Songs are powerful. They have an ability to change emotion, an ability to make people feel safe, an ability to make people move and even, sometimes, the ability to make people stop altogether. There’s nothing else really like it.
I think that for every person there is at least one song that they can go to that, regardless of how many times they hear it, they’ll always love. It can be for any reason, too; it may remind you of a loved one, it may remind you of a holiday…it may just have an amazing guitar riff. Whatever it is, you are emotionally tied to that song. Whatever meaning it has to you, it belongs to you. That song, written by somebody that you may never meet, is an important part of your life.
This will become the start to a run of features I’ll do on my blog regarding the songs that are important to me. “Songs That Changed My Life” is titled so because, in some way, each of these songs did just that.
The first song I will talk about is one I have mentioned on this blog before, and the one song that means more to me than any other. It helped me to deal with grief, and it gave me the belief that I could “come back”.
The song is ‘Machines’ by Biffy Clyro.
The first time I heard ‘Machines’ was on hearing Biffy’s fourth album, ‘Puzzle’. I’d been blown away by the album – it may have lacked the quirkiness of the first three albums but the songs were so strong and it sounded so huge that I found myself in love with it pretty much from the off. I’d always loved Simon Neil’s lyrics but on ‘Puzzle’ it was different. These were honest lyrics, these were the strongest lyrics Neil had written.
I was part of the Biffy Clyro fan forum when ‘Puzzle’ was released. Everybody knew that the majority of the album was about Simon Neil’s Mum passing away and the immediate song that highlighted that was ‘Folding Stars’ in which Neil sings, “Eleanor, I would do anything for another minute with you ’cause it’s not getting easier.” It is such an emotional song and the message was abundantly clear. For many, it was the standout song but for me it wasn’t. Initially, the song I was hooked on was ‘Get Fucked Stud’…it just rocked. It still does.
As time went by and Biffy started to grow in popularity, I decided to introduce one of my new Uni mates to the band. I lent him ‘Puzzle’ and he later came back to me talking about how powerful it was – saying that ‘Machines’, the album closer, had him in tears as he thought about his Granddad, who had not long passed away. I’d always liked ‘Machines’, I loved playing it on guitar, but I wasn’t tied to it and didn’t appreciate it as much as some of the other songs on the album. I think, at the time, I just wanted loud music and ‘Machines’, a beautiful acoustic song, wasn’t top of my list.
As time went by, ‘Machines’ slowly became a favourite. Due to my Uni mate talking about the song and his emotions towards it, I’d focused a bit more time on it and grew to appreciate just how much of a truly powerful song it was. I also felt like I finally understood the hope it tried to present in the lyric, “Take the pieces and build them skyward.” I felt like I finally ‘got it’ but, in reality, it wasn’t until the passing of my own Mum that I honestly did ‘get it’.
Mum passed away very suddenly. None of us expected it, we couldn’t prepare for it – we had five days of hospital and that was it. She was 55, a really young age, and it was really tough to comprehend what had happened. There was no way to understand it. It was life being life, and it was life being incredibly cruel. Personally, I didn’t really know how to deal with it and unfortunately ended up suffering with anxiety/panic attacks and, essentially, sinking within myself. It’s a weird thing…I’m the first to say to people they need to talk to others but, in this instance, I couldn’t. I didn’t want to discuss my emotions with family because we were all feeling it; and I couldn’t face in to talking to friends. I was hiding.
I remember the first time I listened to ‘Machines’ after Mum passed away. I was in the shower and had my music on shuffle and the live version from Wembley started. The song had taken a whole new meaning to me. The opening lyrics, “I would dig a thousand holes to lay next to you, I would dig a thousand more if I needed to” just had me. And the chorus; “I’ve started falling apart, I’m not savouring life. I’ve forgotten how good it could be to feel alive” connected to me like never before. I related to them…I felt them. This was my life at this point.
In the five days spent at the hospital with Mum she was asleep the whole time. We knew the likelihood of her pulling through was incredibly slim, despite the amazing efforts of the doctors and nurses at Papworth Hospital, but we still held hope. I’d sit with Mum…we all would…and we’d talk to her. I just hoped that she could hear anything we were saying. More than anything I just wanted her to wake up and tell me to stop being so soft.
The second verse of ‘Machines’ always takes me back to those days.
“Crazy as it sounds, you won’t feel as low as you feel right now.
At least that’s what I’ve been told by everyone.
I whisper empty sounds in your ear and hope that you won’t let go…
Take the pieces and build them skyward.”
In that shower, listening to those words, I broke down. No song had ever made me cry before but ‘Machines’ did. I realised that I’d never understood the song properly until now…I’d wished, really, that I’d never had to understand it…but here I was, 28 years old, crying in the shower to a song by my favourite band.
The final lyric to that verse, also the final lyric to the whole song, have become the most important lyrics that I know. Everybody deals with grief differently; some people just carry on, some really struggle. As sung in the chorus, I felt like I had fallen apart, I wasn’t enjoying life…but those lyrics helped remind me that life isn’t always bad (“I’ve forgotten how good it could be to feel alive”). “Take the pieces and build them skyward” gave me a sense of hope that I could pick myself up. If I had fallen apart, fallen to pieces, that lyric was my motivation to pick those pieces back up and rebuild. They encouraged me to find myself again. There are no other lyrics that have ever done that to me.
‘Machines’ is more than a song to me. It’s a reminder of the worst time of my life, and a reminder that from the despair, the grief and the darkness you can build yourself back up.
(You can listen to the song – the Live From Wembley version – here)