‘Break’: Early illustration work with a musical theme. Copyright Paula Knight, 1992
Music has always played an important part in my life. I learnt violin from the age of eight, and for most of my life until ME/CFS/Fibromyalgia stopped me, I was involved in music in some way – either in orchestras or indie bands. Over the years, playing music with others has provided me with lasting friendships, and even a husband. It was inevitable that any memoir I wrote would included music in some way – I’ve always been interested in its crossover with other art forms. In my early attempts at being an illustrator, I tried to find visual ways to combine music and art, but I always found it hard to represent one perfectly self-sufficient art form in another. In The Facts of Life, I used music in a far more literal way – to help describe the era; and to reflect the themes of the book by referencing popular culture that had informed my views in childhood.
I’ve made a page-by-page Youtube playlist of all the music references in my book. It’s not altogether accurately representative of my musical taste – some of the songs mentioned in the book are there because of how they influenced my delicate formative brain with regards to pregnancy, motherhood and child-rearing. Listen to the playlist HERE.
p95 The Facts of Life, by Paula Knight, Copyright 2016
Below are some expanded notes from the playlist with further explanations of the extra songs (19 onwards), because Youtube doesn’t allow unlimited words:
This is an annotated page-by-page guide of all the music references in my graphic novel/ memoir The Facts of Life. The book was published in March 2017 by Myriad Editions
(UK) and Penn State University Press
(N America). The playlist comprises songs that influenced me in my formative years, especially with regard to ideas about pregnancy and motherhood; and other songs I’ve collected that are significant to the themes and imagery of the book. Where a band rather than a specific song was mentioned, I’ve chosen one track by that band. One or two of them are bands I played in or to which I contributed music.
1. The Facts of Life Preview (Turnaround, book distributors)
2. The Beatles, Get Back
p14, This was No 1 when I was born (p15)
3. There Are Worse Things I Could Do – Grease, Rizzo
p27 A broken condom results in Rizzo’s pregnancy in Grease. A similar incident takes place elsewhere in the book… Incidentally, I discovered that the actress Stockard Channing does not have children.
4. The Specials, Too Much Too Young
p39 At age 9, I was rather intimidated by Terry Hall’s imposing image. Along with the lyrics, it somehow imprinted on my youthful brain that it was not a fabulous idea to get pregnant by accident when too young.
5. Adam & The Ants, Stand And Deliver
p41 Adam Ant was on the cover of the first Jackie magazine I had, and AatA are one of Jack’s favourite bands.
6. I’ve Never Been To Me, Charlene
pp47,48 This song is sufficiently saccharine to bring on a hyper, but I secretly liked it at age 13. The lyrics suggest that if you don’t have children you will end up lonely and regret it – perfect for my themes. I don’t agree with this notion, of course.
7. The Smiths, Reel Around the Fountain
p52 April is packing her LPs to go to Uni – The Smiths were her favourite band at that time.
8. New Order, Subculture
p54 Subculture poster in my college friend Sam’s bedroom. I used to listen to New Order solidly in 1989 driving to a holiday washing-up job at a hospital run by an order of monks in Scorton, N.Yorks.
9. Pixies, Allison
p54 Pixies poster in friend’s room. One of the girls in this panel is Alison, so this is for her!
10. Girlboy Girl, Unfamiliar
p57 This was my band Girlboy Girl in which I played bass and wrote songs in the late 90s/ 00s. The song (lyrics by R Taylor) is about family and belonging (or not), so a perfect fit for the themes of this book. We made this video with the artists John Wood and Paul Harrison who currently work at Spike Island studios in Bristol. I did some of the drawings for this. I still feel very proud of this video. It was made in 1998 for video, hence quality.
11. Lunchbox, Just Because
p57 Barely visible, but Rupert from Girlboy Girl is wearing a Lunchbox T-shirt on that page. They are a band we toured with around west coast USA in 2000 – lovely folks. Lunchbox are still playing and are situated in Oakland, CA.
12. Sigur Rós, Hoppípolla
pp95, 116 I was pregnant for the first time, but did not know it, when we went to see Sigur Ros in Liverpool. This song subsequently became famous as the theme for the BBC’s Planet Earth. I do love the track, but it reminds me of tricky times, and there was no escaping those BBC idents!
13. The Unthanks, Farewell Regality
p183 The Unthanks are one of my all-time favourite bands and one I often sang along to while making the book. Like me, they are also from Northeast England where part of the book is set. This is the song I’d like to be played at my funeral.
14. Prefab Sprout, Cowboy Dreams
p185 This Prefab Sprout joke has been deemed acceptable on the ‘Sprout’s Facebook fan-page. Paddy McAloon is also from Co. Durham, like me!
p184 Another T-shirt ref on this page. Jack, from the book, played guitar in Beatnik Filmstars for many years, and I played violin for them on one of their five Peel Sessions. (We saw Lofty from Eastenders that day in Maida Vale Studios restaurant!) One of my all-time favourite bands; this is one of their best songs ever! I used to tour with them to do their merch in the 90s, and my band supported them on a European tour.
16. Roobarb and Custard, 1974 Roobarb and Custard ©1974-2012 A&BTV
p185 Also mentioned in this panel is Roobarb & Custard – one of the best 1970s cartoon theme tunes ever!
17. Girlboy Girl, Lightness And Weight
p192 I included some lyrics I’d written for my band on this page, because they were about oak trees and suffering from chronic fatigue (ME, as it later turned out). This is the original song that the lyrics are from. We recorded it for a cassette label called North of January in 2001 for a compilation: ‘Sweet Sweet Casio’ – the track had to feature a Casio keyboard.
p210 This is a track by a band I joined in 2012 to play bass and violin. They’ve started playing live in Bristol recently – check them out – they’re really good! This was the song I enjoyed playing most with them. I had to leave the band because I had a graphic novel to finish (this one). I love this video because the imagery uses the elements – as I have in the imagery of my book.
19. Gillian Welch, The Way It Goes
This one reminds me of how friendships can change once people have children:
“That’s the way that it goes;
Everybody’s buying little baby clothes”
20. Jenny Lewis, Just One Of The Guys
For the lyrics: “I’m just another lady without a baby”. And I interpret ‘the little clock inside’ as the so-called biological clock.
21. Kirsty MacColl, A New England
I was 15 when this was in the charts, and I liked the edgy lyrics about girls at school already pushing prams, and the Pill. I took this as a warning.
22. Richard Hawley, Heart Of Oak
The humble oak plays an important part in the book. In the prologue, we are planting oak saplings, and the element wood is one of my visual themes.
23. Pale Saints, Babymaker
Well, for a start it’s called Babymaker, but it also seems to be about loss – and I love this band!
24. Foals, Albatross
In part 3 of the book there’s an albatross – it represents freedom from society’s pressures, and the element Air. And albatrosses are cool.
25. Dream Academy, Life in a Northern Town
Good song, but evokes a resigned teenage lassitude of being in limbo-land – of not yet being where you want to be. I grew up in a northern village.
26. Crescent, Impressions
Crescent’s video contains footage of the river that also appears on pp122-126 of my book; and the bridge on p157. These places used to be on my daily walking routes when we lived in that area. And I’d often bump into various musicians who have played in this band, who also lived in the area at the same time.
27. Iron and Wine, Swans And The Swimming
p126: Some young inexperienced swans attempt to build a nest on the same tidal river as above – the Avon New Cut
28. Wye Oak, Regret
p218 “But this is not a thing on which to dwell”. We only get one life, so there’s not much point in spending much of it on regret. And regret suggests there was a choice, which is not always the case in whether or not a person has children.
ps. This blog was inspired by our friend Jez Francis, who used to play bass in Beatnik Filmstars. He makes CDs and playlists for his family with written explanations about song choices. And, he and his wife Barb have a cameo in my book on p95 above – because we’ve been to many a gig with them.