Soundtracking the daily commute


I’ve just switched jobs in a move that will saw me chop my commute time by at least two thirds. Clearly this is going to leave me little time to digest, say, a Dream Theater album in full. I headed into the new job full of optimism, suffice to say I’m less likely to get bedded down in the negativity that I often did in my now previous job and because my commute will no longer last an hour, I doubt I’ll get the chance to be in reflective mood very often. I’m not ashamed to admit that at times over the last couple of years, and indeed for a significant part of 2010, I felt pretty low. But what it taught me was the true value and power of music.

I’ll take you back to a late September’s morning in 2009. My job had relocated, and I had no choice but to follow it, quadrupling my commute time in the process through the one viable route from my home town. This consisted daily of a 10-minute walk to the train station, a 22-minute train journey (when running to schedule) to Morley, near Leeds, and then a 20-25 minute walk to my place of work (in reverse, the walk to Morley rail station was 20 minutes, with a 25-30 minute train journey). I didn’t exactly get off to the best start – I ended up running back to grab my mobile phone which I’d left behind, only to leave my walking directions from the middle-of-nowhere rail station to work at home. I just about reached my local rail station in time. I switched on my MP3 device as I reached the platform, the train arriving shortly afterwards. The first song? 16’s ‘Throw in the Towel’. How apt. Because if I’d have seen the person I was about to have become right there and then, I could well have turned around and not boarded that train. Hence, my life changed temporarily for the worse.
But that single moment changed the way I looked upon music, be it metal or not, and how it impacted upon me. Quite literally, it was becoming a soundtrack. One night, all the trains were cancelled and I had no option but to take the long slog back home on the bus. As my quickest passage of transport home, I suddenly felt isolated and headed back up the hill to Morley town centre to catch a bus. I normally left Morley at 6:22pm on a good night. Today I was leaving at 7:15pm at the earliest, to return home for around 8:30pm. I’d left work in a shitty mood and that just made things worst. The song I heard shortly just as the bus pulled in? Andrew W.K’s ‘You Will Remember Tonight’. I’ve had many rough experiences with abysmal public transport since but for that song to appear during my sigh of relief seemed unreal.
I’m genuinely not lying about those songs. They happened to be shuffled to my MP3 player at the time and it was plain spooky how they appeared, yet entirely appropriate for the occasion. I spent a lot of 2010 wallowing, and every now and then I’d find a song to affect me or sum up the situation I was in. Towards the end of 2010 I did find myself finally accepting there was no easy escape from my current situation, regardless of how much I tried, and I stopped looking for excuses to pity myself. The playlists became a little more random and varied, but it wasn’t until the terrible winter of 2010/2011 did I actually finally realise how well metal worked as a descriptor or soundtrack to a particular situation. Look at the post I did on the 2011 England Riots, namely a musical analysis of the situation. It wasn’t an attempt to make light or entertainment from what was an abhorrent situation. But wherever I went, even in what I consider a relatively sleepy commute, the air felt electric, and suddenly, songs like ‘Entrenched’ by Bolt Thrower and ‘Hello Pricks’ by Sick of it All completely and wholly summed up the mood. I still maintain to this day that British society can learn a lot from ‘Hello Pricks’. You can read that whole post if you like when I link to it at the end of this post.
It’s Amazing what the cold weather can do for your ears too. I was listening to My Dying Bride’s ‘A Doomed Lover’ as I arrived at Morley Rail Station; the snow had already bedded in and any hope of getting away on time disappeared quickly as the trains ended up delayed and the snow came down in blizzard fashion. That moment when ‘A Doomed Lover’ reaches its climactic finish as it picks up pace and the guitars crunch apocalyptically summed up the hopelessness of trying to escape winter’s icy grip to perfection – hence its eventual inclusion in the ‘Winter songs’ list I posted recently.
Admittedly, soundtracking works better in cold and darkness and than it does when the sun is shining and everything around is bright, although there’s plenty of songs about chilling and doing nothing, or possessing that care-free, bouncy vibe that do such a job. There’s seemingly hundreds of songs that befit the chill, and some bands sound so cold they fit perfectly. Batillus are a good one, thanks to their atmospheric blending of black metal, doom/sludge and ambience, and bands like Shining (NOR), YOB or pretty much any Norwegian black metal band make the perfect fit too.
As I switch my job from Morley to Huddersfield, and with a lot more going for me now than against me, I’m not sure this feeling of a soundtrack to my life will last. But undoubtedly the experiences of the last year and a half in Morley have made me realise what a powerful medium certain parts of heavy music are, and without question that’s an avenue I really wouldn’t mind exploring yet further.
I’m interested to know whether anybody else has this approach to music, be it soundtracking their commute or even their daily life. I wouldn’t go as far to say I soundtrack my whole life – it’s not ‘The Truman Show’, and indeed you could just say that much of what I’ve just written is what I happened to be in the mood for at the time. That much is true, but I believe there’s more to it than that.
Peter Clegg
Further reading:
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One thought on “Soundtracking the daily commute

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