In my head I am Adele. I am Aloe Blacc and Eminem. I am Florence Welsh and Fiona Apple. I am Elton John and Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Michael Stipe. I am Kylie and Dolly, Janis and Dusty, Aretha and Billie, all rolled into one pitch-perfect, perky-breasted package. Give me a stage and I will strut with the best of them.
Except back in the real world, I am Ruth, and I can’t even sing Happy Birthday in tune. I am that girl who was asked to mime in school performances.
I have done my dues, when it comes to being a fan of music. The first single I ever bought was on vinyl, that’s how old I am. (It was the Pet Shop Boys, that’s how cool I am.) I’ve been to hundreds of gigs – from smoky bars to stadiums, theatres to record shops to living rooms. As a teenager, my pocket money all went on music mags – Smash Hits first, then Select, Melody Maker, NME, Q. I made mixtapes and compilation CDs, joined in with swag swaps all over the world. Thankfully my tastes improved over time, and I moved from boy bands to bluegrass, from Disney to deep funk. Now I play music everywhere – in the car, in the bath, when I run. I surround myself with sound, in the hope that some of it, just some, might work its way inside.
But it never does. The most basic chords are a strum too far. I have the natural rhythm of an ironing board.
I wish I had music in me. I wish I could caress sweet sounds from a clarinet like my old friend Archie Taylor could. I wish, like my husband, I could pick up any old harp and play the blues. I wish I were a Corr – not Jim, obviously – and that I could fiddle and pout and make people whirl. But I am as bad with drumsticks as I am with chopsticks. I fumble, I’m halting, I stutter.
I would like, just once, to make beautiful music. If I could stand on stage playing saxophone – cradling that silver seahorse in my arms – I think I would always be happy. If I could make my fingers dance over the black and white keys of a piano, or jauntily pluck at a ukulele, or even just stand there and sing; gently, soft, and sweet. That would be lovely.
My son is trying hard to help me. He says, ‘Don’t worry Mummy, it’s only me listening’. He holds my hands and jigs up and down on the spot, grinning at me like a loon. “Come on!” he says. “Sing something! It’s not that difficult.”
But it is difficult. It’s impossible. When the sound that comes out of my mouth so markedly misses the sound I want to make, it makes me think I shouldn’t even try.
Only when I’m alone, with my headphones in and my hips swaying, do I feel that the music is in me.
In my head I am Stevie Nicks. I am Brian Molko and Billy Corgan, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. I am Aimee Mann and Louis Armstrong. I am Shania and Shakira and Nicki Minaj.
In my head I am Beyonce, but better.
In my head is where the music can stay.