentially grinding to a halt over the last few months, the decision was made to put these blog posts on hold for a while. It’s nice to be back though, and whilst the situation as a whole is far from ‘back to normal’, there have at least been some reported sightings of a flicker of light at the end of this long, dark, eerily quiet tunnel.

Over in the OMD ‘universe’, one of the latest pieces of news is the release of the Live From Your Sofa DVD, which many of us will no doubt have bought and watched through multiple times already! I have yet to purchase a copy for myself (I know, I know…my ‘fake fan’ status will be awaiting approval as we speak) but I will admit to watching the YouTube stream of that same gig a worrying number of times since it was originally premiered back in May.

The single camera footage from the venue’s sound desk was of course nowhere near as good as being on the front row of the gig itself (and that isn’t intended to be a criticism, more proof that the experience of a live gig is truly inimitable). In fact, at first I thought that watching the footage back would be a silly thing to do, so wistful would it make me for the eleven gigs/three weeks of that tour that I wouldn’t hesitate to label as the best three weeks of my life.

It was, however, surprisingly comforting. During the uncertain times in which we were (and indeed, still are) living, listening to songs I knew word for word, beat for beat, became something of a coping mechanism. Aside from the live stream, I found myself reaching exclusively for CDs and vinyl I had owned for years and had listened to obsessively as a teenager. For a while the idea of listening to anything ‘new’ made me recoil in horror (or at least mild discomfort).

I know I’m not alone in this either; an article I read recently on the Guardian’s website detailed the writer’s experience of only wanting to watch her ‘old favourites’ on television during lockdown, which included Harry Potter and Downton Abbey.

But why is this? Well I can’t speak for why teenage wizards or Hugh Bonneville and Maggie Smith in an elaborately-decorated stately home might elicit the same feeling, but for me music I listened to a lot when I was younger is something that feels very reassuring. When everything else is strange, or different, or new, or unknown, you can always rely on a particular song or piece of music to calm you down and take you somewhere ‘happier’.

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What that music might be is different for everyone of course; I know someone who used to fall asleep at night listening to Slayer (who, if you hadn’t guessed by the band name, aren’t exactly purveyors of music that would typically be considered ‘relaxing’).

It can be assumed, therefore, that the calming or reassuring properties of certain music can more likely be attributed to the particular experiences of an individual – childhood memories perhaps, as I already mentioned, or an association with a particular person or place.

Returning to OMD and arguably their most recognisable track, ‘Enola Gay’, for example. On the surface, a song with an ever-so-slightly-cheesy synth line, an explicitly danceable tempo and concerning the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945 hardly sounds like a track to revisit in times of stress and uncertainty, does it? But as I’m sure is the case for many OMD fans, the personal memories I have relating to that song, like hearing my Mother play it when I was younger, or listening to that introduction being played live so many times (often accompanied by the roar of a venue full of people who are preparing to shout along with the lyrics for the next three and a half minutes) means that it does feel like a genuine comfort, and a track I often return to if I’m feeling low.

This notion of music as ‘therapy’ of sorts isn’t just something I’ve pulled from thin air either; for many years music therapy has been cited as a particularly effective way of helping both dementia and autism suffers with relaxation and being able to express themselves more easily, particularly if it utilises music that might already be familiar to them. Research has also been done into the effectiveness of music therapy in treating symptoms of depression, with improvements seen in sufferers in both the short- and long-term.

Anyway, my point is that despite what you might have been seeing on various social media platforms over the last few months (‘try new things’, ‘make the most of this time by being as productive as you can’, ‘if you haven’t done it during lockdown then you’ll never do it’ etc), if all you’ve been able to do is go back and listen to music or watch films and television shows that remind you of your youth, or even just happier times in general, it’s nothing to feel guilty about or ashamed of. In fact, you’ve probably improved your mental health to some extent while doing it.

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As always, thank you for reading, and feel free to share with us what you’ve been listening to over the last few months. See you soon!

Written by Imogen Bebb 10/2020