The Lady and The Narcissus
It’s been seven years since I released my first record, Kill That Song. It’s been a long and challenging process to finally release my second. The Loveliness has been a little bud for a very long time and now its time to blossom has come!
I had a far from ideal first recording experience. I loved my record but I was emotionally bruised by the process. I was left very low in confidence. It took me several years to recover. I knew I wanted to write more songs but didn’t want to repeat the experience I’d had. I was also putting myself under pressure to start a family and was struggling financially. I’d written a successful children’s novel but music was pulling at my heart.
I fell into a kind of spiritual paralysis, a kind of trance-like limbo. I slowly wrote songs but would be overwhelmed by the sadness of not being able to share them. I wanted to make another album but had no idea how I would do that. Nonetheless, a spark had been lit within and I wasn’t going to give up on it.
I know now, that these sparks are hints of our own divinity. If we follow them, their light will grow, transforming us in the process. In many ways the whole purpose is the transformation, not the artistic product. We’re invited on a journey but first we must fall in love. If we weren’t in love, we would never continue because it’s rarely a smooth ride! It’s the passion and the devotion that keeps us going.
During this time of limbo, I caught the flu, which lasted three months. One of the side effects was complete deafness in my right ear. It was winter and I was walking my dog in one of the ancient woodlands near my house. There was a strong wind moving in eerie waves around the black trees. In the middle of the wood, I began to catch strains, carried on the wind, of the most beautiful music. I would listen for it and then it would be carried away. I was in my own fairytale, the voice of a beautiful wood nymph calling to me through the trees. I wanted to know who the owner of that voice was- it was so lovely. Who was this person to make such gorgeous music? Suddenly I was filled with envy – who was she? I needed to know so I could hate her! (In a better frame of mind I would just admire her but not then!)
I followed the sound like a scent, searching for radios on allotments, where people were gardening; looking for radios in back gardens- where builders were working. The wind swirled and carried it away again, and again it would return. I finally left the woods, unsuccessful. How mysterious that music was!
I got into my car and suddenly, with my working ear, heard the music again. It was coming from my phone. It was my own record. All along it was my own voice and my own music that I had been chasing!
I’m not telling you this story to demonstrate some arrogant belief in my own talent or greatness or anything like that. The point is, I had never thought of my voice as something beautiful- just as something that needed releasing. We as artists, are often hypercritical of ourselves- but in that, strange and for me, mystical experience, I was tricked into seeing and feeling my own beauty. And when I talk about my beauty, I’m also talking about yours. How often do we really see the beauty in ourselves? And by beauty I mean the light, the light that people who truly love us see in us, but which we rarely see in ourselves.
I sat down at the piano recently and played a basic version of Kill That Song. It made me cry. During the process of making my first record I put my producer on a pedestal because I admired his musicianship so much (he is an accomplished jazz pianist). I thought that the beauty of the song belonged to him somehow, because he’d played the piano on the record and come up with an arrangement. But I wrote that song. It was born from deep and painful feelings, which I expressed by organizing them into lyrics, chords and melody. And I sang those words with my all my heart. The beauty I saw in him had been my own. How often have you admired someone and not realized that the qualities you were noticing in them were a reflection of the same qualities in yourself?
As I was growing up, if anything happened to me, I would run to the mirror to see what my face was doing. I thought my expression would tell me what I was experiencing- that my reflection would shed light on my emotions.
I remember my first primary school crush telling me he liked me. I rushed delirious and sweaty from the summer playground into the girls’ toilets, asking my reflection “why me?” hoping for clues in what the mirror was showing me.
At university, having spent several lost hours in a college bedroom of a boy I was (unwittingly) in love with, I looked at myself in the little mirror above his sink. My mascara smudged around my eyes (him still reclining on his single bed) I asked myself “how have I managed to capture him?” My face made me feel like a powerful seductress but inside I was uncomfortable with and unsure about what to ‘do’ with what I now know was happiness.
Another time at university, I caught a reflection of myself by accident. I was rushing after a seminar and absentmindedly looked up whilst washing my hands. My beautiful twenty one year old face took me completely by surprise. She took my breath away. I wasn’t expecting her. Because my mind wasn’t engaged, I wasn’t critical, so I caught a glimpse of my external loveliness but my inner beauty too- my openness, my curiosity, my intelligence, my innocence.
I noticed myself at a party once (at university again), an unexpected reflection in a mirror across the dance floor and it made me deeply uneasy. I saw someone pleasing to look at which in turn made me uncomfortable. I felt like it was a responsibility, that I could only be pretty if I followed certain rules and put in a certain amount of work, if I used a sunbed or make-up or wore the right clothes. I couldn’t accept what I saw. What should I do with such a fleeting thing as my own youth? I couldn’t just be with it and enjoy it. Not many of us can.
The thing about these ‘mirror’ experiences is that we remember them. They’re like taking a psychic snapshot inside and out. I’m grateful for the times I stopped to look. They taught me about the frequent discrepancy between what I was feeling and how I appeared. They remind me of my journey from unstable self-esteem towards increasing self-acceptance, my growing ability to love, respect and appreciate myself.
The title track of my new record, The Loveliness, is a kind of hymn to Narcissus, who, I think has been misunderstood. Ovid’s character has been judged for being vain, when in fact his tragedy was that he didn’t know that the beauty he had fallen in love with was his own. The nymph Echo, who yearns for Narcissus, is another reflection of him. How often do we fall in love with the idea of someone else’s beauty? Why are we so willing to hand our beauty over to another and to long for it over there?
Over the course of my album, the singer grows out of that state, of longing for an untouchable unobtainable external love and begins to realize, in the song, The Loveliness, that love is within her and was all along. The record cover shows a lady in ecstatic rapture. She’s holding a narcissus flower to her chest. It’s how I felt writing the title track- watching sunlight turn the sea from silver to gold, overcome with the beauty of music and poetry; the shattering, unbearable beauty of it all, filling, flooding and breaking open my heart.
If we let ourselves be led by what is most beautiful to us, we will be changed forever.