Wednesday, 2 December 2009
21. Far Away, Martha Wainwright (2005)
Two words, that's all it took. A female voice, alone, at the start of a record, all sweetness and smoke, its softness frayed to rough edges.
Three seconds, that's all it was. I still find it astonishing that voices can do this, out of nowhere, out of nothing.
Martha Wainwright's Far Away, like so many of the songs from these fifty, was a song I first heard at my desk at The Word magazine. At that point, we would've been in the room on the second floor with the industrial portholes – it felt like our own little tugboat, set sail on the sea of Pentonville Road. Later, like imperial conquerors, we would ascend to the top floor, and I would tuck myself into the back, left-hand corner of the ship, my wall covered with posters and flyers, surrounded by mountains of books and CDs, cooling cups of coffee and Keith Drummond's sweet wrappers.
But Martha came to me before that, when we hadn't yet risen, when I was sitting next to Dave, by the sofa on which Mark would curl up like a cat, pretending to have an afternoon nap.
I'd play this song over and over – when I was trying to write, trying to edit reviews, when I was proof-reading chromalins, my hands and my arms, somehow, covered with ink. I don't know why this song calmed me down, especially given that its lyrics are so agonised, so intense. The part where Martha sings, "I have no children/I have no husband/I have no reason to be alive, oh give me one", in particular, still sticks out from the song like the cry of a wounded cub. But somehow it manages not to sound needy, only desperately sad. It still cuts me completely, right through to the bone.
Three years later, now no longer tucked into my corner, I met her. We had spoken on the phone for a few hours, so I could write a short biography for her record company – a job I couldn't quite believe I'd been asked to do. Then she played a gig to promote the new website I was editing, which I couldn't quite believe either. I remember standing on stage in a bright green dress I had bought from a vintage shop, announcing her set from her microphone, my palms clammy with nervousness, and her coming on, planting a kiss on my cheek.
And then she played Far Away. The whole world seeming to stop in the gaps between her notes, until her voice made it spin again.