First, Some Background Information...
If you met me, you would easily peg me as an archetypal extrovert: confident, optimistic, and a lover of people. The ten-mile-wide smile that is always, always on my face would undoubtedly give this away before we even had a conversation. Then, as we got to know each other and hung out a little, you would note how comfortable I am in most situations, irrespective of the dynamic, and if we moved on to nights out together, you would watch as this confidence manifested itself further to the point where you would see me think nothing of making my way onto any dance floor, to dance... often on my own.
What? You walk onto a dance floor and dance on your own. What are you, twelve?
Nope. Forty-eight, actually, and this is my fifth decade of going out and getting my groove on, and yes, I am fully aware of how cringe this confession of blatant extroversion is making many people feel right now.
Moreover, I am aware of how blatant extroverts like me can get right on a person's wick or, if not to the point of annoyance, perhaps we can seem like a bit of a garish freak show. The twitters of conversation surrounding the knowledge that I, at the grand age of forty-eight, still walk out onto the dance floor and dance like nobody is watching probably sound something like this:
What? She still goes out clubbing? So brave of her.
(Subtext: Why can't she grow up.)
She walks onto the dance floor and dances on her own?
(Subtext: How showy, feels socially vulgar, exhibitionism likely.)
I am an extrovert. What do you want me to do? Change to fit in? That always ends well, doesn't it?
No, and unlike chronic introversion, blatant or chronic extroversion does not draw the same levels of understanding.
Awwww, poor little confident you!
Yes, yes, I am very much aware of how that sounds and no, I do not want any pity. I enjoy being an extrovert. Within me, there is an eternal fire of sunshine (as I say, I smile a lot). Most people I know would love a bit of what I am powered by. In fact, I often get asked:
What are you on?
I get it. Where the hell does all my energy come from anyway? I genuinely don't know!
What I do know is that what people see is only, in reality, the tip of the supernova extroversion explosion that pulses beneath the socially acceptable facade that I put on every single day.
Although I cannot change what I am, I can control it. I can't do cartwheels through the office or run up to random strangers and tell them jokes and bestow compliments on them (well, actually, I do... I should caveat that I can't do this ALL the time.) What I do is rein myself in every social second of every social day so that the world around me does not descend into carnage.
Often it can feel like I am holding a whole reservoir of energy in check. I carry on being me but without the parts that, well, get in your face.
Empathy, contrary to popular belief, is not the preserve of the introverted.
I am aware of who I am, of what I am, of my electrified edges and my tidal wave surges. I am also mindful of who you are, what you want, and what you need, and I try extremely hard to understand how you feel and how I can help... all the time. The fear of disappointing you because I have gotten carried away being me is the biggest fear I have.
So, you see, on a night out, the safest place that I can be, the place where I do not have to mask who I am, the place where I can be myself without having to worry about any nuance of social interaction that my empathetic extroversion will eat itself up over, the place where I can still be social and interact with others without the weight of their needs curbing my flow, the place where I can be in the room and not have to worry about who or what is going on in that room...
THAT place - that wonderful place - is slap-bang in the middle of the dance floor.
There, I can let go. There, hiding in plain sight, I can be myself. There, all the complex and multifaceted considerations of a sociable life that burden every second of my existence become lost inside a tide of rhythm, of music.
There, dancing the night away in all my extroverted glory, my energy can flow. It and I feel free.
So, you see, you can ask me what I am on, but the truth is - I do not need to be on anything to dance on my own in a room full of people because the dance itself is a drug.
Now, allow me to share my hedonistic milestones.
Knowing what you now know about me, I am sure you can understand that the melodic milestones of my life are not a linear chronology of music coupled to an event. Music is less about meaning or purpose or affirmation or nostalgia or identity. It is a drug. Or perhaps, more appropriately, it is an antidote. Certainly, it requires from me very little conscious processing. Music, to me, has always been entirely about freedom of expression. Not that I have always fully realised this; ironically, after some significant life events, it is only now that I realise how music has freed me.
Where did it all start? Strangely, in an old Victorian Hotel called The Windsor in Newquay, Cornwall, England.
Every year as a small child, my family and our family friends would rock up for a week away at this hotel. In the evening there would be a disco in the ballroom for children. As you will now fully appreciate, I needed no encouragement to get up and participate in proceedings. To be honest, every night of our stay, I led the way. Occasionally my parents tried to calm me, get me to be a little more reserved, and sit and wait with them and their friends for a while; you know, be cool. I am afraid that the pain of sitting still when there was music to dance to was definitely too much for me. The moment the first beat of the first song was played by the resident DJ, I was up and having it.
In memory of this fledgling hedonism, I give you ABBA: Dancing Queen. (Of course! ... I may throw out a few long words now and again, but let me be clear, I am an ABBA girl Bjorn and bred!) My tot - to teen limbs flailed out quite a few shapes to this tune!
Dutifully, my parents, embarrassingly and screamingly aware that I liked to dance, enrolled me in dance classes, probably hopeful they could tame the dance beast within me. I attended them all, ballet, tap, modern (whatever that was) and jazz. Sadly, from each, a rather weathered teacher would take my mildly-mortified mother to one side for a "quiet word" where my lack of actual skill and agility was outlined to her and my removal, for the greater good, expedited.
In my defence, I was up for learning, but learning back then, if memory serves, involved the same track on repeat and minimal movement, considering this was dance class. I recollect one particular routine in ballet that required me to sit on an imaginary lily pad and jump twice in around ten minutes.
Hello, hell on earth.
Not for me.
Instead, I went home, stuck Blondie's Parallel Lines on my Dad's LP player, and went wild dancing around our living room until the vinyl of the record crackled into non-existence. It didn't matter who was visiting or in the house at the time; every friend, relative, vicar and Tupperware party attendee got to watch me shred the shag-pile to One Way Or Another by Blondie.
Frankly, my wonderful parents did eventually tire of this song being played on repeat and decided to rein their resident Sideshow Bob in by buying me my very own cassette player, and with it, the freedom to start purchasing my own music to play... in my bedroom... you know, away from their bemused guests.
The first cassette that the little wheels in my bright red cassette deck dutifully rewound and played into oblivion was Madonna's True Blue.
Day in, day out, night and day, I danced and sang to that album alone in my bedroom, readying myself for the nightclubs that I had seen in the big glossy pictures of my Smash Hits magazine.
In honour of that memory, here is the classic headline track of Caroline's Bed Room Rock Stop - True Blue (I love you... no truly... I still do!)
Next, after finding that my neighbour's children were not as into watching me or participating in my Madonna roadshow, I moved onto (what I thought was) edgier music. Posters went up on the wall, on the bedroom door - actually outside the door - so anybody who happened along the landing of our house understood that I was into musical experimentation. I was a teenager, I was finding myself, and Sigue Sigue Sputnik seemed to speak my musical language.
I have to say, the video to this is still bloody epic!
Musically, my tastes from this point went on quite a bender. Soberly, of course, I was in my teens. If I were to shout out a moment of absolute brilliance, though, it would be when my Grandma gave me the Sisters of Mercy Album A Slight Case of Over-Bombing for Christmas. Not only are there some long and highly waftable-aboutable-toable tunes on that album, but damn it, she went into HMV and asked for it. Full teenage respect was given in rapturous earnest that Christmas day, let me tell you. My little OXO cubed Gran was an absolute Christmas Rock Star.
I should say at this point that as much as I loved Sisters Of Mercy (Going to see them in Manchester in November, actually), I make a terrible Goth. Far, far too smiley. That said, I have the complexion for it; I am allergic to the sun.
Anyway, as I have said, music was never about identity for me - it was always about freedom. With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that the most liberating point of my whole life was when I eventually got to go out to nightclubs.
I tried many different kinds, but sadly many were far too concerned with looks and brands for me. The type that held my attention for a long, long time was where the endearingly titled "greb" pack hung out. They did not seem to care how you looked, which was fine by me because neither did I!
I moved out of my parent's house, got my own place, started University, got myself a job (plural), and went absolutely crazy!
For the first time in my life, I was with people as hedonistic as myself. To not have to be crazy on your own was a wonderful feeling. I had never been part of a "flock" or a "tribe". I felt like I had found my people, all of whom started out by hanging together in Manchester's heavy metal epicentre: RockWorld. Here we lost ourselves in the heaviest tunes around, like this: Ministry: Just One Fix.
Like any drug, though, with exposure, it fades in potency, and it was not long before a group of us fractured away from the die-hard heavy metal mosh pits and took our industrial metal seeds to the experimental rave scene, where we started losing ourselves inside a different type of music.
Places like the New Ardri and Hulme Precinct became our stomping ground. Our nights there began with music in the vein of Prodigy and Chemical Brothers. Heavy hitting tunes reminiscent of the industrial metal we had been shaped by, but in time we grew and morphed into lighter, airier music full of morphed rhythms by the likes of Orbital and their epic track Halcyon.
9.27 minutes of complete absence of self.
I have never been as mentally and physically fit in my whole life as I was during this time. Not only was I active for most of the night, most nights of the week, dancing away in various venues, I was also working hard during the day, carving out a career in retail which, contrary to the well-exercised trope, I loved.
Retail is fast. Leading big food shops with huge teams of people and serving thousands and thousands of customers every day gives my extrovert energy somewhere to go. Fast, furious, and frenetic - for me, it was then and still is, to this day, fabulous. The flow of it compliments the flow of my energy like no other career that I can imagine.
Life was sweet, but there came a point in my early thirties when I wondered if there was perhaps more than working and playing hard. I had lit the candle at both ends for a long time and had begun to feel like life was stuck on a bit of a treadmill. I had bought a house, owned a couple of cars, been promoted - was that life complete?
No. Of course it wasn't. Having met my husband when I was at school and gone on to be near enough entirely self-sufficient from the age of 18 (I had three jobs when I was at University), I started to think about travel, about adventure. We had enough money, no children, and neither of us was especially ambitious with our careers - what was there to lose?
So we took career breaks from our jobs, asked a kind friend to look after our cat, packed a bag each, locked the door to our house and jetted off to Tokyo to start the adventure of a lifetime travelling around the world.
Of course, different countries have different dance cultures - all radically different to the Manchester music scene. From dancing Tango in Argentina to Salsa in Peru, I had a go at it all. Turns out my extroverted flow can find musical tides wherever it goes. One highlight to share here was from Mindil Beach, Australia. Didgeridoos played as I had never heard before.
My husband and I had the time of our lives, but we did come home, and I returned to the same job in retail. Honestly, and here is a weird thing - I missed the work. Travelling was all well and good but play for me needs to be anchored. I realised something I had always instinctively known; total hedonism was not good for me. As much as my extroversion enjoyed the vibe, it wanted something more, something to challenge it, to pioneer.
Wandering around the world felt strangely marshmallow-like to me. My energy craved to be channelled. This is different from being reined in. In a way, when my energy is channelled, it self-contains itself remarkably well. When left with too much freedom, like the sort of freedom travelling gives you, it starts to go spongey, and I feel misshapen.
This, I guess, is the hallmark of all freedoms; too much can be harmful.
We saw our adventure through, came home and returned to work.
Life carried on, work carried on, the music carried on, but it was different. You can't be out of something for a long time and expect it not to shift when you return. Family, friends - my tribe, had all altered in various ways. Children had been born, parenting responsibilities were now a much more significant consideration, relationships had moved on, and people had physically moved away.
It was all good. We each adapted swiftly. We understood that all of this was simply life happening, change in beautiful, irrepressible motion. If there is one thing that I understand, it is change. With the energy that I have, I seek it out like a life force and appreciate it for the monster and angel that it can simultaneously be.
I, we, got back in the saddle and carried on. We moved house, I got promoted, we tried for a baby... and tried some more... and then we went to the Doctors... and tried some more. Five years of infertility with the respective disappointment and expense followed. For the first time, my indefatigable energy felt like it had met its match.
But, true to form, I was not going to be beaten, and in 2015 our efforts and attempts were rewarded by the most beautiful gift ever—a healthy baby boy.
Then my energy took the biggest hit in its relentless face that anybody could possibly imagine.
I was diagnosed with cancer.
And right then, right there - the music stopped.
I no longer needed it.
Chemotherapy soaked every last drop of my energy. It was enough to get up, look after my beautiful baby, and continue with life. I didn't want to dance, hell - I barely wanted to move some days.
It was during this time I fathomed through the whole function that music had played in my life. Without my energy, I did not need the music. I did not even miss it.
It took me a year to recover enough energy to try and find the music again. Thank God I have wonderful friends. Bald and out of kilter, they motivated me to get out of the house to a local concert. It went that well we went clubbing afterwards to a metal club called Revolution.
There on the dance floor, I danced the night away. The vibe was different, but the feeling of tapping into the flow was absolutely the same. I remember the last song of the night was this: Disturbed with their cover of The Sound of Silence.
My baby is seven years old now, and he takes after his mother with respect to his energy. He loves to dance. Only this morning, he and I had the Sonos speaker in the garden dancing to his current favourite track by Lady Gaga: Bloody Mary (The speeded-up Wednesday Addams version, obvs!)
I believe that human energy is reflected in music. Mine certainly is. These days, aside from dancing in my garden with my son in our dressing gowns to Lady Gaga, I go to many concerts and attend various festivals. Although I am nowhere near as wrapped up in chasing the beat as I once was, I still feel my energy brighten, my soul lift, and my blood pump when music is played.
I hope my friends and I continue to go out to concerts, festivals, and clubs long into our dotages. Music is good for our health; it has been scientifically proven to enliven our grey matter and stave off the diseases associated with old age. There is no reason to stop. Sure, a dancing nonagenarian may raise a few eyebrows, but such is the story of my life in music to date.
When the music dies, as it did for me around seven years ago for one horrible, soul-destroying year, I know my life force will have gone with it.
I dread that day. Long may the dance continue!
And now, for some pictures...
Peace and Love.
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